Friday, June 17, 2016

When Lilacs Fail... To Bloom

Judging strictly from the number of customer inquiries nothing, and I mean nothing, is as looked-forward-to in the spring garden as the arrival of lilac flowers. When the highly anticipated floral extravaganza fails to materialize, the customer's crushing disappointment is followed by plaintive questions: "What happened? What did I do wrong? Will it help if I fertilize? Isn't there something I can do?" Gardening self-doubt runs rampant.

Lose the guilt (those of you who are sure they are somehow at fault) and look at possible explanations for lilac flower failure. In my experience this is a much more common problem with what I call the "grandmother lilacs" (Syringa vulgaris - Common lilac) than the dwarf lilacs (S. meyeri and S. patula). That is, unless poorly timed pruning is an issue and then the latter may fail to bloom, too (Reason #9).


  1. You planted it in the last year or two. It was a small container grown plant. It's growing quite nicely, but there are no flowers. Plant is simply too young to set flower buds.
  2. You planted a more mature balled & burlapped plant. It's growing quite nicely, but there are no flowers. The plant is directing energy to regenerating roots left behind in the field when it was harvested. The larger the plant, the longer it will probably take to produce flowers.
  3. The plant is receiving more shade than it should. Lilacs like a minimum of 5 hours (more is better) of direct sun. Direct doesn't mean filtered through trees. If you love lilacs and want to be successful assess the site for sun before you buy. Sun, sun, more sun, please.
  4. The plant is in a bed near the lawn. The lawn is being fertilized three or more times a year with a high nitrogen fertilizer. The fertilizer is being broadcast and flung into the bed with the lilacs. Lilacs, like many plants, respond to nitrogen by producing lush stem and leaf growth. In that hormonal state lilacs are not in a flower producing mode. Upon questioning I find this happens a lot.
  5. It was an overgrown plant and someone did a hard rejuvenation pruning, cutting it back quite dramatically. It's growing back with lots of new young green stems. Same as #4. You'll have to wait for it to slow down, switch gears back to a flowering state again.
  6. The previous summer was really hot and dry. The plant didn't get supplemental water when it was under stress and chose resource conservation (read survival) rather than forming new flower buds.
  7. You had a lilac that had to be transplanted for some reason. It was a blooming size plant, but the root ball didn't hold together very well. So the shrub was, shall we say, stressed. That was two years ago and it's still not blooming. Same as #2, lilac in recovery mode.
  8. The plant flowered like a champ last year, you've never seen it so beautiful. Deadheading (removal of spent flower) wasn't done. No flowers appeared the following year. Explanation: The shrub was trying to produce seed from all of those flowers. Therefore, energy was spent in that pursuit, at the expense of this year's flowers. Deadheading might have made the difference between some bloom and none at all!
  9. In addition to all of these the biggie is pruning too late in the year. Because lilacs are spring flowering, they're blooming from buds formed the summer before. If your ______________________ (multiple choice, pick one: spouse/offspring/landscaper/gardener) pruned in July or later, flower buds that might have been forming were cut off. Bloom potential... lost. This happens a lot. Try to do any pruning or shaping ASAP after flowering is finished.

For at least nine reason lilacs can be like many Chicago sports teams, "Just wait 'til next year."    

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Swamp Dwelling" Plants

There's a creek bed running through my property that's as apt to have standing water throughout the year as it is to be dry. With the rain we've had lately the creek has jumped its bank at the lower end and flooded what I call the "delta". This, unfortunately, is not an unusual occurrence. It's a big area of soil adjacent to gardens so leaving it unplanted isn't an option.

Before going on let's underline there's a big difference between wet and periodically flooded. There are many plants that will perform and please in wet soils (defined as often saturated, but rarely with standing surface water). Floodplain sites, on the other hand, will have standing surface water for one or more days at time, multiple times per year.

I'm always entertained by customers, who upon questioning, smilingly say: "Well, water does stand in that area for more than a day at a time- but it's only a handful of times a year." That's like saying you can only drown in the bathtub if there's water in it :) It's as important for roots to get oxygen as it is for our lungs. So, always go for the worst common denominator and realize that if you have these delta-like sites you need to use flood-tolerant plants, such as:

Swamp White Oak
Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) -  A majestic shade tree that eventually forms a broad spreading crown. Leaves are like green polished leather, most often with yellowish fall color. 50-60' tall at maturity. Moderate growth rate.

