creeping charlie and dandelion among turf grass

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on May 19, 2019.

Mammoth dandelions, carpets of Creeping Charlie and a smattering of lambsquarters, purslane and foxtail are flourishing while we stay in our homes during the rainy spring. Weeds can be a conundrum for most gardeners and may even cause some to throw in the trowel. However, there are some gardening practices that can help you win the war against the weeds.

Weed during critical periods

tree cookies painted like santa evergreen ginko leaf ornament wood burned ornament

Perhaps my favorite thing to do during the holidays is to make my own ornaments. Glittery baubles, shiny tinsel, twinkling lights, and baroque glass ornaments just are not my style when decorating for the holidays. I am inspired by nature and entrenched in a family tradition of making art.

bare tree reflects rooting system below

Trees are vital to our environment, and understanding their biology can help us to protect them from stresses caused by the urban environment, extending their lives and promoting their health. 

The average components of the tree consist of 5 percent fine feeder roots, 15 percent larger transport roots, 60 percent trunk or main stem, 15 percent branches and twigs, and 5 percent leaves (hard to believe on a fall day).

Poinsettias grow in a large scale greenhouse

Before I became an educator for the University of Illinois Extension, my career solely focused on growing plants in a greenhouse. High-quality poinsettias were one of the most important crops for a grower. Clients had long-standing orders for these holiday treasures, and expected long-lasting, healthy, bright, bold, and grand plants to decorate their homes, churches, and businesses.

Brittnay Haag teaching at Horticulture Center Children's Garden

Our unit director, Bobbie Lewis-Sibley, often says, “I wish there were a garden in every school,” a response to youths' unfamiliarity where their food comes from, and a deficiency of interaction with the natural environment.

At the Unity Community Center, Extension’s after-school site in Normal, youth have harvested potatoes with glee, released butterflies with gentleness, and tracked water flow in a stream with the precision of scientists. But how does Extension connect with other youth in our community and give them similar experiences as the youth at Unity?

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on November 22, 2019.

golden beets and red beeds

Last Thanksgiving, my family feasted on sweet potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, squash, and apples, all grown here in McLean County. We had a local business smoke our turkey for the holiday; our dessert featured cookies and macaroons and a festive dried flower arrangement from a local baker and florists; and my mom now loves local honey in her tea. We had a traditional feast, local-style.

brown bat held in blue laboratory gloved hand

The mere mention of bats causes some people to cringe or cover their heads. That reaction likely stems from a fear instilled in us through movies and books, not reality. The bat does make a great bad guy, because it comes out at night to feed, often live in great numbers, and perhaps even drink your blood.

In reality, out of more than 1,200 species of bats worldwide, but only three species of vampire bats in Central America that lap blood. No, they don't suck blood, but lapping blood seems a little less menacing.

brandywine viburnum

Have you ever heard a horticulturists encourage the use of plants having “multiple seasons of interest”? This might be said in response to someone’s complaints about forsythia, for example.

Forsythia blooms in spring, an explosion of lemon-yellow blossoms covering the plant. But the rest of the year, it is drab and unruly. The unruliness causes many gardeners to shear the shrub into boxes (completely unnecessarily) and then when spring comes again the flower display is subpar and sparse—one season of interest is all you will get from forsythia.

Bronze leaves of Tree of Heaven

In the world of landscaping, trees are the backbones of the landscape. They are permanent structures that have stately features, shade our homes, provide spring floral displays, and some amazing fall color. There are, however, some trees that just behave badly. You’re likely familiar with maples that drop their helicopter seeds (known as samaras) all over the neighborhood, sprouting up scattered shoots in our lawns and flowerbeds—hard to call this a bad tree with the fun they bring to children, but a nuisance to be sure.

jumping spider stares into camera

It’s the time of year that people adorn their homes with horror-movie-sized black spiders and webs in hopes of prompting the public’s arachnophobia — their fear of spiders. In contrast to most people, I suffer from arachnophilia — a love of spiders. This is due to my background working with beneficial insects to help lower the populations of unwanted pests in the garden.

Goldenrod produces the rich golden yellow plumes that sprinkle the Illinois landscape this time of year.

root flare top root soil line

George Monibot, environmental activist, says “there is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree. […] A natural climate solution.” The statement leaves you baffled. Simply planting a tree can help solve climate change.

Black Swallowtail by Deanna Frautschi

Are you ready for a break from the garden? Breaking some old habits in your usual fall garden clean up could make a huge difference to butterflies, moths, bees, and other beneficial insects that overwinter in the Illinois landscape, and be a more environmentally sound practice.

night blooming cereus cactus

Forget itty-bitty succulents tucked into a small shallow dish. Succulent Cacti are the new trend! They are just as interesting and easy to care for but make a much larger impact on your plant-scaping efforts.

Architecturally, these plants are usually naked branches without leaves, and some are known for their breathtaking, but short-lasting, blooms. Their superpower is that they grow big and may even need to be potted up every two or three years.

Virginia bluebells

Get your gardens buzzing next spring by planting bee-friendly bulbs and spring bloomers this fall. Bumblebee queens, honey bees and solitary bees start emerging from their winter homes ready to feast on the landscape as early as March. Feed them from your garden by planting a mix of crocus, snow drops, Siberian squill, grape hyacinth, bluebells with spring flowering hellebores and primroses to ensure many sources of nectar.

Grape Hyacinth

In Illinois, we plant hardy spring-flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils in the month of October. For the most part, these can be easy ways for gardeners to add color, and non-gardeners to be successful in growing flowers because they really need little care aside from a few tips.


