The Illinois Senate has declared 2015 the "Year of the Volunteer". This is not a random labeling of a year, but one that takes into account the benefits of volunteerism.

Over the past few years it feels like we've earned the ire of Mother Nature. In Illinois we've experienced a severe drought in 2012 followed by another drought in 2013 along with the coldest winter in decades this past 2014. Plus, the tragic tornadoes that ripped through Central Illinois in November of 2013.

Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of the ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long term to your plants, soil and environment? An example which was recently brought to my attention by a McDonough County Master Gardener is the use of salts and vinegars for weed control.

Following is a continuation of my exploration on the aftermath and preparation of weather-related disasters on our landscape plants. You can find the first article on winds HERE.


In the book Weatherproofing Your Landscape, authors Sandra Dark and Dean Hill classify weather-related disasters as the 'Big Four' – wind, drought, flood, and frozen stuff. As we move from July into August, hot, dry weather commonly becomes an issue in many areas of the Midwest. This makes the topic of drought very timely indeed!

This past summer, a homeowner called the local Extension office concerned about cicada killers. I immediately set about my normal talk describing the benefits of cicada killers and how they are not prone to sting humans. The homeowner graciously listened to my pitch and then said they understand, but they do not appreciate how the cicada killer makes their lawn surface so bumpy. I conceded their point and set about gathering more information for chemical treatment recommendations.

The presence of emerald ash borer (EAB) has been confirmed for Warren County Illinois, with the initial finding coming from Kirkwood. EAB is a devastating exotic pest that attacks one of the most popular landscape trees in America, the ash tree. Unlike most native borers which only target dead or dying trees, EAB preys on healthy ash trees.

Following is a continuation of my exploration on the aftermath and preparation of weather-related disasters on our landscape plants. You can find the articles on wind HERE and drought HERE.

Frozen Stuff

As the pre-recession housing bubble swelled, landscape nursery production ramped up to meet an over-stimulated market. When that bubble burst, landscaping clients disappeared and nursery owners no longer had buyers for their plants. What ensued thereafter was a massive culling of nursery stock and the eventual loss of hundreds of landscape nursery companies. According to Nancy Buley, director of communications at J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., one of the country's largest wholesale growers, "Overall planting, industry-wide, may have been down 50 percent or more". (Raver, 36)

Being a fan of winter, this weather has been an absolute blast, but even I must admit- darn it's cold out there. One question I have been hearing a lot is "What about our plants?" Well, if you religiously adhere to the USDA cold hardiness zones then you should have nothing to fear. More than likely your trees, shrubs and perennials will emerge and leaf out to greet the spring. But who are we kidding? We gardeners are notorious for pushing the envelope when it comes to growing plants which are not necessarily suited to our local climate.

Pruning your trees and shrubs can be done almost any time of year, however, it is best to avoid making any pruning cuts while woody plants are preparing for dormancy in early fall. So the old adage to prune 'when the saw is sharp' is mostly true. When asked for the ideal time of year to prune, many Extension services recommend pruning while trees and shrubs are dormant. Dormant pruning is often my recommendation to homeowners. When trees and shrubs are devoid of leaves this reveals the structure or 'bones' of the plant, which makes it easier to identify and strategically make your cuts.

As a long winter's chill lingers into spring, the itch to get out in our yards has never seemed more compelling. One of the ritual tasks performed by many homeowners in the spring is applying weed-and-feed products to their lawn. Contained within these products is a pre-emergent herbicide to combat germinating weed seeds and then a helpful boost of nitrogen fertilizer to give our lawns that lush green appearance. Weed-and-feeds are a wonderful product of convenience by combining two tasks into one application- ideal for the weekend gardener, but not ideal for our lawns.

During this cool, wet weather it is hard to think about the hot, dry summer ahead of us. Yet, if the past two summer droughts still resound in your memory, you might be looking for ways to limit your gardens water use. Let's look at one such technique that citizens in the arid west have adopted and is spreading eastward.

What made it through this winter? I know many of us barely did, but now that spring has seemingly sprung into summer my concern turns to the landscape. Here in west central Illinois we live in USDA cold hardiness zone 5b, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of -10 to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this winter we saw temperatures dip below the -20 degree mark, granting us a zone 5a or in some locations a zone 4 winter.

It never fails. Every time I present a topic on lawns this question arises, “How do you prevent lawn damage if you have dogs?” Turns out, I really enjoy this question! Being a dog owner to two yellow labs for almost nine years, I have had my fair share of ragged lawns and muddy paw prints. Let’s start by examining the why and how in which our lovable pooches are so efficient at destroying our turf.