red poinsettia with green tips in foreground of brilliant white holiday lighting

This holiday season, buy poinsettias from local growers, and keep them vibrant with a few “don’ts” from a previous poinsettia greenhouse grower.

Millions of poinsettias are bought each year as decoration and gifts. What most consumers do not know is poinsettias have to be grown with a lot of love and attention or they won’t make it to your holiday festivities.

Beets, parsnip, squash and apples

Being thankful for our families has a new meaning this year, and the feast should be spectacular. Let’s add a sometimes-missing ingredient this year: the love that a local grower, baker, or cook puts into their product.

My role in the Thanksgiving meal is to procure ingredients and I challenge myself to buy mostly fresh local ingredients for the big meal.

Time to Spray  

Active Insect or Disease  

Chemical Recommendations (ONE PER APPLICATION) 

paperwhite bloom (Narcissus papyraceus)

Bring the garden inside this winter with fun activities and experiments! ‘Forcing’ paperwhite bulbs is a family-friendly activity to add a touch of nature to your home this winter. The technique nurtures a winter bloom indoors by providing bulbs with favorable growing conditions similar to spring.

garlic harvest. photo by Bill Davison.

Garlic is a garden favorite because it is so commonly used in our culinary world. Like many crops, fresh garlic grown in the home garden surpasses anything bought at the grocery store. It is a long season crop, planted in the fall and harvested in the summer. A cold period is required for garlic to produce bulbs.

sphynx moth

With everything going virtual this year, Illinois’ Master Gardener conference followed suit, hosting only one speaker. So she must have been good.

the foamy-looking egg case of a chinese mantis clings to a cluster of twigs

You have likely spied upon, or even befriended, praying mantises in your garden this growing season. Although most adults die out during the late fall and early winter, they have likely left behind a foamy garden ornaments within your landscape.

red oak rain garden

A homeowner who is interested in eco-friendly gardening may want to consider incorporating a rain garden into their landscape.

A rain garden is a permeable landscape feature that improves the quality of water runoff while adding beauty and supporting pollinating insects and birds. Typically located near a home’s downspout, but at least 10 feet away from the foundation, they take the form of shallow basins filled with native plants, filtering water and allowing stormwater runoff to soak into the ground.

bulbs, pixabay

As many perennial plants are getting ready to go dormant for the winter, it is time to start thinking about next spring’s floral display and plant spring-flowering bulbs. The best time to plant spring bulbs is late September through October to allow sufficient time for a good root system to develop before winter. Depending on the location, spring bulbs begin blooming in late February (snowdrops) and continue until late June (alliums).

joseph's coat

This is the time of the year to make tough decisions about what will take up residence in the house and what will succumb to the frost. Though frost will inevitably kill off most of the tender plants that I have cared for all summer, some of these plants can be saved for next year.

Houseplants

butterflies on sedum by Candace Hart

A few years back, Illinois gardeners learned that there is more to monarch decline than a lack of milkweed to support larvae, or habitat destruction in their overwintering home. Another contributing factor is a lack of floral resources for adult monarch butterflies to make the journey in the fall. University of Illinois Extension pushed a campaign to plant more of these fall bloomers.

goldenrod with insects

Roadside weed, or golden torch beckoning all the bees in the neighborhood?

Tall and gangly, goldenrod offers the latter to interested gardeners. My front landscape bed is dedicated to pollinators, so I have planted native Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) right in the middle, and it has not disappointed in its floral show and its magnetic qualities for pollinators.

aster, purple with yellow centers. credit: pixabay.

When thinking of fall bloomers for your garden, everyone's usual go-to is the mum, but don’t rule out the gorgeous asters sitting next to the mums. There are 180 species of aster, many of which are native to Illinois. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) are two easy-to-find favorites.

full season french intensive garden

Connie Kostelc has been a Master Gardener volunteer for University of Illinois Extension in Livingston County for the last 22 years. When gardening for edible plants, Connie uses the French intensive raised bed method.

fox squirrel in foreground of fall or winter tree limbs.

Proactive strategies can lessen the extent of wildlife damage to your gardens through fall and winter.

Once the ground is frozen, rabbits will have fewer places to take shelter or hide, and will forage for food a lot closer to the protection of their winter home. They will go for anything green but once that is gone, they will go for thin-skinned bark and small branches. Feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire fencing, burying a few inches to thwart digging.

brilliant red-orange oriental poppy pixabay

If you have a vigorous perennial that has been in the garden bed for more than a few years, or it is starting to choke out some other plants and no longer looking healthy, then it may be time to divide.

