It is heartbreaking to see the results of natural disasters, when it affects entire communities or when the storm hits home. As a horticulture educator, I am often asked in the aftermath of a weather-related disaster, “How do we restore our landscape?” This may seem like a trivial question in such times, say when a community is recovering from a tornado, but each time a person steps outside their home and is greeted by a ravaged landscape, they will be reminded of the disaster.
It feels like spring has sprung and boy it sprang hard. Despite the dizzy use of the different forms of “spring”, Illinoisans can relate. Several days above sixty and even a few above seventy degrees in early March has pushed growth in many early perennial plants. Buds on trees and shrubs are swelling ready to pop at a moment’s notice. Many of our cool-season vegetables have also put on significant growth. And yet, by the time this article is printed, we will likely be back to more seasonable spring weather. Chilly, rainy, and mud…everywhere.
I love winter. I love snow. However, I must add two caveats to my initial statements – I love winter and snow as long as I am warm and I can stay at home. It’s when my feet get cold or my car is fishtailing trying to turn a corner that winter weather goes from fun to miserable.
When you turn on the news, radio, or talk with your neighbor people are getting rather irritated with winter. With all this complaining about our cold snowy weather, is there any benefit to winter when it comes to our yards and gardens?
People love to feed birds. Aside from gardening, it is considered one of the most popular hobbies around the globe. And even some would argue, feeding the birds is a part of gardening. In the winter months, many find joy in watching a flurry of feathered friends, feeding at the feeder. The bird food we set out helps to give those birds that stick around Illinois over the winter an energy boost to keep their body temperatures up on these cold days.
It’s that time of year - time to start thinking about pruning your deciduous trees. Most deciduous trees are best pruned while they are in full dormancy. This happens to be January to early March for this part of the country.
As I type out this article, I can’t stop thinking about my drive to work today. After days of clouds, ice, snow, and more clouds, the sun shone brightly as it crept over the eastern horizon. As sunbeams edged further across the landscape the trees became illuminated with a rainbow of light. It was spectacular!
From evergreens and Poinsettias to holiday cacti and holly, we use a variety of different plants to adorn our homes and offices during the holidays. One plant we commonly hear about is mistletoe. Mistletoe has an interesting past, from an ancient symbol of fertility to somewhere to sneak a quick kiss. It also has a darker side as a freeloading parasite on trees.
Mythology and folklore
It is believed that the golden bough that allowed the Greek hero Aeneas to travel to the underworld was mistletoe.
Leftovers. Is this why we only eat turkey once a year? Because after all the leftovers we are sick of giant poultry? Nah! I think turkey is simply more of a seasonal thing. We grow up seeing a turkey as the Thanksgiving centerpiece. To eat a whole turkey any other time just feels wrong. It’s like listening to Christmas music after Christmas. There’s not much demand for Deck the Halls outside of the holiday season. However, I will concede, everyone has that deranged person in the office or home that listens to Christmas music in July.
I bet you’re sick of reading about elections and politics. Fortunately, the Good Growing column is a welcome escape. Today I would like to dive into diseases. Oh, that’s right. We’re kind of in the middle of a global pandemic and I bet “disease” is not on the top of your list either.
Within our global pandemic of COVID-19, I hear scientists and doctors talk about recommendations for preventing the spread of disease. After listening to all the human health experts talk, one thing I realized, folks in the plant world have been dealing with “pandemic” type events for a long time.
It’s Halloween time again! Last year we had the inaugural list of Spooky and Scary Plants. While trick-or-treating and Halloween parties may look a little different this year, here are some more ‘spooky and scary’ plants to help you get in the Halloween spirit.
Small farms and local foods educator and fellow contributor to the Good Growing column, Katie Parker, was kind enough to let me borrow her hollow-core aerator, to give my compacted lawn some much needed relief.
As Katie wrote in a previous column this year, core aerating your lawn is a great practice to help relieve soil compaction and introduce air and water deeper into the soil. It can even help to reduce thatch issues.
The arrival of fall/autumn brings not only cooler temperatures but also a change in scenery. Our trees transition from green to golds, yellows, oranges, purples, reds, and browns, blanketing our landscapes in a kaleidoscope of colors. We expect our deciduous trees like maples, oaks, sweetgum, and dogwoods to change color and drop their leaves.
