Ticks! We all dread getting them. To help us better understand these nasty critters, here is part of an article written by Dr. Phil Nixon, recently retired University of Illinois Extension Entomologist.

I have been enjoying walks through our little woods. Many of the earliest wildflowers are about to perform their annual spectacular show. Woodland wildflowers are beautiful and a welcome sign of spring. Here are some examples of the earliest flowers to bloom in the woods.

A common woodland wildflower is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). This is a low plant with loose clusters of pink or whitish flowers, striped with dark pink. The flowers are ½ - ¾ inch wide with five petals. Leaves are long, linear and grass-like.

Mint! For some, the word brings to mind fresh breath, refreshing drinks, or a place where money is printed. As a plant nerd, to me, mint means square stems. Here's why.

All mint plants are in the Lamiaceae family. Although not exclusive to this family, most mint stems are square rather than round or flat like other plants. Most are also quite aromatic. All mints have opposite leaf arrangement and two part (bilaterally symmetrical) flowers, which are quite lovely.

Earth Day falls every year on April 22. As you use this day to reflect about our world around us, you might  try to look at a small piece of our world from a completely different viewpoint.

Sugar and spice make everything nice, especially Christmas cookies. But, do you know where your sugar and spice come from?

Sugar beets vs Sugarcane

The sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane.


Worldwide, 70% of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas. In a tropical setting like Hawaii and Jamaica, it grows in fields and looks similar to corn.

May Bach and Jennifer Bass were honored for their outstanding contributions to University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardener Program during the 2017 Illinois Master Gardener Conference in Normal.

May and Jennifer were among 36 Master Gardeners receiving the State Outstanding Master Gardener Award. They are each involved in various projects in the Peoria area.

Now is a great time to remove invasive bush honeysuckle. Not only are bush honeysuckle invasive to native woodlands, new research shows that they also can increase the spread of tick-borne diseases.

Bush honeysuckle are upright shrubs that grow 6 to 15 feet tall. Their dense growth habit is a favorite of deer and other small critters that ticks feed on. A University of Wisconsin study found five times more deer in honeysuckle-invaded areas, and 10 times more ticks infected with a human disease bacteria.

A walk in the park or a scroll through Facebook quickly show how many people have cats and dogs. The American Pet Products Association estimated that approximately 44% of all households in the United States had a dog, and 35% had a cat in 2015-2016. These pet owners love to watch their furry friends frolic and roll in the lawn. They also cringe when the animals dig up, eat, defecate on, and sometimes destroy their yards.

As most of my readers know, one of my favorite activities of the year is watching the New Year's Day Rose Parade. Every year I am amazed by the amount of work that goes into creating the floats using only natural materials.

I remember mom having nuts in the shell on the coffee table during the holidays. Although I didn't eat many nuts at that time, I liked using the little tools to crack open the nut and dig out its sweet inner meat. Let's look at the plants that give us these delicious morsels.

It seems like yesterday that Judy Holloway walked into my office wanting to start a Canton garden club and annual garden walk. As a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, she did just that, and much more. Since 1999, the Spoon River Garden Club has sponsored garden walks across Fulton County.

What is the best way to water plants? Community watering restrictions, rural water shortages, and high water costs sometimes require homeowners to make some tough decisions about outdoor water use. Here are ten wise watering tips for gardeners.

My 2018 Garden Calendar is now available. It provides garden tips, a calendar of events, and a picture each month spotlighting University of Illinois Extension volunteers and programs.

New this year are hyperlinks to information on various topics in the monthly tips. Just click on the underlined-blue links while viewing the electronic copy and it will take you to the connecting ILRiverHort blog, Pinterest pin, or YouTube video.

Here are some upcoming Garden Day events in West Central Illinois in 2017.
Have you noticed the huge hibiscus blooms this summer? Hibiscus has magnificent flowers that make quite an impressive display each summer.

There are many different types of hibiscus. The rose-of –Sharon (Hybiscus syriacus) is a popular shrub hibiscus. Herbaceous perennial hibiscuses are available in tropical and hardy forms.

While hiking recently I got to thinking about the various plants that stick to our sock and pants. Certainly, they are frustrating; but, as a plant geek, I wanted to know more.

