A red and green Poinsettia against a brick wall

With an estimated 35 million Poinsettias sold annually, you may spot this colorful plant on many holiday tables every year.

Native to Mexico, Poinsettias are large perennial shrubs growing over 12 feet tall. Introduced to the United States in the early 1800s, it has become one of the most popular blooming houseplants to celebrate the holidays.  

Sunset behind evergreen trees on a snowy banked river

“How I hate to hear winter cursed. Winter is bad; summer is good. Cold, bad; warmth, good. January in Illinois, heaven forbid! January in Florida, paradise. Bah, I say, humbug! Winter is not to escape; it is to embrace… I go upstairs to warm my hands in front of the wood stove and gaze into the flames, pondering the sublime slowness of time as measured by the heavens.” 

Male and female mallard ducks sit on a foggy pond

Dawn is breaking over a quiet pond.  An early December wind sweeps through rustling Big Bluestem, Bottlebrush Grass, and seedhead ghosts of late-season blooms. A muskrat slowly retreats to a half-built lodge as the morning grows brighter. It is unseasonably cold. All is quiet, until a feint flapping of wings is heard above. It grows louder—and louder. Then, with a cacophony of quacks, six mallard ducks splashdown in a dramatic entrance.  

Close up of a red and green poinsetta

If picking the perfect holiday gift stresses you out, this year visit your local garden center for a natural gift that keeps on giving. Gardening and growing plants is an experiential gift that is both rewarding and fun.

a mix of green herbs sit on a chopping block next to a large kitchen knife

The smells of Thanksgiving dinner highlight a holiday centered around family, friends, and giving thanks. Heartwarming and tempting, the aromas of freshly baked dishes would not be the same without the addition of herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, and parsley.

This holiday season, consider herbs you could grow in your own garden or plant a container of herbs indoors for an uplifting scene of green and quick access to fresh flavor. 

A nest of blue bird eggs

Children dream of being great things.

With imagination and energy, children envision their futures in many professions – some humble, some in the light of fame. As adults, our jobs do not always align with our youth ambitions, but if your childhood dream involved being a scientist, Citizen Science may satisfy your thirst for scientific exploration.  

Leaves piled up near a compost bin and a faded white fence

Stepping outside on a cool fall day, I can recall the childhood joy of fall leaves and singing, “leaves are falling, leaves are falling...” as we watched the autumn scene unfold before us. The colorful fall leaves once hanging from the trees are now a patchwork of various shades and shapes scattered across the lawn and landscape. As their muted palate dulls to brown, these dried, decomposing leaves become a great free source of nutrients for your yard or garden.  

A holiday wreath hangs on red barn doors

Imagine owning and running the business of your dreams, and not being in control of one of the most stressful aspects of a business: the cost of production. For many, this situation is not a fantasy, it is a reality.

According to recent USDA data, farm sector production expenses for farmers both large and small are almost 18 percent higher on average compared with this time last year.

In an environment of 40-year-high-inflation, farmers are experiencing increased risk in two of the five USDA-recognized categories of risk:

Orange and yellow maple tree in foreground of a line of colorful trees in fall

Fall is the season of change. With shades of red, yellow, orange, bronze, brown, and purple scattered through the landscape, Central Illinois becomes a beautifully painted scene.  

Deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves every fall, create a stunning fall display as they prepare for winter temperatures.

A child holds an small orange tomato close to the camera

The gardens of Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties grew with great pride this summer because they were deemed Giving Gardens.

In 2021, amid poor economic conditions and stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Illinois Extension serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties began the Giving Garden program.

Red kuri, delicata, and acorn squash in wicker baskets with pie pumpkins.

Imagine your last visit to a beloved family home, arriving as a freshly baked pumpkin pie was pulled from the oven. If you take a moment, I bet you can almost smell it. 

Many people have this olfactory memory of the most well-known winter squash: the pie pumpkin. Others are also familiar with the smell or taste of pie pumpkin’s common cousins: spaghetti, acorn, and butternut squashes.

A wood bin on a finished wood table filled white and purple hydrangea flowers and a small potted geranium.

Keep your thumb green this winter by caring for beloved garden plants indoors. The chill of winter may seem far off, but the threat of frost is nearly here. On average, the first frost in Central Illinois is mid-October, but it can occur sooner. Act now - move your favorite garden plants indoors before a damaging frost.

Bundles of white and pink flowers hang upside down to dry

Your garden's floral showcase may be ending but the flowers need not disappear. Extend the life of floral garden favorites by preserving them for indoor decor. The art of preserving flowers and plant materials has been practiced for hundreds of years; colonial Americans harvested and dried flowers to decorate their homes for the long winter season. In similar fashion to early American homes, dried flowers and foliage can be used to create wreaths, potpourri, vase arrangements, or other gifts.

An orange filter fade with the words September 17 Nature Trails Day overlays a view up into the tree canopy.