Pumpkin spice. Did you read that with disdain? Because I wrote it to be dripping with contempt. Go ahead and reread it with your best disdainful inner voice.
I may lose a lot of you on this. I may even anger my colleagues. But I do not like pumpkin flavoring. Why would so many people be upset about this? Well, Illinois just so happens to be the top grower and producer of pumpkins, pumpkin fillings, and all the other pumpkiny products that fill the shelves this time of year. Most of this production happens in Tazewell County near Morton, Illinois.
I spend a lot of time asking homeowners to show me their tree butts. Buttress to be specific, but industry lingo shortens it to butt and is described as the dramatic widening of the lower trunk. The buttress of a tree is located beginning at the root flare where the base of the trunk flares out into the root system. How high up the buttress goes depends on the species. For oaks, it may only be two or three foot high. Some tropical trees have buttresses that go up twenty feet!
Wasps have an undeserved bad reputation. While some species can be a tad on the aggressive side, they are, as a whole, rather beneficial. Admittedly they can be intimidating insects, particularly large ones.
This year we have received more reports about large wasps than usual. Perhaps it’s because we’re spending more time at home and out in our landscapes. Maybe it’s because of the excitement over "murder hornets" - which are not in Illinois.
Like a lot of parents right now in the US, we have decided to homeschool our children. Right now, I’m trying to remember what in the heck did I do in third grade? Time to brush up on the reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Side note, I should probably start a therapy fund for my kids when they get older.
One subject I have a bit of experience with is science. It was always my favorite subject in school, after recess of course. You might be thinking, how am I going to teach science? I don’t have Bunsen burners and beakers. Fortunately, science is all around us.
Us at Good Growing appreciate you taking your time to read, listen, and watch the content we create. From Katie, Ken, and Chris – THANK YOU!
Boredom. I hear that’s a thing when living in a pandemic. During pandemics of historical note, Sir Isaac Newton uncovered the marvels of calculus. Before that, it is said Shakespeare wrote some of his best plays while sheltering-in-place.
Was it boredom that inspired such achievements? Perhaps. However, I prefer to argue that Newton was already a genius and Shakespeare’s masterful writing was honed over his lifetime. That at least makes me feel better that, even after months, I still haven’t fixed our dripping bathroom faucet.
We’ve made it through spring, and we’re into summer. Whether you started your first garden this year or you’re a veteran gardener, we’re coming up on the heart of harvest season. One of the (many) advantages of growing your own vegetables is that you can harvest your produce at its peak quality. Knowing when exactly you should harvest something can be difficult to determine, especially if it’s your first time growing the crop.
I get lots of pictures of sick trees. Most of the time the first photo sent to me is a declining canopy. Maybe a picture of an ugly leaf. After all, that’s what we tend to notice first as our eyes occasionally gaze upward to the living behemoths that shade our parks, yards, and homes.
It’s National Pollinator Week (June 22-28, 2020)! Pollinators are vital to life as we know it. Around seventy-five percent of all plant species are pollinated by animals (and 90% of flowering plants). While we tend to focus on bees, particularly honey bees, many different animals will pollinate plants. Insects such as butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and wasps as well as some birds and bats will also pollinate plants.
I love garlic. I just so happened to marry a woman who did not. But something magical happened during her first pregnancy. She developed a taste for all things pickled and garlicky. Since then we have been throwing garlic into almost everything we make.
Ladybugs, ladybirds, or more appropriately lady beetles (they are beetles, not bugs after all) are common insects in the landscape. They are one of the darlings of the insect world. They’re commonly found on stationery and clothing, and they are even featured in nursery rhymes and songs. They are also one of the few insects people are excited to have land on them since many believe they bring good luck.
Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long-term to your plants, soil, and environment? Salt and vinegar are two common ingredients in many purported weed remedies found on the internet.
