Playing in the dirt with Mary D.: Get your garden questions answered

UI Extension Master Gardener

Do you have garden questions? Woes and problems not easily solved by asking your gardening neighbor across the fence? Are there plant issues you’ve always wondered about? Do you want to plant a banana tree on your patio or a water lily in your swimming pool?

The Paxton Record has graciously allowed me space to answer your questions, solve a gardening dilemma and maybe set a garden myth to rest once a month.

While I can’t answer every question that you might have, I will certainly give it a good college try or provide you with a resource that can help.

Email your questions to   Paxton Record Editor Will Brumleve at and put “Garden Question” in the subject box. You can also mail questions directly to me: Mary Dickinson, P.O. Box 325, Loda, IL 60948.

Either way, I will try to answer your questions.

Shari J. asks about how to care for tender perennial bulbs. 

Now is the time to prepare a place for your dahlias, gladioli, canna and other tender perennials. After the first frost — but before the stems turn to black mush — dig up your plants. Knock the dirt off the bulbs, rhizomes or corms and allow them to dry in a cool, well-ventilated place for a few days. Then store them in a container that allows air circulation, such as a cardboard box or a paper sack. Either is preferable to a plastic bag or bin. Use shredded newspaper, vermiculite or very dry peat moss to cushion the bulbs. You may want to sprinkle them with a powdered anti fungal product at this time. Keep them cool, dark and dry. I put mine against an outside wall of the basement on boards so the boxes don’t rest on the floor. Label the box and close it but don’t seal it tight. Occasionally during the winter check on them to see how they are doing. Sometimes they get very dry and may need a light “spritzing” of water so they remain viable until spring.

Cynthia S. from Paxton wants to know about her Arborvitae. She says, “My arborvitae is turning brown. Is this normal for fall or is it the result of the drought? The trees are about 15 years old. “

Without actually looking at the tree, I can’t say for certain that it is the drought, but considering the stress the trees have undergone, that is a likely cause. Michael Dirr, in his book “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” says that once established these will take considerable heat and drought. They do tend toward “winter browning caused by rapid temperature changes, desiccation of needles caused by sun and wind.” They can be susceptible to various insect and diseases but in general aren’t very bothered by these problems. You may want to send a sample to the plant clinic at the University of Illinois (333-0519 or 1102 S. Goodwin, S-417 Turner Hall, Urbana, 61801) for them to analyze your plant and find out what is causing the problem.

This question brings up an important garden issue that many people forget about: Trees and shrubs need to be watered until the ground freezes. This is true of all of them, not just the new ones planted this fall. If there is less than an inch of rain per week, water your trees and shrubs! And remember to disconnect the hose from those freeze-proof faucets when you’re finished watering for the day. Otherwise, you may have a bigger problem on your hands if there is a freeze overnight.

Categories (2):News, Living


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