Author Archives: Jon

Removing Canadian Thistle or Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Cirsium arvense is also known as Canadian thistle, creeping thistle, or just thistle.  Due to the root system that this perennial develops, it is very difficult to eradicate from your garden.


First off, NEVER NEVER NEVER let the thistle go to flower and seed. Why? Thistle will reseed all over your yard, and the seed is viable for 22 years- That’s A LONG time.

If there is thistle in your garden and you wish to keep all the plants where they are, your best bet is a cocktail of chemical and manual labor.   I always cut any green growth off to soil level whenever I see it. This will eventually starve the roots of energy and food which the plant needs to survive and weakens the vigor in which the thistle rejuvenates. After cutting it down, instead of spraying the Round-up herbicide, I prefer to drip a few drops of it into the hollow stem which protects surrounding plants and seems to weaken the thistle more.

When the thistle issue is also creeping into your lawn, I’ll use a broad leaf product with 24-D, such as Weed-B-Gone, in these areas. Even if you completely remove the thistle from your garden, it will creep right back in via underground runners.


When dealing with a large area of thistle, my best method of control is to lay a thick layer of newspaper (6-8 sheets) and cover with a  3-4″ layer of organic material (woodchips, compost, grass clippings, or leaves).  Perennials then may be planted directly through the newspaper/organic material layer.  If any thistle pops up, I return to the cut down/Round-up dripping process.

When time isn’t an issue, I lay a heavy duty tarp over the entire area (plus another 3-4′ past where the thistle is growing).  Then I cover the tarp with 3-4″ of organic matter.   It’l will take about 3-4 years for the thistle roots to die off completely before the tarp can be removed and area planted.

Late fall is the time to plant a few bulbs

Looking to add more spring color to your gardens next year?  Didn’t plant as many as you thought last year?  Well fall is the time to plant these spring blooming beauties.  In Chicago you’ll see bulbs  start showing up in garden centers and your box stores around the end of September.  Most people will buy these bulbs then; but if you wait, these same bulbs can be bought for 50%-75% off.  This may take till Mid-October thru November but they go on clearance every year.  If there is a bulb you really want, and there aren’t that many of, I would purchase them before they go on clearance… JUST IN CASE!

“This late in the season, its safe to plant bulbs?”  YES!  Even though most sources say plant at least 2 weeks before your ground freezes – I find that it doesn’t matter.  I have planted bulbs in December, snow on the ground and all.  A sharp spade is needed to get through the frozen top layer of soil but it can be done. And as always plant the bulbs about 2 1/2 – 3 times deep as the size of the bulb.  I do not use any bone meal at this time.  I always add compost, peatmoss, bonemeal, bloodmeal, coffee grinds, and whatever else is good to my garden during the growing season.  You can use bone meal if you like, but make sure it doesn’t touch your bulbs.  Cover your bulbs with some dirt fist then add bonemeal  and finish filling the dirt.

What to plant?  Well all bulbs will be marked as being perennial.  Although this is true, this doesn’t mean they will look good year after year.  Bulbs such as tulips, and dutch iris will bloom amazingly the first year.  But after that its down hill.  You will be lucky to have 2 bloom the 2nd spring after planting.  This is because these bulbs are grown in perfect conditions allowing them to get large enough to bloom.  I avoid these bulbs personally because I think of it as a waste of time and money.  So stick with bulbs that are naturalizing (these bulbs will come back every year most will even multiply!).  Crocus, Daffodils, Scillia, and allium are the most common. If you absolutely need tulips, there are some that will naturalize – Darwin hybrids and the species.   The Darwin hybrids wont naturalize, but you should get blooms for at least 5 years.  The species should multiply for many years of enjoyment.  Darwin hybrids look like the tulips you normally see, while the species will have smaller flowers so should be planted along a path where they will be noticed.

Rather than planting bulbs individually I dig a trench and have someone follow me with the bulbs. Placing them in the trenches, LEAVING THEM UNCOVERED until all the bulbs are all used. This makes visualizing the spring picture much easier. If you dig up some previous years bulbs just replant them, and plant new ones else where.  Even if you cut these bulbs in half they almost always live.  These are the bulbs I planted this fall.  Thanks to Trish   for letting me drag her along to help plant all of them.



