The timing of spring can vary each year based on weather, but there are always ques in nature that line up in similar fashion year after year. While climatic conditions on exact calendar dates my vary, the sequence of emerging biota is consistent and based a long evolutionary history which has carefully lined up everything from blooming plants to hatching insects and birds.
Each spring as temperatures warm, there is a narrow window of weather suitable for plant growth prior to tree leaf out. During this time, the forest understory begins to awaken as some of our earliest emerging native plants take advantage of the unique conditions.
Nothing beats the warmth of a crackling fireplace on these coldest days of the year. Each winter, as my family enjoys the cozy warmth of our woodstove room, I’m always thankful for the firewood supply we’ve been fortunate enough to accumulate over the past season. I enjoy the process of collecting and splitting wood that we can salvage from downed trees in our area. It’s great exercise which results in some supplemental heat during the colder part of each winter.
Over this past week, the fall weather has brought bare branches to the previously color-filled canopies of so many trees in the landscape. As the autumn leaf drop has progressed, there are several elm trees that I pass each day which have held onto their fall color and really look spectacular as they grasp their foliage late into the season.
Many gardeners are starting to integrate more and more milkweed into their landscaping in support of monarch butterflies. Plants in the milkweed genius (Asclepius) are the exclusive food source for monarch caterpillars, making them incredibly important in the race to sustain imperiled monarch populations across our continent.
It is always interesting to observe plant diseases and try to unravel the mystery of how a particular plant became infected and to look toward solutions. So many of these ailments have an incredibly fascinating path to infection, often including multiple species when you consider the pathogen, host and potential vector species.
This past Saturday, we celebrated 15 new graduates of our Master Naturalist Training. The graduation day festivities included group presentations to showcase outreach projects they worked together to develop over the past few months. There were some very well-developed projects presented, and all did a great job of relating science and nature to their target audience.
Herbs are a wonderful garden addition that provide easily accessible, fresh herbs for culinary use. However, I find that herbs are too often overlooked in most garden plans and can really provide a ton of ornamental and ecological benefits as well.
Over the next few weeks, some of central Illinois will experience a rare phenomenon that only occurs every other decade. As soil temperatures warm, millions of insects will emerge from the ground in forests, city parks, yards and gardens. They will carefully navigate the terrain and scale a close by, large object (such as a tree trunk) to shed their nymphal skin and enter the world as adult cicadas.
Spring is a time of abundant blooms as well as one of the best times of year to establish new woody plants in your landscape. This year, consider adding one, or all, of my favorite Illinois native spring-flowering trees to your landscape, and you’ll enjoy spring floral displays for years to come.
Every spring, the awakening plant world has those hard-to-miss harbingers which alert us that winter is over and help to welcome spring. In native plant communities, I think of spring ephemeral wildflowers as the primary signal and watch intently for their blooms each year. However, in the built environment, there are other, nonnative plants that signal spring with their unmistakable displays. While tulips and daffodils are probably a few of the most recognized ornamental plants in the early spring landscape, there is one shrub that has always been the beacon o
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
After much anticipation, tomato season is finally here but something has been devouring the leaves on your tomato plant and even taken bites out of the green tomatoes. Looking for the culprit you see an enormous alien-looking green caterpillar with white stripes and red dots down its back.
Tomato hornworms and their equally hungry cousins the tobacco hornworm can do lots of damage in a depressingly short amount of time. Tomato hornworms feed most often on tomatoes but will also eat eggplant, pepper, and potato plants as they are in the same family.