We are only two weeks away from August already, and that means if you have a pawpaw tree in your yard or know of one nearby, it is almost pawpaw eating time. For those not already in the know, you too could soon have the opportunity to try your first delicious pawpaw fruit. If you’ve never heard of pawpaw before, don’t know what the fruit or the tree look like, and are interested to hear what all the hullabaloo is about, read on!

Rainy weather is leaving gardeners confused. Traditionally, Illinoisans would be gearing up for a very hot and very dry late summer and I would be encouraging consistent watering as the key to good harvest. However, with the deluge of irrigation from the sky, there are some other landscaping tasks that need to be done to address the overwatering.   

When people hear the term “brambles”, they might not be familiar. What the heck is a bramble, you may ask? Or maybe you’ve heard the term, and likely it is a love or hate relationship for the reader here. “Brambles” to you could mean a garden or landscape problem, or a delicious summer treat! Let’s dive in!

Chive flowers

Growing up, a summer meal at grandma and grandpa’s house wasn’t complete without a giant, juicy tomato and fried squash blossoms. Squash blossoms are one example of edible flowers that are already growing in our gardens and just waiting for us to enjoy. Edible flowers can be added as the main ingredient in a new recipe, offer a little spice to a dish, or even used as a garnish to add some color and texture to a plate.

Tick photo and tick bite prevention graphic

Summer is officially here, and it’s time to get out to your favorite walking or hiking spot! That may entail walking through tall grass and woodland brush, depending on where you go. Protect yourself from Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain fever by following tick prevention advice of forest enthusiasts and agricultural professionals.

Cicada killer wasps prefer dry, barren ground.
Monarch on a flower

Thank a pollinator for that warm cup of coffee in your hands, or for that chocolate sundae you indulged in the other day. National Pollinator Week is June 21-27; celebrate pollinators and support their health this year. Did you know that that pollinators like bees and butterflies, provide 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat? Over 80% of flowering plants are pollinated by these small, but busy animals.

Monarch Caterpillar and Butterfly

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The state insect, the monarch butterfly, is facing a crisis. Each May, Illinoisans celebrate the monarch butterfly, but University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup says that Illinois residents should be worried.

Leaves and frost damage

Some trees may be showing damage from the late frost much of Illinois had in May for several months to come as well as diseases that pop up during the rainy, cool spring weather. Watering during the hot dry months of summer will help these trees back to being a beautiful specimen.

A recent study tracking butterfly abundance in Ohio over the last 20 years has discovered a 33% decline. We can only assume that in Illinois we have similar patterns in decline in our butterfly populations. Scientists believe the decline may be attributed to climate change, habitat degradation, and agricultural practices. 

It’s that time of year again… time to plant your tomatoes and peppers and get your summer garden going! Most gardeners have grown these before, but with a few tips and tricks, you can decrease disease prevalence, increase plant health and get a better harvest. One tip: prune them both!

It is recommended to prune your tomato and pepper plants at planting and during establishment, and depending on variety, throughout the harvest season as well. Of course, pruning practices differ between the two crops and within crop variety, so each are addressed here in turn.

calamint and Echinacea

Sun-loving, season-long blooming, low maintenance, dependable and pollinator-friendly. Sound like a perfect perennial to add to your garden?  

Million Bells, by Emma Gossett, via Unsplash

My mom deserves an extra special gift for Mother’s Day. She really helped her kids out during the pandemic, offering child care, shopping, laundry, moral support, therapy—and she’s an overall cool person to hang and watch sci-fi movies with.

Photo by Nick Windsor via Unsplash

For vibrant cut flowers this season, plant summer bulbs like dahlias, gladiolus, and lilies. These summer-blooming tropical bulbs are called ‘tender bulbs’ because they can be killed by our cold temperatures if left outdoors during the winter, or if they’re planted too early in the spring. They do need well-drained soils, but consistent watering. 

If you didn’t know, we are cultivating invasive trees in backyards and urban settings. Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense) are outcompeting surrounding plants and invading natural areas contributing to the loss of native species in Illinois. 

Jumping worm distribution throughout Illinois as of May 2021.
Giant hogweed

Wild parsnip often makes headlines because of its negative effects on naïve gardeners and hikers. Wild parsnip along with giant hogweed and poison hemlock are types of carrots gone bad.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug  

They are crawling on my windows, walls, and houseplants newly rescued from the lower night temperatures of the fall and creeping me out. They could be hanging out on your dishes, doing a balancing act on your toothbrush, resting in your clothing or hair, or be a rather interesting ornament on your Christmas tree. 

Chances are if you have driven along any country road in Illinois, you have seen a tall plant with a spiky silvery thistle-like flower head swaying in the wind. What you may not know is that this plant hides a sinister side. Cutleaf teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus) and its relative the Common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) are prairie “bullies” and have been slowly taking over our high-quality agricultural landscapes.  

Amorpha canescens - Lead Plant - Layne Knoche

Whether you have an area around your home that gets full sun or shade, is wet or dry, there is a native shrub option for you. Native shrubs are touted as easier to care for and provide ecosystem services like flowers for pollinators and berries for birds. When planting native shrubs, plant in groups and water during the establishment period.  

Full sun but need additional water during drought: 

Oats, Outi Mähönen, via Unsplash

Do you struggle with weed control in the spring before planting your summer garden? Does your garden lose topsoil after a heavy rain due to slope? Would you like to improve soil structure and add organic matter to your garden?

Backyard cover cropping is for you!