Have you been there? A new recipe calls for some fresh basil or dried rosemary. After searching the fridge and spice rack, you realize you do not have what you need to give your meal that kick of flavor that herbs often provide. I have certainly stared down the barrel of an empty bottle of dried oregano. One of my saving graces has been having some herbs growing outside our kitchen window. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, provided you give your plants the right conditions. Let’s examine some common herbs that might get you out of a culinary crisis.
Peppers are a popular plant in the home garden. They come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and heat. From the bright colors of sweet bell peppers to the face-melting heat of the Carolina Reaper, there is a pepper for any taste. In addition to their culinary uses, peppers can also make great additions to ornamental beds due to their bright colors.
Cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins are collectively known as cucurbits. Because these crops are related, they are afflicted with many of the same pests and diseases. Here are some of the most commonly encountered pests and diseases in cucurbits.
Cucurbits are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are home to some of the most popular garden crops in the world. This article will dive into the three main categories of cucurbit crops: cucumber, melon, and squash. Each one of these categories could become a book unto itself and we only touch on the subcategories of each.
Tomatoes are the most commonly grown plant in the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, and there is a wide variety of different types. If you’re growing tomatoes, you’ll more than likely encounter a few pests and diseases along the way. So, let’s take a moment and talk about some common issues we encounter when growing tomatoes.
I think my wife likes to torture me. Multiple times a year she buys grocery store tomatoes. You might know where I’m headed with this. These tomatoes are very often bland versions of their flavorful kin. Slicing into the tomato I am usually met with a solid white center. To turn up the flavor I pile the bacon on top of my tomato slice during the assembly of the traditional bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Very often what grows in a garden are those fruits and vegetables we enjoy eating. Though, sometimes our gardens may exceed our appetites. After growing fifteen kale plants, my family determined, we probably could live off of two. And ten cherry tomato bushes were nine too many. One vegetable, my family does enjoy regularly is sweet potato. Baked, boiled, or fried – sweet potatoes are used more often than potatoes in my home, making it a good candidate for the garden. Let’s examine what it takes to grow sweet potatoes in our Central Illinois climate.
Rabbits love them (at least in cartoons), and so do we. Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables in the United States. On average, Americans eat around 8 pounds of fresh carrots a person (with an additional 1.4 pounds of frozen carrots). Not only are carrots a great snack, they’re also relatively easy to grow in the home garden.
Watering. The inescapable task of any garden. No matter what, at some point, you will need to water your plants. That’s just the fact of the matter here in Illinois. We do get lots of rain, but then there are times we go through some very hot, and dry weather.
Can Watering Wait?
Much like humans, plants require certain nutrients to live and grow. There are 18 essential nutrients that plants require to grow and survive. Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen are needed in the greatest quantity and are obtained from air and water. The next 6 nutrients are considered macronutrients; 3 primary macronutrients include Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium and 3 secondary macronutrients include Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.
As the saying goes, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. If you’re a gardener, you can also include pests to the list of life’s guarantees. Now that it's started to warm up enough to get out and plant the garden, it also means it’s warm enough for weeds, insects, and diseases to become active too. So, get outside and start scouting your gardens.
Have you ever tried growing squash, and had the plants completely take over your garden? How about growing tomatoes without a cage? Many of our most popular garden crops such as peas, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons grow as vines. They can take up a considerable amount of space in the garden. Providing support to these plants in the form of cages, stakes, and trellises can make growing them easier.
There are a variety of benefits to providing your plants with support.
Are you waiting on the edge of your seat, ready for that frost-free date to pass so you can safely plant your tomatoes in the garden? If you know any vegetable farmers, they already have tomatoes in the ground. But you can’t fit a high tunnel in your backyard. Maybe the front yard? Nah, the neighbors won’t like that one bit. There are strategies to get you out in the garden sooner by extending the season. Let’s cover some early- and late-season strategies for the home gardener which don’t involve 100-foot long high tunnels.
What is Season Extension?
Weeds are everywhere. If we could add one more thing to life’s certainties I would argue “weeds” should be added to the list. Our soil is full of seeds, lying in a dormant state waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Each time we disturb our soils through tilling, planting, raking, even pulling existing weeds, we provide the opportunity for new weed seeds to sprout in those locations. So if you are just starting a garden, or are a green thumb backyard grower – what can you do to help manage the weeds that will undoubtedly pop up in your tomatoes and salad greens?
