Landscaping with edible plants is my second favorite gardening themes, next to ‘Going Native’. Today, there are a wide variety of plants available that will, not only provide your family food, but also offer many other desirable attributes. In addition, it reduces your carbon footprint by growing some of your own local food.
It’s hard to imagine a foodscape without blueberries. My family grows them, picks them, eats them fresh and freezes a good supply for the rest of the year. Throughout winter we regularly eat them in smoothies, pancakes and other baked goods. The fruits freeze well and keep for months in our deep freeze.
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 late winter is often a time of anticipation for spring flowering, when many gardeners watch for the first signs of early blooming bulbs. However, one unique woody plant is currently in full bloom putting on the first flower display of spring in the Illinois landscape.
In recent years, milkweeds have gained attention from the public due to their exclusive relationship with the imperiled monarch butterfly.
I think many of us are familiar with common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca), which reminds me of childhood leaf picking experiments to see the characteristic sap of milkweeds. Before I knew the exact species name, I knew this plant was a milkweed and it had milky sap. However, there are more than 20 native milkweeds in Illinois, and I am always amazed that many people are unaware of the majority of this interesting and diverse plant family.
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.
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.
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
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.
The American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a native shrub to Illinois and much of eastern North America. Despite its weedy habit, often growing in natural areas and unmowed ditches, this plant has some remarkable features. It offers both natural beauty and utility as well as easy propagation and adaption to a wide range of sites.
Most of us think of tree leaves when we think about beautiful fall foliage, but many ornamental grasses provide wonderful fall color that often extends well into the winter season. Right now is an excellent time to observe these grasses in the landscape and consider how we might integrate them into our own gardens.
Autumn is not only a time of brilliant fall colors, but also a time to observe the annual bird migration that spans our continent. Many of our feathered friends travel amazingly great distances to reach warmer climates with abundant food for winter. This lengthy journey spans thousands of miles, requiring birds to expend a ton of energy in the effort. As our avian counterparts make their annual retreat to warmer climates, it is critical that they build up fat stores prior to embarking on their trip and maintain this energy reserve by finding more food along the way.
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.
Boxwood shrubs are perhaps one of the most planted evergreen shrubs in landscapes around the Midwest. Although they are typically fairly hardy in our area, many suffer from winter injury. In addition, there are a number of other ailments for this shrub that gardeners should be aware of including a new and very serious threat called boxwood blight.
The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea has been a mainstay of the ornamental shrub world since its release in the 1960’s. This showy shrub is filled with beautiful snowball-like flowers that adorn its spindly branches each summer. The blooms begin as pretty green puffs that turn white at maturity, often lasting 6-8 weeks throughout June and July, and gradually changing to a tan color to provide interest throughout fall and 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.
This past week, the vivid red leaves of our native maples have really stolen the show, reaching near peak fall color for the year. I have always loved the brilliant red colors of autumn leaves, making burning bush (Euyonomous alata) an old favorite of mine. However, in recent decades this plant has emerged on invasive species lists from the East Coast to the Midwest, which has forced me to take it off my personal list of recommended landscape plants.
Fall color is upon us with so many plants entering their annual push toward winter dormancy and putting on a great display in the meantime. As deciduous plants show their true colors this time of year, it offers the observer an opportunity to quickly identify many species by the color and timing of their autumn display.
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.