Pineapple sage is an interesting annual that is currently in full bloom, providing a rare splash of color late in the gardening season.

Earlier this week, I was visiting a neighbor and noticed an eye-catching plant in rare form for this time of year.  It was filled with abundant red blooms that almost glowed against the backdrop of green leaves behind it.  Whorls of the tiny flowers filled the spiky stalks that jutted out in all directions, creating a display that no human or pollinator could miss. 

 Daffodils are one of many bulbs that need to be planted in fall for an early spring flowering display.

As the last asters of the year are wrapping up their flower display and monarchs are migrating through to more southern latitudes, spring flowers aren’t always at the center of attention for most gardeners.  However, now is the time to set the stage for some of the most beautiful and early blooms of spring. 

Fall is actually the ideal time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  These amazing plant structures are tiny powerhouses of energy that can be planted now to explode with flowers and foliage as spring temperatures awaken them next year. 

Garlic is typically planted in fall by separating bulbs into individual cloves for planting.

As the vegetable growing season quickly approaches fall frosts when production screeches to a halt, there is actually one crop that can be planted now in anticipation of next year’s growing season.  Garlic (Allium sativum) is an easy-to-grow bulb crop that does best when planted now for a summer harvest next year. 

The star shaped flowers of New England aster provide a much needed floral resource for migrating pollinators, like the monarch butterfly.

Fall flowers are some of the best of the year since they take a whole season of waiting to finally display their splendor.  Beyond their beauty, they provide a valuable food source for pollinators late in the growing, which can be especially important for migrating species such as the monarch butterfly. 

Non-native, invasive jumping worms can be identified by a cloudy white band that completely encircles the worm’s body

Each gardening season there seems to be a new invasive species we have to worry about.  Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of our ever-globalizing economies.  Despite the best measures to track and limit the indiscriminate spread of exotic biota, regulatory agencies and the industries involved just cannot stay ahead of things.  Without a crystal ball to predict the future, we are often left with a problem that was unforeseen, but irreversible.

Smooth sumac is a commonly occurring native plant that boasts a spectacular fall display of fiery red leaves.

Shrubs are often overlooked in autumn, typically playing second fiddle to overtopping shade trees that steal the fall display.  However, quite a few deciduous shrubs have spectacular fall color to offer in the landscape.  In many settings these smaller woody plants can help provide eye-level fall interest in the garden as blooms fade and many of the herbaceous plants we rely on for beauty throughout the growing season just don’t have as much appeal. 

Roadside plantings of pollinator habitat can present some risk of insect mortality from passing traffic, but the benefits outweigh the risks.  Photo Credit: Jeff Kohmstedt, Prairie Rivers Network

Amid all the pollinator conservation efforts in recent years, many gardeners have transitioned areas of lawn and other uses to vibrant pollinator gardens.  As homeowners search for new spaces to install pollinator habitat, many have questions about how and where to place these important oases of floral resources in the landscape.

The root collar of a tree can be defined as an area of the lower trunk that transitions from trunk tissue to root tissue.  It is typically associated with the basal flare, or the trunk flare of the tree, which is the wider portion of trunk that insects the ground.  In recent years, arborists have spent considerable focus on the root collar, identifying a number of common disorders that can lead to declines in tree health or mortality.

This purple coneflower is infected with aster yellows, which produce odd and deformed flowers that can actually be interestingly attractive at times, but must be controlled to limit infection of other susceptible species in the landscape.

It is always interesting to observe plant diseases and try to unravel the mystery of how a particular plant became infected and to look toward solutions.  So many of these ailments have an incredibly fascinating path to infection, often including multiple species when you consider the pathogen, host and potential vector species. 

Zinnias are spectacular annuals that produce abundant blooms throughout the season.

Landscaping is typically designed to provide functional beauty to our yards and community spaces by brightening up the build environment with plant life.  While beauty can lie in the form of interesting foliage, brilliant fall color, or unique growth habit, flowers are always the showstoppers of the growing season.  In fact, many gardeners plan their entire landscape based on flowering displays. 

August is a great time to start a fall garden including cool-season crops, like this lettuce, that will thrive in the milder temperatures of the late growing season.

In the heat of July, it seems out of place to consider fall frost, but it is an important detail for vegetable gardeners planning a fall garden.  There are a variety of garden crops that can be planted in July and August for fall production, many of which are cool-season crops that actually perform better as temperatures drop in the late growing season.  However, planning now is required to ensure plants have adequate time to reach maturity prior to the season-ending frosts that are inevitable. 

Common milkweed in bloom

Many gardeners are starting to integrate more and more milkweed into their landscaping in support of monarch butterflies.  Plants in the milkweed genius (Asclepius) are the exclusive food source for monarch caterpillars, making them incredibly important in the race to sustain imperiled monarch populations across our continent. 

