You see the ads in the newspaper, along roadsides and just about everywhere else at this time of year: FIREWOOD FOR SALE.

Knowing where your firewood comes from can keep you from making some costly mistakes, according to Duane Friend, a University of Illinois Extension Educator in environmental and energy stewardship. Friend is the co-author of University of Illinois Extension's new "Firewood in Illinois" website, http://web.extension.illinois.edu/firewood/.

Friend offers a few tips for people who are in the market for firewood:

As I've written in previous blogs, the droughts of 2012 and other recent weather events continue to take a toll on tree health. 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.

We can grow edible plants in many ways beyond the traditional row-type vegetable garden. Many food plants are beautiful and work well integrated into the landscape. By combining fruit and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers or berry bushes in aesthetically pleasing ways, edible landscapes can be just as attractive as ornamental ones.

In addition to providing flavorful and nutritious produce, growing our own food is a great family activity and builds community. We can grow produce that is unusual or hard to find using the gardening methods we trust.

Each winter our garden pond attracts many different types of birds. We keep a small area of open water in the pond, which the birds love. The past couple of weeks we have been inundated by robins. We also commonly see Eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, finches, and various sparrows each winter. Occasionally a coopers hawk swoops down to eat frogs. Although some birds stay year round, most of these are just stopping for rest and a drink during their migration elsewhere. Changes in our weather patterns have caused some bird migrations to change, thus robins in January.

Happy New Year! Where did 2016 go? Whether you toast in the New Year with sparkling grape juice or a more spirited drink, it is interesting to think of all the plants that make up spirits.

Spirits are actually named by the fermented material from which they are distilled. Various grains make up whiskey, vodka, gin and most types of schnapps. Brandy is made from fermented grape juice, and fruit brandy is made from other fruits. Rum and cane spirits come from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses. Tequila and mezcal come from the fermented pulp of the agave plant.

My January Plants of the Day will all be of tree bark, which is more visible and often times even more beautiful in the winter. These will post daily in the 6 pm hour on my ILRiverHort Facebook and ILRiverHort Twitter Pages. Enjoy!

While on a recent motorcycle ride with my husband Mark, I saw a lot of plants in the carrot family Apiaceae growing along roadsides. One of my favorite vegetables is the very edible carrot, but unfortunately the carrot family has a number of dangerous, poisonous plants in it too.

The first two dangerous carrots I'll cover are stomach poisons, which means they are poisonous if eaten.

Recently I helped lead a bus trip to Chicago for Bradley's OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program. On the way to Chicago I spoke on the bus about the history of landscaping in Chicago. Although we are far from Chicago, some of the design styles are seen here too.

Butterfly Gardening

Butterflies are such beautiful creatures and watching them flit from plant to plant brings joy and relaxation. This is why butterfly gardening continues to grow in popularity. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, explains how to attract more butterflies to your own backyard.

"There are two different types of plants you can grow for butterflies: nectar food sources and larval food sources," says Ferree.

Tomatoes are the most popular home garden vegetable grown in America. We answer many questions each summer about tomatoes. There are literally hundreds of varieties of tomatoes available, making it difficult to choose which one to grow. Adding to that confusion are various symbols and terms describing the plants. Let me try to simplify several of these tomato terms.

Recently, I've had several people send me pictures asking, "What is this beautiful plant with purple berries?" My answer each time was beautyberry.

The beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) has show-stopping purple fruit in the fall. In fact, the genus name Callicarpa means beautiful fruit in Greek.

These deciduous shrubs produce bright, glossy clusters of violet-purple fruit that encircle their stems in the fall. The fruit is typically at its peak coloration in October. It has small, pink flowers in mid-late summer, though they are not nearly as showy as its fruit.

Visit the University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms website for Farmers Market resources at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/smallfarm/farmersmarket.html

Parsnips are not only a root vegetable, but also a common weed in Illinois. Unfortunately, wild parsnips also cause allergic reactions in some people. Knowing how to identify wild parsnips can help prevent skin problems later.

There is nothing like the smell of a fresh Christmas tree to put you in the holiday spirit. Here are some tips to help you choose the perfect tree for your home and assure it stays fresh throughout the holiday season.

Poppies are one of my favorite flowers. I am not sure why, but I have a fascination with poppies. I collect antique Hall china in the orange poppy pattern and have my kitchen decorated in poppies. Of course, I also plant poppies in my garden.

