Once again, it is that time of year. Farmers toil in the fields, families meander through corn mazes, and neighborhoods prepare for masked and hooded goblins and superheroes. Windows flung open, welcoming the crisp, fresh air of autumn. Everything becomes pumpkin flavored and…*cough, cough*! Oh no! Close the windows! And yes *cough* people start burning leaves.

Though most municipalities ban leaf burning, I live in the county, where burning leaves goes unabated. If you are leaf burner, this column is for you.

The other week I received a call asking about small scale hydroponics. This is something that I had never really looked into before so of course it inspired me to learn more. One of the things I love about my job is that I am constantly learning about new things so I dived right into researching small scale hydroponics.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive and destructive insect pest of Ash trees (Fraxinus sp.) that was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and first found in Illinois in July of 2006. Since that time EAB has been spreading throughout Illinois and 29 other states in the US.

In 2017 EAB was positively confirmed in Quincy, IL and Nauvoo, IL

"Dad, come look at all the bees!" exclaimed my two young boys last weekend. We were in Quincy visiting my mother-in-law. The kids were playing outside, and they had made a tremendous discovery. Dandelions covered in bees.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officianle) are often regarded as the bane of our lawns and gardens. Dandelion's seed dispersal and resilience to all manner of controls make this plant a weed in most circumstances. However, I must stand up for this hapless plant. My first argument stems from childhood.

Earlier this week during my lunch break, I sat in my home dining room eating with my three-year-old. As our conversation strayed from preschool to Star Wars, a slight tickle on my side encouraged a scratch. Reaching over, I felt through my shirt the slightest bump. Immediately, it was clear this was no ordinary itch to scratch. I had a tick crawling up my side.

Going to the bathroom, I lifted my shirt thankful to see the tick had yet to find a suitable biting site. I plucked off the bloodsucker and flushed it down the toilet.

What is on your list of thanks this Thanksgiving? After all, that is the question of the week. I am grateful for many things. Too much to list here. If I could distill down to a few core items for which I give thanks, the following is what I have to offer.

I was super excited the other day when I looked over while sitting on my back porch and noticed that my Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) was in bloom. The common name comes from how the leaves are attached to the square stem in such a fashion that they form a "cup". It's a native plant to Illinois and I have a beautiful stretch of them along the one side of my house and here and there popping up in the backyard too. Of course this got me thinking about some of my other favorite native plants.

So far this year I have professed my reverie of dandelions, shrugged off creeping Charlie, and now it has come time to confess my favorite 'weed' - the common blue violet (Viola soraria). Yes, it is that violet, which so many homeowners battle year after year, often in their lawns. Search the internet, and you will find scores of articles on how to control this aggressive weed. Moreover, yes, I do grow common blue violet purposefully in my landscape.

Eeek!! It's October already. Where did September go? Wait where is 2017 going? Sometimes life seems to move so fast and we get wrapped up in the daily grind and we blink and the gardening season is coming to an end. There is still work to do in the garden – typical fall clean up, but there are definitely somethings you should avoid.

Following a series of windy days and storms with high winds in Central Illinois, several homeowners have contacted the Extension office with storm-damaged trees. We have received reports on large sections of trees lost, gashes left in the trunks of trees, and large splits in tree trunks. What do you do when a severe windstorm damages your landscape trees?

This weekend has brought about a long stretch of warm weather, which will last for much of the following week. Winter temperatures in the high 60s and even above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for some of our readers, may seem like spring has arrived. We must all keep in mind; it's only mid-February!

Life in Central Illinois is accustomed to swings in winter temperatures, but 60 plus degrees for a week straight is rare indeed. Many gardeners may wonder how these warm temperatures will affect their plants. Time for some Botany 101.

With the warmer than normal weather I know that we've all been itching to get out into the garden. So now that April is almost upon us, what garden tasks should we be doing to get our hands in the garden?

April is a great time to dig up and divide perennials. You'll want to make sure to plant them again right away. With perennials such as iris, wait until they are done blooming and hold off dividing peonies until September. Make sure to clean up any left-over plant debris from the previous year and cut back ornamental grasses before they begin to show growth for the season.

The other day I was teaching a group about native Illinois trees and of course I was all excited because I was teaching about trees which is my number one passion. I know in the past I've talked about native plants and have of course mentioned my number one favorite tree that just happens to be an Illinois native – Taxodium distichum Baldcypress. So I figured this time around I would focus on some small and medium sized native Illinois trees considering Baldcypress has the potential to reach 50-70 feet tall!

A question often asked when giving presentations on landscaping and sustainability "Are native plants better than non-natives?"

Just because days are shorter and colder and the outdoor gardening days are over, doesn't mean that it all must come to an end. Indoors we can have our green houseplants, but what if I told you – you can have herbs and lettuce and eat them too!