Baldcypress leaves, tree pictured at top
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) - A very defined ship mast-like central trunk that supports a very predictable conical silhouette. The foliage is citrus green and hangs on late in the fall before turning flaming rust. Interesting orange fissured trunk with age. A floodplain tree that grows really, really fast and yet has strong durable wood. 60-70' tall, 20-30' wide. Dwarf and columnar varieties exist as well.

River Birch
River Birch (Betula nigra) - One of the first plants to sulk when soil gets dry, just loves moisture. Glossy green leaves, yellow fall color. Year 'round interest with the buckskin colored peeling bark. Check out the cultivars 'Heritage' and 'Fox Valley' (a cute shrub form that gets 10-12' tall and wide).

Arctic Blue Willow
Arctic Blue Willow (Salix purpurea ' Nana') - A naturally domed shrub with fine-textured silvery blue leaves on slender stems. Grows like a son-of-a-gun when wet. It is, after all, a willow. Have seen them 7' tall and 8' wide when moist, but can be pruned frequently to contain.

Black Chokeberry
Viking Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa 'Viking') - White flowers, glossy summer leaf, striking red fall color and large black fruit that are edible! Expect 5' tall, 6' spread. It widens by suckering.

Red Sprite Winterberry
Winterbery (Ilex verticillata) - A hardy deciduous holly. Small white spring flowers are produced on both males and females. The female flowers that are pollinated produce green berries that ripen to bright red by late August/early September. The beautiful berries really stand out against the clear gold fall color. Birds gobble up the ripe berries. Consider the dwarf varieties such as 'Red Sprite' or 'Berry Poppins' that reach only 4' or so. Must have a male for every 3-5 females if you want the awesome berries. Will tolerate part shade.

Royal Fern
Ferns - Many ferns will tolerate periodic flooding and standing water. My particular favorite is Royal fern (Osmunda regalis). Perfectly happy with some sun/some shade, as well as damp (or even wetter) soil, Royal can grow into magnificent clumps 3' or more tall and wide. Clear pale gold fall color. A beauty!

The Rocket Ligularia
Ligularia - If you've ever tried Ligularia and found it lacking maybe it was sited in too much hot afternoon sun and a soil that was perhaps too well-drained. Some morning sun, for example, will enhance the varieties with colored foliage and those big leaves thrive in constantly wet sites. Check out: 'Britt-Marie Crawford', 'Desdemona' and "Bottle Rocket' to name a few for your swamp situation.

Sweet Caroline Hardy Hibiscus
Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) - The colors of these dinnerplate-sized mammoths can only be described as luscious. Brilliant red, raspberry, pink and white (often with colored center eyes) grace the summer perennial garden with their cool demeanor. Do know that Hibiscus is one of the last things to wake up from winter and show signs of life. maybe not dead, just dormant until early June.

Over the years I've tried and lost a lot of plants in the delta. The above have all survived flood "tides" with flying colors.  


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Spring Garden Musings

If you have roses in the upper Midwest one of the first spring garden tasks is taking rose inventory. What survived, what didn't? This is one of those daunting projects undertaken with fingers crossed and a prayer in your heart that winter wasn't as horrible as you know it was. Do you get out your black suit? Are you going to a funeral? Mounding can dramatically reduce rose carnage, but doesn't guarantee 100% survival.

Grafted rose on left, own root rose on right
Courtesy Easy Elegance Roses
Rose winter hardiness has been dramatically, and favorably, impacted in the last decade with the introduction of "own root" versus "grafted" roses. At its most basic roses have been propagated for decades by grafting the desired variety (Ex: 'Peace', 'Double Delight') on the root system of a vigorous winter hardy rose, most often 'Dr. Huey', a rambling climber. The idea is to produce a larger, more vigorous plant in a shorter period of time. The downside is the golf ball-sized graft union where the canes (stems) originate is a point of weakness. Cold temperature damage to the graft and the plant may be toast in the spring. Aspiring rosarians, please heed the warning (regardless of what books may say) that grafted roses must be planted with the graft union 1-2" below the soil surface in northern climes. This is after all Chicago, not southern California.