Sticky plants attaching to clothes, hair, fur, and feathers to disperse their seeds into new areas. They do this with hooks, spines, barbs, and burrs. Let's look at a few common examples that we find here in central Illinois.

Now is the best time to prune many of your trees and shrubs, including fruit trees. Pruning of fruit trees is done to improve fruit quality, develop a strong plant, facilitate harvest, and control the size/shape of the plant. According to Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, unpruned trees and plants are difficult to maintain, produce small fruit and are much more likely to suffer disease problems.

During the holiday season many different types of plants are available for decorating and display including the spectacular amaryllis.

Amaryllis flowers make a bold statement. Borne on 1 ½ to 2-foot tall stalk, the trumpet-shaped, 6-inch blooms dominate their surroundings. After flowering, the plant produces attractive, bright green leaves, and with a little care will flower year after year.

If you love butterflies, you could also put in a butterfly garden habitat in your own yard. You don't need a lot of space to attract our native butterflies.

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

Now is the time to take soil tests. If you have plants that are not growing the way they should, a soil test might be needed to see if soil amendments are needed.

Soil amendments should be based on a soil test to know the amounts needed. Be sure the sample is representative of the area to be treated. The teaspoon of soil finally used for analysis weighs a few grams in comparison to about 50,000 pounds of soil per 1000 square feet to a six-inch depth.

Analytic data from my ILRiverHort Facebook Page shows significant increases since it began in 2011.

The number of people following the Page increased steadily, with a slight bump up in 2013. Currently the Page has 636 followers.

Hundreds of minute, barbed bristles poked out of the bottom of my foot as Dad gently plucked each one away from my throbbing flesh. Our family was camping in Spring Lake State Park near Havana, Illinois one summer when I was about 10 years old. I clearly remember trying to avoid the hot pavement on my bare feet by diverting to the leaf-strewn roadside. Unfortunately, like a spider in its web, hidden cacti waited in the leaves to prick its next victim. Each step back to the campground embedded the barbs deeper in my sole.

The odd weather patterns over the past few years have played havoc on my lawn. As a result, I now have out-of-control crabgrass in areas of my front yard.

The goldenrod is making a fantastic display this fall in my prairie and other unmown areas. I love watching the waves of gold sway on a sunny fall day.

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) thrives in sun to part sun and is a deer-resistant perennial. There are thirty different types of goldenrod that grow in Illinois. They range from the three foot to seven foot tall. Each has a cluster of bright yellow flowers at the top and sides of stems.

Community gardens can turn stark vacant lots into productive keystones in a community. The reasons for starting community gardens are varied, and the rewards are numerous. However various pitfalls can turn noble intentions into negative neighborhood drama. Proper planning, excellent communication, simple rules, and basic garden knowledge all help reduce these problems.

Here are ten steps to successful community gardening.

Parts of my backyard and woodland are covered with fallen pine needles. We have a large number of mature white pine trees that yearly drop their needles. Annual needle drop is normal and beneficial.

Martha Smith, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension said it well, "There is really nothing to be concerned about," "What is happening is commonly called inner needle drop or third year needle drop."

Just what are frankincense and myrrh? Certainly, they are part of many Christmas stories, but do you know what those products are and why they were so valuable? Here is more information on both of these plant-based products.

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins -- dried tree sap -- that come from trees of the genus Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh), which are common to Somalia and Ethiopia.

Issue 9, June 26, 2017 Illinois Pesticide Review Newsletter

Japanese Beetle


Adult Japanese beetles have emerged in Illinois. Early control reduces damage through the six weeks that they are actively feeding as beetles are attracted to previous feeding damage.

I am seeing more butterflies this summer than I have in recent years. As I walk my property, I see monarchs, swallowtails, buckeyes, hackberry, painted ladies, cabbage whites, and more. This year I even saw a viceroy while mowing!

I recently overheard a conversation while shopping for plants. The shoppers were discussing whether or not to prune their tomatoes. Pruning tomatoes can help some types produce more fruit. University of Illinois Extension educator Maurice Ogutu explains why below.