There are many different types of poppies. One source lists 39 different species alone. Most people grow either the perennial Oriental poppy or one of the many annual-type poppies.

University of Illinois Extension horticulture programs inspire 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 in 2015.

If you grow strawberries, you may be wondering when to cover them for the winter. Recently retired University of Illinois Extension Local Foods and Small Farms Educator Mike Roegge provides the following tips.

Straw is traditionally applied to strawberries when they have gone dormant. You don't want to cover them too soon as you can smother the plant. We've had a couple of days of 20-degree temperatures in December, so strawberries should be dormant. Dormancy can be noted as the plants will turn a slight purple/red color.

New Release by Kelly Estes, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Coordinator for Illinois

It is not uncommon to find stink bugs during the summer near tree fruits such as apples or peaches or in the garden. During the fall months, stink bugs are looking for places to hide in order to survive the winter. The Brown Marmorated stink bug (BMSB) is an invasive pest that has been detected in Illinois and, like its native stink-bug counterparts, will also be in search of over-wintering sites. Unfortunately, the BMSB may be looking at your home as a retreat for the winter months.

Last weekend I walked around my gardens with a journal and took notes. I jotted down what worked and what didn't and began preliminary plans for next year. This really helps me, since I tend to forget these things over the winter.

My notes this fall tell me to definitely plant a Mandeville in the blue pot by the pool, but to begin training it sooner to grow over the deck. I will continue to use impatiens under the pergola in either orange or white. The lantana did very well in my concrete basket planter, but the calibrachoa struggled in the square blue pots on the patio.

Winter is so unpredictable anymore. Snow is pretty, heavy snows and cold temperatures do affect plants as well as humans. Fortunately, most of our landscape plants are well adapted to the snow and cold.

Many spruce trees are showing dieback this year. According to Rhonda Ferree, extension educator in horticulture, the cold, wet spring has brought out many trees diseases. Many of these diseases are causing significant damage on evergreens throughout central Illinois.

I remember when my sons Derek and Tyler used to play Pokémon on their Gameboys and collect the trading cards. I never really understood it then, and I'm not sure I fully understand it now; but, I did download Pokémon Go on my phone.

The most exciting part of this new game is how it gets kids and families outdoors and walking around. It is also designed to get people to historical and cultural locations within their communities, and that is where the gardening aspect comes in.

If you are planning a community garden, this toolkit from the University of Missouri will be a big help.
https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/downloads/45968.pdf

Gardening is for everyone, but is especially important for children. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of gardening with kids. It encourages personal growth, environmental stewardship, hands-on learning, improved nutrition, community involvement, and family interaction.

During my 25 year career with Extension I've attended many programs on how to garden with kids. Each time I come away even more convinced that every child must have an opportunity to do hands-on gardening. It is vital information they will use for a lifetime.

Cranberries are a staple for many people during the holidays. We use them to make cranberry salad or jello for the holiday dinner. Many people also string them with popcorn to make a beautiful garland decoration. I love to eat cranberries and find their history and production practices fascinating. Jennifer Fishburn, University of Illinois Extension Educator in Horticulture, explains all about cranberries in her following news article.

Old fashioned flowers and flowering shrubs are the most recent gardening trend. Roses, hydrangeas, sweet pea, lilac, and more are becoming commonplace again in our gardens.

Technically, an heirloom is defined as a plant that is open-pollinated. These are pollinated by insects, hummingbirds, or wind and the resulting seed will produce plants that are identical (or very similar) to the parent plant.

The color blue is sometimes difficult to use in the garden. This is partly because there are very few true blue flowers in nature and partly because some of the most striking blue-flowered plants are challenging to grow in Central Illinois. Still adding a touch of blue to the garden continues to gain in popularity.

Spring flowering plants make an impressive display at a time of year when we need it most. Redbuds, magnolias, forsythia, tulips, and so many more are a welcome sign that we are finally past the long winter.

But, if you look closely you will find some less obvious spring displays that are just as welcome and impressive in their own way.

Growing your own food is easy and fun. This year I will write more spotlights on backyard food production in this column. To get us started, here are excerpts from an article written by my colleague Richard Hentschel.

Original article found at http://hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=826

Adult Japanese beetles have been reported in southern, central, and northern Illinois. Early control reduces damage through the six weeks that they are actively feeding as beetles are attracted to previous feeding damage.

Summer is the time for family and school reunions. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, suggests taking reunions to another level by starting a reunion garden.

"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.

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.

