Category Archives: Trees

First Too Much Water, Now Not Nearly Enough

First we had an unusually wet spring, and now we’re in a drought situation here in Chicago and many other locations. What does that mean going into the winter? Nothing good, that’s for sure. So what to do? Keep watering each week as long as possible until your plants go dormant.

Ideally, all trees, shrubs and perennials should be getting about an inch a week in order to go into the winter healthy and strong.  Any new transplants, like this Star Magnolia and Bottle-brush Buckeye, should be especially cared for during a time of drought.

Evergreens, like boxwoods, yews and arborvitae, despite their lack of noticeable stress under drought can be especially susceptible to winter kill. I have a row of yews along the north side of the house that don’t always get rain to fall on them.

I tend to periodically “dump” water down the center of each plant from a watering can to ensure their root balls get enough water. Seems faster and more consistent than standing with a hose.


Plants susceptible to disease are also another group of plants to be sure to tend to. Our Purple Ash, while seemingly healthy because we’ve been treating it for Emerald Ash Borer, is a good example of a tree to keep a careful watch on.

Others in my yard that are less than healthy and need more watching during drought periods are Red twig dogwoods that have twig blight, and a River Birch that is prone to chlorosis.



How best to water? Check the soil for moisture by seeing if a trowel or finger can get into the soil. Very dry soil will compact and resist penetration. This compacted soil reduces the ability of the water gathering tree roots near the surface to absorb moisture. Light, frequent watering should be avoided, instead water the trees and shrubs within the drip line (distance of the trunk to the ends of the branches) about once a week with 1-2 inches of water. It’s good to have a rain gauge or check out Weather Underground to find a weather station nearby to know really how much precipition actually falls in your yard.  Helps decide if you need to water our not. Many times I find rain is in the area, but maybe not at my house, or it’s less than I think it is.

I sometimes will set out a container to see just how much water I’ve sprinkled. I also set a timer so I don’t forget and flood the area! Today all I could find was a dog dish 🙂



What’s my favorite sprinkler? This Dramm ColorStorm Turret Sprinkler. I often sprinkle only in one direction, like against the house or fence, and these are easy to adjust to water only what I need and built to last. If I’m doing a bigger patch, I’ll get out my Dramm ColorStorm Oscillating Sprinkler.


So, time to go out and water!

(Are you in a drought? check this map from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to see where your area stands)



Spring Colors Are Everywhere!

Spring in Chicago has been on and off again the last couple of months. We were teased with early warm weather and everything started popping out, but then winter seemed to come back and bring everything to a halt. But now, everything has just exploded in color.

Of all the wonderful spring blooms, my favorite is the daffodil.

After 20 years, last fall I added more daffodil bulbs to the ever dwindling display and I was not disappointed at my efforts.


We have two new magnolias that have done really well this year.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me they were reversed when planted last spring. I’ll have to have them replanted once they finish blooming and we’ll be back to square one with needing to baby them all summer again 🙁

The Jane Magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane) is one of the “Little Girl” Magnolias. It’s considered a late blooming magnolia and its blooms are a spectacular deep pink.

The other magnolia we planted is a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) which has large, fragrant, white double flowers. 

Even the bumblebees enjoyed this spring day on the rhododendron!

I love this time of year. Everything is so fresh, green and bright!

PS Photo credit goes to my husband Steve!



Spruce Down :(

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Like many across the Midwest and Northeast, we had an extremely windy week last week. On Wednesday at O’Hare airport, they measured gusts of 58 mph which was the highest since 1991, coincidentally the year we moved to Chicago. In … Continue reading

Anticipation (and a Stray Migrating Dragonfly)

Spring is such an interesting time of year in the garden.  What survived the winter?  When will the spring blooms begin?  It seems every year is different in how and when the growing season unfolds.  I thought it was going to be an early spring, and then we had quite a cold snap and slowed everything down.  Or maybe just made it more normal, but its hard to know what normal is anymore.  In any case, as I was walking the yard I was noticing how pretty and interesting the shrub flower buds were.  I was so focused on waiting for the blooms, I hadn’t been noticing the beauty in the buds getting ready to explode in color.

Star Magnolia

IMG_5572 (2)



Sargent Crab


Jane Magnolia


Dwarf Korean Lilac


While we were out looking closely at the shrubs, we had quite a surprise when we saw this guy hanging out on the Star Magnolia.

Green Darner

After consulting with my mom Peggy, who is my dragonfly expert, she identified it as a Green Darner.  It’s a fairly common, very large dragonfly and can be identified most easily by the very distinct “bull’s eye” on its forehead.

Green Darner

But why is this guy in my yard and not near any water?  Green Darners are one of the few migratory dragonflies.  There are two separate populations, one resident and one migratory, and to see an adult this early in the spring suggests that it may be part of the migratory group and he stopped off for a rest.  What a treat!