When it comes to planning and creating a garden, you need to determine how you’re going to grow your plants. There are a variety of ways in which this can be done, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The amount of space, as well as your gardening goals, will play a large role in the type of garden you choose.
In-Ground Bed (Traditional)
Once the weather starts to warm up, we can start thinking about planting our warms season plants outdoors. Warm season plants can further be broken down by their frost tolerance to tender and very tender plants. Tender plants are injured or may be killed by a light frost but can withstand cool weather, while the very tender, in addition to being damaged or killed by frost, may be injured by cool weather.
For many, gardening takes place in the summer. However, for me, and a growing number of gardeners, we are growing in the garden nearly all year long!
Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. Even worse while being at home during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, it has been cloudy for nearly a week! This morning, as I led my half-asleep six-year-old down the steps into the living room, we were greeted with streams of light coming through the windows. After the short days of winter and several days of cloudy, wet weather, the sun was a welcome sight. I'm not the only one welcoming the longer days and more sunlight; plants also need adequate light.
A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson
Do you think at some point as children our imagination changes from imaginary friends, action figures, tea parties, and dolls to speculative market planning? How dull the adult imagination can be. However, if there is one thing about winter, it puts my imagination into overdrive. I create these visions of farming on a grand scale with employees, tourists, and food. Yes, food! My perfect farm would have a café, perhaps a small local brewery operation as well.
When we think of the typical home landscape, our garden areas are usually separated by the type of plant being grown. We have a separate bed for flowers and ornamental plants, one for vegetables and one for herbs. Often the vegetable and herb gardens are tucked away in the backyard and out of view from the neighbors. However, in recent years there has been an increasing trend to incorporate edible food crops into landscapes or edible landscaping.
Are you stricken with pools of water in your yard and you don’t own a pool? Instead of water moving away from your house, does it run into the basement? Are you constantly battling eroded hillsides? If you fight these common water maladies, then very likely there is a stormwater drainage problem in your yard. In this post, we’re going to cover the three most common drainage issues for homeowners.
Settling Soil Around Foundation Walls
The weather this year has been a bit of a roller coaster. One day it feels like spring, and the next, we are reminded that we’re still in the middle of winter. Despite some of the warmer temperatures we’ve had this year, we still have a way to go before the warm weather sticks around for the long haul (the median last frost date in Jacksonville is April 19).
As a kid, I remember the bald eagle being rare and revered. At school and on TV we learned the bald eagle was an endangered species. The resounding theme when I was young was that bald eagles were noble hunters, flying skyward and swooping down to grasp fish from an icy lake. In movies bald eagles had a piercing call, it sounded like a mighty high-pitched screech. I’m not sure how to convey this sound through text, but hopefully, you remember the sound clip that played every time you saw an eagle onscreen in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are plants we commonly find during the holiday season. They are widely marketed as living Christmas trees and are commonly adorned with bells and bows. If you purchased or received one, they could become beautiful houseplants for many years if properly cared for.
The garden catalogs are coming thick and fast this time of year. There may be no better way to beat the winter blues than to thumb through these catalogs and start planning this year’s garden (it will be time to start seeds before you know it). While making plans for this year’s garden, take some time to review your notes from last year. What varieties and cultivars did you grow last year? What produced well, what didn’t? What tasted good, what didn’t?
It is now the year 2020. It seems like everyone agrees, saying year “twenty-twenty”, feels so strange. As if we have arrived in a future we’ve only seen in movies and the Jetsons.
All good things must come to an end. Once the Christmas holiday, or in some cases New Year's, is over, the Christmas tree will need to come down. Instead of hauling off this year’s Christmas tree to the dump right away (or having the city pick it up), consider repurposing it in your landscape.
With the holidays approaching, many of us will be doing a lot of baking. Others of us may be buying birdseed to feed our feathered friends this winter. Occasionally some uninvited guests may show up in these products or where you store them - pantry pests. These insects live, eat, and grow inside stored products like birdseed, dry pet food, and dry food products (oatmeal, rice, pasta, flour, chocolate, etc.) as well as other dried plant materials (dried flower arrangements, ornamental corn, etc.).