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. Soak the soil thoroughly to a depth of at least 6 inches rather than sprinkling the garden lightly.

Twisty curvy and weeping plants are fun to look at, but hard to use in the landscape. They are so unique and special that they must have a special spot to really work. Most should be used as a planned focal point, since they definitely draw one's attention. Usually, one is enough in the landscape as more than one is too distracting.

What do I mean by twisty curvy plants? These are plants that have contorted and twisted stems. Commonly used plants like this include contorted hazelnut and corkscrew willow.

Do you have an annual flower in your garden this year that you especially like and 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 on my kitchen windowsill for use next spring.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the United States, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"They are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but no vegetable is problem proof," said Ron Wolford. "Here are some of the common tomato problems you may encounter during the growing season."

It's fall festival time again. Time for spiced apples, beautiful fall colors, arts and crafts, and locally grown produce. I've never been to a fall festival when those items didn't include gourds either for sale individually or crafted into exquisite creations.

Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years by many cultures worldwide. Found in Egyptian tombs were 4,000-year-old gourds. Pioneers and Native Americans used gourds for everything from musical instruments to cooking utensils, dishes, toys, and as ornaments.

We've all heard wives'-tales that predict the weather. I can still hear my grandma saying, "Red sky at night, sailors delight; Red sky in morning, sailors warning." There are legends of people using groundhogs, hornets, woolly bear caterpillars, and even pig spleens to predict the weather. Recent Facebook posts say the Farmer's Almanac predicts a cold, snowy winter for us here in the Midwest.

It makes some sense that animals can respond to weather changes, but can plants do this too?

I have been battling some difficult and very invasive weeds this summer in my yard.

A new weed in my gardens this summer is prickly sida (Sida spinosa), also called prickly mallow. This summer annual has a yellow flower and prickles at the base of each leaf. So far it is mainly in my herb garden so I wonder if I brought the seed in on a new plant somehow.

I remember going on the Spoon River Drive each fall with my Grandma and Grandpa Simmons. I loved visiting the old school house in London Mills and eating ham-n-beans scooped from a large cast-iron pot. Each year my Grandpa purchased his annual supply of sorghum syrup.

I have been enjoying trying new foods using recipes that often call for ingredients I'm not familiar with. Last week I learned that quinoa is a grain-like seed with high protein value. Now, let's take a closer look at flax.

According to the Garden Media Group, our younger generation (15-49 year olds) is just learning to garden and is hungry for information. They are most interested in growing edibles (herbs, fruits, and vegetables), gardening with their children, and using sustainable gardening practices and methods.

If you are starting your first vegetable garden or know someone that is, here are six simple steps to ensure success.

Here is a list of Farmers Markets that I'm aware of. Please let me know if there are more to add.

Fulton County

Mason County

Many of the plants in the autumn garden can be used to make decorations, said Martha Smith, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. Making them can be fun for the whole family.

Fall is a good time to think about weed control in your lawn and garden. In fact, fall is actually the best time to control some difficult weeds.

Many yards and gardens this spring had winter annual weeds such as henbit, deadnettle, and common chickweed. Winter annuals germinate from seed in the fall and spent the winter as seedlings. If you had a problem with winter annuals this year, fall is the best time to control them.

"A Night in the Garden" SeriesThis summer a "Night in the Garden" series spotlighted various gardens growing fruits and vegetables in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. Each night began with a short garden tour at 6 pm, followed by informal time for questions and answers with University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Horticulture Educator Rhonda Ferree. Dates and locations were as follows.

Did you know that the sweet corn you eat this summer most likely has direct ties to the University of Illinois?

John R. Laughnan, a University of Illinois professor of botany and plant genetics, discovered supersweet corn in 1953. He discovered that the kernels of a mutant of corn were "unusually sweet and have a pleasant malty flavor." Unfortunately, the sweet corn breeders of the day were not equally enthusiastic about this new type of "supersweet" corn.

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.

I cringe when I see topped trees. Not only is it unsightly to see a tree in such an unnatural state, it is also harmful to trees. 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.

Have you ever noticed how a pine tree changes shape as it ages? On my way to Springfield recently, several old pine trees caught my attention.

Pine trees have distinctively different needle structure than other evergreens. Pine needles are in clusters of 2, 3, or 5 and range from one to several inches long. Pine trees also have distinctive habits. Most pine trees start out pyramidal in youth (Christmas tree-like) and become more round-topped, open, and picturesque with age.