"Tomatoes are divided into two different types namely determinate and indeterminate varieties based on their growth habits."

A friend of mine recently vacationed in Florida and purchased a bromeliad at a flea market. I can see why she picked it out since bromeliads are especially eye-catching.

Bromeliads are in the pineapple family. There are many different types of bromeliads, each with a different exotic look. They are curvy or straight, large or miniature, dense or light, but all are bold and colorful. Most have brilliant, long-lasting flowers.

March 19 – 25 is National Horticultural Therapy Week. Its purpose is "to encourage others to help expand and elevate horticultural therapy as a profession."

People who interact with plants are healthier. Thus, using plants in therapy to help improve a person's body, mind and spirit just make good sense.

Big trees seem to fascinate and almost mesmerize us. They bring wonderment as we surmise how old it is and what it has "seen" through its life. Here are some of my favorites.

No words can describe what I felt when I saw my first giant sequoia tree in California's Sequoia National Park. They are all grand, but the grandest of all is the General Sherman tree. It is the largest (by volume) tree in the world and is estimated to be 2,300 – 2,700 years old. WOW!

I have a couple orchids at home but have not had great success with them. Sandy Mason, Illinois Master Gardener Coordinator, writes the following about orchids. She also teaches a webinar about moth orchids. I'm hoping that Sandy will show me how to make my orchids grow better.

I've mentioned many times that I love to journal, and I usually write surrounded by plants and nature. I use nature journaling as a creative form of self-expression, but I find that it also promotes relaxation and calmness.

I grow several different types of basil, and try new ones each year. Usually, I end up preferring the basic sweet basil to other kinds, but not this year. A new favorite this year is lime basil.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) has many different cultivars. They are generally divided into four groups: sweet green, dwarf green, purple-leaf, and scented leaf.

Once again, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and their partners have rounded up a top-notch Gardeners' BIG Day. The 18th annual event will be Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 8:00-3:00 at Dickson Mounds Museum. Attendees will hear speakers, visit vendors, and see gardening displays. Partnering sponsors include University of Illinois Extension Fulton and Mason County Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, Spoon River Garden Club, and Dickson Mounds Museum.

Old-fashioned flowers and flowering shrubs like roses, hydrangeas, sweet pea, lilac, and more have always been common garden plants. Technically, an heirloom is defined as a plant that is open-pollinated. These are pollinated by insects, hummingbirds, or the wind and the resulting seed will produce plants that are identical (or very similar) to the parent plant.

The winter series of University of Illinois Extension's Four Seasons Gardening program focuses on seeds, houseplants, and orchids.

The first session of the series is titled Seed Starting and is offered twice – on January 31 at 1:30 p.m. and again on February 2 at 6:30 p.m. Horticulture Educator Kim Ellson discusses how growing plants from seed is both rewarding and cost effective.

How to Have Healthy Houseplants is scheduled for February 14 and 16. Horticulture Educator Rhonda Ferree will show you how houseplants add life and beauty to a home.

Issue 10, July 5, 2017 Illinois Pesticide Review Newsletter

White Grubs


This is a good time to observe the abundance and activity of white grub adults. This knowledge along with rainfall patterns is useful in making treatment decisions over the coming months.

Several years ago I created a secret shade garden behind my backyard gazebo. What started as a few trees, shrubs, and a bench, has grown to a dense garden of various dry-loving, shade plants. Since I garden in the dry sand of Mason county, typical moisture-loving shade plants like hosta, fern, and azalea don't do well. Instead, here are some plants that work for me.

Flowers are a great way to communicate your love and affection. Over the years, flowers have developed meaning and are known as a way to convey a special message.

Home, Yard, & Garden Newsletter Issue 3, May 15, 2017

Emerald ash borer adults are emerging in southern and central Illinois and will probably do so in northern Illinois in about two weeks. They will continue to emerge over several weeks. Now is the time to apply systemic insecticides to control this pest if emerald ash borer has been found within 15 miles.

Do you know where the sugar you used to bake your Christmas cookies comes from? Sugar is available in many different forms.

The sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane. Worldwide, 70 percent of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas. In tropical setting like Hawaii and Jamaica it grows in fields and looks similar to corn.

