My grandma Simmons used to tell me that we should learn something new every day. I still think that is a great idea and have decided to make that my New Year's resolution this year. If you want to join me, University of Illinois Extension can help. We cover many topics, including gardening.

Our Master Gardener program provides the most comprehensive educational opportunity for gardeners. Julia Pryor coordinates our Master Gardener program for Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties.

The droughts of 2011 and 2012 continue to take a toll on tree health.

Rhonda Ferree, Extension Educator in horticulture, says that trees can take three to five years to show symptoms from a severe event such as drought. Unfortunately trees under stress are less able to fight off insect and disease problems. Plant diagnosticians at the University of Illinois Plant Clinic describe the following diseases that take advantage of trees under stress.

The Wildlife Prairie Park Butterfly Habitat was awarded a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Teamwork Award at an awards banquet in Champaign on June 13th.

The Master Gardener Teamwork Award recognizes groups of Master Gardeners who work together to accomplish a common goal for the betterment of their communities. The Kim St. John Butterfly Habitat is an excellent example of a joint Master Gardener and Master Naturalist project from the University of Illinois Extension Unit covering Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties.

Pollinators are an essential requirement for many of our favorite food crops.

"News on bee and other pollinator populations is everywhere this spring," says Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Despite making it through a brutally cold winter, knockouts and other rose varieties are being eaten by the larvae of sawfly stated Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. The larvae, not a slug, is yellow- green and velvety looking, 1/2" long, found on the underside of the rose leaves or in flower buds. The leaves are left riddled with feeding holes between veins. They excrete slimy substance all over their bodies resembling slugs but are not slugs. After larvae feed they drop to the ground to pupate. Adults emerge in spring and lay their eggs on the bottom sides of rose leaves

Questions and Answers.
  1. Question. Should I do a preventative treatment on my ash tree, even though it doesn't have the pest yet? Answer. University of Illinois Extension recommends doing a preventative treatment for Emerald Ash Borer only when the beetle has been confirmed within 15 miles of your ash tree. Consult the latest quarantine map to know where the beetle has been found in Illinois. Click on "maps" in the lower right column.
  2. Question. Are all ash trees susceptible to the EAB? Answer.

Fall is an ideal time to plant many woody trees and shrubs. Before grabbing the spade and digging a hole, Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, suggests that there are several important factors to consider. These include the suitability of the site where it is to be planted, the species involved, growth characteristics of the tree, the tree's age, and how the nursery plants were grown.

Time for our next gardening trend of 2014: Fingertip Gardens. It's all about gardening using high tech with mobile apps and technology.

It seems that every day I hear about a new garden-related app for smart phones and tablets. I post many of these on my gardening app Pinterest bulletin board at

Fall brings wiener roasts, festivals, and leaf removal. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, suggests making good use of the fallen leaves in your yard.

When you need advice from a gardening expert but a trip to the gardening store isn't convenient, check out the University of Illinois Extension channel on YouTube.

Visit for practical advice on a wide variety of gardening topics and more.

"Everything from pruning to mulching to specific varieties of plants, trees and shrubs is covered on the site," said Jane Scherer, U of I Extension urban programs specialist and director of its websites.

Many people consider getting plants established in shady areas of the yard as a challenge. Fortunately, this does not have to be true. There are many options available to gardeners for shady areas. Want to learn more?

Current buzzwords in the world of gardening include pollinators, butterflies, natives, and monarchs. It seems that everywhere I look I read something about the importance of pollinators and how we can protect them.

One of the best plants for pollinators, especially butterflies, is milkweed. My colleague Candice Miller, Horticulture Educator in northern Illinois, recently posted the following blog about milkweed.

Weekly Crop Update 7-9-14

By Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension, Adams/Brown/Hancock/Pike/Schuyler

Strawberry harvest was completed several weeks ago, but there is still a little time to renovate the patch if you've not completed that chore yet. You want to do this as soon as harvest is completed, but we still have another week or so. Renovation is done to prepare the patch for a successful season next year. But it all starts now.

I have been enjoying trying new foods, especially those I prepare from scratch myself. Recently I made homemade granola and several types of bread. Recipes called for ingredients that I wasn't familiar with: quinoa, flax seed, wheat germ, and wheat bran. That, of course, made my plant geek mind want to know more about the plants that produce them. For the next few weeks I'll share what I learned with you in this column.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a tiny grain-like seed that is sometimes called a pseudocereal.