Daffodils, Tulips, Crocus and Hyacinth bulbs seem to materialize from snow on the saturated ground, provoking gardeners to celebrate the coming spring. However, gardeners are not planting these hardy bulbs in the spring soil, but the previous fall to over-winter in their garden beds.

University of Illinois Extension is calling all lovers of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that keep our crops and gardens growing to join scientists in tracking their distribution and habitat use across the state, from the comfort of your home, school, or community garden.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension's Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists will hold their annual Trails Day Celebration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 1 at Sugar Grove Nature Center. The event is free and open to the public so plan a family outing and spend National Trails Day outside with nature.

He is an award winning garden designer from Mackinaw Island, author, overall plant enthusiast, and this year he will be the keynote speaker for Home, Lawn and Garden Day. McLean County Master Gardeners welcome Jack Barnwell for a presentation about landscaping and gardening on the island, on Saturday March 2.

You are invited to attend these in-person hands on workshops designed to help you better able answer questions from the public. All the workshops will be at the Bloomington Extension office and start at 1:00. Sessions will run 60-90 minutes. The public is  invited.

The Extension office receives an extensive amount of questions regarding tree health, including the not so simple question, "what is wrong with my tree?" During this session on tree diagnosis, we will help the volunteers attempt to answer this question. Registration is available at

Register NOW for Home, Lawn and Garden Day - a day of gardening fun and learning!

Vegetable Swap at Heartline and Heart House in Eureka

EUREKA, Ill. – It is time again to share the harvest with our neighbors. On Friday, July 12, beginning at

10 a.m., we will host the second annual Vegetable Swap at Heartline and Heart House at 300 Regan Drive, Eureka (across from Eureka College). This program is open to all who want to give or receive vegetables.

  • Spruce Spider mite

– Problem

  • Feed on needled evergreens and most active during the spring. Damage appears as stippling as mites feed on chlorophyll. Heavily attacked foliage will turn brown.

– Detection

Spring into Action with Livingston County Master Gardeners Help Desk

PONTIAC, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension Livingston County Master Gardeners will open the walk-in Help Desk for the 2019 growing season on Thursday,

May 2. The Help Desk is located at the Livingston County Extension Office [1412 South Locust, Pontiac] or by calling them at (815) 842-1776. From May 2 on, the volunteers are available from 9 a.m. to Noon every Thursday throughout spring, summer and early fall.

It may be hard to predict what a bride will want for her wedding day, but is likely to include gorgeous flowers. Barn weddings with rustic materials have been popular for years, but floral designers are seeing a shift in 2019 towards a 1970s bohemian style, and an elegant industrial style. Here are some field reports on what brides are asking for this year.



She's dynamic. She is researched, and she was born to garden. She has shared her experiences growing succulents to the Eureka Library participants and is back to share her gardening observations on growing hydrangeas. The Eureka Library will be hosting University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardener, Ellen Culver, on Tuesday, June 25 at 6:30 p.m. for a program "High on Hydrangeas." "Hydrangeas are the flowers you grow in your landscape to make the neighbors envious," states University of Illinois Extension Educator, Kelly Allsup.


Each spring gardeners begin looking for new and colorful plants to make their garden pop. "If you are looking for a plant that grows quickly, has interesting and colorful flowers, and will add a vertical element to your garden, look no further than an annual flowering vine," said Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program educator. All of these vines are easily grown from seed—either started directly in the soil or indoors 4 to 6 weeks before planted outside and after the threat of frost has passed.

Strawberries: Signs of spring

University of Illinois, Horticulture educator, Kelly Allsup says "plant strawberry plants this spring for next year's harvest of plump juicy berries." Strawberries can be greatly rewarding and only require a few simple timed garden tasks.

Do not try to grow grass under trees or in shady areas of your landscape.

Generally, lawns are seeded with a mix of Kentucky blue grass, fine fescue and rye grass. Each type contributes to the whole of the lawn, but none of them will grow well in full shade.

With a little spring preparation, your garden season can be more rewarding than ever: raised beds simply make gardening vegetables and herbs easier.

Rain Gardening is among the newest buzzwords at University of Illinois. The buzz is a response to another buzzword in the news: climate change.

Illinois' recently-retired state climatologist, Jim Angel, says one way climate change is affecting the Illinois landscape through more frequent torrential rains, as opposed to more frequent, lighter rains. These weather patterns can cause flooding and runoff. Any farmer with a bare field knows this is a problem, as nutrients or soil leech out of their field.

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on January 25, 2019.

As a child, my grandparents would send me to the unmanaged portions of their property to pick blackberries with my sisters. Most of the time we brought enough back for grandma to make a pie, and probably just as much sun sweetened fruits in our bellies.

Originally published by Kelly Allsup on January 11, 2019.

Even non-gardeners welcome the sight of early blooming perennials. Here are some early spring bloomers to look out for in the garden.

The Perennial Plant Association chooses a perennial plant of the year using the following criteria: It must be suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions, be low maintenance, have pest and disease resistance, be readily available in the industry and have multiple seasons of interest or excellent foliage attributes. Past winners have been Allium 'Millenium,' Butterfly weed and Japanese anemone. The 2019 perennial plant of the year is Stachys monnieri 'Hummelo.'

Ants are thriving in my kitchen, my bathroom, and at my office. They usually enter buildings after heavy rains and persist as long as the environment is to their liking. In the kitchen, they are seeking out sweet treats, and are attracted to the moisture in the bathroom. Despite ants not causing damage to the home and being beneficial in aerating soils, they are a general nuisance and are easily evicted. The eviction must include an integrated approach.