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The Scoop on Fungi

A new post in our Guest Garden Writer Series comes from Kristin Gembara, a certified Master Gardener from Illinois (Zone 4/5). Kristin Gembara is a Wife, Mother and a Personal Gardener in Illinois for an Organic Landscape Company.  She is an Advanced Master Gardener with the University of Illinois and holds a Certification in Sustainable Landscaping from College of DuPage.  She is delighted to share lessons from the garden in sustainability and ecology particularly to everyday people, above all the next generation. 

FungiA mushroom walks into a bar.  Barkeeper says, “Get out!  We don’t serve your kind!”  Mushroom says, “Why not? I’m a fun-guy.” The horticulture world pronounces the “g” in fungi a soft “g”, like in the word giraffe.  But for the most part, everyday gardeners pronounce it fun-guy.

Mushrooms or toadstools, as they are called in folklore and fairy tales, tend to be an enigma. First off, fungi do not need light to endure. Second, Fungi come in many shapes and colors in nature. Surprisingly, many biologists believe fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.   There is much debate and research happening on this subject as I write. 

This stalk poking out of the ground, topped with an oriental hat-like cap, is not the actual fungus, but the fruit or reproductive part.  The fruit contains spores for reproduction. I like to think of spores as the “seeds” of the fungus. The actual fungus is underground. They have long branching strands called hyphae collectively called mycelium.

Mushrooms are not poisonous to touch, but can be if swallowed.  Be on the safe side and never eat mushrooms growing in the wild or on your lawn, unless instructed by a Mycologist, one who studies fungi. 

FungiThe photo to the left shows a fungus fruit that appeared in my aloe plant seven days after I added a spring dose of organic worm castings to freshen up the soil.  As a Personal Gardener, I am often asked, “How do I get rid of these mushrooms that are growing on my lawn?”

Let’s start with understanding the actual job of fungi in nature.   According to Tom Volk, Department of Biology UW-Lacrosse, “Fungi are important scavengers in ecosystems.  Along with bacteria, fungi are important in recycling carbon, nitrogen and essential nutrients.”

Internationally respected soil microbiologist Elaine Ingham arranges fungi into three general categories depending on how they get energy. This breaks down nicely for gardeners.

First, we have decomposers. ”They convert dead organic material into fungal biomass, Carbon Dioxide and small molecules such as organic acids,” says Dr. Ingham.    Most of the time when mushrooms pop up on your lawn, it is because they are growing on old tree roots, most likely from years back.  A fungi party is happening under your lawn.   The Fungi are decomposers helping to break down this old wood. This is a good sign.  They are releasing nutrients back into the soil, a wonderful natural fertilizer.  Fungi are a constant in the soil.  They just need the right environmental conditions to fruit, like those extra rainy days that we love to complain about. If you have pets, or are uncomfortable with the fungi fruit in your lawn, rake them out or mow over them.

The second group Dr. Ingham calls the mutualist.  The fungi mycorrhiza forms a type of support with plants and trees.  “The mycorrhizal colonize plant roots in exchange for carbon.  Mycorrhizal fungi help solubolize phosphorus and bring soil nutrients to the plant,” says Dr Ingham. These mycorrhizal branches form a beneficial relationship with the roots of plants.

There are exceptions to this fun-guy story.  Harmful fungi do exist in the landscape that may cause problems. These are the third k known as pathogens and parasites ind of fungi that Dr. Ingham brings to light. They are the bad guys in the garden, also known as pathogens and parasites.  A few examples I see out in the field are powdery mildew, root rot, leaf spot and stem blight. These fungi are usually spread through environmental elements, wind, water, and soil.

There are ways to avoid spreading harmful fungi and bacteria in your landscape. First, do not work in the garden while plants and soil are wet.  This is the ideal environment for spreading disease. Second, clean your garden tools properly after gardening among unhealthy plants.  Gardening tools are the perfect host for transmitting fungi and bacteria to otherwise healthy vegetation.  Mix three parts water to one part bleach in a bucket and immerse your tools, especially when working with diseased plants.  Inspect your garden regularly for signs of plant weakness.