If you are like me, your gardens did not develop exactly as you had planned in the spring. I have more weeds than I usually do in early fall. Parts of my lawn has too much crabgrass and some plants simply do not like their location in the garden. Now is a good time to assess this year's garden successes and challenges and begin planning for next year.

If you have a vegetable garden, continue harvesting vegetables to keep plants productive.

My 2017 Garden Calendar is now available. It provides garden tips, a calendar of events, and a picture each month spotlighting Master Gardener (MG) projects. Here is a preview.

January displays MGs teaching over 2000 students about watersheds during the annual Peoria Clean Water Celebration. A tip suggests that we feed and water birds regularly.

February features the Peoria MGs providing gardening information at the Peoria Home Show, which is February 24-26. It is also a good time to prune landscape plants, except early spring bloomers.

When it comes to pollination, honey bees get a majority of the attention. However, many insects play a role in pollination.

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

Potato ranks with wheat and rice as one of the most important staple crop sin the human diet around the world. Certainly potatoes are an important part of our diets as we eat French fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes, augratin potatoes, and more. Potatoes are very easy to grow in your own garden.

Potatoes are among the earliest vegetables planted in the garden. Early, midseason, and late varieties all may be planted in March or early April.

Moles become active each spring, with tunnels appearing as raised areas of soil in lawns and garden beds.

"Questions about mole control are probably the most common question I've received in my 27 years with University of Illinois Extension," says Rhonda Ferree, Extension Educator in Horticulture. "Mole damage is frustrating and unfortunately homeowners sometimes resort to costly, ineffective, and potential unsafe methods in their fight to control them."

Start next year's flower display this fall. Now is the time to set out the spring flowering bulbs. It seems like a lot of work now, but after the long winter, you will enjoy those blooms. In addition to the standards such as tulips and daffodils, try some of the other small flowering bulbs. For example, anemones, snowdrops, and winter aconite all bloom very early and have extraordinarily beautiful flowers. Snowdrops are among the smallest and daintiest of the spring-flowering bulbs and often bloom at the beginning of March, before all the snow has gone.

Last year I had a lot of browning on one of my evergreen yew plants. It is next to the house near the dryer vent. The vent's hot air caused my plant to dry out quickly, with some areas dying completely. This year I am prepared to protect this plant and others like it. Here is how I'll do that.

Narrow-leaved evergreens such as yews, arborvitae, and hemlock are especially susceptible to winter browning, also called desiccation. Broad-leaved evergreens such as rhododendrons , azalea, and boxwoods are also prone to winter desiccation injury.

Every year I get questions about bizarre oak leaf damage that most people think is caused by a terrible insect infestation. Although some insects feed on oak trees, often the samples I see have a condition called Oak Tatters.

I have an oak tree in my yard that gets oak tatters every year. Oak tatters have been happening for the past several years in Illinois, particularly those in the white oak family.

As the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to discuss the issue of sweet potatoes versus yams. Officially a sweet potato is never a yam, but sweet potatoes are often sometimes referred to as yams.

Every year my Dad (Ron Simmons) starts many annual plants for our family in his backyard greenhouse. I get most of my flowering annuals, vegetables, and herbs from dad's greenhouse. His plants are amazingly healthy and grow better than any other plants in my gardens.

I see more and more hobby greenhouses and hoop-houses popping up in homeowner's backyards. What's the difference? They are both very similar. They both extend the growing season in spring and fall, sometimes allowing edibles to grow year round. Both hold in the heat with a covering, usually plastic.

Are you searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family? As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, here are some tools and gadgets that every gardener needs.

Gardening is therapeutic, but it can also be hard work. Proper tools help get a garden job done safely, efficiently, and maybe even faster. Always choose the right tool for the job.

Eight trends are featured in this year's 2016 Garden Media Group garden trend report. I'll write about each trend sometime this year.

The 2016 trend report is titled Syncing with Nature. I agree with the report's findings that people are connecting with Mother Nature in natural ways as well as in a connected state using technology. I use technology every time I hike, camp, or garden. GPS on my Smartphone helps me find new hiking locations, and nature apps assist with plant identification, star gazing, and so much more.

Fall provides us with brilliant colors: orange pumpkins, yellow mums, purple asters, and bronze autumn joy sedums. The fall flower garden has a lot to offer and brings a change in flower color. Notice how the fall flowers offer deeper orange and burgundy instead of bright red and yellow.

Most people think of mums as the main fall flowering plant. Mums are important, but don't rule out asters, sedums, Japanese anemone, and ornamental grasses.