Many Japanese beetle larvae did not survive the winter, particularly in the northern half of the state. Research has shown that Japanese beetle grubs do not migrate deeper than 11 inches into the soil for the winter. They die if the soil temperature reaches 15 degrees F or if they are subjected to freezing temperatures for 2 months. Last winter the soil was frozen to 15 inches deep in central Illinois and 30 inches deep in northern Illinois for several weeks.
University of Illinois Extension recently named Rhonda Ferree as the new statewide coordinator of the Master Naturalist program. Ferree also serves as an Extension horticulture educator serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties

The U of I Extension Master Naturalist program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards.

Learn more about gardening by attending a garden day event this spring.

Garden day events are sponsored by University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and are held all over the state. You can find a garden event to attend on almost every Saturday between late February and early April.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has been confirmed in Peoria and Tazewell counties. On July 25th the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) announced the detections occurred in residential areas of the two central Illinois counties. In Peoria County, arborists discovered the beetle first near Dunlap and then subsequently in Peoria. In Tazewell, IDOA staff made the find in Minier using surveillance traps.

I grew up thinking that a green bell pepper was called a mango. It wasn't until my sister Lynn Miller moved to Florida that we realized there was also a fruit called a mango.

Now that I have seen and tasted a mango, it seems odd to me that a green bell pepper could ever be called a mango. They are completely different in so many ways.

October 2, 2014 (1:00 PM )

Festival Building
2200 E. Washington St
East Peoria, IL 61611 (Tazewell County)

Recent droughty summers, a cold winter, and various other environmental and pest problems have killed many trees in our area. Usually when a tree is removed a stump is left behind. Here are several suggestions on how to remove tree stumps easily, quickly, and economically.

National Arbor Day is always the last Friday in April, putting it on April 25th this year. Are you ready to plant a tree? If not, Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says that you can plant one soon or start planning for the next Arbor Day.

"Recent research has shown that improperly planted trees can suffer in later years". "Therefore, follow these recommendations when planting trees".

Following a few suggestions can prolong the beauty of flowers given on Valentine's Day and other special occasions, says a retired University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Whether you are giving roses, carnations, mums, or some other type of flower, you want them to last," says James Schuster. "Start with buying young flowers. Young rose buds have just their outer petals open, show no browning and on red roses there is no noticeable 'blue blush' showing through the red.

Our last gardening trend of 2014 is TREE-mendous!

A 2012 US Forest Service research study found that urban tree cover has been declining at a rate of about 20,000 acres per year or about 4 million trees per year. This greatly impacts the numerous benefits trees provide related to air and water quality, air temperatures, energy use, social well-being, and human health. Let's look at a few benefits of having trees in your home yard and neighborhood.

The recent University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Team professional improvement meeting in Springfield included three tour sites. One location was the grounds at the governors mansion. I've been to the grounds many times and am always impressed by it, especially considering the minimal budget that it operates with. Groundskeeper Harry Lewis is paid entirely by donors and secures many donations to landscape the grounds. He has weekly help from inmates at an Illinois correctional facility. No taxpayer dollars are used in this landscape. Some donations include:

Thousand Cankers Disease was recently confirmed in Indiana, putting the disease threateningly close to Illinois walnut trees.

Kelly Estes, Agricultural Pest Survey Coordinator for Illinois Natural History Survey, reported on this discovery in the June 23, 2014 issue of University of Illinois Extension's Home, Yard, & Garden Pest newsletter.

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired Extension horticulture educator

As promised I'm writing each month about a 2014 garden trend. Trend two from the 2014 Garden Media Group report is "Super Foods, Super Models." Let me try to explain what that is.

My interpretation is that the trend is to grow your own highly nutritious food (super foods) using nontraditional methods (super models).

Spring flowers have been very welcome this year after the hard winter.

"Many of those also add great scents to my outdoor gardens," says Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture. "Adding fragrance to a garden excites our senses and adds another dimension to the gardening experience." Here are several examples to try in your garden.

I first wrote about garlic mustard in 2001. Since then, this dreadful weed has gotten even worse. Many hundreds of man-hours and dollars have been spent trying to prevent it from choking out more of our native wildflowers.

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is not a weed to take lightly; if you have it, control is imperative.

