You do not need a soil test to tell you organic matter is good for your garden. Perhaps the biggest landscape mistake is not addressing the health of the soil. With all the soil tests that I have read in the last five years of being an educator, tests find around 1 to 2 percent organic matter.

Experts would prefer this number be at 10 percent. Adding organic matter in the form of compost can prevent nutrients from leaching, improve soil texture for root growth and can prevent some diseases in the landscape.

The University of Illinois Extension would like to congratulate McLean County Master Gardeners, Tracy Burr, Carolyn Erwin, Tudy Schmied, Pat Warren, Bob Williams, and Rose Yahnig for being recognized with the 2017 Outstanding State Master Gardener award. The Outstanding State Award was established to honor the best of Illinois Master Gardeners. Only the top 2% of Illinois State Master Gardeners win this award annually. They must exceed in leadership, determination, positivity, initiative and be highly involved in the program.

When I attended the 2015 First Detector Workshop, my horticulture experience conveyed the invasive qualities of burning bush, Japanese barberry and Callery pear. I knew I should not recommend them for landscapes; however, I had not realized they have become a problem in the Illinois wild. I needed more knowledgeable of the invasive plants and insects that threaten the Illinois ecosystem in order to relay that information to the community and volunteers that I serve.

Universityof Illinois Extension and Heartline and Heart House are teaming up to celebrate the holiday season by offering a free make and take Holiday Nature Ornament Program. Not only are these type of ornaments trending this holiday season but also they can be very affordable, easy to make and a fun family affair. These small ornaments can adorn any tree small or large to fulfill that great gift idea.
Many people, especially women, experience high levels of stress during the holidays according to research done by the American Psychological Society.

Hoping to add just a few more spring bloomers to the pollinator garden, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, suggests the following.

Pulmonaria saccharata

This week we are going to look at the largest member of the dog family found in Illinois. The Coyote has a poor reputation particularly among farmers. But is this reputation truly deserved?

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on September 15, 2017.

Just yesterday, I began thinking about the fall bulb-planting season. I already have designs to plant early flowering spring bulbs for the bees like crocus, snow drops, siberian squill, winter aconite, hyacinths and grape hyacinth. However, I keep coming back to fall crocus. Wouldn't it be nice to have a fall blooming bulb in my garden and harvest saffron?

Woodford County Master Gardener Plant Sale Coming Soon!

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – McLean County Master Gardeners have worked diligently with the Community Cancer Center these past two years, developing a 5,000 square foot butterfly garden, a 4,875 square foot terrace garden and a labyrinth with the motivation that gardens can be a place of healing. McLean County Master Gardener, Chris Kraft, says, "Cancer is a disease that we have all been touched by," and that was motivation to help provide a sanctuary of nature for staff, patients, and their families that are now dealing with cancer.

Invasive Species Workshop Trains First Detectors in Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The 2017 Illinois First Detector Workshop on invasive plants, diseases, and insects will be offered at eight Illinois sites beginning in January 2017.

Sand wasps have similar habits to the cicada killer, but they occur earlier in the spring, with other species common later in the growing season. There are several species, ranging in size from 1/2 to almost 1 inch long. They are dark-colored, slender wasps with one or more contrasting gray to reddish bands. Adults feed on flower nectar, pollinating plants in the process.

Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are on the prowl, and there have been many inquiries about them at the Master Gardener plant clinics.

Cicada killers are solitary wasps with yellow banding on their abdomens. They appear in late July and early August and resemble large, black hornets. These insects are considered beneficial because they help control the annual cicada (Tibicen spp.) population. However, the excavating and burrowing that they do in open, dry ground when constructing their nests can be a nuisance for gardeners and homeowners.

Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

Many years ago a homeowner might have said, "I don't want nature in my back yard, let it live somewhere else, out there in the woods or the prairies." However, today it is a different story states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup.

"In reality, somewhere else does not exist anymore, because most of the woods and prairies are gone. For the natural world to survive, we must allow native plants and animals to occur in our yards and gardens," says Chris Benda, a botanist, and president of the Illinois Native Plant Society.

You walk out of your home ready for the day, the sun hits your face, and it is an unusually warm day for February. You rejoice. Spring is here. The next day there is a light fluffy snow hitting you in the eye. For most Illinoisans, we have become used to getting our hopes up, only to realize winter is not done with us.

What does this mean for the plants in our garden? Our trees?

University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardeners would like to invite you and your family to a festival of herbs at the Unity Community Center, 632 Orlando Avenue Normal, on Thursday, July 27 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Bring the kids to participate in garden festivities while tasting delectable dishes made out of the tasty herbs grown in the garden. University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator says, "Eating dishes that highlight the herbs in the garden is a summer experience you won't want to miss.

