I'm really excited about all the great gardening programs we have available here at University of Illinois Extension in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. Here are just a few examples.

Our Master Gardener program provides the most comprehensive educational opportunity for gardeners. "Those who complete Master Gardener training will provide 60 hours of volunteer service in a two year period helping with local projects to become active Master Gardeners," says Pryor, Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

The best time to seed a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn is in late summer. In Central Illinois, seeding in late summer (August to September) has a much higher success rate than seeding in spring. "Warm days and cool nights combined with more regular rainfall are ideal conditions for seedling growth," explains Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension. "Also, there is less weed competition at this time of year."

The first step in seeding a lawn is to preparing the seedbed.

Theme gardens are really fun and are becoming more and more popular. I've written about various themes in the past, including literary gardens, tea gardens, reunion gardens, evening gardens, and more.

Theme garden possibilities are many. They could be based on the seasons, color schemes, your favorite song title, food names, and so on. You could pick out plants that have great winter interest for a winter garden, or create a happy garden with all sunny, yellow flowering plants.

I have a couple different theme gardens in my yard.

Burning Bushes are very common landscape plants grown mainly for their intense fall color. Unfortunately, burning bush are becoming a plant of concern for many of us as we watch it reseed and invade nearby natural areas.

I have two very large burning bush in my yard that were planted by the previous owner. The one growing in full sun usually turns a bright red in the fall, while the other one with more shade usually is a dull pink-red. Both have thousands of new seedlings sprouting around them and across my woods.

Ameren Illinois workers found a hive a nearly 1,000 honeybees during a recent substation inspection in Pekin. Thanks to the work of their employee, also an avid beekeeper, the hive and bees were safely removed and relocated. A picture is shown on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AmerenIllinois.

Bee swarm and hive discoveries are common occurrences, but unfortunately they can sometimes become a nuisance around homes.

With the recent confirmation of Emerald Ash Borer in a Peoria park, I am again reminded of the importance of having a plan for how to handle ash trees when the borer hits. This website includes a link to a tree cost assessment calculator from Purdue that looks very useful. http://www.emeraldashborer.info/communityplan.cfm#sthash.rOijCG6v.dpbs
The ICC Summer Gardening Educational Series provides gardening information to the general public.

The educational series is part of the ICC Tri-County Extension Master Gardener Demo Garden located at Illinois Central College's Land Laboratory in East Peoria. Master Gardeners from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford also plan and maintain a Demonstration Garden for the public at this location.

As many of you know I use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, to spread my horticultural messages. For several months I've been posting a plant-of-the-day on my personal and ILRiverHort Facebook Pages during the 6 pm hour. Many of these posts have generated plant questions. Here are a few recent examples.

Now is the time of year when we prepare our seed catalog orders for spring. Seed catalogs can tell you a lot, provided you understand the "lingo". Greg Stack, Retired Horticulture Extension Educator, provided the following information before he retired to help people better understand the lingo of plant seed catalogs, such as F1 hybrids, determinate and indeterminate, monoecious, gynoecious, gynoecious hybrids, and letters like Vt, EB, Al, F1, or TMV.

I love decorating for the holidays with live plants. To me just the smell of fresh evergreen wreaths and trees says Happy Holidays.

Spoon River College and University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Rhonda Ferree are teaming up to offer a Gardening Mini-Series in April at the Havana campus.

In the Tranquil Landscape Series, Rhonda Ferree shared tips for creating tranquil outdoor gardens that are easy to maintain.

Tree damage is just part of the devastation that severe storms afflicted throughout Illinois. It is important to use proper pruning techniques to help restore these plants' beauty and health, as well as to protect the safety of the home area and workers. University of Illinois Extension Educator Rhonda Ferree suggests the following procedures.

"Tree damage, unless it's a hazard or liability, isn't critical now." Most of tree repair work can be done later this winter, and winter is the best time to prune most woody plants anyway.

I hear a news report about the decline of the monarch butterfly almost every day, but there are other insects in decline as well. One that is a favorite of all ages is the lightning bug, which some folks also call a firefly.