Hardy and lovely My Girl Easy Elegance rose 
Sound the trumpets, hail the phenomenon of "own root" roses. Many roses can now efficiently be propagated by cuttings, thus surviving on their own biological roots. Upside? These roses are more innately winter hardy and won't produce 'Dr. Huey' suckers. Another difference is a two year "own root" rose will typically have fewer and smaller diameter canes than its same-age grafted counterpart. "Own root" roses can be planted at the level or a little deeper than they're growing in the pot when you purchase them.

Easy to prune clematis Etoille Violettte
Moving on, clematis pruning: The most important thing a gardener should do when buying a clematis is to record somewhere, anywhere, the name of the variety. I guarantee that in the future when you go to your local garden center to ask how to prune your clematis they will/should ask you the name of the variety. Why? There are three different classes of clematis, each with its own distinct method of pruning. Prune at the wrong time and you may be eliminating flowers for the entire growing season.

Group I: Spring flowering types that flower on buds from last year's growth. So, pruning should be minimal until after spring bloom. Any "tidy up" pruning you want to do should be accomplished within a month after bloom.

Group II: Some early through mid-season flowering varieties, that is two potential flushes of flowers.  Bloom on current season's growth from last year's stems and possibly a late summer bonus flowering from current season's growth  So, spring prune dead wood or weak stems to the plumpest, uppermost buds on whatever growth you decide to save. 

Group III: These varieties flower in summer from the growth they made in the spring. These varieties can be cut back within a foot or two of the ground late winter or early spring. Another way to put it would be to prune just above the lowest buds nearest the base of the plant.

If you're like me you'll put the name in at least two places just as insurance. There's nothing more irritating than being the party responsible for turning your clematis into a foliage plant for the year because it was pruned improperly!

Light the dark with Silveredge pachysandra
A plant you may want to know: 'Silveredge' pachysandra. Don't stop reading because you see the word pachysandra, please. 'Silveredge's' height and white flowers are identical to its green parent. The thing that makes it special is the foliage is gray-green with strong, regular cream edges. It will visibly brighten the shady areas it loves to inhabit. While perfectly winter hardy (Zone 4) it's slightly slower to fill than standard pachysandra, so space no farther apart than 6" centers, or 4 plants per square foot. Not appealing to deer- nice!

After rereading and reflecting maybe this post should have been called "mutterings" rather than musings. Just sayin'....


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hello Spring, Hello Hellebores

As someone who has worked in garden centers for 49 years, there's precious little of a horticultural bent you could share that would shock me. Been there, heard it. Still, I admire the optimism of people that want it all.

By that, I mean the (re)quest for the elusive plant that does something splashy every season of the year. I call it the "wish-upon-a-star" plant syndrome. If such a plant existed in the upper Midwest it would:

   * bloom April thru October and be available in every color of the rainbow
   * have intoxicating fragrance
   * bear delectable, edible fruit
   * display long-lasting fall color, but
   * have evergreen foliage  
   * grow exactly the height and spread your site requires (sans pruning)
   * be repugnant to marauding deer and bunnies
   * be a way station for pollinating insects and hummingbirds
   * tolerate sun or shade, wet or dry soils

Red Racer
We plant people have all had this fantasy. But until horticultural science is more advanced and we do intergeneric gene splicing I nominate Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) as a wish-upon-a-star perennial for its workhorse range of garden attributes, day in, day out.

Lenten rose is in bloom long before and after Forsythia dreams of showing its golden wares. Literally, H. x hybridus flower stems push up through snow and last year's evergreen foliage. Individual flowers can be 2-3" in diameter, one to four per stem. Because the flowers arrive in late winter Nature has given Hellebores nodding, downward-facing flowers that shed snow.

Cotton Candy
Fortunately hybridizers have been working like mad to bring the blooms to a more upright position so you don't have to lie on the ground to enjoy the wonderful range of new colors. If you're color particular like me you may want to buy named varieties so you know what color you're getting. If they're offered as generic seedlings consider buying them in bloom.