From time to time, other types of fungi make an appearance in your wood mulch during the growing season.  Puff balls, stink horns, and slime molds, are three fungi fruit that I regularly find in our backyards.  I came upon this wonderful example of slime mold or Dog Vomit while working in the field early last summer.

In 2013, the Chicagoland area experienced a particularly wet spring. This set the stage for a remarkable fungus show in many yards across the south western suburbs.  Also known as Dog Vomit Fungus, it was growing over a small section of garden mulch in a yard we were working.  I showed it to our intern Tony, who was working with me that afternoon. He immediately said, “Yuck! What is that?”

That is a normal response because it is quite crass, but harmless to your garden.  It may show up in an array of colors, but should turn white and fade away within a week.  If it really troubles you, scoop it up and dispose of, or grab the hose and center shoot it off.  The appearance of fungi in your mulch means aeration may be needed.  Go ahead and move the mulch around a bit to get the air circulating through.

Mushrooms and toadstools along with other types of Fungi will pop up from time to time.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If you have pets and children you need to be aware of the fruits of the fungi labor. Fungi and bacteria have significant jobs in the soil your plants are growing in.  Remembering the importance of ecology in the garden will help your plants thrive to their fullest. All gardeners should be ecologists.

April 25, 2014 · Garden Writer · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Perennials

Caring for Fading Spring Blooms

Dutchmaster DaffodilsWith the gorgeous display of Spring-Blooming Bulbs either in full swing or on its way in much of the country, our customers are asking “How do I care for my Bulbs once they are done blooming?” We are here to help with instructions on how (and why) to care for your precious Bulbs once they have finished blooming for the spring.

Once Tulips have faded, “dead-head” them by clipping off the faded blooms so that they won’t go to seed. Daffodils do not require dead-heading and can be left as is. The main requirement for Bulb Flowers in the post-bloom period is to leave the leaves alone so the plant can put its energy into “recharging” its bulb for next spring’s performance. This “energy charge” is gained through photosynthesis as the plant uses the sun’s energy to turn basic elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into food. This food is stored in the Bulb’s “scales,” the white fleshy part of the Bulb, for use next spring.
Tulips and Daffodils
It is necessary to leave the green foliage exposed to the sun until it turns brown, or six weeks after the flower has finished blooming. Fight the urge to trim back or constrain the leaves during their die-back phase after blooming. Don’t bunch, tie, braid or cut the plant’s leaves during this period. AlliumDealing with the fading foliage is basically one of those things that lovers of Bulbs must deal with. The only management tip is camouflage.

Try planting Fall-Planted Bulbs with Annual Wildflowers or Perennial Plants, or planting them strategically nearby so that they help hide the declining bulb foliage as best as possible. As a planting strategy, plant clumps of Bulbs instead of full beds. This way you will have a lovely spring show, and plenty of room to plant camouflaging companions.

Avoid fertilizing your plants in the same bed until the Bulbs have died back. Bulbs in spring, if fertilized at all, should only get a dose of fast-release nitrogen about six weeks before flowering (normally bulbs want low nitrogen mix, but in spring it is the green-encouraging nitrogen that is called for). Fertilizing Bulbs too close to flowering time, when the bulbs can’t metabolize the food, only encourages fusarium disease and other nasty things that can harm your bulbs.
HyacinthsWhat are some helpful tips that you have for caring for fading Fall Bulbs? Feel free to leave a comment below or post on our Facebook Page.

Happy Gardening!

April 17, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Perennials, Wildflowers

Fun, Unique Spring Color: Allium Bulbs

Allium Purple SensationNot to be confused with its relatives from the allium family (garlic, shallots and onions), Ornamental Allium are purely decorative and cannot be used in culinary dishes. They are, however, some of the most unique and easy-to-grow Fall-Planted Bulbs, adding height and texture to the spring garden year after year.