A team of eight University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners was awarded a teamwork award for their Wildlife Federation Mayor's Monarch Garden in Pekin, Illinois. The award was presented during University of Illinois Extension's annual master gardener conference in Normal on September 8, 2017.

This group's project planted seeds of knowledge in young people to develop their love for gardening and better understand its purpose.

Rain barrels and rain gardens are becoming more and more popular by those wanting to recycle and conserve natural resources.

According to U of I Extension Educator Duane Friend, when we receive rain, a lot of it falls on surfaces that cannot soak up water. Roofs and driveways create large amounts of runoff—much of which ends up in storm drains. It is estimated that water from these areas can increase stream flow by up to five times!

I am continually impressed and humbled by what our University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners accomplish. Although they all deserve accolades, several of our local Master Gardeners were recently recognized at the 2017 Illinois Master Gardener Conference in Normal for their outstanding efforts.

May Bach, Jennifer Bass, and Kathy Edwards were among 36 Master Gardeners receiving the State Outstanding Master Gardener Award.

This year I am planting a dwarf, determinate tomato in my herb garden. It will take less space and produce as much fruit as I need. And, this makes more room for herbs!

The poinsettia is the traditional Christmas flower. It was introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, first U. S. ambassador to Mexico who obtained plants from the wilds of southern Mexico.

I'm growing several summer bulbs this year. These include cannas, caladium, and elephant ears. Summer bulbs are summer-blooming plants that have some type of underground storage structure, but most of them don't look like bulbs.

The vast majority of summer bulbs are not cold hardy and will not survive our winters. They are often referred to as 'tender' bulbs. These plants need to be dug up at the end of the season, and the storage structure kept indoors until the following planting season--after the danger of frost has passed.

Kathy Edwards was one of 36 University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners honored for their outstanding contributions to Illinois' Master Gardener Program. She was named a State Outstanding Master Gardener at the 2017 Illinois State Master Gardener Conference in Normal.

Kathy has been an active Master Gardener in Fulton County since 2007. Her many projects include educational gardens at the Canton YMCA, Jones Park, Graham Hospital, Canton's Lutheran Church, and Heartland Healthcare Center.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Last week I noticed an unusually large number of daylily (Hemerocallis sp.) leaves turning completely yellow and dying. Upon closer inspection, I found that they have aphid feeding on the lower stems.

Aphids are a soft-bodied insect with piercing mouth parts that they use to suck out the plant's sap. They multiply quickly, resulting in large populations.

Gardeners have been growing hop as an ornamental vine for many years. Recently, I have seen more hop grown in backyards for home brewing. This is especially popular among younger male gardeners aged 18-34.

I love popcorn! Each year I buy kettle corn at one or more locations along the Spoon River Drive.

It is a good possibility that the popcorn I purchase was grown and packaged locally. Mason County, Illinois grows a lot of popcorn! In 2012, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service's Census of Agriculture ranked Mason County the No. 1 producer of popcorn in the United States with 18,552 acres.

Do you use a lot of garlic in your cooking? If so you might try growing your own. Fall is the best time to plant garlic in your garden.

Garlic is a hardy bulb, and thus is best planted in the fall when other bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, are planted. October is the ideal time in this part of Illinois. With garlic, new plants are grown from the individual sections of the bulb known as "cloves." Each bulb may contain a dozen or more cloves, depending on the variety.

Warm temperatures this winter have caused some lawns to green up early. This could impact the timing of various spring lawncare activities, such as seeding, fertilizing, mowing, and weed control. Here are a five turf tips to consider this season.

Written by Rhonda Ferree, horticulture educator (retired in 2018)

Master Gardeners are a special group of people who all have a common interest – a love of gardening and nature and the desire to share that knowledge with others. The Master Gardener Volunteer program is a very successful University of Illinois Extension Horticulture program. The program aim is to give intensive horticultural training to individuals who will, in turn, share this training with the public.

On a recent trip to visit my son Derek in Monterey, California, we hiked among the giant redwood trees in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It was a rainy day, which enhanced the overall experience. It also brought out a banana slug for us to see. Apparently everything there is giant because this slug was almost 10 inches long and bright yellow.

