Native plants are ever gaining popularity as gardeners seek specimens with high ecological value in support of declining insect pollinator populations. Among the almost 2,300 plant species known to be native in Illinois, our native shrubs are often overlooked and underappreciated in the landscape. However, many offer a wide variety of ornamental attributes along with high pollinator value.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is one of only two hydrangea species native to Illinois. This small and often overlooked native shrub is much more prevalent in southern Illinois, although it occasionally occurs in our part of the state as well. Its dainty lacecap flowers attract a wide range of pollinators and its foliage serves as food source for the caterpillars of two native moths, lending ecological value to this attractive, shade-loving native.
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.
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.
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.
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
Hydrangeas are one of the most popular landscape shrubs in the US. They are known for their exquisite flowering display, with many offering a season of beautiful blooms that remain attractive into winter. Beyond flowers, these amazing shrubs offer additional ornamental beauty from neat and interesting leaves to ornate, peeling bark, making them quite versatile in the landscape.
Each year, we receive quite a few questions about hydrangea care, with the most common question being, “Why isn’t my hydrangea flowering?”
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?
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 freezer.
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.
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.
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.
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.