Growing up on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin I spent my weekends, and sometimes weeknights, in bogs, old-growth forests, and hilly landscapes formed by glacial deposits. Few kids have the opportunity to develop an interest and purpose from up close interactions with these rich ecosystems. Because of these regular visits, a love of hiking and exploration resides in my core. When life is stressful, a return to nature is my best medicine.

When local orchard branches are laden with delicious jewels of fruit, the apple season has arrived. Before sinking your teeth into this year’s harvest, consider the rich history of this commonplace fruit.

green-blue oat grass with oats maturing

Illinois vegetable growers are entering the toughest six weeks of the year. Despite the seasonal demands, soil health depends on timely planning of a fall cover crop.

A fall cover crop is planted in August, grows in fall, and terminates after several hard frosts in winter.

Why plant a fall cover crop? The benefits of a cover crop include increased soil fertility, enhanced weed suppression, and increased soil organic matter. Regardless of farm size, a fall cover crop will positively impact any vegetable operation.

focus on one sunflower in front of a field of sunflowers lit from behind by sun

Nothing says summer like a brightly blooming sunflower (Helianthus annus). Often considered a weed in a farmer's field, many homeowners find joy filling their landscape and gardens with these majestic giants. The colorful, sunny blooms elevate a garden display and double as a snack for you and your garden wildlife.  

butterflyweed with orange flowers and green leaves

Roadsides and ditches are drawing the eye of humans and butterflies alike as common milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) return to the summer scenery. While this plant proves unpopular for its weedy habit, it is a necessity for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) as the sole food source of the monarch caterpillar. The good news is, with twenty-two species of milkweed native to Illinois, every gardener can find a favorite alternative to common milkweed.

green, red, and white tomatoes in harvest bins

When the garden harvest has matured, the work has not stopped. In North Normal, a harvest of potatoes and onions is ending but the storage preparation has just begun. If your home harvest is happening now, don’t let poor handling rot the product of your hard-earned gardening season. Follow these simple steps to prepare your vegetables for short and long-term storage.  

Black and red blackberries ripen on stems in the grass

You enjoy fresh fruit and now you want to grow your own. Starting a garden requires plants and some growing knowledge. The problem is, growing your own food is a long-term commitment that can be intimidating. University of Illinios Extension believes growing your own food should be a joy, not a burden. Join friends and neighbors at The Refuge Food Forest and let us help you grow your first harvest. 

Green herbs in the background. Bright green leaves in front of a frog statue.

Spice up your life with a little spice in the garden. Historically used for culinary and fragrance purposes, herbs are both beautiful and versatile. In addition to the freshly harvested ingredients for our summer recipes, herb foliage and blooms offer the garden a variety of beautiful textures, shapes, scents, and colors. They are the perfect addition to a sensory garden, an area designed to stimulate one or more of the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.

Blue flower on green leaves

Red, white, and blue will make a statement on flagpoles, porches, street corners—even truck beds—this holiday weekend. Join the celebration, plant a festive garden of patriotic color around your flagpole or a red, white and blue front door container to celebrate Independence Day. The addition of blue flowers to your red and white garden is tricky to accomplish, only around 10% of the flowering plants on earth produce blue flowers, but the addition is certain to make a patriotic statement.

3 large vegetable leaves

Summer is in full swing and your gardens are planted, but there is still one bare spot in the shade. In a vegetable garden, shade is a predicament.  Have no fear – food will grow here! Plant some leafy greens and lettuces in these spots and feast on many summer salads.

Red tomatoes in a black bin

When home gardens are bursting with an overabundance of fresh produce, growers start looking for ways to share their bounty. Backyard gardeners can help feed their community by donating fruits and vegetables to local food pantries.

Growers planning on donating to food distribution centers can take steps, even before they plant, to ensure they are providing safe, useable produce.

Yellow flowers on green and purple leaves

Gardening in the shade can be challenging. Few plants grow their best in low light conditions, and the plants that do often lack gorgeous blooms. If a lawn of large-leaved hostas is letting you down, experiment with uniquely textured foliage and distinct blossoms offered by shade-loving plants. You’ll be eager for a retreat from the heat to enjoy the additions in your summer shade garden. 

Tomato plant with yellow flowers

In late May and early June, folks worry it is too late to plant warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Plant now, the timing is perfect for rapid root establishment and healthy plant growth.

Pot of flowers on a windowsill

With limitless colors and textures, no porch or patio should sit bare this season.

Plant a container.

The home with a front porch container display always feels a bit more welcoming; the back patio with a well-designed pot always feels a bit more relaxing.

Two shovels laying in dirt

Your ambition to start your summer vegetable garden is stunting your tomato and pepper plants.

This Sunday, let Mom distract you from the gardening itch.

Yellow flowers in front of a person gardening

This past weekend, I was standing in the shade of Hedgeapple Woods at Ewing Park II looking at a patch of native wildflowers where only a year before there were patches of garlic mustard and bush honeysuckle – serious invasive species for our area. In just one year, there was a dramatic increase in the number of wildflowers I was able to spot in these cleared areas. These efforts and more are thanks to the amazing contributions of our University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist and Master Gardener volunteers.