Their problem-solving qualities seem endless.
These easy-to-grow bulbs are perennials and are hardy through zone 2-3. They tolerate almost any soil and prefer full sun. The bulbs will multiply as the years go by so you don’t have to worry about planting them each year. Alliums are drought-tolerant and critter-resistant (critters aren’t a big fan of onions), making them the perfect choice for almost any garden! Allium Bulbs Fireworks MixOne important fact about growing Allium is that you need a cold, dormant period for them to bloom in the spring. If you don’t experience this in your area, you can put them in the fridge to ‘force’ the bulbs for spring blooms.

Unique, gorgeous blooms come in a rainbow of colors. My friends like to call Allium "Dr. Seuss flowers" and I think it’s a great way to describe their fun, unique blooms. Globe Master, Gladiator, and Purple Sensation are some of the most common, delighting the late spring garden with large, globe-like, purple blooms. Wild About Allium Bulbs MixIf you’re looking for a more unique bloom, try Allium schubertii, Red Mohican, or the Fireworks Mix. Try pairing purple varieties with white ones such as Graceful and Mount Everest for a fun, contrasting look. Not sure which bulbs to plant? We have a Wild About Allium Bulbs Mix and a Rainbow Mix.

What are you experiences planting Allium? Please post in the comments below or share your photos with over 100,000 other gardeners on our Facebook Page.

Bulb Comparison

April 11, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · Comments Closed
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, How-Tos, Perennials

Calla Lilies: Elegance and Ease

Calla LilyCalla Lilies are some of the most beloved and gorgeous summer-blooming flowers, both in the garden and cut for bouquets. Whether you’re looking to add pops of color to your garden bed or are gardening in containers this season, Calla Lilies offer delightful, colorful blooms that are deer resistant and easy to grow. 

Easy to Grow

Calla Lilies thrive in a variety of growing conditions, tolerating sandy and clay soil. They are deer resistant and thrive in containers, making them the perfect statement for a small-space garden or patio. The unique, elegant blooms also attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies to the garden.

Beauty Outside and In

Calla LilyCalla Lilies are a florist favorite and can often be expensive to purchase as bouquets. These bulbs are SO easy to grow, plant extra to make your own inexpensive, stunning bouquets to enjoy in your own home or to give away to a lucky friend!

If you’re in an area that receives a hard frost, you’ll want to dig the bulbs up for the winter. If you’re in a hotter zone, you can leave the bulbs in the ground and they should act as perennials in your area.

What are you experiences growing Calla Lilies? Please share in the comments below or on our Facebook Page. Happy Gardening!

April 3, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · Comments Closed
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos

Why We Garden

Why do you garden?We have a variety of gardening experience in our team here at American Meadows, ranging from beginner gardeners all the way to Master Gardeners and those who have their own farms. We were curious why they are all so passionate about gardening and asked, “Why do you garden?” Their answers are below and you can fill out the form at the bottom of the blog to tell us why you garden!

Ethan: “Gardening connects me.  It connects me to people, places and times that make me smile.”

Wendy: “I garden because I love coming down my driveway and seeing my garden in full bloom to greet me. It makes me smile every time.”

Charles: “I garden because my livestock need specifically formulated forage which includes different types of grass and vegetables.”

Matthew: “I garden because nothing beats veggies that you grew yourself!”


Terry: “I garden for flavor and also to know where my food comes from and how it’s grown.”

Stacy: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

Mike Lizotte and DaughterKelli: “Because I love, love, love being outdoors and breathing in the clean, fresh air.”

Schuyler: “Because I’m embarrassed that I didn’t already know how to.”

Mike ‘The Seed Man’ Lizotte: “I enjoying teaching my daughter all about the “birds and the bees” of gardening!”

Why Do You Garden?