You can grow a number of herbs and lettuce indoors even in the middle of winter, short days and all. Whether you are growing indoors or outdoors, please still have the same needs but indoors in winter the two restricting factors that can affect growth is light levels and humidity.

Two weeks ago, my topic for this column was that we need to be watering our plants due to the dry fall weather. Two things have happened since that article. First – It rained. We finally received a nice steady fall rain event. However, the precipitation totals varied throughout West-Central Illinois. In Monmouth this past weekend, that area only received 0.3 of an inch. Farther south, Perry, Illinois had over two inches of rain. Regardless, we're happy to get some much-needed precipitation.

Next Friday, April 28th is Arbor Day. The day to celebrate trees and to plant trees. Of course in my mind I don't need a specific day to plant trees, but Arbor Day is a great way to bring awareness to the importance of trees in the environment and communities.

UPDATE June 25, 2018 - New Imdacloprid labels indicate that this product can not be used on Linden or any Tilia species due to toxicity to pollinators.

Last year my next door neighbors approached me about the pear tree that was located in my yard but overhung into their yard. Now this was not an ornamental pear tree, but a fruiting pear tree, one that would shed partially ripened pears in droves and trying to keep up with them was nearly impossible. It would result in the dropped pears becoming "lovely" bee and wasp magnets and both my neighbors and I have dogs – so you can probably see where that thought process was headed.

The tomato. A native to Central America and bred over centuries to become a staple summer crop. Gardener's across the United States compete openly and sometimes covertly to be the first with ripe tomatoes. Ribbons and trophies are handed out in nearly every community for the best-tasting tomato. Competitive tomatoe growers hold dear to 'secret' cultural practices. Some of these tricks never leave the confines of the family, but instead, are passed down from generation to generation.

It's hard to believe that the first month of 2017 is nearly over. It means that the days are getting longer and that before we know it the 2017 gardening season will be here. Last time I wrote about gardening being fluid and always changing. Part of being able to adjust to the changing garden, to grow as gardeners, to excite our passion is to learn.

I've heard it on the news, in conversation, and social media, "This warm late fall weather sure is great! I hope the entire winter is like this!"

During the gardening season I always get calls or emails asking what's wrong with a plant and what can be sprayed to help make it better. If you're like me, we love our plants and we want to make sure that they continue to grow healthy and happy in our landscape. It's always sad seeing a plant that is slowly fading away for one reason or another and we sit and try to figure out what is going wrong.

The other day I was teaching about Ornamental Grasses to a new group of Master Gardener's and some of the grasses I spoke about had been previously selected as the Perennial Plant of the Year. This of course got me to thinking that somehow I had failed to look into the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year. How in the world did that happen?

We are already through the half-way mark of June and July is right around the corner, granted the temperatures we are currently experiencing is more reminiscent of July then June. I was trying to figure out what to write on this week, so on my drive back from a program, I figured what better time than now to think about what we should be doing in June and July in our yards.

I was working on a PowerPoint the other day for an upcoming program on houseplants. As I sat there thinking about what information I wanted to include and being a dog person (I have an English Bulldog who thankfully leaves my plants alone) got me to thinking about plant toxicity and animals. I have a number of houseplants as well as the plants in my yard and decided to do some research into what plants were ones that pet owners should be careful with if they have pets that like to graze.

Back in 2015 I put together a program called Busting Garden Myths as part of the statewide Four Seasons Gardening webinar series. I really enjoyed filtering through all the interesting garden myths that were out there and it still intrigues me and I still continue to do so. There are a lot of them out there and with the ease of access to social media, such as Facebook and Pinterest, there is a lot of misinformation out there that is easily and readily shared.

After an exceptionally mild winter, I noted my first robin sighting about three weeks ago. During that initial observation, scores of robins had arrived in my yard. Spring is a time of year when the migratory American robin can be found scouring the earth in search of protein. Sipping on my coffee, wave after wave of robins hopped through the yard, stopping to cock their head, as if listening for worms in the soil below. Scratching and digging through my leaf mulch, these red-breasted thrushes, found quite a feast.

One of the suggestions we usually tell gardeners is to have a soil test done especially on new garden sites. It's better to see where your pH and soil fertility levels stand prior to applying anything and leads to determining better soil management practices. Before applying fertilizers what are the existing levels of phosphorous and potassium and are they at optimal levels or are they on the excessive side or maybe too low? Is your pH at a level that is suitable for the plants you want to grow or better yet know what your soil pH is and then select plants that do well in that pH.

Last week my boyfriend and I were outside repainting the porch on the south side of my house. I was looking at the pillars and saw a number of Asian Multicolored Lady Beetles gathering towards the top. Look a little bit further down and I see a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) on the same pillar. It's definitely that time of year where we are seeing insects that are going to be looking for places to overwinter start showing up on the exterior of houses and buildings. These insects, if they do find ways indoors are a nuisance but don't reproduce while indoors.

