a line of dying ash trees

Working for Illinois Extension I get to travel quite often, mostly throughout west-central Illinois. And 2021 has brought a significant decline in ash trees in this area.

The Story of EAB

Emerald ash borer (EAB) is a non-native insect that attacks healthy ash trees. EAB is nothing new. I have written about this insect before, mainly when it was first discovered in the area around four years ago. Yet at that time, the effects of EAB had not yet been felt. Today it is obvious how they have ravaged the landscape.

The impact of emerald ash borer. Dying ash trees with thinning canopies.

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) or EAB has cut a wide swath of destruction across a large portion of the United States, including Illinois. EAB has been responsible for the death of tens, if not hundreds, of million ash (Fraxinus spp.) trees, which has led to drastic changes in some communities and landscapes.

bareroot tree planting

A tree is a long-term investment for a home. Truthfully, we often don’t plant trees for us, but for those that come after us. But many trees planted in a developed area don’t live past their eighth year. Here are some tips to help get your new tree past the eight-year hump and keep it going for generations.

Storm Damaged Tree

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.

Gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) feeding on a Coreopsis flower. Flower has bright yellow petals with a dark red center

Butterflies are among the most popular, if not the most popular, insects out there. In fact, many cultures around the world use a butterfly as a symbol of the human soul. Many people consider a butterfly landing on you to be good luck, for example, this Irish blessing:

loppers cutting a tree branch

Trees in the landscape can be easily overlooked for the all the benefits they provide us whether that be casting shade on a warm, summer day, housing our feathered, birds friends, or adding a touch of color to our lawns. According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, trees on a property can increase the value of a home by almost 20%. However, that value can be diminished when trees are not properly maintained through pruning and thinning.

European mistletoe with green leaves and white berries on a wooden table

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.

Christmas trees

Some of my fondest memories of Christmas growing up was venturing out to get a Christmas tree together as a family. Most of the time we just found a misshapen red cedar tree from our timber; however, when choosing a Christmas tree, ideally you want something that has good shape, color, and branch distribution. It is also important that the tree has good needle retention to last the entire Christmas season. Typically pine trees have the best needle retention followed by firs, and spruces have the shortest retention.

pots with dormant plants covered in snow clustered together on a porch

Have you ever gone a little overboard buying plants and run out of room or energy to plant them all in the fall and figured it could wait until spring, only to find out most, or all have died? Or maybe you’ve had a container planter with perennials and excitedly waited for them to resume growth in the spring, but it never happened.

dry soil in the fall

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.

pine with fall displaying fall needle drop, older needles are turning yellow while newer needles remain green

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.

wound sealer painted on a tree wound

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!

Tree Injury

Tree troubles usually start at the base of the trunk

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.

branches from cherry tree blooming indoors

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).

New Year New Yard

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.

Christmas trees leaning against wooden pallets in a snow covered field

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.

Winter Dormancy

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.

fallen leaves on turfgrass

Now that we’ve had some cooler temperatures (to go along with shorter days), we’re starting to see the leaves change colors. In the next few weeks, we can look forward to our landscapes being awash in yellows, oranges, and reds. As the saying goes, though, all good things must come to an end. Eventually, all of those leaves will end up on the ground, and we’ll begin our annual battle of what to do with them.

orange and yellow fall leaves

In the language of folklore, Jack Frost has often been credited with spurring the onset of fall color by pinching leaves with his icy fingers. Obviously today we know that's not the case, but for a long time, scientists thought coloring of fall leaves was caused by the accumulation of waste products over the season that were then revealed as the green chlorophyll pigment faded away. This, as it turns out, is mostly untrue.

 

The Science of Fall Color

sunshine through ash tree leaves

We bought a home! After six years of living in a townhouse on the edge of Macomb, we have started to burst at the seams. In that time, we have accumulated quite a few occupants in our current dwelling. Now with three kids, one dog, a cat, and a couple of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, it was time to hunt for something a bit bigger that would fit our growing family.

Following a series of windy days and storms with high winds in Central Illinois, we have received reports on large sections of trees lost, gashes left in the trunks of trees, and large splits in tree trunks. What do you do when a severe windstorm damages your landscape trees?