URBANA, Ill. – Decorating with mistletoe has been a holiday tradition for many centuries in North America and Europe. It begs the question: Why do we have this strange tradition that prompts friends, family, and even enemies to kiss when they meet underneath mistletoe?

"Perhaps you have been one of the lucky—or unlucky—few that have found yourself under the mistletoe for a kiss," says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Chris Enroth.

Master Gardeners go beyond the confines of the garden to answer and research gardening questions of all kinds throughout the entire growing season. We tend to notice trends. Those trends allow me to provide continued training for the Master Gardeners so that they can better serve the public.

The trends also give me insight into what people want to know. In the past few weeks, for instance, we have had numerous questions about blister beetles, green fruit beetles, lace bugs and tomato fruit worm.

Four Seasons Gardening Program Offers Fall Series The fall series of University of Illinois Extension's Four Seasons Gardening program is about ready to get underway on a computer near you. Four Seasons Webinars focus on environmental stewardship, home gardening, backyard food production and more.

Cilantro has been named 2017 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association and the McLean County Master Gardeners will be celebrating the harvest at the Illinois State University Horticulture Center on August 18 at 11 a.m. They invite the public for cooking demonstrations and tastings of some of their favorite recipes using this flavorful and tasty herb.

Cilantro is a unique herb in that the leaves are harvested and eaten fresh and the fruits are dried and made into the spice known as coriander.

Boxwood blight has been confirmed in three locations in Illinois as of April 2017. This is a serious fungal disease, and the pathogen is regulated by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

URBANA, Ill. – Winter can be a tough time for trees—especially evergreen trees and shrubs, says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Candice Hart.

Allium 'Millenium' has been awarded the 2018 perennial plant of the year. I actually just heard about this plant at a pollinator conference in October from Steve Foltz, Director of Horticulture at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, calling it a must have plant for the pollinator garden. The zoo has placed it on their Zoo's Best Perennials for Pollinators list where they promote plants throughout the zoo so that homeowners know what to plant in their own yards.

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.

For Immediate Release:

Please join University of Illinois Extension Woodford County Master Gardeners at the Eureka Public Library on August 7 th from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Whether you want to sit and talk about gardening or ask about a specific issue that you would like them to research, please visit the Woodford County Master Gardeners at their monthly help desk.

Are you like me and wish for a holiday plant as a gift this year? Gifting holiday plants are nostalgic, unique and very affordable. Some of the most popular are poinsettia, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and mistletoe. However, air plants and succulents can make excellent and trendy holiday gift plants, too. If you are kind enough to give your favorite plant lover one of these holiday treats, print or cut out these instructions and attach to the gift tags.

A Day in the Garden Patch is always a day well spent! PONTIAC, Ill. –
Join University of Illinois Extension – Livingston County Master Gardeners on Saturday, April 8 for a morning filled with colorful plants and new gardening insights at an event we like to call "A Day in the Garden Patch."
University of Illinois Extension is proud to present Patrick Murphy, horticulturist, and curator of Fell Arboretum on the campus of Illinois State University.

Join the Barn Quilt Heritage Trail at Eureka Public Library

Eureka, Ill. – Looking for a staycation idea? Please join University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Program Coordinator Reid Young, as he stops at the Eureka Public Library (202 S. Main St., Eureka) to chat all about the McLean County's Barn Quilt Heritage Trail. The discussion begins at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27.

Recycle your Holiday Tree"If you are like me, then there is no substitute for a real holiday tree, with its deep green needles and evergreen aroma," states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. However, your tree is starting to lose its needles, curling at the ends and ready to be evicted from the dining room. There are several options available when properly disposing of my celebrated Fraser Fir.
A winter experiment for youth: Forcing paperwhites
URBANA, Ill. – Even though it is cold outside and snow may be covering our gardens, we can still exercise our little ones' green thumbs. Bring the garden inside this winter with fun activities and experiments! Winter is the perfect time for kids to learn basic plant concepts and develop an interest in the garden."A great family-friendly activity to bring spring inside is forcing paperwhite bulbs," says Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program educator.

Horticultural Therapy: Gardening is Healing Conference

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardeners and the Community Cancer Center will be presenting the "Horticultural Therapy: Gardening is Healing" conference on Saturday, June 10 at the Community Cancer Center in Normal. This daylong conference will provide information on modifying gardening practices for youth through aging individuals.