The second trend I'm covering from the 2016 Garden Media Group garden trend report is Welltality, which is all about how horticulture is intrinsically tied to health and wellness.

I've written many times about the psychological benefits of plants. Because of their simplicity, plants and natural scenes reduce physical and mental excitement and improve our health. They help us heal faster, concentrate better, and reduce stress. Overall, being around plants simply makes us happier.

Boxelder bugs are common almost every year, but can be particularly prevalent in hot, dry years.

Boxelder bugs are 1/2-inch long dark brown or black insects with conspicuous red markings on their wings. Boxelder bugs have two generations per year. The first generations adult stage is in late June to early July and the second generation matures to adults in early fall around September. This is the generation that commonly comes to houses.

Do you wonder why your tomato plants have so many yellow leaves or how to deal with those pesky bugs eating your roses? If so, University of Illinois Extension is here to help answer all your gardening questions.

For almost 30 years, Master Gardeners have answered home garden questions through their Garden HelpLine located in Peoria. Staffed every weekday morning throughout the growing season, they answer hundreds of homeowner garden questions each year.

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.

Have you had fresh strawberries yet this year? I love fresh strawberry shortcake, but I most enjoy eating them right in the garden. I usually also make strawberry jam and freeze some for winter treats.

Although Christmas is still a couple of months away, it is time to begin preparing some of them to flower during the holiday season. This typically involves changing their environment in some way to force them into bloom.

Poinsettias initiate flowers through a process called photoperiodism, which is the plant response to light levels. The colorful part we see are actually modified leaves called bracts. The real flowers are the red or green button-like parts in the center of the colorful bracts.

Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of gardening tasks you can do in January. Here are some to consider.

For those of you who received poinsettias or other flowering holiday plants, be sure that they are near a bright window and water as the top of soil becomes dry. Most holiday plants will last many years with proper care.

Over the past decade, Americans have grown to love salsa, surpassing ketchup as a favorite condiment. While there are many variations, a basic salsa recipe includes tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and tomatillos. I make tomato salsa several times each summer from plants grown in my garden. You can too!

On a camping trip in Southern Illinois my husband Mark kept taking pictures of non-flowering plants. His pictures made the ferns, mosses, lichens, and club moss 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. We were all particularly amazed by the various mosses.

I recently harvested herbs from my garden. They are drying in my kitchen so that I will remember to use them regularly. I add them to my evening tea or as added flavor to our meals. Here are some of my favorites.

Lemon balm is true to its name. This plant has a very strong lemon scent and provides a nice subtle lemon flavor. My plant grew about two foot tall this year. Since this is a tender perennial and will mostly likely not survive our winter, I harvest the entire plant. To dry this plant tie the long stems together and hang the stems upside down.

Deer hunting season is upon us, and so it seems appropriate to do an article about deer damage to landscape plants. Fall and winter are a time when deer can cause significant damage to landscape plants. Two types of damage can occur: antler rubbing and browsing.

Here is a listing of Central Illinois Garden club websites or Facebook Pages.

I continue to get calls about large, old trees that are in major decline. Many of these are just now showing symptoms from the severe drought of 2012. Major weather events have a detrimental long term effect on landscape plants.

I am now producing videos on a wide variety of gardening topics and more.

Videos are the latest social media trend, with predictions that 74% of all internet traffic in 2017 will be video.

My plan is to produce short, informational videos covering everything from pruning to herbs to houseplants and much more. My first video shows how mums add color to the fall landscape.

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.

Herbs taste great, but they also make great landscape plants. I think that herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow. They have very few pest problems and grow in many types of gardens, from formal herb gardens to small patio containers.

I recommend starting with a few of the easiest annual herbs. During their one year in the garden you'll enjoy their beauty as well as their taste in various dishes. Here are five annual herbs to try in your garden. Try them tucked among your other flowers or in a place all their own.

Holly and mistletoe are symbols of the Christmas season. They are very different plants, but both quite beautiful in their own unique ways.

My son Derek just moved to Monterey California to attend graduate school at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. California has been in a drought for a very long time, and so water conservation is a real concern there. In fact, most of our western states have water availability and use issues.

No matter where we live, we can all use water more efficiently. In the case of gardening, landscapes can use about 50 percent of our home water. Estimates show that gardeners use about twice as much water in their landscapes as is needed.

Oak trees are majestic, but some are in danger of a disease. One of the best ways to protect oak trees is to prune them at the proper time.