A few of my favorite Herb Garden resources
  • The Complete Book of Herbs – Lesley Bremness; Dorling Kindersley Publishing
  • Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Rodale Press

Websites to check out
University of Illinois Herb website
Herb Quarterly Magazine
Richter's Herbs

This is for the participants in my class today at Bradley University's OLLI program.

January - Carnation

  • General - Fascination
  • Pink – I'll never forget you
  • Red- Admiration (My Heart Breaks)
  • Purple – Capriciousness (fickle)
  • White – Sweet and lovely, innocence, love
  • Yellow – Disdain
  • Solid – Yes
  • Striped – I cannot be with you
  • February – Violet
  • Symbol of modesty & humility
  • Blue – Faithfulness

March - Daffodil

Happy Birthday to my sister Lynn Miller! Lynn's birthday always makes me think of wiener roasts and pumpkins. Those of you celebrating Halloween carve pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns. Others, including my sister, simply enjoy decorating with uncarved pumpkins or eating pumpkin desserts.

If you have trouble growing houseplants, the Mother-in-Laws tongue is for you.

"The Mother-In-Laws Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), also known as snake plant, is one of the most durable houseplants and is a plant that anyone can grow," says Rhonda Ferree, extension educator in horticulture.

My Dad and I are planning some of our garden catalog orders together this year. This serves many purposes. We inspire each other to begin planning and some catalogs offer discounts or free shipping for larger orders.

Now is the time to plan your purchases from garden catalogs. I recommend you try to place most of your orders as soon as possible. However, with the myriad of catalogs available, how can we choose which catalogs to place our order and our trust? Here are some tips to consider.

The following publications contain the most current treatment options for Emerald Ash Borer.


Although ornamental flowering pears are beautiful in the spring, they have several severe problems. Below is a portion of an article written by Sandy Mason, Extension Educator in horticulture based in Champaign, IL. Since this article was published in 2005, ornamental pear problems have escalated out of control with even many more municipalities banning their use.

April brings us our fourth gardening trend for 2014: Dress up Your Yard. I often talk about my various outdoor garden rooms. Outdoor spaces are truly an extension of your home. You might have a kitchen for barbeques, a dining room to entertain guests on the patio, a lawn for games, a firepit for socializing, and so on.

Outdoor spaces are fashion statements that reflect our personal style. I was first intrigued by this concept when I visited a Chinese garden in Portland, Oregon.

It is Spoon River Drive time again! Each year I am drawn to items made from natural materials, including woodcarvings, dried flower arrangements, decorative plants, and so much more.

I have been going on the drive since I was a child. I used to go every year with my grandparents. Grandpa (Max Simmons) always bought two items each year: sorghum syrup and a birdhouse. I hope to find a birdhouse this year to continue that tradition.

I've had several questions about lavender this spring. Most gardeners wonder if their lavender survived the winter, but others want to know how to use it.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has become a problem almost throughout the state. Each year, more and more counties are finding the insect on traps or in trees. This website was developed to help homeowners first ID their tree to make sure it truly is an ash, followed by EAB identification, and then control options.

If you find large, ragged holes in the leaves of hosta (and other) plants in your garden and notice a slime trail as well, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator warns you may have a slug or two taking up residence.

Slugs are one of the first pests of spring and hatch from jelly-like masses found under boards, flower pots, and other damp areas of the garden," said Susan Grupp. "Initially, they may feed on young, fragile plants, but over time, they will move to healthy plants, too. And they will feed--if not controlled--from spring to fall."

Each year I seem to battle more and more difficult and very invasive weeds on my property. These include honeysuckle, garlic mustard, burning bush, and bittersweet.

Oriental bittersweet is quickly invading my landscape beds. This plant seems to grow everywhere and spreads very quickly. Although it has beautiful orange fall fruit, birds and other animals disperse the seeds to other locations. In my case, I have this aggressive vine growing throughout my vinca groundcover, tangled within my honeysuckle and lilac bushes, and lurking among various other flower beds.

I am hoping for some warmer weather so I can do some winter pruning. Winter is a perfect time to prune most trees and shrubs.

Correct pruning is an essential maintenance practice for ornamental trees and shrubs. However, most homeowners regard pruning with considerable apprehension. Pruning is not difficult if you understand the basics and learn why, when, and how to prune.

Recently I toured the Illinois Department of Agriculture's green roof on their administration building at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield. It is an impressive sea of green sedum growing atop a structure of concrete and steel.