Plants that need to be divided cannot support healthy foliage and flowers. Some perennials like to be divided yearly (chrysanthemum); some can go three to five years without division; some can go much longer. Some do not require division at all, like butterfly weed with the taproot, or baby’s breath.

tomado demonstrating blossom end rot

1. Adding eggshells when planting tomatoes adds calcium and prevents blossom end rot. Fiction.

Eggshells add very little immediate calcium to the plant.

mole emerging from soil

1. Control grubs in the lawn to eliminate moles and voles? Fiction.

A mole’s diet consist mostly of earthworms. This does not mean they won’t eat a grub, but grubs are not their preferred diet. Although mole tunnels can be a nuisance in a lawn setting, most landscape plants are not bothered. Moles generally elude traps, so it may be best to accept them as part of the ecosystem of your yard.

Voles are herbivores. They do tend to eat bark during the winter months, so a protective trunk wrap may help in these cases.

wheatgrass growing in a cup

Fall is the perfect time for little ones to get out in the garden to explore plants at their peak, and even grow their own plant projects in the cooler temperatures. Here are a few ideas to get them outside and appreciating nature.

Cut Grass Hair

Grow your own grass head, then snip or style the “hair” as it grows! The grass will germinate and grow quickly to create a lush, green head.

Materials needed:

basil and pepper sharing a five gallon bucket

For the last two years, I have been gardening in five-gallon buckets. A team of Extension colleagues from the Horticulture and Nutrition programs are teaching area residents who do not have access to garden space how to grow and their own herbs and veggies. The ‘Garden in a Bucket’ outreach has already reached hundreds of people in McLean, Livingston, and Woodford counties.

kohlrabi fall season garden delight

In the heat of summer’s end, vegetable gardeners are often drained by the weeding and watering routine, and ready to put the garden to bed.

But fall provides a more comfortable environment and some of the most productive gardening of the year when vegetables are planted in late summer and mature in the cool temperatures of fall. Fall vegetables require less watering, and sustain less insect and weed pressure.

Mosquitoes are out and about ruining people’s picnics, hikes and gardening with their constant swarming and need to obtain blood from innocent Illinois residents.

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choose the right plants, give them some care, and voila — caterpillars. The most grown caterpillar food in our gardens are milkweeds for monarchs and parsley for black swallowtails. By adding a few more native shrubs, perennials and annuals, as well as allowing certain weeds to remain, the caterpillar café could be open in no time.

Shrubs

Spread love and beautiful flowers! Mix clay, soil, and seeds to create a ball to easily share or you’re your own flowers. Find an area in your garden that could use some color. Toss or place the seed ball directly onto the bare soil. As it is watered (either by hand or by rain) the clay will break down and the seeds will germinate and grow when conditions are just right!

Materials:

  • Air-dry clay

  • Potting soil

  • Seeds (easy to grow, annuals, or native varieties)

   

wheat grass growing in a cup

The grass will germinate and grow quickly to create a lush, green head. Snip or style the “hair” to keep it looking tidy.

Materials:

  • 8 oz white paper cup
  • Potting soil
  • Wheat grass seeds
  • Colored pencils or crayons

   

1. Poke 3-4 small holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage.

2. Draw a face on the paper cup with colored pencils or crayons.

3. Fill the cup with soil, save 1 tablespoon to put on top of the seeds.

silvery checkerspot by kathy dumler

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening status to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choosing the right plants, some care and voila caterpillars. I am not only altering the habitat of my backyard for the greater good, I will have some more willing specimens for my Instagram posts.

plox from pixabay

While designing a perennial flower bed, remember to add personal favorites, and throw out “garden design rules” that don’t fit your vision. Some of the plants I choose are favorites because they are tough, dependable, and beautiful.

blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

Last week's high temperatures and our limited amount of rain is making gardeners' number one job watering.

URBANA, Ill. – Every garden needs water, but with a container garden’s limited soil volume, proper watering is crucial for plants to stay productive.

Females can start laying eggs as soon as you see adults. Once the adult flies are discovered, management decisions should be made. Adult flies are tan with red eyes and a tiny 2-3mm-long (up to a one-eighth of an inch). Males have characteristic dark spots on their wings that can easily be seen with a magnifying glass. Adults live for up to 2 weeks, and females can lay up to 300 eggs. Development from egg to adult can occur in as little as eight days, and 10 or more generations may occur within a season.

Bagworms hang off of trees like little diabolical ornaments, eating the needles and leaves. If you didn’t have them on your trees last year, you likely saw them elsewhere.

When the Japanese tree lilacs are in bloom, it is time to scout and control bagworms. This species flowers later than other lilacs, with large fluffy white blossoms on a 20- to 30-foot tree. Known for fragrant flowers in early-to-mid June, Japanese tree lilacs are common in the urban landscape.