Our abnormal spring temperatures have many folks antsy to begin gardening, but remember that we could still get freezing temperatures. How early you can plant depends upon the hardiness of the vegetables and the date of our last spring frost. Our average frost-free date is April 22 with the actual frost-free date varies 2 weeks or more in either direction.

Feeding and watching birds has become one of America's favorite pastimes. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, nearly half the households in the United States provide food for wild birds.

The most commonly used birdseed are sunflower seeds, with black-oil sunflower seeds being the most popular. It's small size and thin shell make it easier for small birds to eat. Striped sunflower seeds are larger with thicker shells. Sunflower (Helianthus sp.) are easy plants to grow and come in various colors and heights.

Each year the Fulton and Mason County Master Gardeners hold a greenery workshop during their last meeting of the year. Attendees bring greenery and other decorations to use in their arrangements. I brought boughs of pine, cedar, and bayberry and pinecones, ribbon, and lights for decorations. This year I was fortunate to have my sister Lynn Miller and Mom Doris Simmons join me. They brought hemlock branches full of cones. It's fun to see all the different types of cones.

My new horticulture YouTube channel extends my gardening education into another realm of social media. 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 a wide variety of gardening topics and more. I post the videos on my ILRiverHort Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and other blog sites. They will also be included in future educational programs and webinars.

A team of nine University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educators was awarded an Interdisciplinary State Team Excellence Award at University of Illinois Extension's annual conference in November 2016.

The Interdisciplinary State Team Excellence Award is awarded for excellence in collaborative work to address a priority issue.


Image removed.

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Each year I am more distressed by the number of volunteer ornamental pear trees I see growing in fields, roadsides, and other places where they shouldn't be. This is yet another example of a plant that has escaped cultivation and become invasive. Below is an article written by my colleague Jason Haupt, Extension Educator in Energy and Environmental Stewardship.

I recently found some old seed in my office and wondered if they were still viable. If you save leftover seed to use the following year, here are some ways to find out if they are still good.

Seed viability is a measure of the number of seeds that are still alive to produce plants. Some seeds stay viable for many years, while others might only last a short time. For example, parsley and onion seed only last a year or two, while watermelon and cabbage should last four years or more. Most seed packets are dated so you know how old they are.

How do dogs harm lawns? Chris Enroth, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, explains.

First is the traffic. Very often backyard dogs will wear down paths in the grass from circling or pacing. Not only is this hard on the lawn itself but it also leads to compacted soils, making reestablishing turf in these locations even more challenging.

I have been enjoying the fresh basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley I'm growing indoors this winter. I use the herbs to make fresh pesto, teas, salsas, and more.

Gardening is not limited to outside in the summer. Herbs are probably the easiest to grown indoors, but there are many more. Last winter I grew salad tomatoes and carrots. As I learn more, I was amazed by how many food crops you can actually grow indoors.

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.

Get ready, here it comes - the 18th Annual Gardeners' BIG Day! University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners in Fulton and Mason County sponsor this event, which is set for Saturday, April 29th, at Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown.

Originally published in No. 2/April 25, 2016 of the University of Illinois Extension's Home, Yard & Garden Pest Newsletter

It's been a great spring for the color purple. The redbud trees are in full bloom and looking glorious in the central part of the state now. But for several weeks, the ground has been purple as well due to a few cool season weeds that seem to be enjoying the moderate temperatures we've been having.

The garden season is in full force, and I'm excited to hear about all the food and community gardens happening in our area. As we begin growing food and other plants this summer, please consider some potential health hazards.

A growing concern in urban soils is lead contamination, though suburban and rural soils may also be contaminated. I recently partnered with the Peoria City/County Health Department to highlight the importance of avoiding lead contaminated soil during the gardening season.

February often gives me the winter blahs. When that happens, gardening tasks help perk me up. Consider these various February gardening activities to reduce the winter blues.


After 30 years of being a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension the towering pampas grasses still amaze me each fall. What energy and power that plant must have to grow over 12 feet tall each summer, just to die back in the fall and start over again the next year.