As a kid I remember catching lightning bugs on warm, summer nights. We put them in empty canning jars or pickle jars, poked holes in the lids, and watched the bugs glow in our new natural lantern. Although I hate to admit it, I also sometimes ripped off the abdomen of the bug to make a glowing ring on my finger.

Do you have an annual flower in your garden this year that you especially like and definitely want to use again next summer? You might be able to clone it using vegetative propagation methods.

I have a coleus plant that I particularly like in my patio containers. Each fall I take a few cuttings from the plants and grow them in my kitchen windowsill for use next spring.

Don't forget you special Mom on Mother's Day! If you haven't bought something special for her yet, consider these ideas. You can be sure I'll get my Mom (Doris Simmons) a special horticultural gift for Mother's Day.

A gift of fresh flowers always says, "I love you!" Many beautiful bouquets are available at the local florist. Options might include sending all cut flowers, a live plant, a fun balloon arrangement, or any combination of these.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love journaling and photography. In recent years I've used those skills as a way to communicate my garden in a different way. By communicating my garden I am able to document its history and share it with others using a variety of methods.

Many people keep records of their gardens. My dad has kept garden and weather records on paper calendars for many years. For example, he can tell you when the Japanese beetle first emerged each year and when the tomatoes started to ripen.

Vegetables are most commonly grown in traditional gardens in rows. Large gardens can seem overwhelming, especially during the heat of summer or after a vacation. If you don't have space for that or just want to try something different, here are some others options to try.

Yet, a larger garden is sometimes needed for certain crops such as sweet corn. Still, you do not have to plant the garden in a traditional design of long rows. Gardens can be designed in interesting ways and include flowers and vegetables for more visual effect.

University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educators addresses Garden Biodiversity with a free webinar series called "The Good, the Bad and the Lovely Plants." Illinois horticulturists and gardeners revel in interesting plant characteristics but do not want to cultivate plants that disrupt the biodiversity of our natural Illinois landscape.

Cultivating the biodiversity of plants in the Illinois Landscape ensure survival of wildlife like birds, insects and mammals.

Autumn is the time of year when mature white pines annually drop older needles. Unfortunately, this year's wet spring and dry summer have caused problems with many evergreen trees, including white pine. It is important to recognize whether pine needle drop is normal or due to a deeper problem.

All trees and shrubs renew their foliage annually, producing new leaves in the spring of the year and shedding old leaves in the fall. The leaves of deciduous plants such as maples and oaks live for one growing season and then fall off, usually in a blaze of color.

My iris were especially pretty this year, and I think I need more! My colleague Elizabeth Wahle, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, explains below why late summer through early fall is the best time to divide and plant bearded iris.

"Growers need to allow four to six weeks following flowering for rhizomes to fully develop before digging and dividing," Wahle said. "That's why most iris plant sales are held later in the growing year and why nurseries don't ship bare-root plants until mid- to late-summer."

Spring is on its way! Soon the silver maples will be plump with red flower buds, grass will get greener, and bulbs will begin to sprout.

Often the signs of spring are subtle in plants. One such example is Witchhazel. This plant has beautiful flowers in early spring, but is sometimes missed due to their subtlety. Let's look at this plant closer. You may know witchhazel by its by-product, which is used in sweet-smelling lotions, eye-gels, and other skin products.

Important Points!

  • EAB was detected in Peoria and Tazewell counties in 2014.
  • Once a county is added to the quarantine list additional sightings don't need to be reported. IL Dept of Ag would be flooded with these calls. The important find is the first one - after that assume all ash trees within that county need some type of attention.
  • Due to the volume of contacts, site visits will not be conducted by University of Illinois Extension.


Our family has been battling paper wasps near our gazebo and pool area all summer. Unfortunately my son Derek and my husband Mark have both been stung.

My friend Cindy and I were discussing stevia sweetener the other day and this got me to thinking about all the various sugar products that we often use during the holidays.

The white table sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane. Worldwide, 65 percent of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas. I've seen it growing in Hawaii and Jamaica and the fields look similar to corn.