April 1, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · Comments Closed
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, Gardening in the Winter, How-Tos, Perennials, Wildflowers

Need Quick and Lasting Color this Year? Annuals are for you!

The Seed Man, our resident Wildflower expert, Master Gardener and part-owner, shares with us why Annual Wildflowers are the perfect choice for any garden or meadow.

ZinniasIt’s been a long, cold, snowy winter. My thermometer is reading -1 degree zero and it’s Wednesday, March 26th. Needless to say I’ve had enough winter!

Hopefully you’re in a little warmer climate and you may already be in the garden doing some spring cleaning and getting your beds ready for planting. We’ll if you’re looking to add some quick, lasting color to your garden this spring, Annuals may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Now I’m not talking about your boring big box, mass produced violas and pansies. I’m talking about easy to grow from seed annuals such as Red Poppies, Cosmos, Zinnias, Bachelor Buttons, Scarlet Flax, and Sunflower just to name a few.

The Seed Man’s Top 5 Reasons to Plant Annuals

Red Poppies#5 – A great value. A little seed will go a long way, share with your friends.

#4 – Variety is the spice of ‘gardening’! We offer 110 different Annual species to choose from.

#3 – Seeds are easier and quicker than you think.

#2 – Who doesn’t like picking flower bouquets all summer?

#1 – Instant gratification all season long!

CosmosNever tried wildflowers or seed and not sure where to start? We offer our All Annual Mix which is a nice blend of 23 different quick blooming annuals designed to give you color from late spring through fall.

So whether you’re new to gardening or a master gardener, if you’re wanting some quick, lasting color in a few short weeks try adding some Annuals to your garden this season. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Happy Gardening! – Mike “The Seed Man”

Annual Wildflowers

March 28, 2014 · Mike Lizotte · 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Wildflowers

Gardening Tips from our Fans

We recently asked our 95,000+ Facebook Fans what their best gardening tip was. With over 200 responses, we chose a few of our favorites to highlight in our blog. What’s better than gardeners helping other gardeners? We hope you enjoy and learn something new!

About Planting Tomatoes:

TomatoesFrom Donna A: "After planting tomato plants, cover ground with news paper, the top with straw. Keeps weeds down and moisture in."

From Toni H: "
When you plant tomatoes, whether in pots or in the ground, put crushed up egg shell a few inches below the plant and the egg shells with feed the plant calcium and sulfur. If you use a cut up banana peel it will release potassium in the soil also. don’t use too much though, you don’t want to cause harm to the plant. Also, tomatoes like to be watered from the bottom and don’t let it get completely dried out either…"

Garden ‘Hacks’:

From Alice K: "Have a comfortable seat near each garden area ( bench, chair, good size rock,ect) so you can not only rest during the work times but to more importantly spend some time enjoying the beauty and the results of love and labor…"

GardenFrom Ginger B: "Keep a bar of soap in the soap dish fir washing hands! When you get ready to garden, scrape the mushy back of the bar with your nails then put on your garden gloves! Nails stay soft and do not break or dry out, and it saves any dirt from getting under your nails! Works great!!"

From Connie F: "Used coffee grounds are great to sprinkle around Hostas…the slugs don’t like moving through it and thus no more chewed up leaves!"

From Staci P: "A drop of dish soap in your water keeps the bugs away."

From Traci S: "Plant up lots of pots of annuals poke them in the spots in the garden that are not in bloom yet , then move them to a new spot when they do come in bloom because a good gardener knows nothing comes in bloom at the time you want it to."

Planting Peppers:

From Ann M: "When planting peppers use about 6 matches taken from a matchbox and plant in the ground with your peppers, it will thank u & yield lots of peppers. University of Illinois, Horticulture Dept taught me this."

GardenFrom Haley L: "I grow the best hot peppers around! I don’t grow them in my vegetable garden. I grow them with the flowers. They seem to love the colorful company and try to compete by blooming like crazy!!! Beautiful, big peppers every year."

