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A blank checklist on a clipboard next to a pen.

Making a fall gardening checklist

Fall is nearly upon us, and while many gardeners lament the end of the growing season, plenty of work remains to be done before winter sets in. I actually enjoy fall gardening tasks as they are a way to end the year with a bang and get all set to hit the ground running in spring. Here is a short...
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Pink surprise lily flowers

Surprise lilies shock with late bloom

When I try to think of plants that live up to their common name, surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera) tops the list.  In fact, this plant has quite a few common names that are equally fitting, including ghost lily, magic lily, resurrection flower, naked lily, and mystery lily, among...
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A picture of two blooms of wild columbine

Using wild columbine at home

During the flowering lull of late spring in my home gardens, I often admire the unique, dangling blooms of our native wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  This plant occurs in nearly every county of Illinois and its native range spans the Eastern US, from Florida and Texas to...
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Ants on a Peony

How ants help peonies

In the plant world, insects can be considered either friend or foe based on their status as beneficial partners or pests.  We often think of pollinators as the primary friends plants have in the insect world, but there are certainly other beneficial insects that don’t necessarily pollinate...
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Right now, mums are available at local garden centers in a wide variety of colors.

Planting and Maintaining Perennial Mums

Throughout the fall season, garden centers are filled with a beautiful selection of mums (short for chrysanthemums).   In the garden, mums provide a both a spectacular fall display and a late season nectar source for pollinating insects.  It is a wonderful time to plant these...
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Deicing Salts and Plant Damage

While this winter has brought little ice and snow cover, this past weekend’s winter weather put a coating of ice on most smooth surfaces.  Gardeners, businesses, parks and others with landscaping near walkways must apply deicing salts for safety, but these products can harm plant life. ...
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Flowering herbs provide ornamental beauty to the edge of this pollinator garden

Grow herb gardens for more than the kitchen

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.  In general, herbs are pretty tough plants...
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Standing dead stems are important overwintering habitat that should not be removed from the garden until insects emerge later in spring.

Spring Garden Cleanup

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...
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Submit your application today so you can proudly post a Pollinator Pockets sign in your garden.

Pollinator Pockets

In recent decades, insect populations around the globe have been declining dramatically.  A 2019 study assessed global insect populations and determined that 40% of all insect species are in decline and some may reach extinction in coming decades if populations are not stabilized.  Among...
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Hand pollination of last year’s hosta flowers produced the seeds used to grow this tray of hosta seedlings.  However, it will take a few more years for these plants to mature and truly express the traits gained from hybridization. Photo credit: Barb and Rick Schroeder


Plants in the genus Hosta, collectively referred to as hostas, are one of the premier plants for ornamental gardens that lack full sun.  These resilient perennials are a mainstay of Midwestern shade gardens and remain popular in temperate regions worldwide. However, that wasn’t...
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The tufted seedheads of reed canary grass are easily noticed this time of year.

Plant Phenology for Identification

There are so many plants in nature that tend to reveal themselves during some kind of phenological event, such as flowering or fruit set, and then scream for attention.   For example, consider Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), which one of my favorite native wildflowers, frequenting...
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These young prairie dropseed plants will mature into a nice sidewalk border of thin, feathery vegetation.

Landscaping with native grasses

Nothing beats the light and airy look of tall, distinctive grasses in a landscape arrangement. The fluffy seedheads and slender, and attractive stems practically dance in the wind on breezy days, adding texture as well as a structural element to any landscape bed.    For many years...
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Bluebells are a beautiful native wildflower that adds a splash of blueish-purple to both woodlands and landscape gardens in spring.