Some plants are perfect for Halloween. Bat flowers, devils claw, and corpse flower come to mind. Another creepy looking plant is doll's eyes. I'm not sure why dolls with staring, glass eyes are so scary, but they can be truly frightening to some people. I used to have a recurring dream as a little girl about a scary doll in an old house. Weird, I know!

I recently found a doll's eye plant while hiking at Siloam Springs State Park. I'd seen this plant in flower many times, but this was the first time I saw its fruit.

A new crop of volunteers completed University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener training on November 7, 2017. Twenty-one energetic trainees culminated their ten-week Master Gardener training course by advancing to intern status.

The summer series of University of Illinois Extension's Four Seasons Gardening program focuses on environmental stewardship, home gardening, and backyard food production.

The first session of the series is titled, Using Essential Oils Safely. The program is offered twice –on June 27 at 1:30 p.m. and again on June 29 at 6:30 p.m. Essential oils have been growing in popularity, but some people are unsure of how to use them properly. Join Nancy Kreith, Horticulture Educator, as she leads you through the history, production and safety of using essential oils.

I enjoy shopping for plants each spring. In addition to our usual local spots, my husband and I like to visit new garden centers each year. This year's garden shopping trek included Jacksonville, Springfield, Champaign, Danville, and Ottawa. At each location, I pay particular attention to new plants and garden trends. This year's trends were obviously fairies, succulents, and butterflies.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!

Elmer Fudd from The Looney Tunes said it right, "Bugs Bunny?! You're a pesky wabbit!" I have replanted my tomato plants three times this spring. The first two times the plants were gone by the next morning, and I think the "cute" little rabbit I saw hop down my walk is the culprit!

Recently I had a friend ask 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.

I have several purple vegetables and herbs growing in my garden this summer.

Most plants have a very strict dress code, donning the same colors and style every year. When colors vary, the plant is simply named something else, or it indicates that there is a problem.

Botanically, plant colors are fascinating to me. We all learn in science class that plants get their green color from chlorophyll in the leaves, and the plant uses the chlorophyll to photosynthesize and make food. So, when a plant has purple leaves, how does it eat?

The spring series of University of Illinois Extension's Four Seasons Gardening program focuses on environmental stewardship, home gardening, and backyard food production.

The first session of the series is titled, Growing Vegetables for Beginners. The program is offered twice – on April 18 at 1:30 p.m. and again on April 20 at 6:30 p.m. Produce always taste better when you are enjoying the fruits of your labor. Join Jennifer Fishburn, Horticulture Educator, as she shares tips for successfully growing vegetables in a small space.

I love rhubarb! Also known as the pie plant, rhubarb is a very hardy perennial garden vegetable that grows extremely well here. Although considered a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit in pies, tarts, cakes, and sauces.

Rhubarb is available in either red or green stalk varieties. A popular green stalk one is Victoria. More is available in red including Canada Red with long, thick, extra sweet stalks, Cherry Red with red in and out, Crimson Red that is tall and plump, and MacDonald with tender skin and brilliant red color.

I made my first miniature garden at a recent Master Gardener meeting in Canton. It's such a pretty, fun little garden that I smile every time I see it. Are you searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family? As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, here are some pretty, fun ideas to consider for the gardener on your shopping list.

No plants do not have legs, but they do move. Although I don't see it happen, each week my African violet leaves lean toward the light requiring me to straighten them with a quarter turn. I also don't see the prayer plants fold their leaves each night and reopen them each morning.

Usually, plant movement is very subtle. Yet, there are a few plants that will move right before your eyes. Here are three examples.

Have you ever seen a garden that just took your breath away? You visit two months later, and the garden is again in full glory, and you wonder how do people do it? How do you design a garden that offers visual interest through the seasons? Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, highlights University of Illinois Extension resources that will help you create your very own eye-stopping flowerbed.

I was fortunate enough to camp at Canton Lake twice this summer. While enjoying peaceful kayak rides along the shoreline I found two plants that I'd never seen before. It's always exciting to find new plants, but these were particularly thrilling. They are both native plants, and to me represent a healthy diversity of plant life in that area.

Be sure to look for mosquito breeding sites in your yard. The first step to fighting mosquitoes MUST begin in YOUR backyard.