Potting Tips:

From Fran A: "Placing an open paper coffee filter in the bottom of your pot before filling with soil and plant makes life a lot less messy as the little clumps of dirt don’t plop out of the pre made drain holes in the bottom of the pots ."

From Denise N: "When a ceramic pot breaks, keep the pieces to put in the bottom of another starter planter to provide help with drainage."

Bulb Tips:

From Cynthia A: "Put your bulbs in little sections of the bags that onions are sold in.Squirrels leave them alone and the roots grow through the bags just fine."

DahliasFrom Cindy G: "When planting bulbs, I mark them with popsicle sticks, to remember where I planted them in the spring…"

On Soil:

From Lisa N: "Start with good compost or soil you won’t have anything great less you do that lots of tender loving care good pH balance water and you shall enjoy a beautiful garden sick back enjoy relax and pat yourself on the back for one beautiful garden"

Thank you to everyone who contributed their own garden tip. We learned a lot reading through all of your comments. Do you have a gardening tip you’d like to share? Feel free to post in the comments below or share on our Facebook Page. Happy Gardening


March 28, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · Comments Closed
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, Gardening in the Winter, How-Tos, Perennials

Garden Design: Get this Look

One of our favorite customer photos and the winner of our 2011 Photo Contest is this gorgeous photo from Robert B, a customer gardening in Illinois. We’ve had many so customers ‘oooh and aaaah’ over this design, we thought we’d share the varieties so you could re-create the look for this season!


1. Caladium Bulbs (Great for containers and also thrive in shade)
2. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm (Easy to grow and low maintenance)
3. Marigolds (Easy-care, quick-blooming annual)
4. Canna Lilies (Sun-loving beauties add bold summer color)
5. Marigolds (Easy-care, quick-blooming annual)
6. Zinnias (Deer resistant and easy to grow)

If you end up planting these varieties together, please send us a photo or post it to our Facebook page. Happy Gardening!

March 20, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · One Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Customer Stories, Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Perennials, Wildflowers

Have Wet Soil? No Problem!

Siberian IrisDo you have a hard-to-plant area that has poorly-draining soil? Turn this troublesome spot into a colorful landscape feature by planting Perennials and Bulbs that thrive in wet soil. Whether you have an area with runoff from a roof or an area next to a body of water, there are plenty of options for you to turn this into a gorgeous focal point of your garden!

Perennials That Thrive in Wet Soil

There are several varieties of perennials that not only tolerate wet soil, but also create a burst of color all season long, year after year in the garden. Siberian Irises are one of the easiest Iris to grow and are extremely hardy, making them a dependable plant for any wet spot. Bonus: These exquisite Irises also attract butterflies to the garden! Ligularia The Rocket is a great choice for moist, shady gardens and illuminates with bright yellow flower spikes that attract hummingbirds.

SpiderwortSpiderworts are hybridized from a wildflower with the wild form of this unique three-petaled flower usually purple. The foliage is lily-like, forming a clump of glossy green. They naturally grow along streams, so give them plenty of water and some shade. Hydrangeas are famous for their large, ball-shaped blooms that add elegance and charm to the summer garden. They can also be planted in wet soil. Hardy Hibiscus are extremely easy to grow. All they ask for is full sun, decent soil, and some pruning once in awhile. They leaf out very late in spring, so don’t think they’re dead and chop them down. Be patient, and in a few weeks you’ll have attractive foliage and soon thereafter a summer full of spectacular blooms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Bulbs that Thrive in Wet Soil

Many Summer-Blooming Bulbs tolerate wet soil and add unique, gorgeous color and foliage to the garden. If you’re in a frost-free area these Bulbs act as perennials, but if you receive a hard frost you’ll want to dig them up for the winter.

