Down the Garden Path: Finally, we are outside – Shaw Local


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By Richard HentschelApril 01, 2022 at 6: 30 pm CDTGardeners have left the warm comfort of the house, and the impacts of winter are very evident as we do that “walk about” the yard and begin to formulate spring gardening plans. Master Gardener Help Desks have been open for a couple of weeks with a lot of questions.Q: I have noticed “runs” in the lawn, focusing near the bird feeder and then going in all directions. What is it?A: This one was noted last week yet may need more explanation. These are the feeding runs of the vole. The vole is active all year long and needs to eat often. These trails part the lawn grass to allow the vole movement along the soil surface and under the cover of snow and remain protected from predators. In the summer, they have free rein of the entire lawn and landscape, but in the winter are limited to the runs and repeatedly use them in search of food. (This is why they appear by the bird feeder.) The normal spring flush of the lawn is enough to take care of any signs the voles were there during the winter. In some areas, a light raking to remove the dead grass and even perhaps some topdressing will hasten the recovery.Q: When and how should I take a soil test?A: Most often, soil tests are done at the end of the season after all the amendments and fertilizers have been used by the plants and micro flora in the soil. Consistency of timing is what really counts. So if you do a soil test in the spring, keep doing them in the spring in the future. Several vertical samples, 6 to 8 inches in depth throughout the garden or landscape bed should be taken and then mixed together to give a representative sample. An easy way to do that is to dig a hole in the garden, then slice down one side of the hole to get that 6- to 8-inch sample. Repeat as needed to collect that representative sample. The next part of the question usually is, “Where I can get the soil test done?” Your county farm bureau is a great starting point ( ). The typical test will be for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Gardeners also may want to get an organic matter content test, too. The more we learn about organic matter, the better we can take advantage of all the good things in that compost.Q: I used a lot of composts from my own yard last year, and now I have weeds and other plants everywhere. Is it a coincidence?A: There are so many great benefits of composts and rotted manures that sometimes we forget that weed, vegetable, and flower seeds survive the cold composting process in the backyard bins and compost piles. While it may give gardeners a bit of pain to see plant parts leave the yard in the yard waste bag, certain plant parts are better left to the commercial composters. When deadheading our flowers, any viable seed will be spread about the yard if added to the compost bin. If any weeding is done and those plants are setting seed, kick them to the curb in the landscape waste bag rather than compost them at home. Dandelions, for example, can have viable seed just days after they start to flower. A rotten tomato or squash also can contain viable seed, although we seem to tolerate the random vegetable better those weeds.Want to ask the Master Gardeners your questions? Call, email, or stop by your county office during Help Desk hours. Learn more at• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at To get more tips from Hentschel, watch his “This Week in the Garden” videos on Facebook and YouTube.
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