Last week, I notice the first of an annual pest in our area that is always unwelcome to anyone that gardens. Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) adults emerge from the ground every June to voraciously consume a plethora of plants. Although there are certainly plants these beetles prefer, their list of potential host plants is quite large (greater than 100 species) including everything from large landscape plants to home vegetable gardens. As these small, metallic beetles buzz about each year, they are most known to feed on foliage, although they often consume flowers, fruits and
Nothing beats a homegrown tomato! Even when in season, the store bought varieties just cannot compare to a fully ripe tomato harvested at its peak from your own garden. So many gardeners across American choose tomato plants for their garden each year for this reason, making it the most planted garden crop in the US.
Cover cropping is a practice we often associated with larger scale farming, but they have the same great benefits in our home vegetable gardens. A cover crop is a crop that is grown for protection and enrichment of the soil rather than for harvest. Since they are not harvested for use as food, growers plant them for other valuable qualities they provide while in the ground.
Shade trees are some of the most valuable plants in most urban landscapes. They provide energy saving shade as well as valuable habitat for wildlife in a sometimes otherwise inhospitable built environments. However, a mature shade tree takes considerable time to develop the canopy and branch structure that provides such benefit, which is the primary reason their high value when weighed against other landscape plants. So, it pays to identify tree ailments effectively in the interest of protecting our investment in time and tree value.
If you live near a wooded area and have any type of minute crack in the exterior of your home, then you have undoubtedly been visited by a creepy, crawly winter guest over the years. The Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridi) seeks refuge in rocky bluffs to spend the winter in its native range, but often mistakes our home for winter refuge given the lack of rock outcrops in central Illinois. They have the uncanny ability to squeeze and crawl their way to the smallest cracks in exterior siding, windows and doors, often making it to interior rooms in our homes.
Earlier in January, our area experienced extremely cold temperatures, resulting in many days below freezing. With some of our recent warmer days, memories of the cold snap are fading but many folks have asked me questions about how winter temperatures impact insect populations, especially pests like Japanese beetles.
Recently, my wife, Amanda, noticed that something was chewing on the nice stand of kale she planted in our vegetable garden. Initially, I brushed it off to the usual, acceptable amount of insect damage kale can withstand and still produce a harvestable crop. Typically, kale has some insect visitors that prematurely harvest some of the foliage, but we’re always OK with a little damage as long as they leave enough foliage for us to harvest throughout the season.
In recent years, as interest in more sustainable agricultural practices has grown among home gardeners, organic pest control options have become widely available in many retail outlets and garden centers. I use many of these products in my own garden and find their origins in nature and modes of action against pests quite interesting.
In our increasingly globalized society, invasive species have become somewhat of a way of life as we continuously intermix the world’s biota. Plants and animals from other continents tend to find their way to our landscapes and often are here for good. As a gardener, it’s difficult to keep up with the pace at which new invasives pop up. It’s even more difficult to figure out what these invasives mean to our home gardens and how they may impact our future plant choices.
The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is an insect from Asia that has plagued our native ash trees in Illinois since 2006. This pest was first introduced in 2002 around the Detroit area and has rapidly spread across Michigan and Indiana to infect most of Illinois today. Sadly, the emerald ash borer will eventually wipe out our native ash species in Illinois as we know them, leaving a major void in our urban forests and natural areas since ash is currently so prevalent.
Bird migration is perhaps one of nature’s greatest feats, easily observed each spring as waves of species arrive from warmer climates each week. I always enjoy watching the spring progression, observing our bird feeders and the woodlands and natural areas around our house for the first signs of each particular bird’s arrival.
As you might imagine, my family spends a considerable amount of time out observing the wonders of the natural world, and I am always fascinated by the way my kids view and interpret things in nature. Many times, their straightforward and simple perspective makes me feel like such a dummy. There is certainly wisdom in their innocent perspective.
This past week, I visited several Central Illinois prairies to catch a last glimpse of waning flowers and look for pollinators. I was pleasantly surprised to see an old favorite in full bloom as the beautiful and minute, yet brightly yellow flowers of Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasticulata) filled the prairie edges, adding a speckling of color. Partridge pea is an annual, native plant that frequents prairies along with a wide range of other locations such as, abandoned fields, railroads, roadside ditches and other disturbed areas.
Insects are a celebrated part of our natural ecosystems, but when they enter our homes, it’s rarely anything to celebrate. Each fall as cold weather closes in, there are a few usual suspects that surface at my house to cause a hubbub. However, these exotic houseguests are rarely a serious issue, simply existing as annoying roommates that congregate around light fixtures and windows.
This past week’s warmer weather has been an exhilarating blast of spring when contrasted with the icy, extreme cold just one week earlier. The warmup has spurred many of us to get back out in the garden to start getting ready for spring. While our landscape beds and gardens will be places of burgeoning spring beauty as plant life begins its annual revival in the coming weeks, they are also ecological hotspots of awakening spring life in the insect world.