December 2016-January 2017
In This Issue
- 2017 Master Gardener Training Registration
- Invasive Species Workshop Trains First Detectors in Illinois
- Strawberry Slumber
- Perennial Plant of 2017 Asclepias Tuberosa
- Staghorn Fern: A Growing Work of Art
- Selecting the Perfect Tree this Holiday Season
- Grow Tillandsias for the Holiday Season
- Can Houseplants Improve Indoor Air Quality
2017 Master Gardener Training Registration2017 Master Gardener Training Registration
Registration Deadline is January 13, 2017!
Maybe you've heard or seen the statement "Helping Others Learn to Grow" or maybe you've heard the words Master Gardener. Some might be familiar with one or the other, or maybe this is the first time you've heard them. Both refer to the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteer program – currently there are over 3,500 Master Gardener Volunteers in Illinois that give to their local community by sharing their knowledge of gardens and plants through various volunteer activities.
University of Illinois Extension Unit 14 (Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler Counties) will be offering Master Gardener training on Tuesdays beginning January 24, 2017 through April 11, 2017 from 9 AM – 4 PM. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener – a completed application, background screening, and interview are required along with a $175 fee to cover the class and manual costs.
Register online at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/registration/?RegistrationID=15325.
Invasive Species Workshop Trains First Detectors in IllinoisInvasive Species Workshop Trains First Detectors in Illinois
The 2017 Illinois First Detector Workshop on invasive plants, diseases, and insects will be offered at eight Illinois sites beginning in January 2017.
Topics this year include invasive plants and human health, oak tree diseases, and emerging invasive forest insects.
The program focuses on current and new invasive pests, but also provides updates on previously covered topics. The $40 registration fee includes instruction, an on-site lunch, and training materials. This year, a student rate of $25 is offered.
Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are also available. The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact your local Extension Office for more information.
Strawberry SlumberStrawberry Slumber
by Mike Roegge
If you grow strawberries, you may be wondering when to cover them for the winter. Recently retired University of Illinois Extension Local Foods and Small Farms educator Mike Roegge provides the following tips.Straw is traditionally applied to strawberries when they have gone dormant. You don't want to cover them too soon as you can smother the plant. We've had a couple of days of 20-degree temperatures in December, so strawberries should be dormant. Dormancy can be noted as the plants will turn a slight purple/red color.
Roegge explains that the reason we cover strawberries is to reduce soil temperature fluctuations. Alternate freezing and thawing of the ground expand and contract the soil, which can push strawberries up and out of the ground. This displaces roots and exposes the crown to damage or breakage. Maintaining a cover on the ground reduces the amount of temperature fluctuation.
"There are additional benefits to strawing as well," says Roegge. In the spring, having straw surrounding the plant reduces soil splashing, which can reduce or eliminate leather rot disease, as well as keep berries cleaner.Straw is the best material to use as air and water can both move freely through it. Wheat straw, oat, rye, or barley will do, whatever is available. Leaves are not suggested. Place at least 6" of straw over the plants. This should settle during the winter leaving 3-4" of cover.
Straw should remain on the row until spring. Remove the straw when soil temps reach 40-42 degrees in the spring. When removing the straw, rake most but not all the straw from the row. Leave an amount to keep the soil covered within the row.Roegge also provides some early winter garden advice for raspberry and asparagus growers.
"Raspberry plants that have fruited on second-year canes can be removed now or in the spring prior to green up." These canes will be brown or gray in color. The primocanes that grew this year (and may have set a late crop of berries) will produce a full crop next summer, do not prune these out. But do thin them to six or so of the larger canes per foot of row. Depending upon trellising or not, cut back the canes to 4-6 feet in length and trim back branches to 10-12".
Perennial Plant of 2017 Asclepias TuberosaPerennial Plant of 2017 Asclepias Tuberosa
by Marth Smith
With all the "buzz" about bees and butterflies, the Perennial Plant Association is celebrating a plant known for its ability to support birds and insects, including a beloved North American native butterfly. The Association has just announced Asclepias tuberosa as its 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™.
Commonly known as butterfly weed, this long-lived and striking perennial is native to much of the continental United States, along with Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec.
"With vibrant orange, red, and yellow flowers that seem to jump out at you, butterfly weed is a great addition to a sunny garden with average to dry soils," says University of Illinois Extension educator Martha Smith. "As the common name suggests, these plants are butterfly magnets. They also have a medicinal history as a treatment for pleurisy, a common ailment in early colonial times, causing wheezing, coughing, and great pain due to the inflammation of the pleura round the lungs. Asclepias tuberosa reportedly was so effective in treating this ailment it earned the common name pleurisy root."