Winter Jewels Cherry Blossom
In the quest for more upright and outward-facing flowers the color range has been expanded to white, cream, butter yellow, pinks, rose, almost black and more. Many have contrasting dotting and spotting on the flowers, and they last at least 6-8 weeks. And, drum roll please, they aren't just 5 petaled (technically they're sepals), now there are numerous double-flowered series.

You want more? The flowers eventually fade and the seed pods develop an almost papery fish-scale appearance that is also long lasting. The foliage has an interesting finger-like texture and is very glossy green. Some new varieties ( H. 'Ivory Prince' and 'Pink Frost', for example) have much darker foliage with beautiful silver veins that make it an attractive foliage plant even when out of bloom. Yes, they're evergreen even in the upper Midwest. Come March "deadleafing" of winter-weary foliage is in order to make way for fresh new leaves.

Ivory Prince with winter foliage, left, then 4 weeks later
Lenten roses are tidy clump-formers, generally 15-18" tall and slightly wider at maturity. The singles may seed about, but that is easily remedied with timely deadheading. As long as they're sited in a moist, highly organic soil (a different gardeners' fantasy) alkaline soils are not a problem. Hallelujah, something that doesn't demand acidic soil! I find they're great performers in sun or shade, although they're most often recommended for partial shade sites.

Winter Jewels Berry Swirl

Hellebores are a bit like peonies in that they're happiest planted and left alone. Slug damage is occasionally reported, but I'm happy to say that's only something that I've read about, unlike many Hosta varieties. Deer and rabbits eschew (not chew, haha) Lenten rose. Is there no end to this plant's virtues? The only drawback I hear from customers is that they're slow to mature, typically taking three years to reach blooming size in a gallon pot. One more asset- winter hardy to Zone 4!

When you wish upon that perfect perennial star put Hellebore hybrids at the top of your fantasy plant wish list!


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

No Bird Brain, This Lady Part II

Hello again, friends! A vexing technical issue derailed The Hortiholic for a while but I'm finally picking up where I left off with my earlier post with Mary Francis Forde, Chalet's resident bird product buyer, discussing what you should know if you're new to bird feeding, And maybe you should read it even if you consider yourself a veteran birder.

Cole's has a range of seeds to attract, or not to attract, certain birds and critters.
Tony: Earlier we were discussing the Cole's bird seed line. I personally love it as much as you do. I get a great range of different species with their "Blue Ribbon" mix. It makes me wonder. Would you recommend a different seed blend for an urban feeder and a suburban feeder?
MF:  You might want to. If you were concerned about four-legged livestock (squirrels, mice, skunks, etc.) you don't want a mix high in fillers like millet that will end up on the ground. You might want to use safflower, which I laughingly say is the equivalent of rice cakes. It's not very attractive to squirrels, for example.

Look familiar? 
Tony: Ah yes, squirrels- the nemesis of anyone that feeds birds. Aside from the specifically designed squirrel-proof feeders (like Squirrel Buster) and the use of baffles, can you deter squirrels with smart seed choices?
MF: So, in addition to safflower you can be even more proactive. Cole's has a: "Hot Meats" blend (sunflower meats treated with liquid Habanero chili pepper and safflower oil) and "Blazing Hot" (four different seeds plus the liquid chili pepper and safflower oil). Don't feel bad for the squirrels. They will change where they dine after a bit of conditioning.

Tasteless tufted titmouse
Tony: This is the best part. What about the birds?
MF: Birds don't have a sense of taste as humans do so they're completely unaffected.

Tony: What if your feeder has been up for a while and birds aren't coming to it?
MF: You may have predators (owls, hawks) in the area which makes for nervous dining. Is your feeder out in the middle of an open area? Birds like something close by the feeder where they can land, make sure things are safe in the area, and then fly the short distance to eat. Is the feeder dirty? Is the seed fresh and dry, or is it old and rancid?

Make sure their plate is clean!
Tony: After our conversation I checked my feeder. So, even though they were eating like crazy my feeder was disgusting. Talk about dirty dishes, yuck.
MF (laughter dies down): I have to agree with you that it's not exactly a fun task, but a very necessary one. By the nature of the "residue" on a feeder washing with soap and water really isn't enough. It needs to be disinfected. Empty the feeder completely dislodging any old seed. Then immerse completely in a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Let it soak for at least 3-4 minutes, using a long-handled brush if necessary.

