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Columns

Down the Garden Path: Flowerbeds and vegetable gardens need TLC

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

No one wants to hear the word “rain” these days. Clearly all the wet weather has changed the way we planted the vegetable garden and our flowerbeds this year. I have heard people describe spring plantings as “I went ahead and mudded them in.” Not the best practice for seeding and transplanting, of course, yet the plants and seeds got in the ground. The result of all that “mudding in” likely left that soil caked and cracked when we did get some drying weather. Don’t attempt to break up the clods; it’s better to lightly cover the caked soil with some kind of organic matter.

Now that the weather has moderated some, another challenge has been weed control. Weed seed germination continued while the wet soil kept us from doing anything in the garden and landscape beds. Weeds are so easy to deal with while they are just seedlings, but now they are larger and with an established root system.

Be careful when you are pulling weeds so you do not damage the root systems of your transplants. This is even harder if your seedlings are up and mingled in with the weed seedlings. Weeds also can compete very well for nutrition, growing right along with your flowers and vegetables. Depending on your weeding practices, there likely is another round of weed seed germination going on, as well, so take care of them while they are small. Products put down to prevent weed seed germination have not worked well this spring for a couple of reasons: one is the soil needed to be weed-free before application and, two, is the weeds have been germinating all spring while the products are only effective for a limited time.

Since we did have all that [rain] earlier, another challenge is making sure there is adequate fertilizer left for flowers and vegetables to develop into mature plants. Cold, wet soils early on often limit plant uptake from the garden soil. Once the soils warm and dry out, it is easier for the plants’ root systems to function correctly. Older flowerbeds fare better since all the organic matter accumulated is Mother Nature’s slow release fertilizer, being available whenever the flowers need it. You may see plants struggling a bit more in a newly created bed. If the flowers have stalled out, consider side dressing with general-purpose flower or vegetable fertilizer. Applications can be made right on the surface of the soil. We still are getting water to dissolve the fertilizer. If you are going to work the fertilizers into the soil, keep it shallow; you do not want to damage any roots. The sooner the fertilizer is activated with natural soil moisture, the sooner it becomes available to the plants.

• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the “Green Side Up” podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup. The 2019 Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 630-553-5823.

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