I love the tropical feel of big leaved plants around my pool. This year I planted four different types of elephant ears in addition to nine large banana plants. Elephant ears make a statement in the garden with their larger than life leaves. In my garden, they are at one end of my pool in front of a picket fence, which is the direct line of sight from our main sitting area.

There are three or more types of plants available under the common name of elephant ear. Most commonly found are the colocasia, alocasia, and xanthosoma.

Gardens include much more than just plants. Garden structures add functionality, purpose, and beauty to a garden. However, garden structure terms and definitions can be confusing. Here is a listing of popular garden structures with their definitions.

Pergola – I love my pergola at the back of our house. A pergola is an open structure, usually on regularly spaced posts or columns with a lattice or open frame top. This garden structure adds shade to a walk or passageway and is usually covered by climbing plants.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I love to grow and use herbs. Herbs are easy to grow, beautiful, fun, and rewarding to use. Most of them are as easy to grow as common vegetables. Whether you use them in formal herb gardens or interplanted with your vegetables or landscaping, you can always find space in a garden for a few herbs.

Botanically speaking, an herb is any plant that dies back to the root each year. But by horticultural or culinary definition, an herb is a plant that is used as an ingredient for health, flavor, or fragrance.

Do you tire of mowing grass or want to add more diversity to your garden? Lawn alternatives are a growing garden trend. It seems that every trade show, conference, and symposium I've attended this winter includes reference to various plants we can use instead of traditional grass.

The most commonly mentioned plant is sedge. There are many different types of sedge. Some grow in deep shade while others do well in sunnier locations. Sedges look like grasses with one notable difference.

Easter is just around the corner. Have you purchased you Easter lily yet? If not, be sure to choose an Easter lily with lots of unopened buds for longer bloom enjoyment.

Easter lily history

The popular Easter lily is the Christian symbol of purity, innocence, and chastity. But this particular lily has been popular for eons. In the Semitic world, it is the symbol of motherhood. It was the flower of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and was later the flower of Roman Goddess's Diana and Venus.

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Do you have flowers ordered for your loved one? "Flowers are a great way to communicate your love and affection," says Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension. "Over the years, flowers have developed meaning and are known as a way to convey a special message."

On a recent trip to Austin Texas to attend their state Master Naturalist conference, I saw the most beautiful prostrate rosemary plants. I was awestruck by its lush, long growth descending down steps and draping over tall walls.

Rosemary is a wonderful herb. It not only looks and smells great, but makes a great addition to many culinary dishes. Rosemary is often found at Christmas time in wreaths and topiaries. If you follow the meaning of flowers, rosemary signifies love and remembrance, making it a great holiday gift.

University of Illinois Extension and several other organizations answered questions about the emerald ash borer at a recent Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) event.

Homeowners, tree care professionals, municipality officials, and more attended an EAB open house on Monday, August 10 at Grandview Park in Peoria where an infested tree was recently discovered.

This seems to be the year of tree diseases, but don't be alarmed. I've seen a lot of diseases on trees this year, but happily most of them are not devastating.

The reason for the increase in tree disease this year is weather. Spring weather conditions this year were perfect for many tree diseases to develop. Many plant diseases prefer wet spring conditions, which we had. In addition, the odd weather patterns the last couple of years have left many trees stressed and less able to fight off pest infestations.

I have always loved elderberries. As a kid there was an elderberry bush outside my bedroom window. I waited patiently each summer for the first berry clusters to ripen. I'd eat them right off the plant whenever I walked or mowed past the delicious, though tart, fruit.

This fall we removed a burning bush from our yard because it was overgrown and terribly invasive (new seedlings are everywhere!). I replaced it with a Black Lace elderberry and two different ninebark shrubs (I'll write about those next week).

Once the Christmas holiday is over, the chore of taking down and disposing of the cut Christmas tree remains. However, Christmas tree disposal does not have to be a problem, because there are several environmentally sound recycling methods available.

All weeds are not created equal. Some weeds are much more difficult to manage than others, thus proper identification is important. This is especially true for the ever increasing number of invasive plants that can quickly overtake an area if not kept under control.