Tony: Then rinse very, very thoroughly and let air dry completely before refilling.
MF: Yes. And the air dry part after many rinses is really important. Don't use a cloth where a fiber might snag and be left behind in the feeder. Why? It could absorb bleach and be toxic.
Tony: How often should this disinfecting be done, Mary Francis?
MF: Seed freshness and the possibility of disease transmission among birds are a function of how clean your feeder is. How much flight traffic do you have? How rainy and humid is it? As a general rule you should consider every 3-4 weeks.

Tony: I know people that are afraid birds won't survive if we feed them and then stop, or miss feeding for a while. Is that a valid concern?
MF: Birds are always going to take the safest, easiest food. But no, they don't become solely dependent on us to the point of not searching for food in Nature.

A source of water is so important, especially in winter
Tony: What should I have asked about winter bird feeding that I didn't?
MF: That's an interesting question. I guess people need to understand that in certain weather water is even harder to come by than food. In winter the need for water is about drinking rather than bathing. That can be provided as simply as placing a plain saucer on the ground near cover.

Tony: What about it freezing quickly when it's so bitterly cold?
MF: Birdbath de-icers or heated bird baths are the solution for that.

Tony: Mary Francis, thank you for a quick four credit course in Bird Feeding 101. Or maybe that was grad level. You're awesome.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

No Bird Brain, This Lady- Part I

Outside of checking nursery websites that claim to carry "unusual" plants and planning for the annual changes in my garden what's a Chicago horticulturist got to do in February? The snow isn't that deep at the moment, but the temperature is brutal. Competition at my bird feeder is pretty fierce as well.

Bird feeding is one of America's favorite hobbies. As I look out at the amazing diversity at my feeder I realize my knowledge of what I'm doing for my birds is pretty superficial. That's when I turned to Mary Francis Forde, Chalet's bird product buyer, for more info. Mary Francis was an educator for 28 years,  in garden center sales for 11, and bird product buyer for the last five years. I want to share what I learned from her in a recent sit-down chat. Wow, what I didn't know about bird feeding could fill a few blog posts. And guess what? It's going to :)

Tony: Mary Francis, what should someone new to "birding"consider when buying their first feeder?
MF: What's their motivation? What birds do they want to attract? What season are they going to feed? Fall and winter, or year 'round? What are the physical considerations for feeder placement? Are they placing it from: a tree branch, a hanger, off a railing?

Downy Woodpecker getting his fat ration
Tony: So, if you wanted to make an immediate impact for winter what would you suggest?
MF: Consider getting a suet feeder. Don't overlook the birds' need for fat and protein in the winter. Suet is a great way to provide vital calories needed to replace what they're burning just to stay warm. The new "no melt" suet formulations have a long shelf life in all kinds of weather without becoming rancid.
Robins love insect-embedded suet!
Tony: I notice there are a lot of choices in the suet cake selection- different seed types embedded in them.
MF: You bet. Did you notice the one with insect larvae in it? It's a great one to make life easier for overwintering robins. They love it!

So many great feeder options nowadays
Tony: There are so many cool feeders now, too. You can have a specialty feeder (like niger, sunflower, peanut or a general feeder). Please share what you were saying about niger thistle.
MF: Niger is a strong draw for finches, chickadees and doves as most seedheads are "grazed out" by now, so they're looking for food sources. Be aware that most male finches won't be showing color now so don't assume (from a distance) that you're just getting sparrows.

Tony: When you have a wide range of choices and prices (like anything in life, by the way) I'm always suspicious of the, shall we say politely, the "value product". Based on what I see researching wild bird seed there's a big difference in what you get for your money.  
MF: I would agree. The label must show the % of protein, fat and fiber as well as the sources. But, it isn't required to show the % of each type of seed in the bag. Birds need high protein and fat, NOT fiber. Fillers are high in fiber, which would be corn and millet.

Tony: I'm fascinated by the idea that birds test their seed before they eat it. Please share that.
MF: Through my reading I learned that in the same way a human can look at a peanut in the shell and know how many nuts are in it, a bird does something similar. They take a seed in their beak and can tell by weight if it's fresh, whole or insect-infested. If it's not fresh it ends up on the ground.

