Ask the experts

Rob Zimmer
Special Contributor
Sandhill cranes begin to stage in mid summer and will continue to grow in number through October and November prior to the migration.

Q: What are those big, tall pampas grass plants I see along the highway and can I grow them in my yard?

A: What you are seeing is probably invasive phragmites. This plant is considered restricted in Wisconsin and it should not be dug or transplanted. In fact, you will probably regret it once it takes hold in your yard and begins to strangle out everything else in its path.

There are many varieties of non-invasive grasses available that feature similar plumes, including maiden grass and others. Seek these out at your local garden center. They tend to remain in a nice, symmetrical clump.

Q: I'm noticing large numbers of sandhill cranes. Is it too early for them to be migrating?

A: Sandhill cranes begin to stage in mid summer and will continue to grow in number through October and November. These are small family groups coming together in increasing numbers, setting the stage for the final fall migration.

Q: I'm looking for more shade plants that flower. Can you give suggestions?

There are a number of excellent choices for shade plants that feature colorful blooms. Ligularia features spikes or masses of golden blooms. Astilbes feature masses of feathery bloom in purple, pink, red and white. Japanese anemone features large, silvery pink blooms with golden centers late in summer and fall. Monkshood is another late season bloom featuring tall spikes of unusual blue flowers. Globe flower features beautiful blooms in orange, yellow or white.
Annuals such as begonias, inpatients, lobelia and others also provide beautiful color.

Q: Have monarchs started migrating south yet?

A: Not that I have noticed yet. Usually, beginning about mid August, a distinctive pattern emerges where you'll notice all monarchs traveling south, even against the wind. This indicates that the migration is on.

Q: My cucumbers have lots of flowers and look good, but no cucumbers. What is happening?

A: There could be several reasons for this. Many of the newer cucumbers feature both male and female flowers on the same plant. Often, a flush of male flowers appears first, followed by female flowers a week or two later. The female flowers may simply still be coming. It could also be a lack of pollinators. If you are not seen bees pollinating the blooms, you may wish to try self pollination using a paintbrush or broom to get the job done. Often, gardeners spray their plants with insecticides and pesticides, killing off all potential pollinators, then wonder why they aren't seen any fruit.