West Nile Virus is most frequently transmitted through the house mosquito. Since it can only fly about 1-½ miles, this mosquito usually breeds and lives in our own backyards. After getting an adequate blood meal, the adult female mosquito lays her eggs in any stagnant water source. The eggs and larvae must have water to live. Therefore, we must remove as many water sources as possible from our yards and communities.

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.

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

The Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive is about to begin! I challenge you to ignore the crowds and traffic jams and to focus on our beautiful Spoon River Country. As a former guidebook stated, "The Spoon River Valley is filled with woodlands and fertile farmlands that provide both a natural beauty and rich cultural heritage."

During these two weekends, take the opportunity to embrace what we too often take for granted. Don't only look at fall color, but look closer at the colorful roadside plants, local wildlife, water features, and panoramic scenes.

Central Illinois continues to receive excessive spring rains, which have resulted in waterlogged soils and flooding. Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, says "It is important to understand what is happening to plants growing in these conditions and what to expect later." Rhonda describes this as "a wait-and-see situation." Many herbaceous plants are experiencing injury symptoms now. Visible injury symptoms on trees and shrubs may not occur for a year or more.

The most common questions we get in our Extension offices are about trees. Unfortunately, most people do not notice their trees until they show major dieback or leaf drop. Often by the time we get the call, the tree has irreversible damage, and I have no magic formula to save it.

Arbor Day and Earth Day happen each April. This year Arbor day is April 28 and Earth Day is April 22. Both offer an opportunity for us to step back and enjoy our natural world.

In 2016, 169 Master Gardener volunteers contributed 13,920 hours in the Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties. Their volunteer service is valued at $328,000.

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

Stop by their informational booth at the Peoria Home Show on February 24-28 in the Peoria Civic Center. They will answer general gardening questions and distribute informational brochures and bookmarks.

Houseplants add life and beauty to a home. My new YouTube videos provide simple tips on houseplant care.

After watching these short videos, even those with "brown garden thumbs" will know how to have healthy houseplants throughout their home.

Over watering house plants is very common. Watering Houseplants teaches you how to know when to water and how much to water your house plants.

I recently attended an Illinois State Horticultural Society summer field day at Christ Orchard near Brimfield. The day included tours of apple orchards, current pest management information, and new technologies for the fruit industry. I left the day even more impressed with the amount of work it takes to grow apples, pears, and other fruits commercially.

Last night while making my newest favorite evening tea I got to thinking about the plants that produce these ingredients. My Spice Special tea is a blend of rooibos, anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, orange bitters, and honey. Let's look at each of these a bit closer.

Most people assume that established trees and shrubs can handle drought conditions. Often this is true, but the severe weather extremes that we've had in recent years has depleted reserves and stressed many plants.

Please don't ignore your older trees and shrubs. Mature woody landscape plants often do not exhibit symptoms from underwatering for several months; or, some cases it takes 3-5 years to see the impacts of a major environmental event.

Do you plan to grow your own food this summer? Would you like to extend that growing season a bit more in the spring and fall? If so, there are several options you might consider, including cold frames, hot beds, hoop houses, cloches, and floating row covers.

We get lots of questions each year about abnormal growths on oak and other trees. These abnormal growths, called galls, can be very disturbing to the people whose plants are affected. Fortunately, most galls affect only the appearance of the trees and are not detrimental to plant health.

Which type of holiday cactus do you have?

There are many different types of cacti that bloom between Thanksgiving and Easter. Each is appropriately named by the holiday it blooms near. The differences between these plants are found in the leaf edges. Christmas cacti have scalloped edges while Thanksgiving and Easter cacti have pointed edges. The Thanksgiving cactus is most common, probably because it is easier to get to bloom. They each are available in a variety of flower colors including white, pink, red, and orange.

Having houseplants in our homes make them come alive. In fact, studies indicate that houseplants help keep people happier and healthier. Plants fill an important psychological function, while also cleansing indoor air, and making us more productive.

Houseplants add life and beauty to a home. I will provide simple tips to select and care for houseplants in this webinar/video. After viewing this program, even those with "brown garden thumbs" will know how to have healthy houseplants throughout their home.