  • Split Corona Mix
  • Replete
  • Ice King
  • Thalia
  • Salome
  • Red Devon
  • Cheerfulness
  • Pink Charm
  • Jetfire
  • California
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Barrett Browning
  • Golden Ducat


  • Tall Mix
  • Globemaster
  • Raspberry Cream Blend


  • Crocus – Vanguard
  • Crocus – Ruby Giant
  • Crocus – Mix
  • Puschkinia





Bonsai #2

DSC_0226 (Medium)   Ok, this might have turned out more into a mini-garden with a bonsai tree in it, but non-the less its awesome.  For the box I torched all the sides till they were on fire.  Put it out, sanded with some fine grit sandpaper.  The bonsai is  a Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ (Arborvitae). DSC_0227 (Medium)

I used some Pilea Blue Moon to wrap up the trunks of the bonsai tree.  A mini Cotoneaster in the corner.  Some sedums, semperviren to soften the appearance.  And a Artemisia Silver Mound bonsai as a small evergreen looking shrub and for a touch of blue.DSC_0228 (Medium)

Path is made out of crushed limestone.  I dug the dirt out about 1-1.5 ” filled with the crush limestone and compacted with my finger.  DSC_0229 (Medium)

Succlent Container pt. 2

After my first succulent container I wasn’t planing on making another so soon. But a random drive found Trish and I at We Grow Dreams, and Everything was on sale. So I had to wake her up from her nap and check it out.

A few strolls around the greenhouse I knew it was time again to make a container.  This time I used some old fence boards that we found on the side of the road for the box.  Then using a blowtorch I charred the box.

Whats in this container?  Towards the back left we have the Paddle plant (Kalanchoe ‘Fantastic) – Front, right a black aloe (Black Gem?) – Back, center growing all jaggedddedely…. The mother of thousands, actually a baby from mother of thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana)  that rooted in the aloe pot at the nursery. (I love freebies) – And front, left is my favorite trailing plant, baby tears blue moon.  (Pilea glauca ‘Blue moon)

DSC_0059 (Medium)

Garlic Mustard

garlic mustardEveryone will have this weed sooner or later.  But once you get it, and you can get a lot of it. There are a few easy things you can do to keep it from taking over your property.

Most important is to never let it go to seed. Pull it, mow it, weed-wack it.  Just don’t let it go to seed. If it does go to seed you will have hundreds-thousands-millions-billions of little baby garlic mustards growing.  You can either hoe them, or spray them with any weed killer. More will return as the seed can live for up to 5 years.  You can use a pre-emergent such as preen to control future infestations.



Hardy Garden Mums

Everyone knows of the mums.  These are truly hardy mums.  Chances are you wont see this for sale in the fall either.  Unlike the mass produced mums that are everywhere in the fall, these will come back year after year and they only get more impressive.  Here is a short list of the best

DSC_0444 (Medium).

Clara Curtis – This one seems to bloom 2 or 3 times per year for me. Pink daisy like flowers.  Late spring, summer, and fall.  About 2-2.5′ tall.

Sheffield – About 3′ tall with large pink daisy like flowers September-Frost.

Mary Stoker- 2-3′ tall with orange/yellow daisy like blooms.  September-Heavy frost.  Mine keeps the flowers with red foliage after light frost.

Venus- Pinkish daisy like flowers.  I lost this one, choked out by other plants.

My First Bonsai

Before I met Trish, the only thing I knew of bonsai was from that wax on wax off movie.  And that they were super sacred and I would have to plant it on the side of a mountain so no vandals will destroy it.

Helping her trim her bonsai’s and watching them grow really made me want one!  So one day we decided to go out and make a few.  A trip to Menards yielded me a very nice Soft Serve Chamaecyparis.  At a good price of about $10 I weighed the option of just keeping it as a shrub and planting it out in my yard.  I figured what the hell, if I mess up, loosing $10 wouldn’t kill me, and plus my yard is so full of plants I just don’t know where I would have put it.

So I went at it, all cutting, dicing, chopping, bending, and wiring.  There were a few moments where I was thinking what did I do to this poor shrub?  The plant gods must have been on my side though, because I love how it turned out.


After I potted my first bonsai in this cool box I actually got to make, I needed something more.  So you guessed it, another bonsai.  This little baby bonsai was actually a cutting Trish rooted of one of her first bonsais!  A rock and some chicks (Hens and chicks Sempervirens) and a path to the rock made out of pine bark mulch finished the project.

This first bonsai has inspired me to keep going… And going… And going.. Now every time I am in that clearance section and see those sad looking evergreens, I think BONSIA! Tonight I found a perfect next candidate a Thuja Rheingold, that’s a arborvitae for all them non-plant snobs.