Canna Lily BulbsElephant Ear Bulbs create a dramatic, whimsical look both planted in the garden and in containers. Huge, unique foliage is beautiful on its own or planted as a backdrop for your favorite blooms. Canna Lily Bulbs ignite the late season garden with huge, boldly-colored blooms that last for weeks and weeks. These beauties are also extremely easy to grow. Calla Lily Bulbs are another gorgeous choice, thriving in wet soil and creating an elegant statement both in the garden and cut for summer bouquets.

This season, turn that poorly-draining spot on your property into the fabulous garden that it deserves to be! What experience do you have planting in wet soil? Please share in the comments below or on our Facebook Page.


March 8, 2014 · Amanda Shepard · 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Spring and Summer, Perennials

Creeping or Cooking: Find a Place for Thyme

David SalmanDavid Salman, Chief Horticulturist at High Country Gardens has spent over 26 years in pursuit of better plants for eco-friendly landscapes. He is a recognized expert in the field of waterwise gardening and xeriscaping and a sought-after speaker on these subjects throughout the United States. Text and photos are his.

The genus Thymus (Thyme) is a wonderful group of herbal plants for both culinary and gardening use.  Native to the Old World of Europe and the Mediterranean, this herb has had a close association with mankind since the times of the ancient Egyptians and the Romans.  The various species are planted for use as medicinal plants, as culinary plants and as ornamental plants of the finest order.


The creeping Thyme are a great group of ornamental groundcovers enjoyed for their wonderfully textural mat-like stems and foliage and the showy flowers that bloom in colors of white, pink, rose and rose-red. The blooms rest right on top of the flat branches creating a blanket of color in full bloom.  The key to a great Thyme patch is to provide the plants with a full sun location in well drained, preferably “lean” (low nutrient and humus content) or sandy soils. 


Ideally, Thyme like warm to hot days and cool nights as many of the species grow in the foothill and mountains of their native lands.  Prolonged muggy heat and hot nights is not to their liking so they aren’t generally suitable for the Deep South and Gulf Coast.  Thyme doesn’t want to be grown too dry so irrigation is needed in hot weather and occasional supplemental water during the winter if conditions are very dry.

I have always had best luck growing Thyme in between flagstone. This a western landscaping rock that looks like slabs of irregular brown slate but is of sandstone origin. Back East, the flagstone equivalent are slate pavers. Thyme likes to grow up over the top of the rock’s hot, hard surface with its roots below the rock which acts as mulch, keeping the roots moist and cool; Hence, its preference as a crack filler for flagstone or slate patios and walkways.

Thyme also does very well when planted into a thick layer of gravel mulch. Like the flats stones, Thyme also likes to grow over the top of the gravel. In moister Eastern climates the gravel keeps the stems dry and clean from splashing dirt and prevents rotting during wet winter and early spring weather.

Creeping Thyme varieties

  • Elfin Creeping Thyme – a tight compact grower makes a cushion of colorful flowers.
  • Woolly Thyme – grows to knit a gray-green carpet along paths and in between stone pavers.
  • Creeping ‘Coccineus’ – green foliage and a blanket of bright rose-pink flowers in early summer.


Thyme is an essential culinary herb. And they are like the creeping Thyme in their cultural needs (see above). As you might guess after thousands of years of growing Thyme, mankind has made many selections of Thymes to cook with.

In the garden, culinary Thyme is most commonly a compact, upright growing herb with small, fine textured foliage.  The variegated cultivars are especially colorful. But when growing the variegated ones, watch for green branches that have lost their multi-colored leaves (reverted) and clip them out.

These plants can be used along the edges of patio and along sidewalks where their fragrance can be enjoyed as you brush past them. I love to mix them with other culinary herbs like Salvia (Sage), Lavandula(Lavender) and Rosmarinus (Rosemary).  Not only is this combination of Thyme and other herbs beautiful and aromatic, they are fantastic nectar and pollen sources for bees. Herbal honey anyone?

Cooking Thyme varieties

February 25, 2014 · David Salman · 8 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Gardening in Fall, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Perennials