Invasive plant management happens at many levels, including legislative. The Illinois General Assembly recently amended the Illinois Exotic Weed Act to add more species to that list. Plants on this list cannot be sold or distributed in Illinois without a permit. They include:

Beekeeping is an increasingly popular backyard hobby. It also fits the growing trend to protect pollinators, which are so important to our food supply.

There are many different types of bees. Bumble bees are the only truly social bees native to the United States. They are important pollinators and according to a University of Minnesota entomology website, are used commercially to pollinate crops such as tomato.

Honey bees are also important pollinators and the source of honey and beeswax. These social bees are an introduced European species and not native here.

It is that time of year when a cup of hot chocolate and a chocolate cookie hit the spot. In my travels I've seen the tree where chocolate comes from and it always fascinates me.

A few years ago a colleague of mine wrote all about chocolate's journey, beginning as a football-sized fruit on a tree in a warm tropical climate. Here is her article.

A 2014 garden trend as stated by the 2014 Garden Media Group report was called Frac'd Up: A rejection of the neat and tidy. In other words, a messed up garden is okay and maybe even preferable in some cases. I like this trend because I've always liked a really natural and loose landscape style.

The Garden Trend report discusses creating gardens in sliced up spaces using explosions of colors and textures. Mostly, though, this trend tells us to "get wild in design." Instead of neat, clean bed lines try a looser approach, incorporating wild plants for added emphasis.

My son Derek graduates from University of Illinois this week with a BS in community health so it seemed like a good time to discuss reunion and school color gardens.

School reunion gardens are especially nice to do using flowers in your school colors. You've probably noticed that school colors typically include bright, complementary colors. This also works to create dramatic gardens. Let's use University of Illinois's orange and blue colors as an example.

I have an oak tree in my yard that gets oak tatters every year. I have had a couple oak samples brought into the office with the condition this year, so know it is more widespread than my backyard. If your oak tree looks like something ate up the leaves back to the veins, read on.

Oak tatters has been happening for the past few years in Illinois. Nancy Pataky, Director of the University of Illinois Plant Clinic, says, " I have seen the problem on oaks, particularly those in the white oak family." Nancy provides the following information about oak tatters.

Holiday dinners often include the traditional turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, and more. All these foods include a variety of herbs and spices, which make the food taste great! Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says that there are differences between herbs and spices.

Many different organizations select plants of the year and this year I plan to spotlight them each month in this column. Let's start with the Garden Club of America.

According to their website at http://www.gcamerica.org, they were founded in 1913. The Garden Club of America is a volunteer nonprofit organization comprised of 200 member clubs and approximately 18,000 members throughout the country.

Summertime brings family cookouts, swim parities, little league baseball, and the ever dreaded mosquito. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, reminds us that the first step to fighting mosquitoes MUST begin in our OWN backyard.

Japanese beetle adults are above ground eating leaves for about 6 weeks from mid-June into August. After mating and feeding females lay eggs in moist, actively growing lawns. Eggs hatch into large "C" shaped grubs that feed on plant roots. In fall grubs burrow into soil. Next year they form adults and start the vicious cycle again.

Horticulture educator Sandy Mason shares frequent myths about Japanese beetles below.

Myth #1: Japanese beetles will go away in a few years.

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 thought I'd focus instead on the nature explorers, though most are also gardeners.

As the state Master Naturalist program coordinator for University of Illinois Extension, I travel all over Illinois training Master Naturalists. Part of my orientation program includes recommendations for gear and accessories to use while exploring natural areas. Many of these would make great gifts.

While driving around Mason County recently I saw acres of acres of peas. Peas are one of my favorite vegetables so this really excited me!

Mason County's irrigated sandy soil grows many different types of specialty crops. In addition to peas, farmers there also grow popcorn, watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, horseradish, cabbage, sweet corn, pumpkins and potatoes.

Horticultural Grilling

What do plants have to do with grilling – other than eating vegetables? Well, great chefs use many "tricks" to get just the right taste from their grill and many of those tricks involve plants.

