More than monarchs - What are those bugs on my milkweed? milkweed bugs on seed pod of butterfly milkweed.

Milkweeds have become a popular garden plant the last several years. They are most commonly planted to help support monarch butterflies because milkweeds are the sole food source for monarch caterpillars.

Milkweeds contain toxic compounds (cardiac glycosides) to deter animals (insects and mammals) from feeding on them. However, monarchs have evolved to be able to feed on these plants. Additionally, they can take these chemicals and incorporate them into their bodies, making them unpalatable as well.

squash vine borer feeding on vine

There’s nothing more devastating than walking out to your garden to discover your squash plants are wilted or dead. An insect known as the squash vine borer is one that will cause damage to your cucurbit plants by tunneling into the stems.  Once you have had an encounter with squash vine borer, it is one you will never forget.

Jumping worm

How full is your invasive species radar? All I can say is my view is overwhelmed. Dealing with the current group of Japanese beetles, emerald ash borer, bush honeysuckle, and so many more. Plus, in Illinois, we are girding for the impending arrival of the very destructive spotted lanternfly. Then a notification arrives the USDA has prohibited the import of boxwood, holly, and Euonymus species from Canada to prevent the spread of the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I didn’t even look that one up to see what it does, but I bet it’s not good.

Not all bugs are bad: Good bugs in the Garden. Parasitoid was and syrphid fly larva in an aphid colony

“I found this bug in my garden; what is it, and how do I kill it?” This is a common question that comes into extension offices. While it may seem like every insect out there is trying to eat your plants, not all the insects you see in your garden are pests. In fact, fewer than 1% of all insects are considered pests, meaning the vast majority are beneficial or, at the very least benign.

Japanese beetle feeding on leaf

They’re back! After hitching their initial ride on imported ornamental plants in 1916, Japanese beetles decided North America isn’t such a bad place to live and have made a presence year after year since.  Today, these pests can be a serious nuisance to gardeners and farmers throughout North America feeding on over 300 different species of trees, shrubs, and non-woody plants.

landscape fabric fail

Landscape fabric. It’s what goes under the mulch. Right? I’ve had several conversations with home gardeners looking for a permanent solution to keeping the weeds down and each time I warn them about the use of landscape fabric.

If you’re thinking, “Hang on! Landscape fabric doesn’t work?” Of course, you’ve seen people on TV and perhaps watched professional landscapers roll out the black landscape fabric before spreading mulch. And why does every garden center sell the stuff if it doesn’t work?

Garden tasks to help get your landscape through the summer. vegetable and flower garden with mulch path in-between.

After some up and down temperatures earlier this year, it seems summer has settled in for good. While a lot of the work we do in the garden happens in the spring, that doesn’t mean we can coast through the summer. Here are some things we can be doing in our landscapes to help keep them going through the summer.

pumpkins

Why are we talking about pumpkins in June? Because if you want home-grown pumpkins for Halloween, it is best to get them planted now!

Good Growing Fact
Did you know Illinois is ranked #1 for pumpkin production with more than 10,000 acres planted in 2019? Morton, IL, is considered the Pumpkin Capital of the World because 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin is packed there.

Photosynthesis definition

Fertilizer does not actually “feed” your plants. Let’s be clear, plants get their food from sunlight. I know we may have heard about photosynthesis and not paid much mind to this process. I was the same way. I remember sitting in high school biology learning about animal cells and plant cells and then hearing the teacher explain photosynthesis. Without a doubt, the term and definition of photosynthesis were placed in my short-term memory to get me through the next biology test, and afterward, it was mostly forgotten.

Buffalo gnats and how to avoid being bitten. buffalo gnat on ground.

They’re baaaack. If you’ve spent much time outdoors recently, there’s a chance you’ve had an encounter with buffalo gnats.

removal of infected boxwoods

With the recent detections of boxwood blight, which is a regulated plant disease, in Illinois, the importance of scouting landscapes and new plants for the disease is greater than ever. Boxwood blight can be a challenging disease to identify outside a plant diagnostic laboratory. Many of the symptoms associated with the disease are similar to other common boxwood disorders.

oak tree affected by Phytophthora ramorum pathogen

In 2019, the pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease that has killed large tracts of oaks and affected many native plant species in California, Oregon, and Europe, was found in Illinois. 