Grab the leaves from your garden and cast them


BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Despite my push to grow Illinois native plants to create biodiversity and sustain wildlife, our lawns do benefit the environment in a few ways. Lawns prevent erosion, improve water quality, along with trees and shrubs it can reduce evapotranspiration making the area cooler, helps improve air quality and creates a space for children and pets to play. A sustainable lawn is possible if you take an integrated approach in these steps.


The University of Illinois Extension would like to congratulate Woodford County Master Gardeners, Nancy Carls for being recognized as a 2017 Outstanding Illinois Master Gardener, and Jack Pfaffmann for being recognized as s 2017 Sustained Excellence Award Winner.

The yellow leaves of the sugar maple, the reddish purple leaves of the ash and the multi-colored leaves of the sweet gum have begun to litter the ground, foreshadowing the end of a season and the celebration of the natural cycle. These fallen leaves will insulate the trees and plants while providing hiding places for insects, providing shelter materials for wildlife and building up the soil.

Time to Learn how to produce Tip Top Tasty Tomatoes

Fresh sun ripened tomatoes are an essential ingredient in many garden inspired recipes: Pico de Gallo, Caprese salad, and salsa. In these dishes, a store purchased tomato simply will not do. These tomatoes have been chilled, thawed, stored, handled, and potentially sprayed with chemicals. For this reason, most of you have not only opted to grow tomatoes but make them the star of the garden.

Wild parsnip was in the news a great deal this past summer, despite it being around for many years, because of its negative effects on naïve gardeners and hikers.

We read in the news all the time that we are a generation of phones and internet. Any question is answered with a quick tapping of fingertips, amounting to instant gratification.

I personally am grateful that I can look up anything anytime because my job requires me to answer a barrage of gardening questions that has been backed up by research. However, my childhood was spent in the piney woods of east Texas, where we played with sticks, pine cones, vines and the occasional armadillo.

Chrysanthemums: A flourish of fall colors
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. –Chrysanthemums come in a myriad of colors and flower forms, just in time to spruce up a tired flower garden or create a festive fall display. The garden centers are overflowing with these must-have bursts of color. Some gardeners have tried and failed to overwinter these mature mums bought from the garden centers.

Parts of Livingston County, McLean's northeast neighbor, have been scheduled for spraying this past week along with six other counties in northern Illinois for the gypsy moth, leaving the rest of us wondering will we be next.

Gypsy moth caterpillars eat the leaves of hundreds of different species of trees, leaving behind winter bare trees. The infected trees have a chance of dying from repeat defoliations or becoming stressed enough to possibly succumb to other diseases or insect infestations.

Master Gardeners bloom through training

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension McLean & Livingston County Master Gardeners is proud to welcome 18 new interns to the program after completing 14 weeks of extensive training by University of Illinois and University of Illinois Extension Educators in all subjects' horticulture. From insects and plant diseases to propagation, they covered it all and everything in between.

The University of Illinois Extension would like to congratulate Livingston County Master Gardeners, Sandy Knight for being recognized as a 2017 Outstanding Illinois Master Gardener, and Dee Woodburn for being recognized as s 2017 Sustained Excellence Award Winner.

Warm days and thirsty plants: the art of watering


BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – I often tell people that I have a Ph.D. in watering plants, states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. As a young professional, I spent my days deciding if I should water and then checking to see if I made the right decision. Sometimes, I spent my days racing to water before plants wilted. I would like to say it is an art but any gardener who learns the following water guidelines can get a Ph.D. in watering.

On Saturday, July 29 from 9 A.M. to Noon, the University of Illinois McLean County Master Gardeners will be conducting a Plant Propagation Workshop at the award winning and city treasure, Sarah's Garden at the David Davis Mansion. Many of the plants propagated will be of heirloom origin and a plant that Sarah Davis grew over 100 years ago.


BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Chris Enroth is this year's keynote speaker for Woodford County Master Gardeners spring celebration entitled "Gardeners' Gathering: Sharing a Growing Secret" on Saturday, April 22. Chris will be sharing landscape secrets that are necessary for a successful gardener.

Garden Schedule

Average last spring frost May 10th.


Order seeds and garden supplies. Prepare lights and tools for starting seeds. Clean and maintain garden tools.


Frost seed white dutch clover in yard and garden paths where weeds are under control.

Finish pruning fruit trees. Fertilize when buds start to swell.

  • 2017 Small Farms Winter Webinar Series, every Thursday from noon to 1:00 p.m. from January 19 – March 30, 2017. It's easy (and FREE!) to register for the Small Farms Winter Webinars. Sign up for as many as you want at We'll send you a webinar reminder, log-on instructions, and how to access the archived recording. If you do not have broadband internet capable of streaming video, call your local Extension office to see if they can offer live viewing.