First, chefs swear by certain types of wood chips to smoke their meat (or vegetables) on the grill. You'll find the chips in hardware and homes stores. They include oak, mesquite and hickory for a bold taste, and fruit woods and vines for lighter flavor. Avoid soft woods, such as pine, which give off a not-so-tasty resin.

The Norfolk Island Pine is commonly sold as a holiday plant. It is sometimes even used as a small indoor Christmas tree. Often the small trees are sold already decorated with little balls and tinsel.

Norfolk Island Pines are very formal looking plants. The branches are horizontal forming tiers of foliage around the branches at regular intervals along the stem. It has a graceful form with drooping branch tips.

I spend a fair amount of time helping people sort through the many garden myths. Today's social media rage spreads information very quickly. Unfortunately it isn't always good information. For example, recipes for homemade weed killers abound on the Internet. University of Illinois Extension Specialist Michelle Wiesbrook explains why homemade is not always better.

We've had an increase in bedbug calls to our Extension offices and Master Plant Helplines in recent weeks.

The bed bug feeds at night on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded animals including chickens, cage birds, and other birds as well as dogs, cats, and other mammals. Infestations can come from bird nests on buildings as well as in clothes, luggage, and other materials transported from infested areas. People generally do not react to the bites for several weeks, but eventually develop red welts similar to those of poison ivy.

If you haven't been on summer vacation yet, the following tips by Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, might be useful as you plan. Most gardens can withstand neglect for a long weekend, but extended vacations usually mean lots of lost work and harvest and can mean lots of catch-up jobs upon return.

Sunflowers are popular. It seems one can find a sunflower on almost anything, from throw pillows to towels to floor mats and rugs. I've also noticed more and more gardeners growing sunflowers for their beauty, their tasty seeds, or for wild bird feed. My son Tyler has several sunflowers growing in his vegetable garden this year.

True sunflowers are in the plant genus Helianthus and include about 70 species in the Aster family. All but three are native to North America.

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.

This plant is extremely easy to grow, tolerates neglect and a wide range of temperatures. I don't know how it got the name Mother-In-Laws Tongue, but for me a great plant is named for a great lady. Like the plant, my mother-in-law is dependable and always there to provide cheer on a cloudy day.

Do you sometimes wonder where some of the foods we eat came from? Rhonda Ferree, extension educator in horticulture, says that she is fascinated by the multitude of newer foods on the market, including flax seed.

Do you want to "spice" up your meals? Sometimes I'll add flowers to a dull looking salad to add color. Or, sometimes I just eat flowers right out in the garden.

But one very important thing that you need to remember is that not every flower is edible. In fact, sampling some flowers can make you very, very sick. Make sure you know for sure the identity of the flower before eating it. You also should NEVER use pesticides or other chemicals on any part of any plant that produces blossoms you plan to eat.

Here are a few common, edible flowers to try.

Landscape edging plays an important role in pulling the landscape together. Edging function is simply, says Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension. "It forms a clean, neat line between planting areas and turf or groundcovers." When installed properly, it should blend in with the landscape, minimize hand trimming, and help contain mulches within the bed areas.

On June 1st my husband Mark and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. My Grandma Simmons told me June brides are extra special. I don't know if that is true, but I sure did feel special that day. Certainly, June is a beautiful month for a wedding. Flowers are a part of all weddings and the bridal bouquet is key.

Bridal bouquets are made of many different types of flowers and can be real, silk, or a combination of both. Prices depend on many factors such as flower type and season. Not all flowers are available year round.

Efforts to save the monarch butterfly are everywhere with many people pledging to plant milkweed for monarch larvae to eat.

There are two different types of plants you can grow for butterflies: nectar food sources and larval food sources. Nectar sources attract the adult butterfly and many different types of flowers will serve as a nectar source.

Do you have fairy rings in your yard? After reading this article you might decide that you do. Fairy rings are an interesting situation that is quite noticeable this time of year.

Fairy ring usually appears in the lawn as circles or arcs of dark green, lush, fast growing grass. These rings are most commonly between 2 and 15 feet in diameter. Since a fungus causes fairy ring you may see mushrooms, puffballs or toadstools in wet conditions in this same ring pattern. In some cases, a ring of brown or dead grass may appear.