Want to read more?

Biokids: Anux junius

Wildscreen Arkive: Green Darner

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership


Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2016!  I truly appreciate all who have visited my blog this year.  Here’s a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2015!  

Tomato Florida Weave

1.   Taming My Tomatoes With A Florida Weave:  My tomatoes were a mess, so I tried something new to try and keep things in order.



Blue Jay

2.    The Blue Jays are Back (and That’s Not a Good Thing):  What to do when you have nuisance birds at your feeder?




Garlic3.  Warding Off The Vampires:  This was my first try at growing garlic.  Easier than I thought and definitely worth the effort.




Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze4.  So Long Beautiful Maple Tree:  Sometimes things go terribly wrong with plant.  In this case, construction and cold brought about the demise of our beautiful Freeman Maple



IMG_38415.  November in Chicago:  This fall was quite an unusual one.  Here in Chicago, the plants were quite confused as to the time of year and it made for an interesting fall.



clematis wilt6.  Something’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt: An Update to Something’s Wrong With The Clematis:  The wet spring affected a lot of plants.  Many of us saw some terrible die back of our clematis due to Clematis Stem Wilt.  Hopefully next spring everything will rebound.


westie7.  Little White Pepper Thief:  Apparently Westies love peppers.  I didn’t get any sweet or hot peppers from my garden this year because of my little thief 🙁



rabbit nest8.  Spring Surprises:  Even when you think you know everything in your garden, you get surprised!




Callicarpa9.  Beautyberry Bushes:  Did They Survive the Winter?  After a winter like we had, I thought I had lost my new bushes.  But, they are one of the last to leaf out in the spring, so I’m glad I was patient.  



IMG_349510.  Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses:  This was one of my favorite posts of the year.  Not only was fall in Northern Michigan stunning, my mom and I stumbled onto a forest area full of a club mosses.   Very cool to see and explore.


..and a few of my all-time most popular posts:

Curled Leaves On The Bushes (August 2014)

Creeping Thyme Problems (April 2014) and an update in August, Oops, September Garden Update 

Painting Rock Garden Markers (February 2014)

Pelicans In Illinois (September 2013)

Our Family Christmas Tree (December 2013)

Hope you keep visiting, I have all kinds of ideas to keep everyone in the gardening mood all winter.  

Remember, you can also find Stephi Gardens on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and  Twitter.


November in Chicago

Watching fall unfold here in suburban Chicago has been an odd event this year.  There have been spectacular tree colors, but it’s been happening over the course of about 6 weeks instead of one glorious event.  So instead of enjoying a panorama of color like in Wisconsin and Michigan, I’ve been admiring individual trees for weeks.

autumn blaze maple


Even at this late November date, there are trees that are still showing green or color dappled leaves, right next to a tree that has already dropped all its leaves.


Now if it was just a particular type of tree, like an oak, that’d be understandable since they always hold their brown leaves well into winter (and sometimes spring).  But it’s random maples, viburnums, burning bushes and others.


I’ve never seen this serviceberry have so much fruit!

serviceberry fruit

The Purple Pearls Beautyberry Bushes (Callicarpa x NCCX1), after a very slow start had a great fall display of purple berries to liven up the yard.  (Beautyberry Bushes, Did They Survive the Winter?)

beautyberry bush

Some flowers and vegetables haven’t minded the mild fall.




sweet hundreds tomatoes

And then, even with leaves in the trees the week of thanksgiving the snow has arrived! Lots of heavy, wet snow.  The kind that looks really pretty, but is tough on the trees and shrubs. And the back!


redbud in winter


The Common Witch hazel was blooming prolifically this fall after having some changes to the surrounding bushes giving it more space and sun.

witch hazel flowers

crabtree fruit

 How was your fall?


Fall in Door County, Wisconsin

Fall in Door County

In addition to going to Northern Michigan for the weekend (Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses), Steve and I  made a trip up to Door County, Wisconsin the third week of October.  It was definitely peak colors that week and it was spectacular.

The day started like this!  Sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Sunrise in Bailey's Harbor

After breakfast, we started to explore…

Fall in Door County

The forests of Door County are full of hardwoods like Sugar Maple, Beech, Ash, Red Oak, White Oak and Paper Birch.

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Fall in Door County

Looking down we were surprised to see these Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum pedatum). Always a fun find!

Maidenhair fern

Even this late, the raspberry garden is still full of juicy raspberries.

everbearing raspberries

Of course, Daisy is enjoying the fall woods as well!




Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the upper Midwest and see an amazing explosion of fall color.

I spent one of those weekends visiting my mom Peggy in Northern Michigan.   Once the rain finished, we went out to the woods to have a look at some of the beautiful places Peggy likes to visit.  Even though it may not have been peak color time, the textures and colors of the Northern Michigan forests that weekend were still stunning.

