This time of year, many folks have questions while searching for the perfect Christmas tree.  In recent years, I have written several blog posts on this topic, covering various

aspect of Christmas tree care, identification, selection and sustainability.  Please take a look at the past blogs posts below to learn more information about one of the most common holiday plants. 

White pine has beautiful color that is expressed in the yellow innermost needles this time of year.

The beauty of fall is upon us with splashes of exorbitant color all around the landscape.  In the past week, red maples (Acer rubrum) have nearly reached their peak color for the season, displaying fire-red leaves that scream for attention.  The brilliant yellows of shagbark (Carya ovata) and pignut hickory (Carya glabra) have been turned on like a switch to produce golden clouds of canopy and an equally stunning understory color in area woodlands. 

Earlier this summer the monarch butterfly was in the news as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) designated the migratory species as “Endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species.  This announcement sparked some misunderstanding as many confused the IUCN Red List with the US Federal Endangered Species List.   Both systems include a designation of “endangered”, but each means something different for the monarch and for all of us. 

Right now, mums are available at local garden centers in a wide variety of colors.

Throughout the fall season, garden centers are filled with a beautiful selection of mums (short for chrysanthemums).   In the garden, mums provide a both a spectacular fall display and a late season nectar source for pollinating insects. 

Goldenrods and asters provide some of the showiest flowers of fall, but can be aggressive in gardens if not planted appropriately.

This past week was the fall equinox which marks the beginning of the fall season. With the cooler weather in recent days, it has really started to feel like the time of changing leaves and brilliant autumn colors. While most of us are thinking of tree color this time of year, there are some spectacular late blooming plants that provide a characteristic fall flare of color late in the growing season.

spotted lanternfly

Spotted Lanternfly (SLF)

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive pest that impacts a wide range of plants as it feeds throughout the growing season.  This non-native leafhopper was first identified in Pennsylvania back in 2014 and has since spread to 10 other states.  Recent discoveries in Indiana and Iowa seem to be a sign of what is to come for Illinois, so we all need to be on the lookout for this new threat. 

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

In recent visits to local prairies, I was reminded of a spectacular native plant that is often overshadowed by its more common hybrid cousins.  Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is native plant with a home range that spans our continent.  It frequents a wide range of locations on the landscape, such as prairies and woodland edges or abandoned pastures and road rights-of-way.  This tough plant thrives in bone dry, full sun or even more mesic and part shade locations, occupying all but the most wet and poorly drained sites.

Noteworthy plants in natural areas can be the superstars of landscaping when gardeners learn to harness their natural tendencies and display their most virtuous attributes.  One group of plants that I have often underestimated are sedges (Carex spp.). 

Our sun has special significance in the gardening world.  It offers sunlight, which plants use to generate energy and directly influences plant lifecycles in a variety of ways. 

Greening spring lawns are a welcome sign to many of us, but they are also a sign of yardwork to come for the rest of the growing season.  The desire to get a jump start on mowing for season, or perhaps to get outside and be active after winter dormancy, spurs a lot of early season grass cutting.   However, there may be good reason to slack off a bit this spring. 

Native plants are ever gaining popularity as gardeners seek specimens with high ecological value in support of declining insect pollinator populations.  Among the almost 2,300 plant species known to be native in Illinois, our native shrubs are often overlooked and underappreciated in the landscape.  However, many offer a wide variety of ornamental attributes along with high pollinator value.

Like clockwork, the Champaign County Master Gardeners (CCMG) moved hundreds of plants from the greenhouse out to the Idea Garden on University of Illinois Campus in early May. This annual tradition has been ongoing for over two decades now as part of a plant trial program the gardeners participate in with Proven Winners®. 

poison hemlock flowers

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) has received a lot of attention lately, with reports of expanding populations statewide and subsequent increased human contact with this toxic plant. However, there is some confusion about the risk this plant poses to humans and animals, along with what measures should be taken for protection. 

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is one of only two hydrangea species native to Illinois.  This small and often overlooked native shrub is much more prevalent in southern Illinois, although it occasionally occurs in our part of the state as well.  Its dainty lacecap flowers attract a wide range of pollinators and its foliage serves as food source for the caterpillars of two native moths, lending ecological value to this attractive, shade-loving native.

Sick tree

The timing of spring can vary each year based on weather, but there are always ques in nature that line up in similar fashion year after year.  While climatic conditions on exact calendar dates my vary, the sequence of emerging biota is consistent and based a long evolutionary history which has carefully lined up everything from blooming plants to hatching insects and birds. 

Different colors of lettuces

The spring vegetable gardening season is nearly upon us.

Bluebells

Each spring as temperatures warm, there is a narrow window of weather suitable for plant growth prior to tree leaf out.  During this time, the forest understory begins to awaken as some of our earliest emerging native plants take advantage of the unique conditions. 

Vegetable Gardening with Raised Beds

The spring-like weather this past week has been phenomenal.  Although we may see a return to cooler weather since March is known to “come in like a lion”, it was certainly a sign of things to come.  I’m really looking forward to March’s exit as it “goes out like a lamb” and the 2022 gardening season takes shape.

The benefits of green space in urban areas has long been documented to improve our lives in a wide variety of ways.  However, recent research has Illuminated the special role that trees and larger woody plants serve in our communities.  Beyond ecological and environment benefits, these extremely valuable landscape plants have been shown to improve our mental health in amazing ways.   As researchers work to further explore the fascinating relationship between trees and humans, the importance of woody plants in proximity to schools is becoming more apparent.

bamboo

On a recent trip to southern Illinois I couldn’t help but notice an incredibly unique native plant whose evergreen foliage is reminiscent of something from the tropics, making it seem so out of place in the winter landscape of Illinois.

monarch

In recent years, gardeners have become increasingly interested in maximizing the benefits their garden spaces can provide for pollinating insects.  We know that these important insect friends are struggling with declining populations reported by research from around the globe, which had put additional emphasis on the need for more pollinator habitat. 

Leaf

Plant identification can be incredibly challenging for beginning botanists or even experienced plant people. There are tons of terms to learn and understand just to start identifying plants by leaves and other plant parts. Throw in a leafless winter, and it makes for a difficult skill to develop with confidence.

Deicing

While this winter has brought little ice and snow cover, this past weekend’s winter weather put a coating of ice on most smooth surfaces.  Gardeners, businesses, parks and others with landscaping near walkways must apply deicing salts for safety, but these products can harm plant life. 

stacked firewood

Nothing beats the warmth of a crackling fireplace on these coldest days of the year.  Each winter, as my family enjoys the cozy warmth of our woodstove room, I’m always thankful for the firewood supply we’ve been fortunate enough to accumulate over the past season. I enjoy the process of collecting and splitting wood that we can salvage from downed trees in our area.  It’s great exercise which results in some supplemental heat during the colder part of each winter.