Urban trees provide a variety of benefits which are going to be increasingly important as climate change impacts Illinois in coming years.

Last month, the US Forest Service released a technical report titled, “Climate Adaptation Actions for Urban Forests and Human Health.”   The report includes a summation of the current research related to urban trees and climate change, looking at how trees benefit human health, how climate change is impacting urban trees and how we can help our urban forests adapt.

As the summer heat intensifies and rainfall dwindles, watering newly planted trees and shrubs becomes incredibly important.

Although rainfall has been significant so far this summer, newly planted trees and shrubs need watering as daily high temperatures creep up and rain dwindles during the drier part of our summer. 

The next few months can be critical for woody plants struggling to become established in their new planting location and the water we provide can really make the difference.

Two-spotted bumble bee on a spirea flower

This week, June 21-27, 2021, is National Pollinator’s Week, which is a time set aside by congress to honor and appreciate the amazing process of pollination. Governors in all 50 states have also acknowledged this special week by making their own proclamations to recognize pollinators in their respective states.

Wild parsnip is non-native and invasive plant that can result in serious burns if sap contacts skin that is exposed to sunlight.  Photo credit:  Michelle Wiesbrook, Illinois Extension

The plant world is filled with amazing feats of both helpful and harmful attributes when you consider all the ways that humans interact with our floral friends. Everything from disease treatments or cures, to irritating rashes and seasonal allergies, or even highly toxic compounds all come from plants. 

‘Forest Pansy’ is a cultivar of our native redbud that offers unique purple foliage.

The ornamental value of landscape trees can be weighed by a variety of attributes, from interesting bark in the wintertime or colorful blooms in spring to the character of leaves that persists during the growing season. However, the foliage that embellishes branches to create a summertime canopy of beauty is often lost in the sea of green chlorophyll that fills the plant world during the growing season. I have always been interested in landscape trees with unique or interesting foliage that can provide a different splash of foliar color in summer.

Soil microorganisms are an integral part of all ecosystems worldwide, but they often go unnoticed. These tiny pillars of the soil environment perform a variety of incredibly important ecosystem functions, such as carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling. In addition, they also help to build more resilient soils, remove soil contaminants, and can help to regulate some disease and pest populations.

Wild columbine is in bloom this week across central Illinois

This past Saturday, we celebrated 15 new graduates of our Master Naturalist Training. The graduation day festivities included group presentations to showcase outreach projects they worked together to develop over the past few months. There were some very well-developed projects presented, and all did a great job of relating science and nature to their target audience.

Flowering herbs provide ornamental beauty to the edge of this pollinator garden

Herbs are a wonderful garden addition that provide easily accessible, fresh herbs for culinary use. However, I find that herbs are too often overlooked in most garden plans and can really provide a ton of ornamental and ecological benefits as well. 

This year, periodical cicadas in Brood X will emerge across Indiana and a small, 4-county area of central Illinois.

Over the next few weeks, some of central Illinois will experience a rare phenomenon that only occurs every other decade.  As soil temperatures warm, millions of insects will emerge from the ground in forests, city parks, yards and gardens.  They will carefully navigate the terrain and scale a close by, large object (such as a tree trunk) to shed their nymphal skin and enter the world as adult cicadas. 

Redbud is a fantastic spring-flowering tree offering the best floral display of any Illinois native tree.

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. 

In order to sprout, stored seeds must maintain viability which is dependent on a variety of factors.

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

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. 

Forsythia is currently blooming across central Illinois with clusters of bright yellow flowers creating a dramatic display.

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

The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is a cultivar that was originally collected from a wild specimen in southern Illinois and remains one of the most popular in production today.

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.   

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?”  

Standing dead stems are important overwintering habitat that should not be removed from the garden until insects emerge later in spring.

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.

River birch is a native tree with excellent winter appeal from its beautiful, exfoliating bark.

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. 

This young red maple could benefit from corrective pruning to establish a central leader that is free of competition from adjacent limbs.

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.

Snake plant is a very common houseplant that is easy to care for making it an excellent plant gift for your Valentine this year.

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.

Gymnosperms, like this Colorado blue spruce, are a group of nonflowering plants that emerged several hundred million years before flowering plants (angiosperms) entered the evolutionary history of the plant kingdom.

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.  

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.

Delicious and sweet ‘Sungold’ tomatoes were hard to find in 2020 since an unusually large number of homebound gardeners bought up seeds and plants at unprecedented numbers.

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.

Ice accumulation yesterday resulted in damage to many trees and shrubs in our area.

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.

The frosty accumulation of ice crystals on these spruce needles resulted from the wafting spray of an adjacent (untreated) roadway and serves to illustrate how salt spray can accumulate on plant parts.

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.