Fall in Wexford County, Michigan

Fall in Wexford County, Michigan

Daisy decided it was warm enough to go in the water.  She’s become much more daring in her old age.

Fall in Wexford County, Michigan

We had some fun taking panoramic pictures.

Fall in Wexford County, Michigan

After lunch, we headed to a new spot to check out a beaver house.

Fall in Wexford County, Michigan

We didn’t see any beavers, but saw some very active muskrats enjoying the warm fall day.

beaver house

On the walk back to the car, we were poking around in the woods.  I was particularly intrigued by the club-mosses that were so easy to spot this time of year.  I shot some pictures of my find, and then noticed my mom was also taking pictures.  She had seen the same thing in another spot and they had captured her interest as well!

Spinulum annotinum Stiff Clubmoss

Spinulum annotinum (Stiff Club-moss)

While we were looking at the Spinulum annotinum, we realized that there were a number of other species of club-mosses in the area.

Dendrolycopodium obscurum Tree Clubmoss

Dendrolycopodium obscurum (Tree Club-Moss)

Lycopodium clavatum Running Ground Pine

Lycopodium clavatum (Running Ground Pine)

Club-mosses are perennial, evergreen plants related to ferns and horsetails.   They spread by runners, either above or below ground (rhizomes) and get their name from the club-like, spore producing strobili found on top of many club-moss species.

IMG_3495 - Version 2

Club-mosses were often collected for Christmas decorations, but these are very slow growing plants and are now protected in most states.

As a bonus, there were lots of British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella), Pixie Cups (Cladonia chlorophaea complex) and Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) in the area.

British Soldiers, Pixie Cups and Wintergreen

I’m always amazed at the fascinating things you can find just a few feet off the beaten trail.

Interesting Club-Moss Resources:

Dripping Faucet vs. Korean Lilac

For years our outdoor faucets have leaked. Sometimes it’s the hose connection, or the faucet dripping when it’s open at certain positions, or sometimes just all the time when they are open. If it’s the hose connection, that’s easily solved with a new washer.  But, when we’ve tried to have the faucets fixed any improvements were short lived so we just do the best we can to minimize the waste. Then this happened…

Korean Lilac

The 20 yr old Korean Lilac in the back suddenly started showing signs of severe stress for what I thought was no logical reason.

Korean Lilac

As I walked back to inspect, I quickly realized the entire area was sopping wet.  Usually in the past that meant an issue with the drainage system, but not this time.  It was the faucet dripping!

Stephi gardens

We usually leave the faucet on and control the water with a hose extender that is easier to access.  I’m not one for crawling around in the bushes every time I want to water the plants or use the hose.  What I didn’t realize was that the faucet had starting dripping quite severely.  The mushrooms in the area should have been my first clue, but again, I don’t go back there very often.


I got the water turned off and hoped for the best.  A week later and looking worse.

korean lilac

It was time to finally deal with the leackey faucets so I don’t waste any more water and damage any more plants.  This is actually not a simple job, so we had to call a plumber in.  I am not going to do any soldering of copper pipes in the house (or outside for that matter).


Yay! My new faucet.  We had the front one done too while were at it.  No more leaky faucets, wasted water or damaged plants!

outdoor faucet

While it pretty much looks terrible, there’s still a few green branches on the lilac. Maybe there’s hope.  We’ll just have to wait until spring.

korean lilac


Beautyberry Bushes–Did They Survive The Winter?


Last year, I wrote about buying three Purple Pearls Beautyberry Bushes (Callicarpa x NCCX1) at the Morton Arboretum Plant Sale.  I had seen them the fall before in the parking lot there and thought they were just stunning with all those amazing, unusual purple berries (see Purple Beautyberry Bush).  I had to plant them in my yard!

Beautyberry Bush

For a first year plant, they looked fine last fall and I was looking forward to even healthier, bigger shrubs this year.  Like many of us around the country, this was a tough winter and of course I worried about what would survive and what wouldn’t.  So as everything awakened from winter, I was mostly happy to see things leafing out and looking healthy.

But not the Beautyberry Bushes.  By late April, they looked like nothing more than 3 dead sticks when everything else was already leafing out.


But, it just didn’t seem like they were dead.  The branches had some spring to them and if I scraped a small piece of bark it seemed fleshly underneath.


But they really looked dead.  I was worried, but not ready to yank them out yet.

One of the great services that the Morton Arboretum provides is a free plant clinic where you can call or bring in a specimen and they can try to help you.  I finally got around to calling and spoke with the nicest women who happened to have them in her yard too.  She said hers looked just like mine and that they tend to leaf out a lot later than most shrubs.  The also regrow mostly from the base.  so I should be patient.

It had been a couple of days since I had looked at them, so now I was curious.  Lo and behold, little sprouts of green had just emerged!



They were alive!  Even now, 3 weeks later they are still way behind many of the other shrubs, but I can be patient.  At least they survived!