I completely understand why Santa makes his list and then checks it twice. For me, figuring out what others want for Christmas is incredibly difficult. Often my wife will ask, “What should we get for so-and-so?” My response, a shake of my head and a shrug of my shoulders. It seems all my good gift ideas pop into my head in the middle of the summer or on Christmas Eve.
Fortunately, my wife knows her stuff when it comes to gift-giving.
Pass the sweet potatoes. Or is it pass the yams? We often use these names interchangeably, but in reality, they are two very different plants. So, what is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?
I love parsnips. But have you ever bought parsnips at a grocery store? Let me share my experience. At the checkout lane, the cashier always has a befuddled look when parsnips are up for scanning. A look that I know all too well.
“Oh, those are parsnips,” I tell the cashier.
Satisfied the cashier enters the code and scans the root vegetable, usually adding, “Hmm, looks like white carrots.”
Cranberries are a common sight this time of year. Americans consume nearly 400 million pounds of cranberries per year, and we consume about 20 percent of that during Thanksgiving week! Whether you eat them fresh, dried, as sauce or jellied or drink them, they are staples at many holiday meals. They can also be used in a variety of ways while decorating for the holidays.
By mid-November, the last of the leaves float down to the ground and the landscape appears stark. All is quiet and nothing is growing as our gardens have been put to bed. Or are they? As I walk outside in the frigid cold, it is obvious my body has yet to adapt to colder temperatures, yet the turf stands green and crisp on a frosty morning. Evergreens brighten up a barren image of my yard. Even cool-season veggies are turning their nose up at the fall weather, rewarding me with a sweeter flavor than those same crops grown in spring.
Halloween is a time of trick-or-treating, witches, ghouls, and ghosts. When it comes to plants, we typically think of pumpkins. Carnivorous plants may also come to mind, what could be scarier than a plant turning the tables and eating insects? There are plenty of other ‘spooky and scary’ plants out there to help get you in the mood.
Woolly bear caterpillars are hurriedly crossing the roads this time of year. I have always been fond of the woolly bear caterpillar. As a child, the name woolly bear reminded me of the Muppet Fozzie bear. I imagined the woolly bear caterpillar has the same loveable optimism as Fozzie despite being a terrible comedian telling groan-worthy jokes. I know it may seem to be an odd comparison, but I thought of this as a child and to this day, it still pops into my head every time I see a woolly bear caterpillar.
Want to get a head start on planting your vegetable garden for next year? Then garlic is the plant for you! Garlic (Allium sativum) has been grown for thousands of years as both food and for medicinal purposes. It has a long growing season, which may seem daunting. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to grow and typically has relatively few pest problems.
Planting a vegetable garden doesn’t just have to occur in the spring. Many of the vegetables that we grow in the spring can be also planted in late summer or early fall.
By the time summer rolls around many of our cool season plants that were planted in the spring are past their prime. They become tough and bitter and will often bolt (flower). By planting these cool season crops again you can extend your gardening season and have fresh produce throughout the fall.
It's about that time of year, time for Japanese beetles...
Herbaceous peonies are a common sight in many gardens and some of the most beautiful flowers you will find. They belong to the genus Paeonia which is native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America. They have been cultivated in Asia for more than 2,000 years. These cultivated peonies were brought to Europe and later the United States around 1800. In addition to their beauty, they can be quite long-lived. Many plants have been growing and flowering for more than 50 years and some plantings have been recorded to be over 100 years old.
Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. This morning, as I led my half-asleep six-year-old down the steps into the living room, we were greeted with streams of light coming through the windows. After the short days of winter and several days of cloudy, wet weather, the sun was a welcome sight. I'm not the only one welcoming the longer days and more sunlight; plants also need adequate light.
One of my great loves of plants is that we can create new plants from existing. There are a number of houseplants that are easy to propagate and if you're like me you can never seem to have enough of your favorite plants!
When propagating houseplants, there are usually three different methods and which method to use is determined by what plant you are trying to grow. There are two other methods of houseplant propagation which includes Division and Air Layering but that's for another time.