Butterfly weed is a member of the Apocynaceae or milkweed family. This family includes plants with a milky sap poisonous to most insects. Unlike other milkweeds, Asclepias tuberosa contains little sap. The hairy leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, growing close together as they spiral up the hairy stem. Stems are branched near the top with flat clusters, or umbels, of many showy flowers in late spring through mid-July.
"Butterfly weed flowers are easy to recognize because of their 'five up and five down' appearance," Smith says. "Each flower has five colorful petals that hang down and five upright curved petals called hoods, each possessing one orange horn. When cross-pollinated, a dry fruit, called a follicle, forms. The mature follicle opens along one side to disperse the seeds."
Smith recommends deadheading Asclepias tuberosa to prevent reseeding, to keep the plants more attractive, and to promote a second flush of color later in the season.
Asclepias tuberosa makes excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. "Cut stems when more than half the flowers are open; buds do not open well once the stem is cut. Searing the cut end is not necessary to prevent sap from seeping out of the stems. Instead, cut flowers have a good vase life if they are immediately placed in warm water after cutting and either placing stems in a refrigerator for 12 hours or transferring the stems to cold water. This process eliminates what little sap may be produced," Smith notes.
Butterfly weed is hardy to zones 4-9 and reaches 2 to 3 feet high with a 2-foot spread. Smith cautions gardeners to be patient, as butterfly weed is slow to emerge in the spring. Young plants grow from a single central stem, but with age, plants will develop additional shoots at the base. Mature plants do not transplant well, although they can be divided carefully in early spring before new growth begins. "Dig carefully," Smith says, "but if enough root is left behind, they will regrow. Don't cut back in late fall, rather wait until early spring. To prepare young butterfly weed for the winter, put mulch down around them to prevent frost heaving."
Butterfly weed is often grown from seed. Experts report 50-80 percent germination if fresh cleaned seed is used. "If germination does not occur after 3 to 4 weeks, provide a 2 to 4 week cooling period," Smith says. "Collected seed will result in flower color variation. To ensure color, purchase seed from a reputable source. Propagation through root cuttings can be used to ensure quality from forms showing merit. Cutting back once, early in the growth cycle, will promote compact growth."Since Asclepias tuberosa is a native prairie plant, butterfly weed is quite comfortable in meadow gardens, native plantings, and wildlife sanctuaries, but it is finding its way into semi-formal to formal urban gardens. Smith suggests planting it in large masses, for an unrivaled display of eye-popping orange flower color. Orange butterfly weed pairs well with summer blooming Phlox, Hemerocallis sp., Liatris spicata, Echinacea sp., Salvia sp., and most June/July sun-loving perennials. Another bonus is that if the garden is visited by deer, they will leave Asclepias tuberosa alone.
Many bees, wasps, ants, butterflies, and beetles visit butterfly weed, as well as hummingbirds. All members of the milkweed family serve as larval food for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), queen butterfly (Danaus gilppus), and the milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle). "Let them munch on butterfly weed and you will be rewarded with these 'flowers of the air,'" Smith says.
Staghorn Fern: A Growing Work of ArtStaghorn Fern: A Growing Work of Art
by Kelly Allsup
Do you have an empty spot on your wall that is just screaming for a touch of green? "Create a unique art installment this winter in the form of a beautifully mounted Staghorn Fern," states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup.
The Staghorn Fern is aptly named because of its architecturally bold leaves resembling the antlers of a stag. Native to the tropics, and now widely available as a house plant; staghorn ferns are epiphytic, meaning they derive their water and nutrients from the air. These distinctive ferns settle in the crotch angles of trees or grow on rocks.
These ferns grow two kinds of fronds. The first frond is sterile and kidney-shaped, wrapping around the base of the plant. It is light green but begins to resemble tight layers of brown paper bags when they dry up. However, the papery layers should be allowed to remain because they help to support the plant. The second is a fertile frond that is held up to collect water and debris. The fronds produce spores and are covered with fuzzy gray hairs.
Since they are epiphytic, they are most commonly sold on wooden mounts. At the base, the grower will place a bit of growing medium under the sterile fronds and wrap with nylon wire. The stag horns that I have are in a wooden basket, acting as a frame, nestled with sphagnum moss with a wire hook to hang on the wall. It is of great benefit because, as a horticulturist, I do not have space for more plants on my tables or floors, and going up on the wall allows me to add more variety and number.