You have probably heard that it is not wise to prune oak trees during the active growing season. The actual act of pruning does not harm the tree. The problem involves what you will attract to the tree—insects that may carry the oak wilt fungus.

Farm to School is more than a program – it is a people-powered movement that seeks to teach students where food comes from and how delicious it can taste when eaten in season. There are three basic elements to farm to school:
  1. Local food procurement
  2. School gardens
  3. Food and nutrition education (including farm field trips)

A farm to school program can consist of one, some, or all of these types of projects.

In 2015, 163 Master Gardener volunteers contributed 12,863 hours in the Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties. Their volunteer service is valued at $296,749 (using an estimated dollar value of volunteer time of $23.07 per hour as calculated by Independent Sector).

Master Gardeners have several large events scheduled in our four county Extension Unit.

As a plant geek I am often fascinated by how plants work. Take vining and climbing plants and the methods that they use to grow vertically.

In broad terms, climbing plants are either clinging or non-clinging. As the name implies, clinging vines attached themselves to a surface using special features, such as suction cups or aerial roots.

I enjoy the focus on green, shamrocks, and clovers that St. Patrick's Day brings each year. It reminds me of the hours I'd spend as a kid searching for four leaf clovers in our yard. There are many different types of clovers that grow in Central Illinois.

Are you searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family? Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, provides the following some ideas that might prove helpful.

Gardeners always love gift plants and flowers. Since gardeners tend to be choosy about the type of plants they grow, get them a gift certificate to their favorite nursery. Or, give them a monthly subscription to receive fruit or plants each month for the next year.

Paperwhites are routinely sold in stores during holidays.

Many bulbs are easy to grow indoors for seasonal display and beauty. Common examples are Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus.

Of all the types of narcissus, the paperwhite narcissus is the one most commonly sold for forcing indoors. This is because it doesn't need an extended cold treatment to induce flowers. Boxed bulb kits often include a pre-cooled bulb that is all ready to bloom indoors. Simply pot up and water thoroughly to get it started.

I invite you to check out my video that details my vision for my University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit horticulture program. My 2017 goals are to continue building on the successful program, support our current volunteers, and introduce new innovative ways to reach new audiences. This short eight-minute video was created with the help of Anita Wilkinson, CommunicationsProgram Coordinator, and Julia Pryor, Master Gardener Program Coordinator. 

Winning at a county fair brings great notoriety. Remember how excited Farmer Zuckerman was in the book "Charlottes Web" when Wilbur won! The county fair is meant to bring together exhibitors in many categories across the county to see who is the best.

Horticulture exhibits at the fair cover everything from flowers to vegetables. Exhibitors have the opportunity to win ribbons and sometimes even prize money. They also learn how to be a better gardener, well-informed consumer, and the importance of good sportsmanship.

If you plan to add an evergreen tree to your landscape next year, consider using it as a Christmas tree now. Unfortunately, this isn't as easy as it sounds. It requires some planning ahead, and only allows a Christmas tree in your home for a few days.

On a recent trip to Ft. Myers, Florida I visited the Edison & Ford Winter Estates where I toured their homes, gardens, laboratories, and museum. The plant collections there are fascinating, especially all the rubber trees they tested as possible sources for tire materials.

Obviously, Edison is most famous for inventing the light bulb, so I took advantage of that by purchasing a small terrarium-type hanging planter shaped like a light bulb. Inside is an air plant sitting in sphagnum moss. It hangs above my kitchen window and I love looking at it every day.

What is a Christmas Rose? It may be roses given at Christmas or a particular china pattern. It could also refer to a perennial plant called the Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose.

The Christmas and Lenten Roses are Helleborus plants that are said to bloom at Christmas or in the winter. In actuality, they bloom in February or March in our part of the world. Still, they are a joy to see blooming during the gloomy days of winter.

Each season brings a different look to the garden. I enjoy each one, but I must say that plants are uniquely beautiful in winter. Now is a great time to see a plant's texture and form - each unique and mystical.

Look for the differences between these trees this winter: oak, maple, and redbud. Oaks are the kings of the forest. They soar well above the maples and smaller redbuds. Oaks are majestic in size and texture.

Instagram is an social media network where friends can share photos and videos. I'll use it to share photos and videos of plants in an educational way.

Join me and learn how to
  • garden
  • grow your own food
  • create a backyard paradise
  • manage pests in the garden
  • and much more!

www.instagram.com/ilriverhort