Hardy Hibiscus, and Japanese beetles

When I first started collecting hardy hibiscus japanese beetles were not in IL yet. The first year I had japanese beetles they only attacked my pussy willow and my rugosa roses.

Well, fast forward to today. The Japanese beetles are at the peak of their mating/eating season (middle of July through August) same time the hardy hibiscus bloom. And you guessed it they are all over them flowers! What a way to ruin them gigantic flowers.

To save them amazing flowers I have stumbled upon a secret. Cut them back! Cutting the hibiscus down to 6-8″ around July 4th will produce later flowering, shorter, fuller, better branched plants with more flowers and no beetles! The hibiscus at first will look like small sticks, don’t be afraid as after a week you will see tons of new growth.

The Japanese beetles will be about done when the hibiscus is ready to bloom, thus saving the flowers!

The scoop on spring blooming trees


Every once in a while in the Chicagoland area, we have a good spring display of flowering trees.  Some years the bloom buds are nipped by late freezes/Snowstorms.  This year is amazing. Everything bloomed, including the Saucer Magnolia. The most planted would be the Crabapple. (Malus)  They come in tree form, bush form, weeping tree form colors ranging from pink to white.  The most important thing… Resistance to Apple Rust.



Now, although amazing in flower, the Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia Soulanguiana) rarely flowers this well due to hard hitting late freezes.  This particular tree was hit really bad two years ago.  So bad that its trunk was split all the way down.  This happens when the sap starts to flow and freezes.  Just like a frozen water pipe. 



If you love magnolias, I would highly suggest planting Magnolia ‘Ann.  This magnolia will bloom 2 weeks later than the Saucer Magnolia types.  This means, blooms every spring.  One added bonus is sporadic blooms till frost.  On this large bush/tree its common to have about 15-20 blooms everyday during the summer. 



One of my favorites would be the native redbud. (Cercis Canadensis)  These trees grow to be 30′ tall and wide tops.  But the shape of the tree is outstanding.  Especially when in full bloom.  The pink or white flowers bloom on the branches before the leaves grow.  After the flower show, heart shaped leaves emerge.  Look for ‘Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy!  The leaves remain a red hue during most of the summer before becoming green.



Kousa Dogwood is a attractive spring blooming tree. Unlike its cousin (Pagoda Dogwood with flat fuzzy flowers) is more attractive.  The white isn’t actually the flower though.  Technically its flower bracts witch the flowers emerge from. (The green centers) Many cultivars are offered, and bracts range from white to pink.  Do research cultivars raised in warmer zones will flower sooner, unfortunately increasing the risk of loosing all blooms that spring.


Picture Service berries, are also a popular spring blooming tree/shrub.  There are cultivars such as Regent that stay more shrub like and smaller. The picture is a regent serviceberry.  And most books say they hold their foliage, I lose mine by the heat of summer, and is nothing more than sticks.   Shadblow  Serviceberry  is usually grafted to create a tree.  These will hold their leaves… I have heard of good jams made with the berries, but you have to be fast… Wildlife LOVE THEM.

A New Look To An Old Path


Believe it or not this path didn’t always look this nice.  Before I completed this little project the cement stones were badly sunken into the ground, and covered with mud.  So, I got out my wheel barrow, spade, and scoop shovel.  Now I had the orange rocks in containers under my porch.  They have been sitting there for many, many, many long years. 



So, first things first… I pulled up all of the concrete stepping stones.  Made a nice large pile of them.  Then I edged the path on both sides.  Next I dug up 2″ of soil, this was the most compacted soil I have ever worked with.  The shovel fulls of dirt resembled bricks more than soil!   Next I busted out the weed fabric.  This stuff does actually have a good use… Under paths.  With the weed fabric underneath the path it will prevent the smaller rocks from sinking into the soil.  Making them last many more years. The next step was to place the concrete steppers back into place, then dump loads of the orange rock in piles right on top of them.  Got the broom and swept them into place.  Then a quick weeding of the garden bed, and then I applied some preen to the patch and the garden bed. 


Picture Now when I dug up the steppers, I had a lot more then needed to make this path look good.  So whats next?  Well, I am going to put a fork in and have the other path lead into my back yard, through a arbor.  Or I may make a path from the other set of stairs to the back yard.  The possibilities are endless!  And these materials are now being used and not wasted. 5-2-2011 This path was created. Updates coming soon.