Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

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Spring is Confusing…


Spring blooming squill- photo from Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County

Spring in Nebraska is a very confusing time of year for most gardeners.  We get teased with the nice weather for a few days, only to have snow or cold temperatures snap us back into the reality of living in this wonderful state.  There are a few tasks that should be completed in the “spring” of the year, others need to be put on hold for just a little longer.  Continue reading

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Spooky Looking Plants


Powdery Mildew on lilac

Spooky looking plants have been sighted all across Central Nebraska.  Ghostly white peonies and lilac aren’t possessed, they are infected.  Find out what is causing this whitish cast to many favorite landscape plants.

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Enjoy Roses: flowers, thorns, bugs and all

No doubts about it, roses were hit hard this winter. Whether you had hybrid tea roses or the tough-as-nails shrub roses, they all took a beating. Don’t let your roses suffer any more damage this summer, be on the lookout now and catch these common rose problems.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are a common pest of roses. They will feed on most anything, but they have a love for roses. These insects are related to the May/June beetle and can be a major pest of roses. The immature form of the beetle is a grub that can do some damage to turfgrass. The adults hungrily devour roses and cause the most feeding damage. The front of this beetle is a dark metallic green and the wing covers are a dark tan or coppery color. The main identifying characteristics for these beetles are five small tufts of white hair along each side of the insect. They feed in clusters during the day on leaves or on the blooms. Adult Japanese beetles can cause the leaves to have a skeletonized appearance, ragged holes, or in some instances, the leaves are completely eaten.

Rose Chafers

Rose Chafers

Rose chafers are another beetle pest of roses. The adult beetles are slender, 1/2 inch long, and are light tan colored. They lack the tufts of hair that the Japanese beetles have. The long burnt-orange legs are the distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart, as they clumsily walk around. The adults feed on the foliage and flowers of roses, while the larvae feed on roots of grasses and alfalfa. Adults may feed together and can cause skeletonized leaves or ragged holes in the flowers.        

There are a few ways that you can control Japanese beetles and rose chafers on roses. If the infestation is light, hand picking is an option. Pick the beetles off in the early morning and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. There are also some deterrents that can be used like neem oil. Several insecticides are labeled for control of these pests with active ingredients like carbaryl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos. Keep in mind that these beetles are mobile and often new beetles take the place of those killed by insecticides. Try to avoid applying the products to the flowers or during times when bees are present because they can harm honeybees.

Black Spot on Roses- photo courtesy IANR Pubs

Black Spot on Roses- photo courtesy IANR Pubs

Some disease names lack imagination. Black spot of roses is one of those. This fungal disease causes the rose leaves to turn yellow then develop black spots, hence the name black spot of roses. The leaves that are affected might fall off, which can affect the appearance of the shrub. It can also reduce plant vigor, cause stunted growth, and increase the chance of winter kill. The fungal spores overwinter on fallen leaves and diseased canes. Rain splash or sprinkler impact easily spreads the spores onto healthy new plant material.    

Prevention is the best method for dealing with black spot. Following good sanitation practices like cleaning up rose beds in the fall will make sure to get rid of any old plant debris that could overwinter spores. Replacing old mulch with new, if black spot was a problem in the past in that location, as well as looking for and selecting rose varieties that are resistant to black spot will help to reduce or eliminate the need for a spray program.

Fungicides are another option for black spot control. For best results, most fungicide applications should be applied preventatively to healthy foliage to keep the leaves from becoming infected. Throughout the growing season, infected leaves should be removed as soon as symptoms begin to appear. On plants with a history of black spot, fungicides can begin to be applied as soon as the foliage begins to emerge in the spring and continued throughout the summer. Read and follow label instructions for application and reapplication recommendations. For best results, a fungicide should be used in combination with good cultural and sanitation practices.

With a keen eye, you can catch these issues before they become a pest in your rose bed.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Plant Choices: All America Selections

Spring fever has gotten the best of all of us.  The warm weather has our appetites wet for the coming spring.  Seed and plant catalogues have started piling up on excited gardener’s tables everywhere.  How do you know which of the plants out there are really good for our area and which ones are duds?

Arabesque™ Red F1 Penstemon  Photo courtesy All America Selections

Arabesque™ Red F1 Penstemon
Photo courtesy All America Selections

One organization was founded to truly help make the difficult selection decision easier.  All America Selections (AAS) is a non-profit organization that tests new plant varieties across the nation and lets home gardeners know which new cultivars are truly improved.  They test new, unsold cultivars then pick out the truly outstanding plants.  The first AAS winners in 1932 were announced a year later, after the results were tabulated from the first trial.  Today the winning plants must still follow a strict set of criteria, but they are available for sale the year they are announced as the AAS winners.

What exactly does an AAS judge look for?  They are looking for improved qualities like earliness to harvest, disease and pest tolerance, novel colors and flower forms, yield, and overall performance, just to name a few.  In order to even be considered by judges, the entry needs to have at least two significant improved qualities in the last ten years.  Some of the more recognizable AAS winners of the past include ‘Derby’ Snap beans, ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Celebrity’ Tomatoes, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard, ‘Summer Pastels’ Yarrow, and ‘Purple Majesty’ Millet.

This year AAS announced 10 new selections for gardeners nationally and four new selections for the Heartland Region for 2014.  The regional winners’ designation is a new offering for 2014 selections.  There are three categories for AAS winners; bedding plants, flowers, and vegetables.