Maple anthracnose, via U of I plant clinic

If you are spending more time out in your backyard this week, you may have noticed some of our central Illinois trees are super ugly this spring. Maple leaves have black splotches, sycamore branches are falling to the ground and ginkgoes leaves are sparse and crinkled. All these symptoms are tree issues that link back to the cool wet spring and late frost.

Maples are suffering from fungal diseases like anthracnose and maple leaf blister. 

Hedge Apple Woods, Bloomington, by Rick Tindall

In this time of social distancing and limited activities, enjoying nature should be made a priority for all who need a bit of stress release. Have you bathed in the forest lately, hugged a tree or had a therapy session with an oak?

sweet potato held in black containers

This week’s gardening task includes planting sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes may be a long crop (4-5 months) but with a gardener’s care, one can have poundage of storable food.

Sweet potatoes, a tropical plant, usually need four to five months of warm day and night temperatures for optimal growth. Sweet potatoes are planted in late spring when weather warms. Sweet potato slips (shoots of mature potato) are planted in loose soil.

tomato trellised on straw bale garden

Tomato plants are warm-season vegetables that should be planted after the danger of frost. For our area that means early to mid-May. Hopefully no one planted theirs before last weekend’s cold snap! Here are some steps to remember when growing your newly planted crop.

1. The first question you should ask is “Are these determinate or indeterminate plants?” Each has different requirements.

Nothing says summer like enjoying the freshly harvested vegetables and herbs from your garden. “One of the easiest, most prolific, and flavorful herbs to grow is basil (Ocimum basilicum),” states Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator. While there are many cultivars of basil, the most common are sweet basil and Genovese basil.

Straw bale gardening has transformed the way I grow vegetables. With a minimal amount of preparation, a delivery of straw bales, and an understanding of how straw bale gardens work, I have had some of the most productive vegetable harvests in my gardening career. The advantages are: limited weeding; I can choose the sunniest spot on my property, even if it is the end of the driveway; and I only must commit to that location for a year.

master gardener observers flowers

You have questions. We have answers! Master Gardeners are available to help you with your gardening questions. Problems with your yard or garden? Are you starting a new garden project and need some advice? Are pests or weeds concerning you?

Master Gardeners can assist in identifying problems and finding solutions. While our traditional Help Desks at the University of Illinois Extension offices are suspended this spring, we are answering your questions from home!

monarch butterfly on mexican hat sunflower

Each year, the month of May is Monarch Month in Illinois to honor our official State Insect. Despite our efforts to honor our butterfly friend, the annual count of Monarchs recently saw a 53% decline in a one-year period, and the Monarch will be considered for inclusion on the Endangered Species list in December 2020.

These numbers make state collaborations like the Illinois Monarch Project that much more important. What can you do?

black swallowtail caterpillar ascending parsley

Herbs have been touted by gardeners as some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow in the garden. Did you know that some herbs grow best in the cooler season of spring?

Cilantro and parsley can be planted by seed or transplants now. Cilantro and Parsley should be planted in rich but well-drained soil, with full sun or partial sun (afternoon sun). It is best not to over fertilize herbs; doing so may dull the taste. Harvest no more than half of the plant and remove leaves to base of plant ensuring to not leave stalks behind.

LEGO art in the garden. Photo by Kelly Allsup.

Looking back, we may realize this was the year we had a surge in cultivating new gardeners and nature enthusiasts.

While most of my readers already garden and are looking for new tips and interesting information, we likely have brand new gardeners who can do without technical jargon and nuanced garden issues! Back to the basics!

Below are a few tips to be a successful new gardener.

zz plant thrives indoors

Most homes have insufficient light, inconsistent temperatures and tap water containing fluoride — all of which make it nearly impossible have lush foliage during the winter months. However, most tropical houseplants can be sustained and even thrive in these conditions. Houseplants such as devil’s ivy, dieffenbachia, and peace lily do very well with low light and temperatures that are not the ideal 75 to 80 degrees.

yellow dandelions in green grass

How can happy and cheery yellow hues and lively and rich purple hues cause people to gleefully countdown towards a weed apocalypse?

Dandelions and Violets should be a welcome addition, especially for the eco-friendly gardener, sending up their early spring blooms sporadically throughout your lawn and flower beds. The same bees that will be pollinating your favorite summer fruits and vegetables need nectar and pollen sources now. Bees like violets’ dark purple color, which keeps them warm while drinking nectar and collecting pollen on cool days.

kohlrabi at Garden of Giving

In the last article, we talked about starting seeds indoor with limited resources. A lot of seed can be started outdoors during the month of April.

Carrots can be planted by seed starting April 10. Carrot seed is so small that inevitably you must thin your seedlings, which can be quite a tedious task. My advice is to mix the seed with soil or sand to spread the seed more evenly.  When you do thin or clip tops with a pair of scissors, use the seedlings in a fresh pesto or soup. Be patient as carrot seeds can be slow to germinate, but water daily.

nodding onion

Planting perennials can bring you wonderful surprises and inspiration for future garden design.