Callery Pear on forest edge - Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois Extension

Do you see those beautiful white flowering trees lining the streets and backyards? These delicate white blossoms, made brighter by the months of winter endured, are actually an environmental hazard to the Illinois wilds. Callery Pear season is upon us.

cool season blooms - photo by Terrance Raper on Unsplash

As winter slowly fades, every gardener is getting anxious for spring—to dig their hands into the dirt, smell the fresh-cut grass, and fill their containers with annual combinations bursting with color. While it is still a little too early to plant most annual plants, there are a few you can plant now that will tolerate the cooler spring-time temperatures.

beet greens and red lettuce. Photo by Kelly Allsup

Every gardener should be thinking about growing their own greens in the spring. They are easy to grow, have large harvests, and taste best when grown in slightly cooler weather. The plants should be grown in full sun beds or containers.  

We have enjoyed some pleasant weather recently, and it makes me think on the coming growing season, and the abundant locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, cut flowers and everything else available at farmers markets. However, there is another way to get some of these goodies for you and yours, and that is through CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

A farm-product subscription service, with a twist

prairie trillium - Layne Knoche

Early spring is a great time to take a walk in the woods when the spring ephemerals are blooming. The small and short-lived flowers are able to make the most of water and sunlight reaching the ground. But once trees begin growing leaves, many ephemerals become inactive and are unnoticeable until the following spring. They fade out as quickly as they emerged, so time is of the essence.

terrarium with roman soldier - photo by Brittnay Haag

You may not be able to travel for the kids’ spring break this year, but make it a memorable one and spend time in your own backyard, or at a local nature space. The weather is finally starting to warm up, and your garden and yard will be coming back to life soon. Get outside and get your hands dirty with a few garden activities for everyone to enjoy.  

witch hazel (fothergilla) flowers - photo by kelly allsup

When creating a landscape, shrubs make up a large portion of the design. Shrubs are a great way to start building the blue print and creating a framework in you landscape design. Most landscapers plant them in groups and always account for mature size rather than trying to control size with pruning. Here are some tips to add more shrubs and or upstate existing plantings in your landscape this year.  

black currants

With the end of winter near, it’s time to start planning for the garden season. At the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, many people attempted to grow some of their own food, re-popularizing the concept of WWII “victory gardens.” Increase your victory garden growing capacity by planting some black currant bushes this March! 

jade plant. photo:pixabay

In 2020, there was an uptick in greening the home office with tropical houseplants and succulents, stimulated by how different some people's jobs have become. However, the houseplant craze has been building momentum for several years much to the delight of horticulturists, watching new offerings of different varieties come to market.

seedling under plastic lid. creative commons.

Who would have known seeds would be the latest craze in 2021? Many seed companies are finding it hard to keep up with the demand and are out of stock or delayed in delivery. If you haven’t ordered your seeds, don’t fret, some are still available and your garden centers will not let you down on offering the average fare.

assorted cut flowers in a wide mouth jar. credit:

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love in the form of flowers. This holiday excites floral designers because they know every festive flower can generate a positive emotional response.

Photo credit Pixabay. Cyclamens have unique heart-shaped leaved and showstopper flowers that can bloom for four to six weeks making them a great Valentine’s Day gift.

The tradition of giving flowers to family and friends to express affection on Valentine’s’ Day began centuries ago. Give your loved one a gift this year with blooms that can be enjoyed long after February 14.

assorted flowers including carnation and daisy

While flowers can be gifted for any occasion, they are most popular on Valentine’s Day, a tradition that started several hundred years ago. Floriography, the language of flowers, was a common practice in the Victorian era that allowed messages and emotions to be shared with others.

Flowers are a great way to send a special message without even saying a word. Each flower or color was assigned a special meaning (or even multiple meanings), allowing many sentiments represented in one arrangement or bouquet, from true love to friendship.

diagram of branch bark ridge and branch bark collar

Like a scene from an old western: with a pair of sterilized pruners, and her boots, horticulturists Kelly Allsup walks up to the newly planted English White oak hybrid. Her sole intent of increasing the life of an urban tree. She walks around the tree, looking it up and down. The goal of pruning is to remove branches that will cause structural problems in the future, reduce competition of the central leader, and keep a balanced canopy. Kelly is ready to prune.  

blueberries on the bush

The 2021 Garden Trends Report by Garden Media Group says, “Victory garden was spurred by the increase in home cooking in 2020. GMG says 31 percent of people would like to grow fruits in their backyard and berries are at the top of the list.”

Photo credit Kelly Allsup. Gardeners prune brambles in late winter to help the plants produce more fruit in the growing season

One of the simple joys of summer is picking berries straight from the bush and enjoying a sweet treat. Pruning blackberry and raspberry bushes now ensures a bumper harvest in the summer.

Seedlings growing in paper eggshell cartons

Believe it or not, it's never too early to start making plans for this year's garden. Knowing when to plant for your area and getting your plants started right will help you maximize the growing season.

When to grow?

Planting dates are determined two things: the first and last frost dates where you grow, and how much time it takes for a crop to mature. Always check the plant tag or seed packet for the recommended date.  

For the past 18 years, gardeners have packed the halls of Central Catholic High school the first Saturday of March. They bustled between a plethora of classes and presentations by McLean County Master Gardeners and local professionals, then left with their hands filled with goodies for the upcoming season, their heads filled with inspiration—a day rich with shared experiences. One Saturday morning in spring would help them become better gardeners. 

growing crops in bags

Patio containers will grow food and boast hues of silver and white, and I think we may even see gardeners experimenting with growing sweet potato vine towers.

Mint plant on window sill in small container. Image: Eleanor Chen via Unsplash

While winter can give gardeners a nice break from their usual garden maintenance, they undoubtedly miss the ability to harvest and enjoy the fresh garden bounty. Try growing fresh, flavorful herbs indoors this winter to add some green to your home and zest to your recipes!

Many herbs are native to the Mediterranean and require certain conditions for optimal growth and flavor. Those that can be easily grown indoors include chives, basil, sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, mints, and rosemary.