Virginia Bluebells

We all have our favorite spring wildflowers for one reason or another. Maybe they are part of a native plant community we visit often, such as a close-by natural area or favorite park trail?  Perhaps our preference comes from the plants we are able to cultivate at home, in our own gardens?...
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This time of year, daylilies are far from the center of attention in most landscapes.  The beautiful, vibrant flowers that adorn the scapes of most traditional varieties earlier in summer have long faded, leaving a much less interesting plant that very much resembles a clump of grass. As their...
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Butterfly milkweed is the only Illinois milkweed with orange flowers, which provide a showy display each summer, often blooming a second time around early

Illinois has an Abundance of Milkweeds

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...
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I always love it when a particular plant that I know from the natural world doubles as a landscape plant.  Not everything that is beautiful in nature can handle what we throw at it in human landscapes, some native plants are just too sensitive.  However, one old favorite of mine from...
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The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is a cultivar that was originally collected from a wild specimen in southern Illinois and remains one of the most popular in production today.

The 'Annabelle' Hydrangea

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,...
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Nothing signals the coming of spring quite like a daffodil (Narcissus psuedonarcissus) in full bloom.  After winter slumber as bulbs beneath the ground, these tiny plants emerge very early in the year to put on a spectacular flowering display each spring.  These delightful...
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Charles Darwin and Orchids

Last Tuesday marked the 210th birthday of the famous botanist and naturalist, Charles Darwin, who is most well-known for his groundbreaking work on the science of evolution.  In 1859, Darwin published his most noteworthy book, titled “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or...
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Houseplants and Indoor Air Quality

The last thing any homeowner wants this time of year is a cold draft from the outdoors.  We humans have become exceedingly good at sealing up all of our indoor spaces in the interest of trapping heat during the winter or cooled air during the summer.  These type of improvements in home...
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Climate Change and USDA Plant Hardiness Zones Part Three

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released last fall in two volumes, containing information about how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the US and a detailed assessment of how those changes now, and in the future, will impact our country.  The report...
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Holiday Cacti

Nothing symbolizes the holiday season to a horticulturalist like a holiday cactus in full bloom.  These fascinating plants are cacti, but not at all like the full-sun, desert loving specimens we commonly think of.  Instead, these plants hail from the treetops of forests in Brazil, which...
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Fall Color in Native Grasses and Their Ornamental Uses

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...
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The Monarch Butterfly

The iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has become somewhat of a poster child for the plight that many pollinators face, and for good reason.  Monarch populations have experienced drastic declines in recent years for a variety of reasons, some which researchers are still...
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Dividing Perennials in Spring

In the busyness of spring and planting all our annuals, such as flowers and vegetables, the perennials in our garden often get overlooked.  To keep perennial plants performing at their peak, it is necessary to divide them from time to time in order to maintain vigor and flowering.  As a...
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Snow Crocus

Last week as I was scouring our backyard for signs of spring, I was pleasantly surprised to notice a tiny, inconspicuous purple flower popping up all around my house, seemingly at random.  Since we just moved to this property last summer, I’ve not experienced a full year to observe all the...
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In recent years, orchids have become increasingly popular as houseplants, popping up for sale everywhere from smaller garden centers to big chain stores.  Many of us have taken these plants home, given them plenty of TLC, only to be let down when they begin to suffer from wilting and...
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2018 Gardening Goals

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...
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Fall Garden Cleanup and Wildlife

The annual ritual of fall garden cleanup can be a toilsome, yet rewarding task.  After racking up piles and piles of leaves, it is really nice to see some green grass poking through as one last gasp of summer.  Cutting back the old, dead stems from garden beds can create a more manicured...
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Idea Garden Tropicals on the Move

On a cold, dreary day with misting rain last week a group of Master Gardeners met at the Idea Garden, in the University of Illinois Arboretum, for a ritual that has occurred for many years.  Each year, most plants in the “Tropicals Section” of the Idea Garden are removed from the ground and...
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Throughout the fall season, garden centers are filled with a beautiful selection of mums (short for chrysanthemums).   It is a wonderful time to plant these attractive, fall blooming plants, but some consideration should be given when planting in fall.  Many folks plant mums and don’...
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