Green, red and white tomatoes

A full return to farmer's market season is upon us. Producers have faced many hurdles in the past few years; they are relying on your support to stay in business. This article is a refresher to local farmer’s markets in McLean county, in case you have fallen out of the loop in recent years. Here you will find market locations, times of each market, and their date ranges. Folks in other counties are encouraged to get in touch with their town to see what markets are nearby.  

Colored gloves on a fence and children's hands in mud

Many of today’s youth lack a connection with nature or an interest in gardening or growing their own food. One of the best ways to encourage an excitement for gardening is by creating a themed garden. A child’s hands-on, experiential learning style can be encouraged in a themed garden, especially if it’s a garden they help create. Inspiration for the garden’s theme can come from many things: a favorite food, color, or animal; a story – even a historical event!

Yellow flowers on stems of forsythia, wood chip background

With the anticipation of spring and returning pops of color, you may find your forsythia and lilac shrubs are a bit lackluster from improper management.

White onions with green tops growing in a raised bed.

Do you grow peppers and tomatoes every year? Are you ready to try something different (or maybe in addition to!) the same-old, same-old? Then you should try growing onions this gardening season. With just 30 square feet of planting area, you could grow the bulk of the onions you cook with this year.  

A plant stem is broke in half revealing the open cavity in the stem.

As the winter chill thaws, gardeners erupt with excitement for the big botanical blitz that is spring. We scan the aftermath of winter, spotting the evidence of last year’s gardening efforts in our brown landscapes: dried plant stems, partially mulched leaves, and hints of green, our emerging spring bulbs. 

Two photos side-by-side: Left, little bluestem in fall; right, purple and yellow violas

With over 400,000 species of plants in the world, one might wonder which ones are the best to grow in your garden or landscape. Many plant associations select a “Plant of the Year” using rigorous criteria to highlight plants they feel are deserving of the title. Consider these plants when planning your garden or looking for something new to grow this year.

A young girl sits in grass with a pile of harvested vegetables

Cultivating a love and knowledge of gardening in youth can be a rewarding experience for all. A garden offers a place to learn, play, and grow through hands-on experience in the freedom of their own backyard. Kids LOVE to dig in the soil and get their hands & feet (or even head to toes!) dirty. Many of the gardeners today share memories of gardening at a young age with a parent or grandparent. 

A pile of freshly harvest red potatoes on soil

It’s almost gardening time! My family’s garden starts on April 1 with the planting of potatoes and onions. If you’ve never grown potatoes in your garden, try something different this year. Here are some helpful steps to achieve a successful crop of potatoes this year. 

A single ripening asian pear hangs among green leaves.

I don’t know about others, but I myself am fighting a case of the winter blues. My happy place is in the garden, looking at my growing plants—not snow!

As you daydream about your spring and summer garden, consider planting some unorthodox plants that are fueling a growing agricultural trend in the Midwest—agroforestry. There are a few different definitions of agroforestry floating around, I am partial to the following, the mixing of annual and perennial crops in a well thought out way. Here’s an illustrated example:

A row of cyclamens with red, white and pink flowers

Time is ticking to find that perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your loved ones. Instead of the go-to fresh floral arrangement, give a gift that someone can enjoy for many months. Flowering houseplants are great alternatives to traditional bouquets of cut flowers. With a little care and maintenance, these plants can thrive in your house or office and rebloom multiple times. A bonus to gifting these indoor plants, they can be moved outdoors to your garden or patio container once warmer temperatures arrive.

Pepper and Tomato seedlings with first true leaves.

In 2022, we welcome Jan Bills as we celebrate the Mclean County Master Gardeners' 20th Annual Home, Lawn and Garden Day! A gathering of small origins, the single classroom event connecting Master Gardeners to fellow community gardeners has grown into a day-long destination for Central Illinois novices and enthusiasts alike. Although we will be missing our gardentopia destination this year, we are excited to meet virtually Saturday, March 5 for a morning of gardening know-how.

Chinese Evergreen

Growing plants indoors can add a soft green touch, create a focal piece, or incorporate nature inside, transforming any room. Houseplants vary greatly in color, texture, size, and shape—there is a plant perfect for any spot. Research has also shown plants to improve air quality, lower stress levels, and increase productivity when they are grown in indoor spaces and homes.

pollinator on oregano flower

With a new year comes new gardening trends we can all get excited about. Each year, predictions are made about types of plants, colors, containers and how we utilize them. Experts use last year’s gardening purchases to make these predictions.

Nick Frillman teaching pruning workshop at Refuge Food Forest

For those of us who are lucky enough to have access to fruit trees, fruit bushes, bramble fruits, or cane fruits during the year, we have a chore that needs doing this winter: pruning. Pruning out dead, dying or diseased wood from all those wonderful plants and trees is an absolutely essential part of their management if good quality and quantity of fruit harvest is desired. Pruning is done in the dormant season, which for this part of Illinois is roughly January 1st until mid-March (depending on spring weather). Don’t prune outside of that window.