Green roofs are becoming an important part of sustainable urban development. These living roofs provide many benefits, including reducing surface temperature, absorbing rainfall to reduce runoff, and even reducing indoor sound.

View Rhonda Ferree's MUM YouTube video at

Have you ever had a fall blooming mum that doesn't look at all like what it is supposed to come September? Is it tall, leggy and flopping over with a few flowers at each stem tip instead of short, compact and full of flowers? Pinching at the right time is the answer. Martha Smith, Extension Educator in Horticulture at the Macomb Extension Center offers the following information about pinching mums.

I am so fortunate that I had opportunities during this cold, snowy winter to visit two tropical locations. I went to Costa Rica in December to pick up my son from his semester of studying abroad and I just returned from my husband's employee reward trip to the Dominican Republic.

Obviously I enjoyed the warm, sunny weather in both locations, but I also love seeing the tropical plants there. Many native plants there are ones that we grow here as houseplants.

Growing plants in containers is very popular. Almost anything can be grown in containers, including trees and shrubs. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says that containers provide a feeling of permanence and beauty to an area.

Pinterest is a rapidly growing social media site where you can get great ideas on many topics.

Basically Pinterest is a digital bulletin board. You create board for various topics and then "pin" links and pictures you like onto that board.

Personally I use Pinterest as a recipe saver. I also have boards for great garden ideas, everything tea, nature books, and more!

Edible landscaping is becoming more and more popular. One way to use fruit trees to small gardens is by using the espalier technique of training fruit trees. I plan to espalier a couple fruit trees along my garage.

The following information is from an article from Oregon State Extension. See the entire article at

It is time to think about mosquito control and the prevention of West Nile Virus. Since we don't know what this mosquito season will bring, don't let down your guard. Remember to "dump the water" and follow these tips to protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes.

This year I plan to write once a month about one of the 12 garden trends from the 2014 Garden Media Group report. The trends are based on many facts and figures. They include technology and smart gardening techniques meant to find balance in the garden.

The first garden trend is Ground Up: table to garden to table. According to the natural marketing institute, only 25% of our U.S. households compost. Food scraps make up 11.7% of our waste with 97% of that going to landfills. We obviously need to reduce food scrap waste.

July brings us our seventh gardening trend for 2014: Simple Elegance: Think one color flower in an elegant container.

Many people think of a mono-chromatic color scheme as boring, but it can be quite impressive

The Garden Trend report focuses on white as a way to make your garden beds or containers stand out. In the report Kristine Lonergan from GreenProfit says, "White is the perfect palette to make color pop. The beauty of white is that is enhances any color!"

This month's 2014 garden trend is "Drink Your Garden" Coincidentally I also just bought a new book called The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. Intrigued? Simply put, there are many different plants that you can grow to make your own delicious drinks.

May brings us our sixth gardening trend for 2014: Cultur-vating. "Taking local to the next level, people are growing the world in their gardens, mixing cultures and embracing what is local to their own region."

Growing our own food is more popular than ever. Bringing culture and foods together makes it even more exciting.

Time for our next gardening trend of 2014: Think Gardens. This trend is all about how plants make us smarter, more productive and less stressed and is why we need them in our offices, schools, hospitals, and more.

Green is the color of peace and serenity and important for our psychological well-being. Plants play a big role in filling that psychological need. Much research has been done on the importance of plants in our lives.

Time for our next gardening trend of 2014: Young Men Get Down and Dirty. According to the 2014 Garden Media Group report, men aged 18 -34 are spending $100 more than the average gardener. They are grilling, growing their own hops for beer, and taking the kids out to play in the dirt. All good things!

During a program today I was asked for a listing of horticulture social media sites. Here is what I came up with. This features most of our Extension sites, plus a few more. Enjoy!


Many plants are holiday symbols, but few say Christmas as well as the poinsettia. Did you ever wonder why this came to be?

If you've done much traveling, you've probably noticed that poinsettias grow naturally as large shrubs in tropical locations. The history of how this tropical plant came to the US and became a holiday symbol is quite interesting.

"Fire Blight symptoms were observed on several Callery Pears this past week," says Travis Cleveland, University of Illinois extension specialist.

"The symptoms were more severe than those observed during the 2013 growing season."

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that affects rosaceous plants. Apples, pears, crabapples, and ornamental pears are the most seriously affected species. Other rosaceous hosts include: cotoneaster, hawthorn, quince, firethorn, and mountain-ash.