Phytophthora ramorum, the causal agent of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) was confirmed in ornamental plants at 11 stores throughout Illinois. A total of 18 states received diseased plants. 

low burning fire goes through forested area

In 1946 Robert Allerton transferred the ownership of a large parcel of his estate near Monticello to the University of Illinois. The Allerton legacy gift is now used as a public park, a conference and retreat center, and a 4-H youth camp. 

Now, 75 years later, nearly all of its 1,600 woodland areas are challenged by invasive plant species presenting many challenges to the professionals entrusted to its care.    

black beetle on cut surface of wood with holes in it

The Asian longhorned beetle is a non-native pest that threatens a number of hardwood trees in North America. The larva damage living trees as they tunnel through.

Spotted lanternfly: a new invasive insect to be aware of

Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a newer invasive pest in the United States that has the potential to become a serious pest across a large part of the United States, including Illinois.

What do they look like?

Adult spotted lanternflies are about 1 inch long. The front pair of wings are gray with black spots, and the tips of the front wings have speckled bands. The back pair of wings are red with black spots and a white band. Their heads and legs are black, and the abdomens are yellow with black bands.

palmer amaranth

Palmer amaranth is an invasive weed species we have been hearing a lot about in agriculture over the last 10 years, and it continues to be a threat after its first documented appearance in Illinois in 2012. Native to southwestern US states, palmer amaranth has made its way to 39 of the states.

winged euonymus fall color leaves

When we look at the current lists of plants that are deemed legally invasive by state and federal governments, we see species that were quite popular in the landscape in generations past. As we battle the current invasive species in our natural areas, there is a new generation of non-native shrubs that are currently quite popular in the home landscape which we are now seeing escape cultivation into the wild. Here are three shrubs that are recommended to avoid or remove.

Privet:

Some lesser-known invasive insects. spotted wing drosophila

When it comes to invasive insects, much of our attention is directed towards those that cause a great deal of damage, such as Japanese beetles and emerald ash borer. However, there are some other invasive insects present in Illinois that pose a threat to our plants and even us that you should be aware of.

The impact of emerald ash borer. Dying ash trees with thinning canopies.

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) or EAB has cut a wide swath of destruction across a large portion of the United States, including Illinois. EAB has been responsible for the death of tens, if not hundreds, of million ash (Fraxinus spp.) trees, which has led to drastic changes in some communities and landscapes.

splitting a hosta

With our recent warm weather, you have probably started noticing your landscape plants really taking off in growth. For those with a more established landscape, this boost in growth may have you noticing some of your perennials crowding out others or taking over. If this is the case, it may be time to consider splitting your plants.

Why Should We Divide Perennials?

bareroot tree planting

A tree is a long-term investment for a home. Truthfully, we often don’t plant trees for us, but for those that come after us. But many trees planted in a developed area don’t live past their eighth year. Here are some tips to help get your new tree past the eight-year hump and keep it going for generations.

Spring brings spring beauties to the landscape - a clump of blooming spring beauty plants in turf

Have you ever noticed small white flowers dotting the landscape this time of year? Chances are they’re spring beauties (Claytonia virginica). While they may not be the first wildflowers to bloom, spring beauties are one of our earlier blooming wildflowers and a sure sign that spring has arrived. Individually, these wildflowers may not be the most impressive plants out there, but when growing in large masses, they are a sight to behold.

garden with fruit and veggies

The year of 2020 brought a new experience for many as over 20 million novice gardeners picked up a trowel for the first time according to Bonnie Plants CEO Mike Sutterer. New adventures come with excitement; however, as those rose-colored glasses become clearer with further attempts and another year of gardening, the frustrations and failures can grow. Therefore, we have come up with some tips to help those 2nd time growers stay optimistic.

Storm Damaged Tree

It is heartbreaking to see the results of natural disasters, when it affects entire communities or when the storm hits home. As a horticulture educator, I am often asked in the aftermath of a weather-related disaster, “How do we restore our landscape?” This may seem like a trivial question in such times, say when a community is recovering from a tornado, but each time a person steps outside their home and is greeted by a ravaged landscape, they will be reminded of the disaster.

How to successfully grow asparagus in your garden. purple-green asparagus spears emerging from soil.

Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables that is commonly grown in gardens. But don’t let that intimidate you - it’s a relatively easy crop to grow. However, you’ll need to exercise some patience when growing asparagus.

Spring lawn care with mower in landscape

Our fool spring has many itching to get out in the yard and get to work sprucing up the lawn; however, it is important to consider that it could still be too early. To properly take care of problems in the lawn, it is important to fully understand what we are trying to control.

Spring lawn maintenance often includes a combination of the following: a pre- or post-emergence herbicide, overseeding, aerification, dethatching, fertilization, or an insecticide. When making these applications, it is important to apply maintenance practices at the right time.

Row cover protecting some lettuce

It feels like spring has sprung and boy it sprang hard. Despite the dizzy use of the different forms of “spring”, Illinoisans can relate. Several days above sixty and even a few above seventy degrees in early March has pushed growth in many early perennial plants. Buds on trees and shrubs are swelling ready to pop at a moment’s notice. Many of our cool-season vegetables have also put on significant growth. And yet, by the time this article is printed, we will likely be back to more seasonable spring weather. Chilly, rainy, and mud…everywhere.

Gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) feeding on a Coreopsis flower. Flower has bright yellow petals with a dark red center

Butterflies are among the most popular, if not the most popular, insects out there. In fact, many cultures around the world use a butterfly as a symbol of the human soul. Many people consider a butterfly landing on you to be good luck, for example, this Irish blessing:

cover crop starting to grow in corn field in February

Ooooh that smell. Can’t you smell that smell (read to the tune of That Smell by Lynyrd Skynyrd). If you have been driving around the countryside recently, you might already know what I am talking about; however, for those of you that don’t, as the temperatures warm up, a foul smell may begin floating around select farmer’s fields. Some say it smells like a gas leak while others might give their vehicle companion a nasty look, but the true culprit is the radish.

winter loaded screen

I love winter. I love snow. However, I must add two caveats to my initial statements – I love winter and snow as long as I am warm and I can stay at home. It’s when my feet get cold or my car is fishtailing trying to turn a corner that winter weather goes from fun to miserable.

When you turn on the news, radio, or talk with your neighbor people are getting rather irritated with winter. With all this complaining about our cold snowy weather, is there any benefit to winter when it comes to our yards and gardens?

pink seed cards made for Valentine's Day

There are many different stories as to how we came to celebrate St. Valentine. Some stories say Valentine was a priest that secretly wed young couples. Others say he helped Christians escape prisons before being imprisoned himself. Before being put to death, he wrote a love letter and signed it “From your Valentine,” which is still used to this day.

loppers cutting a tree branch

Trees in the landscape can be easily overlooked for the all the benefits they provide us whether that be casting shade on a warm, summer day, housing our feathered, birds friends, or adding a touch of color to our lawns. According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, trees on a property can increase the value of a home by almost 20%. However, that value can be diminished when trees are not properly maintained through pruning and thinning.

chickadee at a feeder

People love to feed birds. Aside from gardening, it is considered one of the most popular hobbies around the globe. And even some would argue, feeding the birds is a part of gardening. In the winter months, many find joy in watching a flurry of feathered friends, feeding at the feeder. The bird food we set out helps to give those birds that stick around Illinois over the winter an energy boost to keep their body temperatures up on these cold days.

Person holding pruners getting ready to prune branch off a fruit tree

It’s that time of year - time to start thinking about pruning your deciduous trees. Most deciduous trees are best pruned while they are in full dormancy. This happens to be January to early March for this part of the country.

worms feeding on food waste creating compost

Being two weeks into the new year, I hope those of you with new goals of healthier eating are still going strong. If things didn’t work out the way you had planned, no worries; vermicomposting can help you get rid of all those fruits and vegetables that have gone bad and provide a nutrient rich material that can be added to our plants. Vermicomposting is the process of using various species of worms to decompose organic waste such as food scraps. It is also a great option for winter composting when our outside pile has become dormant.

sunlight through ice covered trees

As I type out this article, I can’t stop thinking about my drive to work today. After days of clouds, ice, snow, and more clouds, the sun shone brightly as it crept over the eastern horizon. As sunbeams edged further across the landscape the trees became illuminated with a rainbow of light. It was spectacular!