  • Clean and store hoses and flower pots.
  • Clean and sharpen lawn and garden tools and store them in a dry storage area.
  • Store leftover garden chemicals according to label directions, out of the reach of children.
  • A home weather station that includes a minimum/maximum thermometer, a rain gauge and a weather log is a good gift for a gardener.
  • Drain the fuel tank of the lawn mower or tiller before putting the machine away for the winter.
Many of us have vegetable gardens that provide us with delicious, fresh produce all summer long, but do you also grow food indoors in the winter?

Gardening is not limited to outside in the summer. I'll teach you how in my upcoming program The Edible Indoor Garden. As I researched and prepared for this program, I was amazed by how many food crops you can actually grow indoors.

Are you enjoying the "fruits of your labor" from your vegetable garden this summer? With proper care, vegetable gardens provide fresh produce well into the fall.

Although we had record rainfall amounts in June, July might be different. It is essential to keep plants watered consistently during the heat of summer. On average, plants need one inch of water per week and this may need to be stepped up to one inch every five days during the heat of summer. Watering is the most important maintenance item, so don't skimp on it.

Are plants around your house foundation old, overgrown and in need of a change? Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, provides the following tips for updating your homes foundation plantings.

"Foundation plantings are the combination of plants around the front door, the front corners, and a transition area that joins them," says Ferree. Plants along the front of a house serve many purposes. A properly designed front landscape can greatly enhance the appearance and market value of your property.

This year's New Year's Day Rose Parade once again featured many beautiful floats decorated entirely of organic material. I always watch the parade carefully and try to figure out what organic materials are being used.

Amaranth is one of those plants and is used in many ways on floats. In 2004 the Children Learn and Grow with Music float by NAMM featured a scene from Sesame Street with Elmo, Big Bird, and Abelardo playing instruments. Elmo was decorated with red carnations, sweet rice and Amaranth seeds.

Fall is a fun, exciting, and busy time for gardeners. Many gardening activities are done in fall and some can only be done now. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, says, "Think of fall as the start of next year's growing season, not the end of this gardening year."

Every year I do a Spoon River Drive article highlighting natural items for you to look for while on the drive. In honor of OAKtober, this year's spotlight is oaks.

The Morton Arboretum news says oak ecosystems have been a significant part of the Illinois landscape for more than 5,000 years and are now in a state of threat and decline across the entire State of Illinois.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that pollinator decline is big news right now. I've learned through meetings and other reliable sources that many factors contribute to this decline. Below are some facts I've found useful and interesting.

What is Pollination? Pollination occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species, or within a single flower. There are many ways that flowers are pollinated, including wind and animals.

Homeowners, tree care professionals and municipality officials are invited to an Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) open house event in Peoria to learn more about this destructive pest. The EAB Open House Event will take place on Monday, August 10 at Grandview Park in Peoria where an infested tree was recently discovered.

During the event you will see an infested tree and learn more about the pest. The open house is from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. Professional groundskeepers and municipalities are encouraged to visit between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m., and the general public between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.

Signs of spring are slowly emerging all around us. The grass is getting greener, bulbs are starting to emerge, early flowering plants are blooming, and tree buds are swelling. Even some of the winter annual weeds are starting to grow.

Early flowering shrubs include witchhazel and forsythia. Witchhazel's colors vary from yellow and orange to red and most flowers open in February. When red, the flowers are not obvious, but on closer observation they are quite beautiful. Forsythia has a very showy yellow flower.

Do your pets eat nibble on your houseplants. If so, Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, suggests that you should take a good look at your houseplants to assure poisonous ones are not within reach of children or pets.

The National Garden Bureau has named 2015 as the Year of the Sweet Pepper.

Each year the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, one perennial and one edible as their "Year of the" crops. Each is chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile. For 2015 their selections include the coleus annual, gaillardia perennial, and the edible sweet pepper.

Most people are familiar with sweet bell peppers but there are many more available in a range of colors and shapes.

