Down the Garden Path: Common questions answered as we transition to winter

Seasonally, questions to Extension though phone calls, visits to the office, and via email naturally slow down. It has consistently been colder so virtually all outside activities are done for the season. We do get some late-season questions as well as questions related to the start of winter and plants indoors.

Q: How can we prevent rabbit damage in the yard?

A: The absolute best way is to fence your valued plants. Double up on the chicken wire to create openings too small for the younger rabbits and tall enough that adult rabbits cannot reach into to feed. There is also a “true” rabbit fence with rectangular openings that are closer together on the bottom and wider as you move up. Consider fencing an entire bed rather than building individual cages.

Q: I still have spring flowering bulbs to plant, is it too late?

A: Go ahead and plant them as soon as possible; the ground is not frozen yet. While the bulbs will not likely produce any roots, they do need the winter soil temperatures to be able to flower next spring. The flower show may be delayed or uneven in 2022, but back on schedule in 2023.

Q: I had some unwelcome pantry pests last winter and they were tough to get rid of. How can I avoid the hassle this winter?

A: A great timely question. Pantry pests usually show up not too long after the holiday baking season is over. While there are several, the most common one is the Indianmeal moth. They are often first noted with a bi-colored winged moth in the kitchen window or flying around the kitchen light over the table. That means there is a contaminated flour product in the pantry or wherever you store your baked goods. Buy your flour products in smaller amounts that will be used up completely by the end of the baking season. If you do have leftovers, refrigerate or freeze them until they are used in other kinds of cooking.

Q: Our brand-new home has a fireplace. Are there some wood burning guidelines for beginners you can share?

A: In general, better-quality firewood gives off more heat, so oak, maple and other hardwoods are preferred. Only bring in a week’s worth of wood at a time, so it can warm up a bit but not long enough for any insects that may be present to come out of dormancy and become a nuisance. Seasoned firewood will show check marks (cracks) on the ends and have a gray color. Once you buy your seasoned wood, keep it that way by covering it outdoors.

• 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.