    McLean County residents, did you know McLean County Master Gardeners helped thousands of local gardeners with their gardening questions during the 2016 growing season through services offered throughout the county? Let them help you solve your gardening woes by visiting the University of Illinois Extension Mclean County Master Gardeners walk-in Help Desk, Bloomington Farmers Market, and Downs Famers Market booths or the WJBC Radio program.

    Typically on the top of our home invader list in Illinois are the Asian lady beetles," states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. It seems this season, there may be another to explore.Asian lady beetles originally released to help farmers with the pecan aphid, commonly like to overwinter in our homes. If there is a crack or crevice leading its way to the inside of your home, then you may be vulnerable to this and other unwanted inhabitants. They can be identified from the native ladybug by the black M shape just behind their head.
    BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension - Woodford County Master Gardeners are adding some celebration to their summer with the sweet aroma and culinary delight of herbs from the garden in a program entitled "It's a Culinary Delight!" This program is from 7 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 22 at the Heartline and Heart House in the Community Room in Eureka. Our Woodford County Master Gardeners planted sweet and savory herbs in the raised beds at Heartline and Heart House and now want to share the harvest with the community.
    BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardeners would like to invite you to their 15th annual Home, Lawn and Garden Day on Saturday, March 4 at Central Catholic High School. Home, Lawn and Garden Day is a day dedicated to garden fun and is the ideal place to get inspiration for future garden projects, fall in love with a must-have plant or learn the basics of everyday gardening. McLean County Master Gardeners host their annual Home, Lawn and Garden Day just in time to beat the winter blues.

    Insights from horticulturist during this Illinois late winter/early spring:

    Extension Pollinator Gardens

    By Sally Whaley

    Colder weather, frozen soil, fallen and windblown leaves, and later any accumulated snow, all will force rabbits to take shelter and begin to look for food anywhere they can. Once the ground is frozen, rabbits will have fewer places to take shelter or hide. Foraging for food will mean staying a lot closer to the protection of their winter home.

    Walking in the Illinois State University Horticulture Center garden this week, I see the hover flies (aka syrphid flies or flower flies) are covering any nectar-producing flower in droves. These flies, commonly mistaken for bees are one of our most prolific pollinators in the Illinois garden. In addition to their pollinator services, their larvae are ferocious meat eaters. Hover flies are excellent fliers, flying backwards and forwards and hovering over their beloved flowers.

    Around town, piles of mulch are built up like volcanoes around the bases of trees. Perhaps it is because there is extra mulch: If a little is good, than a lot must be great. Perhaps it is an artistic statement. Perhaps it is learned from watching others in the neighborhood.

    The reasoning dumbfounds horticulturists because the practice kills the trees slowly.

    After harvesting a corn or soybean crop, farmers may plant a cover crop for a variety of reasons—to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve water quality. Now there's another reason. University of Illinois research shows that migratory birds prefer to rest and refuel in fields with cover crops.

    Leaves have finished displaying their autumn color and have fallen, and gardens have been cleaned up to begin their winter rest. Gardeners can finally enjoy a well-deserved break, but it may not be long before the anticipation of spring creeps in.

    "There is no quicker way to beat those winter blues than starting your garden planning early," says University of Illinois Extension educator Bruce Black. "Garden planning starts by thumbing through paper and online plant catalogs looking for something new, yet tested. The All-America Selections are a nice starting place."

    Honey bees have dominated the news as of late, but I would like to discuss bumble bees, their pollination services and their decline says Univerity of Illinois Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. We have 50 species of bumble bees in North America. They are social like honey bees. There is a queen to lay eggs, and workers to collect pollen and nectar for their honey pot. However, unlike honey bees, only the queen survives the winter. She overwinters in a small crevice in the garden or an old mouse nest, or if she resides in my pollinator hotel, an upside down clay pot filled with straw.

    Livingston County residents, did you know that our Livingston County Master Gardeners helped hundreds of local gardeners with their gardening questions during the 2016 growing season? Let them help you solve your gardening woes by visiting the University of Illinois Extension Livingston County Master Gardeners walk-in Help Desk or Pontiac Farmer's Market booths this season.

    More to it than just the Milkweed

    BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Most Illinois gardeners believe that the cause of declining monarch butterfly populations is due to the lack of milkweed in the summer breeding areas of our state. However, research done by the Illinois Natural History Survey, plant ecologists, Greg Spyreas and David Zaya is proving there may be more to the story than just the lack of milkweed.