Insects are fantastic creatures. We marvel at their various shapes, sizes, colors, and behaviors. Well, maybe not everyone. While it is my hope we all have that inner entomologist, it is more likely many of us harbor an inner exterminator.

So recently I've become a bit re-obsessed with succulents, especially soft succulents you can grow indoors. It started back when I did a presentation on Hardcore Houseplants and came across a kalanchoe called Panda Plant in my research. Then I was up visiting my mom for Thanksgiving and she has a very large Jade plant that needed a trim. Being a sucker for plant propagation – I took the cuttings home to see if I could get them to root out (so far so good).

Everywhere I go I see huge displays of fall garden mums for sale. Beautiful colors and a reminder of cooler days to come. Mums are a great addition to containers and the landscape to add color when our summer flowers are faded or finished. With a little extra planning those mums you buy now can be a permanent fixture in your garden.

Last week, (April 20, 2017) a client brought in a sample to the Knox County Extension office. The sample was an unknown plant needing identification. Upon initial inspection, the plant was undoubtedly milkweed, likely common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). However, this couldn't be. My milkweed growing in the backyard in Macomb had not yet emerged, and the sample before me stood six inches tall.

Eeep!! It's December! Where did 2017 go? This time of year is always a bit melancholy but for gardeners, the sun is right over the horizon. Seed catalogs will soon be gracing mailboxes all over. I love seed catalogs – all the beautiful pictures and information to entice you, usually resulting in your eyes being bigger than your garden space.

I'm a foodie along with being a plant lover, I love to cook and bake and be in the kitchen. So of course there is a direct connection between the two. Gardening and cooking go hand in hand and usually that means our thoughts turn towards vegetables, but what would be a recipe without flavor from herbs?

Not long after the presents are unwrapped, relatives are back home, and the outside Christmas lights end their merry twinkling, one more task is taking down the Christmas tree. For those, like me, who use a fake tree, the process is simple. We take down the ornaments, fold the tree like an umbrella, and store it away downstairs until next year.

I always joke that I'm the kind of gardener that will try any plant and if it can survive my level of care then it must be pretty durable. It goes to the old adage of do as I say not as I do, but from my houseplant escapades it's given me pretty good insight into which houseplants are more forgiving then others. One houseplant that I cannot for the life of me grow no matter where I've lived and what I've done is ivy. I love ivy darn it all! Like clockwork it will start out beautiful and eventually succumb to a lovely infestation of spider mites – every single time.

This past Friday was Arbor Day and I was working with a local community to help celebrate by planting a tree. Of course one of the important parts of planting a tree is making sure to mulch the tree after planting. I've spoken before on the benefits of mulch but with the gardening season really winding up, I figured it was worth it to revisit proper mulching and the benefits it provides.

"The cracks in my yard have cracks," I recently heard a colleague remark. In Central Illinois, spring and fall typically bring reliable rainfall. Dependable fall and spring precipitation is why we say these are the best times of year to plant trees in our region.

Spring has a way of surprising us year to year. Already my daffodils are up, and lilacs are beginning to leaf out. Crocus are in full bloom, and the forsythia are poised to start their show any day. My lawn mower hibernates in my garage, and it seems I may have to wake it early this year. Following are some tips on getting the landscape and garden in shape.

Lawns:

Your turf may be a poor sight especially with our lack of protective snow cover this winter.

After years of hiding, I poke my head out, making sure it is all clear. For the past few years, there has been no sign of the intruders. As I gather my courage, I kneel down to plant…summer squash!

My hesitation over the past few years to plant any summer or winter type squash can be summed up in three words- squash vine borer. In 2014, I planted several zucchini plants, a kind of squash, in the garden. I was pleased with their fabulous growth, and it was not long before my family was enjoying tasty stir-fry, zucchini bread, and more zucchini than we could consume.

I feel like I blinked and April came flying around the corner. The good thing is that the days are getting longer and gardening season has begun! I have so many things that I want to do in my garden right now but it's been so rainy that I'm still waiting for things to dry out a bit, so it does give me more time for garden plotting and planning.

A scenario: Sometime between the end of May to the end of July you've noticed your lawn is in bad shape. You go to the garden center and see shelves full of grass seed. If the store is carrying seed that must mean it is okay to sow your new lawn at this time, so you purchase a bag or two. But what type of grass did you get? Cool season or warm season?

In my neck of the woods (Central Illinois) you will find cool season types of turf for sale. In fact, you will likely be hard-pressed to find any warm season grass seed in Central Illinois.

Each year I tell myself that I want to accomplish this or that in the garden. I want to try this new variety or try a new plant all together. No matter what, sometimes good intentions go awry and when the end of the year rolls around we might sigh and say darn, that didn't work, but you know what there is always next year!