Photo by Mary Ann Grumman

Gardening Tips

Tip 1 - Keep animals from eating your plants

GCE member Beth Schroeder reports that flower bulbs in the lily family (tulip, crocus, lily) are prone to being eaten by animals. She suggests sprinkling cayenne pepper in the hole when you plant these bulbs in the fall, and again on top of the soil in the spring when the flowers begin to emerge. Trish Barr reports success in keeping the rabbits at bay, by sprinkling used cat litter at the base of the new plants.

Tip 2 - Extend peonies' 3-week blooming season

GCE member Sue Carlson asks, "What is more beautiful than masses of peonies in bud and bloom?" She shares this tip forshowing off their beauty:

I once had 40+ peony plants in varying shades of pink, red and white. What a treat it was to enjoy the sights and smells in my garden and then cut large bouquets for my house and to give to friends. A trick I learned from a seasoned gardener... to extend peonies' three-week season:

  • • Cut peonies in bud.
  • • Strip the stems of leaves.
  • • Group in bunches of 10.
  • • Double or triple wrap in plastic.
  • • Store in the frig. - 2 weeks to 3 months, or so.

When you need fresh flowers - unwrap - cut stems - put in warm water - and Voila - Blossoms!!*

*Some may not take but usually it is quite successful.

Tip 3 - All about tree allergens

Author Tom Ogren

GCE member Vicky Wagner cautions us on tree allergens and refers us to a worthwhile article by Tom Ogren. In the article he wrote for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, he explains that male trees give off pollen and pollute the air with sperm, causing allergic and asthmatic reactions among susceptible persons.

The dominance of male trees in the landscape comes from homeowners rejecting female trees (when the trees are dioecious or separate sexes) because they produce messy and sometimes unsightly fruitóat their own peril. Here is an excerpt from Tom Ogrenís article:

"If youíre completely new to all of this, let me give you a bit of the history of Allergy Free Gardening.Some twenty years ago I became very interested in this subject mainly because my wife, Yvonne, had terrible allergies and asthma. I was teaching horticulture and one day I asked my students to do some "sniff tests" with me. We sniffed pansies and petunias and nothing happened. Then we tried sniffing bottlebrush flowers and BLAM! people started sneezing, hard. In later weeks we tried sniffing a great many more types of flowers. I quickly discovered that certain flowers never made anyone sneeze, that some flowers made a few folks sneeze, and that there were others that just literally trashed people.

Eventually I gave up doing these sniff tests because several people got dangerously sick from them. I realized I was playing with fire. By this time though I was hooked on the idea that the right garden wouldnít trigger any allergies. I soon also started testing plants to see if they would cause any odd skin reactions and again found plenty that did and others that never did. I tried to buy a good book on allergy free gardening but in those days there was nothing to buy; there was no such book to be had. And so I decided to just keep on researching the subject myself. In the following years I learned a good deal. I went back to college and got my MS degree, focusing all of my graduate work on plant/allergy connections and on the different plant flowering systems. One thing that deeply interested me was that so many of the separate-sexed (dioecious) trees and shrubs often triggered severe allergies. Occasionally I would come across advice from lung associations or allergy groups that suggested no one pla of these trees or shrubs.

It occurred to me though that since these ďvery worstĒ plants were indeed separate-sexed, where one tree would be all male, and another all female, that in truth only the males would produce pollen. It also dawned on me that since female plants did not produce any pollen, that they were the ones that would be most truly allergy-free. This was no great piece of intellectual brilliance by any means, but for some reason no one else seemed to have noticed this crucial importance about the sex of plants and pollen allergies.At one point I started to photograph flowers of suspect trees and shrubs. Rather suddenly I discovered that although it was easy to find plenty of males to shoot, female landscape plants were surprisingly rare. I found this same situation in city after city. What, I asked myself, was going on? It seemed almost as though the cities had been landscaped to cause allergies, but I knew this didnít make sense.

Eventually I came to realize that in the name of tidiness, for the cause of low maintenance, male trees and shrubs were being planted by the millions. Since the males produced no seeds, fruits, messy flowers or old seedpods, they were considered far superior to female plants.

That these same male plants would bombard urban areas with huge amounts of pollen never seems to have been considered. But this is exactly what has happened. When I realized what I was seeing, I decided that I had an obligation to try and do something about it. My most recent book on the interactions of plants and human health, Safe Sex in the Garden, gets its name from this peculiar, unnatural situation in our urban landscapes.Iíve been having some luck too. My work has attracted media from far and wide. My books have been reviewed in the London Times, the Jerusalem Post, in Der Spiegel, in dozens of other terrific publications. My research was the focus of a CBS Evening News special, the Discovery Channel in Canada filmed a documentary about my discoveries, Allegra hired me to do consulting work, and Linda Wertheimer interviewed me on NPRís Weekend Edition.

Iíve spoken to groups of MDís and was well received. At the Chelsea Garden Show in England a college did a display of pollen-free plants based on my work. The display even won a silver medal. Allergists have passed out literature in their offices about my books. The USDA used my OPALS (see) scale to form allergy predictions for different cities, and the American Lung Association in Richmond, Virginia asked me to help design an allergy-free landscape for their new headquarters. Recently I helped a county asthma coalition select lawns and plants for a pollen-free landscape at a new elementary school. Lots of positive things have happened but still, I get impatient.

It is quite possible now to produce fine gardens and landscapes that do not trigger any allergies, but by and large this isnít being done. The opposite, high allergy, mostly male cloned plant materials, thatís what being planted still. And every day people with allergies suffer needlessly. Kids with asthma have problems just breathing. School after school is landscaped with the most allergenic plants possible. Even at hospitals I see landscaping so explosively allergenic that it makes me shudder.

And yet many people have now changed their own yards. They have gotten rid of the worst plants and replaced them with pollen-free ones. Every day I get mail from appreciative readers. People tell me this has changed their life, and all for the better. But I feel there is so much more to be done. People with allergies or asthma they deserve clean air to breath. Kids deserve schools that are not covered in pollen.

I need your help. I need help to get the word out. I need help to get city arborists to stop planting all these male cloned trees. I need help to get schools to clean up their acts. I need your help to get people to appreciate a fruiting female tree because she never sheds any pollen. I need your help to educate the allergists. I need your help to get cities to enact and enforce pollen control ordinances. I need your help to get the colleges and universities to start teaching this material in their landscape design classes, their urban forestry studies, in all of the horticulture classes.

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Butterfly Gardens

  • By cultivating particular nectar flowers and host plants, you can attract butterflies to your garden. Read more in this pamplet published by the Illinois Dept. of Conservation. Download Butterfly Gardens PDF