When I need to water the ferns, I take them down and place them in the sink. I then use the sprayer to wash their leaves and soak the basal leaves before leaving them to dry. Lastly, I place the ferns back on their wall displays. I usually limit my fertilizer applications to two to three times during the growing season with a ratio of 10-10-10. They always recover nicely with a good soak from the sink sprayer and sunlight from a north window. Sometimes, I forget that they are plants, and not works of art displaying on the dining room wall.
The only issue that I have had is mealy bugs. They are cottony, white insects that form colonies at the undersides of the leaves or the base of the ferns. You will want to avoid most insecticides because they may burn the leaves, so I wash the bugs off in the sink, and use half-strength alcohol, dabbing them with a Q-tip. I rinse and repeat every three or four days.
This fern has been around longer than dinosaurs and can grow to 300 pounds in the perfect conditions. Create just one or a grouping, and you could construct an interior resembling an Old World forest.
Selecting the Perfect Tree this Holiday SeasonSelecting the Perfect Tree this Holiday Season
by Ron Wolford
Selecting the "perfect" Christmas tree this holiday season is simply a matter of following a few steps, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "Picking out the perfect tree can be a fun, memory-filled family tradition," said Ron Wolford.
Wolford offers the following tips to help select a fresh tree for the home and keep it looking its best.
Pick a spot in your home to place the tree before heading out to buy it. "Ask yourself whether the tree will be seen from all sides or whether some of it will be against a wall," Wolford said.
Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. For example, if the tree is displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If the tree is displayed against a wall, a tree with three good sides would be okay. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner. "The more perfect a tree, the more expensive it will be," Wolford added.
Pick a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators, heaters, and air vents. "A dried-out tree is a safety hazard," he said.
Measure the height and width of the space you have available in the room where the tree will be placed.
"There is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it's too tall," Wolford said. "Take a tape measure with you to the farm. Trees always look smaller outdoors so measure to be sure and don't forget to bring a cord to tie your tree to the car."
If buying from a retail lot, Wolford recommends going during the day. "Choosing a tree in daylight is a much easier experience then trying to pick out a tree in a dimly lit lot," he said.
"Choose a fresh tree from a Christmas tree farm. Purchasing a tree from a Christmas tree farm ensures that you will have a fresh tree. A fresh tree will have a healthy green appearance with few browning needles.
"Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you run a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Very few green needles should drop off the tree. It is normal for a few inner brown needles to drop," he added.
Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and long enough so it will fit easily into a tree stand after fresh cuts are made for water uptake.
Store the tree in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind if you are not putting it up right away, Wolford noted. "Make a fresh 1-inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of warm water. When you bring the tree indoors, make another fresh 1-inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand. The water reservoir of the stand should provide one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk," he said.
Be sure to keep the water level above the base of the tree. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water and will dry out quickly.
Commercially prepared mixes, sugar, aspirin, or other additives in the water are not necessary. "Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh," Wolford said.
Grow Tillandsias for the Holiday SeasonGrow Tillandsias for the Holiday Season
by Kelly Allsup
Plant enthusiasts should check out tillandsia this holiday season, according to University of Illinois Extension educator Kelly Allsup.
"Even if you describe yourself as a brown thumb and are allergic to soil, you are going to love growing these super easy plants. The strappy tillandsia plants come in different sizes, textures, and colors and you are sure to find one to fit your holiday décor," Allsup says.
Tillandsia is a type of epiphyte or "air plant." In the wild, they use their minimal root system to attach themselves to trees and rocks, absorbing moisture and nutrients through small scales on their leaves. These scales give the plants their unique silver or gray appearance. "Air plants resemble a little octopus with their spreading tentacles," Allsup says.
"They have been made popular as a houseplant and generally are easy to care for," Allsup notes. "They enjoy indirect sun within the home or a shadier location if placed outside. Watering is critical. We recommend watering tillandsia once per week by submerging the entire plant in a bowl for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Allow them to dry a couple of hours before putting back into an enclosed environment. Misting can be done once or twice a week depending on the season."
Tillandsia flowers range from white to bold orange, red, purple, or pink. Blossoms can quickly fade away or persist for several months. The flowers are long, tubular to funnel shaped, with showy floral parts. If they do not bloom, this may be an indication of insufficient light.