Although typically very easy to grow, tomatoes are prone to some problems. According to Rhonda Ferree, extension educator in horticulture, University of Illinois Extension offices are receiving many questions right now concerning the most popular homegrown vegetable - tomatoes. This year's cool, wet conditions have results in increased tomato disease.

Home, Yard, & Garden Newsletter article from 6-22-15

Japanese beetle adults are present throughout Illinois. Robert Bellm, Extension Educator, reported their presence in southern Illinois, and Martha Smith, Extension Educator, reported them in northwestern Illinois. Extended deep soil freezing in northern Illinois during the winter of 2013-2014, and the statewide drought in the second half of the summer of 2013 caused reductions in their numbers during last summer.

Are your summer outings followed by days of itching discomfort? Knowing more about poison ivy and how it grows might help you avoid rash problems later.

Remember the old adage, Leaves of Three, Let It Be! Poison ivy grows in various locations and many different environmental conditions. It is in fencerows, under trees, and in ornamental shrub and perennial plantings, probably seeded through bird droppings. When growing among desirable plants, poison ivy is a challenge to control.

If you look at ferns, mosses, lichens, and club moss closely, they look like something right out of a fairytale. In fact, these non-flowering plants do have their very own kingdom in the plant world. Instead of reproducing by flowers and seeds, these plants use spores to multiply.

Last week I drove my son Tyler back to college for his fall semester at University of Illinois in Champaign. Along the way, he asked me what the blue flowers were along the roadside. Have you noticed the beautiful flowers blooming along our roadsides right now? Illinois roadsides are quite beautiful in late summer.

Do you compost? Composting is the ancient art of mixing by-products from your yard with water, air, and time. What better way to dispose of leaves in the fall, grass clippings throughout the summer, and kitchen vegetable scraps than to turn them into compost?

Composting is fun and simple. Simply take by-products from your yard, and layer them thinly and uniformly; the same way lasagna is made with thin layers of macaroni, cheese and sauce. Never overdo any one single layer and never skip a layer in the construction process.

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," says Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture. "You can find a garden event to attend on almost every Saturday between late February and early April."

Rhonda is scheduled to speak at two garden day events this year.

Whether or not to water the lawn is a perennial question for homeowners. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, offers the following advice to help you decide whether to water your lawn this year or not.

"When the hot, dry weather arrives, each homeowner needs to decide if they want a green lawn, or if they are willing to let it go dormant," said Rhonda Ferree.

The dreaded Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) continues to cause havoc across Central Illinois. All four of the counties that I cover as a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension are included in the quarantine area, which includes Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. Quarantine guidelines state that we cannot transport any ash tree firewood or untreated ash wood products outside their county of origin.

The borer was confirmed in Peoria and Tazewell counties last summer.

If you are an allergy sufferer, spring often brings sniffling, sneezing, and watery eyes. One culprit is pollen from flowers of trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds. Though most of these bloom for just a short period each year, something is almost always blooming. In early spring, the trees and shrubs are blooming. In summer the main pollen source is from flowering grasses. In late summer and fall, weedy plants from roadsides are the problem.

Pollen is an important part of plant reproduction and must be moved around from flower to flower.

I recently planted several black aronia along a new fence in my backyard. Also called chokeberry, aronia are becoming more and more popular, especially among small fruit growers.

There are several reasons why I selected the black aronia for my site. I wanted to use a sun loving, native plant with seasonal interest that only grows three to five feet tall and wide. As a native shrub this one should also withstands our dry sandy soils. As an added bonus, aronia are also edible.

I recently removed a larger overgrown, and invasive, burning bush in my yard and replaced it with an elderberry and a couple ninebarks.

Trends in the gardening world include using easy to grow, dependable plants with unusual features. There is also a push to use more native plants, especially those that attract beneficial pollinators. Ninebark meets all of these criteria.

A 2015 Garden Calendar is now available. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, created a calendar that provides garden tips for each month.

"People often ask me what garden tasks they should be doing at various times of the year," says Rhonda. "I used information from University of Illinois and Purdue University sources and created lists that are appropriate for gardeners in the four counties that I serve." Rhonda currently provides horticulture education in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties.