Extreme winter cold is something that can keep gardeners up at night. Since plants are dormant, there is little we can do in the way of plant health care and that can be a real helpless feeling. The extremely cold weather back in December certainly raised concern and my office received a number of calls from worried gardeners.
This time of year, many folks have questions while searching for the perfect Christmas tree. In recent years, I have written several blog posts on this topic, covering various aspects of Christmas tree care, identification, selection, and sustainability. Take a look at our collection of past blogs posts below to learn more information about one of the most common holiday plants.
There are many oddities of the plant world that are hard to pass up without some questions. Based on the perspective of the beholder, some of these strange phenomena may lead to either wonder or concern.
The beauty of fall is upon us with splashes of exorbitant color all around the landscape. In the past week, red maples (Acer rubrum) have nearly reached their peak color for the season, displaying fire-red leaves that scream for attention. The brilliant yellows of shagbark (Carya ovata) and pignut hickory (Carya glabra) have been turned on like a switch to produce golden clouds of canopy and an equally stunning understory color in area woodlands.
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.
The benefits of green space in urban areas has long been documented to improve our lives in a wide variety of ways. However, recent research has Illuminated the special role that trees and larger woody plants serve in our communities. Beyond ecological and environment benefits, these extremely valuable landscape plants have been shown to improve our mental health in amazing ways. As researchers work to further explore the fascinating relationship between trees and humans, the importance of woody plants in proximity to schools is becoming more apparent.
Plant identification can be incredibly challenging for beginning botanists or even experienced plant people. There are tons of terms to learn and understand just to start identifying plants by leaves and other plant parts. Throw in a leafless winter, and it makes for a difficult skill to develop with confidence.
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.
Each year, millions of fresh cut Christmas trees are sold across the country adding to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Have you ever considered the sustainability of a fresh cut tree versus an artificial tree? Fake trees can last for many years, but what is the impact of their production? A cut tree likely takes less to produce, but is it a bad thing to cut a tree down?
Evergreen foliage has long been a traditional holiday decoration since it encapsulates the green of the growing season well beyond the first frosts. The hol
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.
Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs in the landscape. Since winter dormancy is right around the corner, it’s a low stress time to install woody plants. I always try to wrap up my fall plantings by about Thanksgiving, but plants can actually be installed anytime up to the point when soil freezes.
Shrubs are often overlooked in autumn, typically playing second fiddle to overtopping shade trees that steal the fall display. However, quite a few deciduous shrubs have spectacular fall color to offer in the landscape. In many settings these smaller woody plants can help provide eye-level fall interest in the garden as blooms fade and many of the herbaceous plants we rely on for beauty throughout the growing season just don’t have as much appeal.
The root collar of a tree can be defined as an area of the lower trunk that transitions from trunk tissue to root tissue. It is typically associated with the basal flare, or the trunk flare of the tree, which is the wider portion of trunk that insects the ground. In recent years, arborists have spent considerable focus on the root collar, identifying a number of common disorders that can lead to declines in tree health or mortality.
Last month, the US Forest Service released a technical report titled, “Climate Adaptation Actions for Urban Forests and Human Health.” The report includes a summation of the current research related to urban trees and climate change, looking at how trees benefit human health, how climate change is impacting urban trees and how we can help our urban forests adapt.
Although rainfall has been significant so far this summer, newly planted trees and shrubs need watering as daily high temperatures creep up and rain dwindles during the drier part of our summer.
The next few months can be critical for woody plants struggling to become established in their new planting location and the water we provide can really make the difference.
The ornamental value of landscape trees can be weighed by a variety of attributes, from interesting bark in the wintertime or colorful blooms in spring to the character of leaves that persists during the growing season. However, the foliage that embellishes branches to create a summertime canopy of beauty is often lost in the sea of green chlorophyll that fills the plant world during the growing season. I have always been interested in landscape trees with unique or interesting foliage that can provide a different splash of foliar color in summer.
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.
Wintertime offers few activities out in the garden, other than filling bird feeders and carefully watching dormant plants for any sign of awakening as spring nears. However, winter dormancy is the ideal time to prune woody plants. With trees and shrubs inactive in their winter slumber, pruning now can avoid interruption of the many plant process at play throughout the growing season.
The snow-blanketed wintertime landscape often lacks the beauty we can recall from other times of the year when plants were in bloom or filled with wonderful green foliage. It leaves both humans and wildlife searching for plant life that retains interest either in the form of ornamental beauty for us, or shelter and habitat for all the animals that share our landscape.
The plant kingdom has not always had the diversity we know today. It has taken hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about the diverse, complex group of flowering plants known as angiosperms. And for many millions of years prior to the emergence of angiosperms, the plant kingdom consisted of primarily of gymnosperms.
Deicing salts are essential to winter travel in Illinois and provide necessary safety in a landscape setting by melting dangerous ice on precarious steps, sidewalks, entryways, and other areas of frequent foot traffic. However, winter damage from salt can be a major problem in some landscapes by negatively impacting plant health or sometimes outright killing plants from overexposure.
Rock salt for snow and ice
Rock salt, or sodium chloride, is the most commonly used deicing agent. It is relatively inexpensive, very effective, and widely available.
Freezing rain is a regular part of winter weather patterns in central Illinois, resulting in occasional ice storms that can damage property, take out utilities and wreak havoc on tree canopies. By meteorological definition, an ice storm occurs when ice accumulation is greater than 0.25 inches. On average, our area of Illinois experiences about 5 days of freezing rain per year which rarely result in an ice storm, but can nonetheless cause major damage in any instance.
Woody plants are some of the largest and most long-lived plants in the landscape, forming the majestic and expansive canopy of our urban and natural forests. With all of this wonderful woody growth, have you ever stopped to think about why woody plants attain greater height than their smaller, herbaceous cousins? What mechanisms are at play in woody plant growth compared to other plants? How do cultural practices like pruning or impacts like storm damage effect the growth of these plants?
Thanksgiving brings us a feast that, for many gardeners and naturalists, signifies the final harvest and close of the growing season. As we draw further away from the growing season and nearer to the winter solstice, many of us turn our focus to bringing light and greenery into our homes. Whether it is candles, twinkling lights, wreaths, garlands, or trees, these holiday traditions span centuries and cross many cultures.
Fall is an excellent time to add new trees or shrubs to the landscape and many of us have already taken advantage of mild weather and sunny days to get new plants in the ground. With the lion’s share of work complete after digging, planting and mulching are finished, we often overlook some of the final steps to prepare new woody plants for winter.
Images of witches, skeletons, and other specter abound this time of year. But we really don’t need to look much beyond the natural world for a dose of spooky entertainment? This week, I’ve compiled my list of the top four spookiest native trees that all offer some great Halloween-related attributes everyone can enjoy on All Hallows’ Eve.
The term native often means different things to different people. Most definitions draw a line between geography and time scale which typically is demarcated by the point of human intervention or influence on the landscape. I really like this definition from the Forest Service in 2012, “A native plant is an endemic species that occurs naturally in a plant community, ecosystem, ecoregion, or biome habitat without direct or indirect human involvement.”
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.
Whether its fungi, bacteria or even viruses, one of the most important aspects of plant disease management is stopping or limiting the spread of infectious pathogens. I have always been fascinated by the way these tiny organisms, rarely visible to the naked eye, make their way through nature to infect new plants. Many of their stories sound like something out of science fiction, often involving multiple species or special adaptations to enter and infect their host.
This past week was National Pollinator Week, a time set aside to celebrate the amazing and monumental task that pollinators perform each and every growing season. Worldwide, animals pollinate about seventy-five percent of all plant species, and about ninety percent of all flowering plants. And we all know that it takes a pollinated flower to produce so many of the fruits we depend on in our human diets, with animal pollination being responsible for about one of every three bites we take each day.
It has been another difficult spring for sycamore trees across central Illinois as near bare canopies of this tree stick out among the fully developed leaves of neighboring trees. However, this doesn’t necessarily spell doom for your sickly looking sycamore. It’s all caused by naturally occurring fungi that tends to ebb and flow with our spring weather over the years.
A properly planted and well located tree can last longer than a human lifetime, so tree selection is an important decision. Last week I talked about a few commonly available trees to avoid due to their poor performance in tree plantings. This week I would like to explore some recommended alternative trees which provide similar ornamental value and have a much better track record.
Spring is a great time for planting new trees in the landscape. There is ample rainfall to support your newly planted specimen and the warming temperatures and mild weather motivate many of us to get out in the garden and plant things. However, there are some commonly sold trees that fall onto my “do not plant” list. Many such plants make my list for their invasive habit, but some are on there for insect or disease issues or just generally poor performance as urban trees.
The beautiful warm weather this past Wednesday created an irresistible opportunity to get outside and observe the awakening plant world. Woodland wildflowers are starting their spring show, which will peak over the come month or so. The swelling, pink buds of redbud are a sure sign of the flowering display that will ensue in coming weeks. In my landscaping, it was nice to see daylily patches and fall-planted bulbs start to push up those vibrantly green first leaves of the year. Although a little too wet for much work, my vegetable garden is awaking with some unwanted green from the firs
Trees represent some of the most long-lived vegetation in the landscape. As such, these perennial, woody plants are also some of the highest valued plant material in our yards, parks, and urban areas. Tree identification is an important first step in understanding the care of these invaluable plants that often take an entire human lifetime to develop into the mature, cathedral-like shade trees that line our city streets and shade our homes.
Spring is a time of an awakening plant world full of blooms and endless possibilities for the coming growing season. It’s a time that many of us think about updating our landscaping, making it the most popular time of year to plant trees and shrubs.
Broad-leafed and evergreen holly species have long been a symbol of Christmas and other winter holidays and traditions. The dark green, prickly foliage combined with contrasting bright red berries can really be a show stopper in the winter landscape providing both ornamental beauty and food for wildlife as berries persist into winter.
Not all trees shed their leaves in coordination during fall. You may have noticed that some trees are still holding their leaves this week, and many of those will likely hold them until spring.
Each winter, I get a number of questions on this topic as folks ponder the “not-so-deciduous” deciduous tree in their landscape. Are these trees considered deciduous or evergreen, or somewhere in the middle?
Fall color is beginning to paint tree canopies around central Illinois, making the next few weeks prime time for taking in the beauty. Among our native trees, sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), red maple (Acer rubrum) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) typically get credit for the most beautiful and colorful display, but many of Illinois’ native oak trees put on a wonderful show of their own.
Urban trees provide beauty and definition to our cities and most of us have a love and appreciation of these denizens of the boulevard and backyard. In recent years, a body of research has emerged showing even greater benefits than previously understood to both the environment and our existence as humans.
Most folks think of spring as the ideal planting time for trees and shrubs. However, fall offers a nice planting window with some added benefits over the spring season, making it my favorite time of year to establish woody plants.
Fall weather can create ideal planting conditions, with temperatures cooling off and roots requiring less moisture. In addition, we typically get a good amount of fall rains to help ensure adequate soil moisture going into winter.
How many times have you been kept up at night worrying about a poisonous plant? Hopefully, for most of us the answer to that question will be ‘not many’. For better or worse, humankind has not always had a well-defined separation from the plant world as we often see today.
The management of Illinois’ forests has become an increasingly difficult task for landowners focused on maintaining and enhancing native plant diversity. I have often thought of it as a similar process to weeding a vegetable garden, with a diverse mix of our native forest trees as the vegetable crop and the weeds being everything from invasive species to some of the our native trees that tend to overpopulate or dominate woodlands without some type of natural disturbance.
The management of Illinois’ forests has become an increasingly difficult task for landowners focused on maintaining and enhancing native plant diversity. I have often thought of it as a similar process to weeding a vegetable garden, with a diverse mix of our native forest trees as the vegetable crop and the weeds being everything from invasive species to some of the our native trees that tend over populate or dominate woodlands without some type of natural disturbance.
In early July, the Illinois Department of Agriculture submitted a press release detailing the detection of a new pathogen in Illinois that threatens our native oaks. This non-native pathogen is the causal agent for a very serious disease known as sudden oak death. However, there may be some good news in this incident, thanks to swift action by the agency and others to rapidly identify and quarantine infected nursery plants.
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.
Imagine spending years establishing and cultivating a beautiful landscape on your property, only for it to be destroyed in a heartbeat from a severe storm. Couple that with a limb through your roof and you have a real disaster on your hands! Who do you call? What do you do about your roof? How will your garden ever recover? In the past two weeks or so, Master Gardener Pam Hohn and her husband, Chris, have faced a steep learning curve on this matter following extensive damage from a recent tornado.
What kid doesn’t love those maple ‘helicopters’? I grew up with two large silver maples (Acer saccharinum) in our yard and can always remember the late spring ritual of playing with one of the best toys ever produced by nature, the maple samara. These winged seeds rapidly go from tiny flowers to mature seeds over the course of a just few months each spring. I can remember playing with the odd looking seeds in so many ways as a kid, with their awesome helicopter action when falling through the air being the central component of most of that play.
Winter injury is a common problem among fruit trees grown in our area and this year’s up and down spring temperatures resulted in damage to flower buds across central Illinois. Cold weather in some years can bring damage to many ornamental tree species as well, impacting much anticipated spring blooms. In fact, injury from cold weather is likely the most important limiting factor in plant species distribution around the globe, which is why most gardeners pay careful attention to cold hardiness maps.
In many communities there are iconic trees that nearly everyone recognizes and admires in passing during daily life. The spreading, stately tree at the corner of University and Prospect Avenue in Champaign is certainly a historic and interesting specimen. I cannot count the times that someone has asked me, “what kind of tree is that?”, nor can I count the times that I have sat at the stoplight on University Ave admiring that tree as I waited.
Winter is an excellent time for reflection on the past year’s growing season and any gardening successes or failures to account for next year. In this season of multitudes of seed catalog mailings, I have found it to be an ideal time to set gardening goals for the coming year during the down time associated with the shortest and coldest days of the year.
I have always found it motivational to first focus on what I can accomplish prior to leaf out and the coming growing season. One of the primarily activities that can be done in the dead of winter is pruning.
Historically, our part of Illinois has been more prone to ice storms than the northern or southern part of the state. Based on over 50 years of weather data from the Illinois State Water Survey, our area of Illinois (including Springfield, Bloomington and Champaign) is likely to have an average of 5 days of freezing rain per year. Whereas the rest of our state will only receive an average of 3-4 days of freezing rain.
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.
Winter time is somewhat of a downtime for deciduous trees. After a growing season’s worth of beautiful foliage, culminating in the wonderful fall display of color, woody plants enter the long, cold season of dormancy that is part of their annual life. For many of us, this is not a time of arboreal beauty or great ornamental value, but rather a time of dull, bare tree canopies cast against our wintery skies. However, I find winter as a time to reflect on one of the most often overlooked aspects of tree beauty, which lies in the character of their bark.
Everyone has their own idea of the perfect Christmas tree. While I am not a person that picks the proverbial “Charlie Brown Tree”, I have certainly felt pity on the less attractive trees on the lot in years past. Whatever your taste, a fresh cut Christmas tree adds a certain bit of nostalgia to holiday décor but takes a keen eye to select the right tree for your home, along with some forethought and proper care to ensure quality throughout the holidays.
Illinois forests are dominated by a mixture of eastern deciduous forest trees and many of our urban areas mirror this forest composition creating a wonderful palette of fall colors each year as the growing season concludes and tree leaves senesce, giving way to winter dormancy. As a tree-lover, this time of year is most definitely my favorite, from an ornamental standpoint. It far outweighs the sometimes hard to detect spring flower structures that our mostly wind pollinated native trees produce.
Last weekend’s fall weather has certainly set leaf drop into motion for the year. I noticed some of the early droppers stating to thin their canopy as many of the walnut around our property are already yellowing and loosing leaves. Cottonwoods are half bare, dropping more leaves each time the wind blows. One particular group of trees always draws my interest this time of year as I wait for their fall display - the deciduous conifers.
Anyone with a mature black walnut (Juglans nigra) on their property is likely aware that fruits are ripe now and the baseball-sized, green bombs are beginning to fall with each slight gust of wind or, at times, seemingly at random. This native tree is prevalent throughout central Illinois, thriving on our deep, fertile soils to reach heights up to 100 ft. When compared to other Illinois forest denizens it has some unique and interesting characteristics that set it aside from others.
Our native sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) is known for its extraordinary exfoliating bark which peels off to expose the beautiful creamy white and greenish colors beneath creating a camouflage-like appearance. This summer many area sycamores are shedding bark at alarming rates which has prompted folks to question the health of their trees.
In the past week or so, crabapple trees have stolen the spring flower show among our blooming landscape plants. These beautiful trees produce abundant flowers for up to 4 weeks each spring, with one of the best, most showy displays of any ornamental tree species. They pick up where the magnolia trees left off, often flowering in close succession. The beautiful, tiny flowers are produced from branch tips to the tree’s interior, creating a canopy of blooms.
Although spring was late coming this year, it has finally sprung, and with it both star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) are in bloom. These beautiful ornamental trees, native to Asia, provide about a month of spectacular flowers each spring. They are some of the first landscape plants in our area to deliver such a showy display; truly one of the most endorsing signs that spring is finally here.
Evergreen plants, which retain their leaves (or needles) throughout the seasons, are some of the showstoppers of our landscapes in winter. They provide some much needed color in a world devoid of the green, chlorophyll-laden foliage we have throughout the growing season. Although evergreens do go into dormancy during winter, much like their deciduous cousins, their foliage is still subject extreme exposure over the winter months.
Spring is a time of swelling buds and wildflowers in Illinois forests. However, the flowering display of some plants may be overlooked if you aren’t observant.
Maple syrup is made from just one ingredient, maple sap, which magically flows from trees in late winter. It takes specific weather conditions this time of year to create sap flow, caused by nighttime temperatures below freezing followed by daytime temperatures above freezing (ideally 20⁰F at night and 40⁰F during daytime). The sugar containing elixir that flows from maple trees can then be boiled down to syrup or even further for granulated sugar.
Recently, on a cold, single-digit day I paid a visit to the University of Illinois Plant Biology Greenhouses. Since it was quite sunny and warm under the glass greenhouse roof, my mind drifted far from the snow and ice that was entrenched outside. Nothing can beat the tropical ecosystem created in the Conservatory. It was like a vacation to the tropics right here in Urbana, IL! And to top it all off this facility is free and open to the public on weekdays.
Winter is an excellent time for reflection on the past year’s growing season and any gardening successes or failures to account for next year. In this season of seed catalog mailings and New Year’s resolutions, I have found it to be an ideal time to set gardening goals for the coming year during the down time associated with the shortest days of the year.
I have always found it motivational to first focus on what I can accomplish prior to leaf out and the coming growing season. One of the primarily activities that can be done in the dead of winter is pruning.
The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is a common houseplant that is often sold around Christmas time due to its Christmas-tree-like appearance. However, in its native range, it is quite different than the 1-5 ft houseplant we know it as, reaching heights of 150-200 feet. Although affectionately referred to as a “pine”, it is technically not a true pine (of the family Pinaceae) but rather a member of a separate coniferous family, Araucariaceae.
Over the past several weeks, our fall color has peaked here in central Illinois. The stunning bright red to pink hues of red maple (Acer rubrum) were exceptional this year. Who could miss the rainbow of color from sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua), covering yellows to orange-red and even purple, sometimes all on the same tree. Beauty like this helps us overlook those pesky gumballs that sweetgum will deliver next spring. Our State Tree, the white oak (Quercus alba), was especially beautiful this year with a seemingly larger red color among its typically ora
One of the most glorious aspects of fall is bringing in the apple harvest. Every year around harvest time I wonder when exactly to pick my apples, which raises some questions. What does the apple maturity chart say for this variety? Has the weather this year impacted fruit quality? They taste pretty good, but are they still too small? Taste is one of the best indicators, but there are several other signs you can observe to help solve the puzzle.
Have you ever wondered what the earth looked like when the dinosaurs roamed? Humans didn’t realize that we have a living fossil among us that offers a glimpse into the past until the 1940s when the dawn redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) was “discovered” by scientists in China. This discovery has been noted to be one of the greatest for botany in the 20th century and the story behind the find is certainly a noteworthy tale in world history.
Do you have a tree that is displaying fall color right now? Although it may be beautiful, this may be a sign of health issues. In our area, most trees do not begin to change colors for the season until October. A branch or two here and there or some yellow leaves in the canopy are not cause for alarm, but if the majority of your tree is changing color now, it may be a cry for help.