Allsup explains that there are two main types of tillandsias. "Some are gray and some are green. The gray kinds are native to tropical forests where long droughts are common. Their gray leaves reflect sunlight and conserve moisture. These can be mounted and grown in bright filtered light. Green-leaved tillandsias are native to rainy, humid tropical forests and are grown best in less light inside containers to keep them moist. Our Illinois winter homes are most appropriate for the gray kinds."
Allsup recommends the following tillandsias for Illinois:
Tillandsia caput-medusae has silvery twisty leaves, a swollen base, and a red flower stalk.
Tillandsia plumosa boasts silvery leaves and can be grown on rocks or limbs.
Tillandsia utriculata v. pringleyi has delicate thin silver leaves with a flowering stalk that is red to orange or pink.
Tillandsias can be displayed in a variety of artistic ways. For example, Allsup recommends creating a unique wreath by using the formed grapevine wreaths found in craft stores as a base. "Glue a variety of tillandsias, either in on one part of the wreath for an asymmetrical effect or throughout and then add small pine cones, colorful mosses, or miniature festive decorations," she says.
"Or create a tillandsia landscape in a lantern, square glass vase, or under a cloche," Allsup suggests. "Fill it with moss or aquarium gravel for a base, place in tillandsias, and adorn with pinecones, miniature décor, and driftwood. You could also place them in wine glasses and line them up along the center of the holiday table.
"For a unique gift," Allsup adds, "place tillandsia in a clear plastic or glass ornament with colorful moss, or glue tillandsia to a wine cork or crystal."
Can Houseplants Improve Indoor Air QualityCan Houseplants Improve Indoor Air Quality
by Chris Enroth
In an era of increasing energy prices, many Americans insulate and seal up their homes during the winter months. Although this can result in savings on the monthly power bill, sealing the home can concentrate indoor air pollutants and cause various health problems.
"Making a building airtight limits the exchange of fresh air," explains University of Illinois Extension educator, Chris Enroth.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are present in many of our modern-day home furnishings and are a major source of indoor air pollution. Benzene is an example of a VOC and is among the top 20 most widely used chemicals in the U.S. Benzene is present in many types of products such as ink, oils, paints, plastics, rubber, detergent, dyes, and more. Homes with gas ranges or an attached garage typically have higher levels of benzene, as it is present in gasoline and vehicle exhaust.
Humans are another major contributor to indoor air pollution. "Think about the cabin of a passenger plane," Enroth explains. "We exhale the gas carbon dioxide, shed skin cells and hair, sneeze, cough, and so on. When we are outside, humans integrate into a complex web of life that manages these by-products. Seal a bunch of people up in a small artificial space, and you need some serious ventilation."
Air filters can remove the majority of pollutants, but it is tough to rid a home of trace VOC elements. That's where indoor plants come in. Several studies have shown that many indoor plants have an ability to filter out VOCs and other air pollutants.Enroth adds, "It is believed that most of these air pollutants are filtered out as part of the plant's photosynthesis activities. The air cleansing process is ongoing, so long as the plant is growing and healthy."
An ongoing study examined five common houseplants and their efficiency at extracting VOCs from the air. It was found that dracaena was the most effective houseplant at absorbing acetone, a commonly used VOC found in products like nail polish remover. However, bromeliads performed best in the removal of six of the eight VOCs tested in the study.
Despite these results, other researchers are casting doubt on the effectiveness of indoor plants in removing pollutants. Earlier research on indoor plants involved small sealed chambers. Critics point out that when these studies are scaled up to the size of an average 1,500-square foot home, it would take 680 plants to clean the air.
Another problem is the amount of VOCs indoor plants are exposed to in a home or office. In one study, it was found that some homes contained up to 180 different airborne compounds. These chemicals are present in various concentrations and mix and interact in a nearly infinite number of ways, but most of the published research focuses on about a dozen different VOCs.
Does this mean you should toss your pothos in the compost?
"Of course not," Enroth says. "Houseplants have routinely been proven to improve our psychological well-being. Those living or working in buildings like hospitals, extended care facilities, offices, and single- or multi-family buildings report better productivity, learning, and reduced anxiety and depression when indoor plants are present.
"What's needed is more research on the effects of houseplants in homes and workplaces," Enroth explains. "We know indoor plants assist in air cleansing; we just don't know to what extent. Until that research becomes published, all gardeners agree: the world is a better place with more plants. So keep your rubber tree, spider plant, and dracaena. In fact, consider adding more indoor plants to your living and work environments."