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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.