Your birds will be the happiest in the 'hood
Tony: Nature is just so cool. I had no idea they did that. What's your opinion of Cole's bird seed? People (and birds) must love it since it's a top seller. I use their "Blue Ribbon", and am so happy with the feathered diversity it brings to my garden. It seems like I get everything good, with very few sparrows. No cards or letters from sparrow enthusiasts, please. They're aggressive, territorial, and either eat everything in the feeder in one afternoon or throw it out on the ground.
MF: You're preaching to the choir on sparrows there, brother. There's a reason for Cole's popularity. It absolutely is a top quality line with a very low percentage of "fill" seed. It's treated with nitrogen gas prior to being sealed to kill grain moths. Then it's vacuum sealed, again to reduce any likelihood of grain moths infesting the seed. If unopened, Cole's seed has a three year shelf life. As you know they have a wide range of mixes, but they're more protein and fat-based with lower fiber than a lot of what's out there.
And since you mentioned it you might consider switching from their "Blue Ribbon" to "Special Feeder" for the fall and winter. The primary difference is "Special Feeder" contains raw peanuts and pecans in the mix for extra protein and fat.

Tony: Mary Francis has a lot more to share, so stay tuned for Part II.      


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Just Right for Low Light

Building on the earlier "Life Saving Houseplant Resolutions" post let's ensure a winning start in 2016.

Some of us go plant shopping with a specific site in mind. Some of us shop, fall in love with a particular plant ("It's talking to me" as one of my favorite clients says), buy it, and then put it in a spot where it will look good. Neither process is wrong, but we need to concede that houseplant success begins by matching the light in our desired site with getting a bead on the plant's light needs.

Think about it. If the tropical plant you're lusting after has evolved for hundreds of thousands of years on the jungle floor in the shade of its taller plant neighbors, it's probably not keen on direct sun. The converse is true, too. The cactus or succulent that loves to be bathed in sun is probably going to be sulky in a windowless room.

That being said the most challenging sites are the really low light ones: off to the side of a north window, an east exposure with heavy window treatments, an interior office with no natural light. You get the idea. So, assess the quality of light (direct, indirect, bright, really dark) in your room. Go for the worst case scenario. On a sunny day in our Chicago winter what are the light conditions? Is there direct sun? How long is it even bright? Thirty minutes, an hour, all afternoon? Be honest and don't fudge the answer. This reality check will determine your plant's future success.

So, what are some good candidates for a low light scenario? Below are five houseplants that will tolerate the dark corners and recesses of your home sweet home and still maintain an acceptable appearance.

Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema
Sparkling Sarah
Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen) - Hybridizers have done wonders taking the dark green leaves and developing wonderful splashes and blotches of cream, silver green, even rosy shades that really add interest to a dark room. Keep Chinese Evergreen away from cold drafts that accompany doors opening to the outside.
Mother-in-law's-tongue - Sansevieria
Sansevieria (Mother-in-law's Tongue) - Whether the cute compact rosette forms or the taller (to 24"+) upright varieties, this is an iron-clad standard of tolerance to almost any adverse condition you present. Just don't overwater and it will thrive.
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) - Foliage resembles the spear-like leaves of Chinese Evergreen, except the leaves are glossy green, rather than matte. It will provide a bonus of white sail-like flowers that last for weeks before turning pale green. No direct sun - ever. Prefers to be evenly moist. You may want to try 'Domino', a variety that has wonderful white splashes on the leaves.
Palms - Lady and Areca are best
Palms- Explore the world of palms and you'll find a number of species that will be quite happy in low light. I especially like Lady or Areca palms for those situations. These will generally be taller plants placed on the floor for height. They'll endure temperatures that are cooler than some other tropicals will tolerate.
ZZ plant - Zamioculcas
Zamioculcas (ZZ plant) - It looks prehistoric (in a good way) to me. After a year of growing it I'm a big fan! It's so easy. It's on the far side of a room away from an east window. It's in a 10" pot that I water once a month. My ZZ is producing lots of new stems. That's surprising to me as I tend to expect ultra-low maintenance plants to be slow growing.

So, if you're one of those people lacking strong light and the proverbial "green thumb" give some of these winners a chance. If they don't make the grade, it's time to think "silk".