Recent discoveries of Emerald Ash Borer in Peoria and Tazewell counties underscore the need for communities to be proactive against Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).

University of Illinois Extension held an Emerald Ash Borer Community Preparedness Planning Workshop on October 2nd in East Peoria. The program was attended by local officials, municipalities, park districts, arborists, and others impacted by the recent Emerald Ash Borer findings.

African violets are houseplants that most people recognize. They are very popular and easy-to-grow.

Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says "African violets add a welcome splash of color indoors throughout the year."

University of Illinois Extension horticulture programs inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. Here are a few examples of how our programs impacted the residents of Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties ion 2014.

High quality, impactful programs taught homeowners how to create energy efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values. Landscaping may be your best long-term investment. Properly placed trees save homeowners $100 to $250 a year in energy costs.

I was recently asked to identify a hawthorn tree growing on the Bradley campus in Peoria.

Hawthorns are among the groups of small trees that are noted for their wintertime berries.

Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) is a hawthorn for all seasons. The flowers, foliage, winter berries, and dense growth all make it an attention getting tree.

The emerald ash borer (EAB) continues to move across Illinois, devastating ash trees in its path. It was most recently found in Peoria and Tazewell counties. Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, says that the an effective way to stop EAB is to not move firewood. "While enjoying campfires and wiener roasts this fall, take a moment to be sure the firewood you use is pest free."

Unfortunately, the winter has taken a toll on many plants. Evergreens are especially impacted, many showing significant winter desiccation or even death. The severe cold winter compounded plant stresses already inflicted by recent severe droughts and other weather extremes. Not only did trees likely not have enough internal reserves going into winter, they were also not able to take up more water during the winter due to deeply frozen soils. Be on the lookout for secondary pests to invade and cause further decline.

Once the Christmas holiday is over, the chore of taking down and disposing of the cut Christmas tree remains. Today, because of solid waste regulations, most communities will no longer permit the used Christmas trees to be hauled out with the garbage and sent to the sanitary landfill, reports Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension.

Trees and shrubs are popping up at retail sales areas throughout Illinois.

"Retailers sell a variety of plants in a variety of packages or market forms," says Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension. "The purchasing of woody plants requires consumers to make choices."

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has been confirmed in Peoria and Tazewell counties. On July 25th the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) announced the detections occurred in residential areas of the two central Illinois counties. In Peoria County, arborists discovered the beetle first near Dunlap and then subsequently in Peoria. In Tazewell, IDOA staff made the find in Minier using surveillance traps.

To determine if a tree has been attacked, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Martha Smith suggests the following steps.

Thanksgiving always makes me think of beautiful fall decorations. In addition to flowers, stems, and leaves that may be dried indoors, there are many materials that can be collected in the fall and used almost directly in arrangements after gathering.

These include many seedpods, cones, grain, grasses, and berries found in the garden, as well as in fields and along roadsides. Here are some specific examples.

If you are like me you likely have a lot of dead plants or plant parts in your yard. Last weekend while walking around my yard I noticed that one of my redbud trees in the front yard is completely dead. Today as I drove to work I noticed a large dead branch in one of my sea green junipers. Many of my perennials and some shrubs are dead in them.

Every year I try to provide ideas for those of you who are searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family. This year I'm highlighting some new gardening books that I recently read.

Hedge apples seem to be if great abundance this fall. I've also had some questions about using the hedge apples and the tree's wood for various purposes. This article by retired extension educator Bob Frazee, originally published in 2009, contains answers to these questions and more.

According to Bob Frazee, retired University of Illinois Natural Resources Educator, hedge apples are produced by the Osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera), which is commonly grown throughout Illinois. The Osage-orange is a member of the Mulberry Family and is commonly called a hedge tree.

May brings us our fifth gardening trend for 2014: Bee-neficials: It's all about the bees this year. News on bee and other pollinator populations is everywhere this spring. Obviously, pollinators are an essential requirement for many of our favorite food crops.

I taught a Whimsical Garden Fun series for Bradley University's OLLI program this month. This one was a bit different for me because I combined the science of gardening with a bit of art and culture. The first day, during Communicating Your Garden, I taught how to capture a garden's beauty through journaling, photography, and sketching. The second day we discussed The Meaning of Flowers and I played my guitar and sang Scarborough Fair to cover the lost herbal meanings of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.