Start seeds with a clamshell of soil and a spraybottle.

Starting seed at home is easy, even with limited materials.

Seeds

Some of you may have already gotten your seed order for the spring, but the procrastinating gardener that I am will force me to explore last year’s seeds stash.

Horticulturists typically keep their seed stash in a refrigerator to ensure viability. We have a refrigerator at the office to keep our seed for our various projects, like the Unity Community Center garden.

beet greens and lettuce greens

Free time on your hands? Avoiding social spaces, but need some time outside?

First, remember that just because you're outside, the virus can still spread. If you're working with more than one person:

base of celery stalk sitting in water

Whether you have a young person at home for school closures, or are just young at heart yourself, experimenting with kitchen scraps can turn into a bountiful garden to enjoy again. Skip the compost bucket or garbage can, and re-grow your leftover veggies and fruits for beautiful houseplants and garden additions.

Kitchen scrap gardening reinforces the concepts of recycling and reusing, and learning plant parts.

The following fruits and vegetables are examples of plants that can be grown again and again:

University of Illinois Extension Livingston County Master Gardeners would like to welcome spring with an educational workshop entitled “A Day in the Garden Patch” on Saturday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to Noon.

A Day in the Garden Patch is all about inspiring, educating and encouraging gardeners, whether they have a balcony and a sunny window or an acre to grow. This educational event is for all who love plants and want to discover new gardening tips while having fun.

close up of cabbage

‘Tis the season for the garden seed catalogues. If you are like me, you are perusing through these catalogues that advertise 15 varieties of watermelon, 50 varieties of peppers, and even more tomato varieties to choose from. They all look amazing and are all claiming “vigorous!” “great flavor!” and “disease resistance!” So which one do you choose?

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' Photo credit Janet Draper

The Perennial Plant Association is proud to announce the 2020 Perennial Plant of the Year®! Aralia ‘Sun King’ is a fabulous high-impact perennial that brings a bold pop of glowing color and texture to the shade or part shade garden. It's a secret that just Perennial Plant Association (PPA) members know! PPA members can annually nominate 2 perennials for consideration. The top 5 nominees are put on the ballot. PPA members vote for the Perennial Plant of the Year® each summer.

When do I plant? Should I plant seeds or transplants? What about seed spacing? Find what works best for backyard vegetable growers in Illinois!
male asparagus ferns on left, female asparagus ferns with seed on the right

Asparagus goes great with hollandaise sauce, has a nutty flavor when eaten raw (wash it first, and cut off the lower third), and is always a welcome treat at a restaurant. With a little patience and some planning, you can grow loads of asparagus each spring.

Growing Requirements

Full sun is required.

Poor drainage in your asparagus patch will promote disease issues in the roots.

Epiphany farms owner Ken Myszka speaks into microphone

He’s not just a restaurateur, nor just a farmer, nor just a chef, nor just an entrepreneur. He’s an influencer of sustainable eating. He wants to change the world, one delicious plate at a time. Ken Myszka, owner and operator of Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group, runs four celebrated restaurants in McLean County: Epiphany Farms Restaurant, Anju Above, and Bakery and Pickle, all in downtown Bloomington; and Old Bank Restaurant and Bar in LeRoy.

natural trunk flair

Many urban trees only live about 20% of their life due to issues like pests and disease, but mostly can be linked back to improper care and installation. A tree should live more than 50 years, and up to 100 years depending on their species. A recent USDA study analyzing tree life expectancy in urban areas finds the typical street tree living between 19-28 years; however, the ideal life span of a white oak is 600 years, and the average life span of a red maple can be between 75 to 150 years in the Illinois wilds.

under ripe blackberries and pomme fruit

BLOOMINGTON, IL – University of Illinois Extension is hosting two sessions for backyard gardeners on how to grow and care for fruits at The Refuge Food Forest in Normal, an outdoor, hands-on classroom. One session will focus on pruning and training apple trees, the other on pruning brambles like raspberries and blackberries.

home lawn and garden day saturday march 7 2020 keynote speaker ken myszka

University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardeners would like to invite you to their 18th annual Home, Lawn and Garden Day on Saturday, March 7 at Central Catholic High School, Bloomington. Home, Lawn and Garden Day is a day dedicated to garden fun! It is an ideal place to gain inspiration for future garden projects, fall in love with a must-have plant or learn the basics of everyday gardening.

chinese money plant in tea cup

It’s a new year and many are reflecting on their 2019 gardening season and making resolutions for the 2020 gardening season. If you are anything like me, you started missing gardening in early November and can’t wait for temperatures to rise and strive for all those grand resolutions. When I can’t garden, I read reports from the Horticulture Industry.