African Sunset F1 Petunia Photo courtesy All America Selections

African Sunset F1 Petunia
Photo courtesy All America Selections

The bedding plant selections are ‘Sparkle White’ guara, ‘Florific Sweet Orange’ New Guinea Impatiens, ‘NuMex Easter’ ornamental pepper, ‘Akila Daisy White’ osteospermum, and ‘African Sunset’ petunia were selected as national award winners and ‘Arabesque Red’ penstemon was the regional winner.  ‘Sparkle White’ is a graceful plant in containers or landscape beds that has an exceptionally long bloom period.  ‘NuMex Easter’ pepper was selected for its compact size and the range of fruit colors that resemble Easter eggs.  ‘Akila Daisy White’ is a unique pale centered osteospermum that has a controlled, branching habit.  ‘Arabesque Red’ is the first ever penstemon award winner in more than 80 years.  It also is a season-long, repeat bloomer with blooms that are almost an inch across.

The flower selection winner is ‘Serenta Pink’ angelonia.  This angelonia is a deep pink flower and is said to be very drought and heat tolerant.

Mascotte Bean Photo courtesy All America Selections

Mascotte Bean
Photo courtesy All America Selections

Seven plants were selected for AAS vegetable winners; ‘Mascotte’ green bean, ‘Mama Mia Giallo’ pepper, ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ tomato, and ‘Fantastico’ tomato were selected as national winners.  ‘Mascotte’ is a great dwarf French bean that is adapted for window boxes and container gardens.  ‘Mama Mia Giallo’ has large yields of uniform shaped, long tapered, gold/yellow fruit.  “Chef’s Choice Orange’ is an heirloom-type, indeterminate, orange, hybrid tomato.  ‘Fantastico’ tomato is a very flavorful unique determinate bush tomato.  Each plant produces up to 12 pounds of fruit.  ‘Pick A Bushel’ cucumber, ‘Mountain Merit’ tomato, and ‘Rivoli’ radish were selected for regional winners. ‘Pick A Bushel’ was selected due to its early fruit set and prolific production on a bush type cucumber that only spreads 24”.  ‘Rivoli’ yields uniform, round root 1 ½” in diameter.  ‘Mountain Merit’ is a disease resistant cultivar that offers medium to large, round, red tomatoes.

All America Selections have done all of the dirty work for you.  They have tried and tested many cultivars to help the home gardener select the newest plant material for the garden.  Visit to find out more about AAS and previous award winners.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Nebraska Wildflower Week

Bumblebee and Echinacea

Bumblebee and Echinacea

Wildflower Week is in full bloom.  What exactly is Wildflower Week and what is a wildflower?  Wildflowers and native plants are very versatile plants that have multiple benefits in the landscape.  Some wildflowers are a cut above the rest and are worth a try in your garden.

“WHEREAS, prairies, woodlands and other natural plant communities are essential to the ecological health of Nebraska, and give the land its great beauty and unique character, and WHEREAS, Nebraska is rich in wildflowers, grasses, trees and other native plants with beauty and hardiness that commends their use for landscaping homes, businesses and community green space. NOW, THEREFORE, I Dave Heineman, Governor of the State of Nebraska , DO HEREBY PROCLAIM the first week of June, as Nebraska Wildflower Week, and I do hereby urge all citizens to participate in events and activities during Nebraska Wildflower Week that foster understanding, enjoyment and conservation of Nebraska’s wildflowers and other native plants. “— Governor Dave Heineman

Nebraska Wildflower Weeks’ focus is on embracing wildflowers and native plants of Nebraska.  Nebraska Wildflower Week will be observed in early June when Nebraska’s prairies and gardens are typically at their prime. National Wildflower Week, which is coordinated by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas, is observed in early May

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) coordinates Wildflower Week activities in which they bring together organizations that know the true value of wildflowers.  Visit NSA’s website at to find out about Wildflower Week events across the state June 4-11.

Wildflowers and native plants can be unique and interesting additions to the landscape.  What is the difference between native plants and wildflowers?  The terms “native” and “wildflower” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference.  Native plants in the Great Plains are generally described as those found growing in a defined area prior to European settlers.  Wildflowers are described as flowering plants that grow with little or no human help.  They can either be native or introduced, or brought in from other areas.  Both wildflowers and native plants work well in low maintenance areas and in sites that need hardy, drought tolerant plants.

Elizabeth’s top 5 wildflower picks of 2013:

Leadplant, Amorpha canescens–  the violet-blue, spike-like blooms are held on a 1-4’ tall woody plant.  The plant blooms in June and July followed by an interesting seed pod.  The dusty green-gray foliage is a good indicator of just how drought tolerant this plant can be.

Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis– While it’s an introduced plant, it’s still a show-stopper when in full bloom.  The magenta purple spikes of flowers in May and June can be seen from the road ditches while driving down the highway.

Bee Balm, Monarda species a member of the mint family reaches 2-5 feet tall with pink-lavender flowers in June through August.  This plant is prone to powdery mildew infections, so place in an area with good air circulation or select cultivars that are powdery mildew resistant.

Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla patens-This early spring bloomer has white to purple flowers followed by a fuzzy seed head.  Let the interesting seed head stand throughout the growing season as this allows the plant to reseed itself.

Goldenrod, Solidago species- I wouldn’t be a good Nebraskan if I didn’t mention our state flower Goldenrod.  There are several species of Goldenrod, but all produce a yellow or gold colored flower later in the season around August or September.

This is just a sample of my favorites, but there are many more interesting wildflowers to learn about.  More information about wildflowers can be found in a UNL Extension NebGuide, a University publication, ‘Wildflowers for the Home Landscape’.  Go to and search for the keyword ‘wildflowers’.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: