1. Published

    Spring is a time of abundant blooms as well as one of the best times of year to establish new woody plants in your landscape.  This year, consider adding one, or all, of my favorite Illinois native spring-flowering trees to your landscape, and you’ll enjoy spring floral displays for years to come.  My top four spring flowering trees are all relatively small in size, making them an easy fit for most planting locations, and all provide unparalleled spring flowers while supporting native insect populations.

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    The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea has been a mainstay of the ornamental shrub world since its release in the 1960’s.  This showy shrub is filled with beautiful snowball-like flowers that adorn its spindly branches each summer.  The blooms begin as pretty green puffs that turn white at maturity, often lasting 6-8 weeks throughout June and July, and gradually changing to a tan color to provide interest throughout fall and winter.   

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    Every spring, the awakening plant world has those hard-to-miss harbingers which alert us that winter is over and help to welcome spring.  In native plant communities, I think of spring ephemeral wildflowers as the primary signal and watch intently for their blooms each year.  However, in the built environment, there are other, nonnative plants that signal spring with their unmistakable displays.  While tulips and daffodils are probably a few of the most recognized ornamental plants in the early spring landscape, there is one shrub that has always been the beacon o

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    Hydrangeas are one of the most popular landscape shrubs in the US.  They are known for their exquisite flowering display, with many offering a season of beautiful blooms that remain attractive into winter.  Beyond flowers, these amazing shrubs offer additional ornamental beauty from neat and interesting leaves to ornate, peeling bark, making them quite versatile in the landscape.

    Each year, we receive quite a few questions about hydrangea care, with the most common question being, “Why isn’t my hydrangea flowering?”  

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    As spring continues to bring warming temperatures, home gardeners begin the tricky business of deciding when to plant what in their vegetable garden.  In the past week or so, I have started receiving questions from anxious gardeners ready to get the season started. 

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    Anyone who has gardened long enough likely has a pile of seed packets squirrelled away with intentions of using those seeds someday.  Many times, I keep seed packets in my collection because I just can’t stand to throw things away, especially seeds that may have some viability.  However, it can be tricky to figure out exactly how viable my old seeds remain in storage.  With all the time that carefully goes into preparing a garden bed, I rarely have the guts to sow many of the seeds from years’ past for fear that my efforts will go to waste.  So many times, I wind

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    This past week’s warmer weather has been an exhilarating blast of spring when contrasted with the icy, extreme cold just one week earlier.  The warmup has spurred many of us to get back out in the garden to start getting ready for spring.  While our landscape beds and gardens will be places of burgeoning spring beauty as plant life begins its annual revival in the coming weeks, they are also ecological hotspots of awakening spring life in the insect world.

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    Wintertime offers few activities out in the garden, other than filling bird feeders and carefully watching dormant plants for any sign of awakening as spring nears.  However, winter dormancy is the ideal time to prune woody plants.  With trees and shrubs inactive in their winter slumber, pruning now can avoid interruption of the many plant process at play throughout the growing season.

  10. Published

    The snow-blanketed wintertime landscape often lacks the beauty we can recall from other times of the year when plants were in bloom or filled with wonderful green foliage.  It leaves both humans and wildlife searching for plant life that retains interest either in the form of ornamental beauty for us, or shelter and habitat for all the animals that share our landscape. 

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    With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, many of us are seeking floral gifts to express our affection for family, friends, and significant others.  While nothing beats the spectacular blooms and intricate arrangements that cut flowers offer, we all know their lifespan is limited.  This year, consider a much longer-lived houseplant as gift that will continue to add lush greenery and even beautiful blooms for years to come.

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    What will your 2021 vegetable garden look like?  Where will you source seeds or plants?  What new crops are you interested in planting this year?  All these questions are on the minds of many gardeners this time of year. In 2020, there was an unprecedented interest in all types of gardening since most of us had a lot of time at home.  All signs indicate this trend will continues in 2021. So, whether you are ready for the gardening season or not, now is the time to start planning.

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    The plant kingdom has not always had the diversity we know today.  It has taken hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about the diverse, complex group of flowering plants known as angiosperms.  And for many millions of years prior to the emergence of angiosperms, the plant kingdom consisted of primarily of gymnosperms.  

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    Plant names provide the botanical vocabulary we use to describe the plant world to each other.  They are important descriptors that facilitate both backyard gardening and scientific study by establishing a widely agreed upon naming convention of species.  In our current system of plant language, each plant species has a formally established scientific name as well as a less formal and more regionally applicable common name.

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    Deicing salts are essential to winter travel in Illinois and provide necessary safety in a landscape setting by melting dangerous ice on precarious steps, sidewalks, entryways and other areas of frequent foot traffic.  However, winter damage from salt can be a major problem in some landscapes by negatively impacting plant health or sometimes outright killing plants from overexposure. 

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    Freezing rain is a regular part of winter weather patterns in central Illinois, resulting in occasional ice storms that can damage property, take out utilities and wreak havoc on tree canopies.  By meteorological definition, an ice storm occurs when ice accumulation is greater than 0.25 inches.  On average, our area of Illinois experiences about 5 days of freezing rain per year which rarely result in an ice storm, but can nonetheless cause major damage in any instance.

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    Poinsettias are a symbol of the holidays that have adorned wintertime homes in the US since their rise in popularity almost 200 years ago.  These gorgeous plants are native to Mexico and naturally reach full bloom near the holidays, making them a ubiquitous plant of the holiday season.  On average, they account for about one quarter of all potted plants sold in the US each year.  With all this popularity, it is surprising to me that there are a number of misconceptions or myths surrounding this plant.

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    Woody plants are some of the largest and most long-lived plants in the landscape, forming the majestic and expansive canopy of our urban and natural forests.  With all of this wonderful woody growth, have you ever stopped to think about why woody plants attain greater height than their smaller, herbaceous cousins?  What mechanisms are at play in woody plant growth compared to other plants?  How do cultural practices like pruning or impacts like storm damage effect the growth of these plants?

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    Native plants are becoming a larger part of our built environment each year as more and more gardeners begin to recognize their value. Natives support local ecosystems and wildlife habitat in ways that are increasingly important as our human footprint on the landscape grows.  From professionals to backyard gardeners, there is a growing demand for native plants, especially as many realize their ornamental and functional value in the landscape as well.

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    Thanksgiving brings us a feast that, for many gardeners and naturalists, signifies the final harvest and close of the growing season. As we draw further away from the growing season and nearer to the winter solstice, many of us turn our focus to bringing light and greenery into our homes. Whether it is candles, twinkling lights, wreaths, garlands, or trees, these holiday traditions span centuries and cross many cultures.