Chicago Urban Gardening The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Get to Know your Christmas Tree Mon, 27 Nov 2017 08:09:00 +0000 Before you purchase a Christmas tree this year, take a little time to research tree characteristics like color, length of needles, aroma and needle retention.

The following Christmas Tree species or types are sold and grown in the United States.

Eastern Red CedarJunirperus viginiana – leaves are a dark, shiny, green color; sticky to the touch; good scent; can dry out quickly; may last just 2-3 weeks; the berries of Juniperus species are used to provide gin with its characteristic flavor. Cedar chests and lined closets prevent moth damage to wool clothing because the volatile cedar oil is a natural insecticide.

Leyland CypressCupress ocyparis leylandii – foliage is dark green to gray color; has upright branches with a feathery appearance; has a light scent; good for people with allergies to other Christmas tree types. One of the most sought after Christmas trees in the Southeastern United States.

Balsam FirAbies balsamea – ¾" to 1 ½" short, flat, long lasting needles that are rounded at the tip; nice, dark green color with silvery cast and fragrant. Named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was sold like chewing gum; used to treat wounds in Civil War. Abies ancient name - rising or tall tree, name for the European fir. balsamea balsam-producing.
Close-up photo of tree:

Douglas-FirPseudotsuga menziesii – good fragrance; holds blue to dark green; 1" to 1 ½" needles; needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800's; good conical shape; can live for a thousand years. Douglas-fir is considered the second tallest tree in North America, after redwood and can grow over 300 ft. tall.

Fraser FirAbies fraseri – dark green, flattened needles; ½ to 1 inch long; good needle retention; nice scent; pyramid-shaped strong branches which turn upward. Named for a botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700's. Growing Fraser fir for

Noble FirAbies procera – one inch long, bluish-green needles with a silvery appearance; has short, stiff branches; great for heavier ornaments; keeps well; is used to make wreaths, door swags and garland.

Nordmann Fir - Abies nordmannia – dark green, flattened needles, shiny, silvery-blue below, ¾ to 11/2 inches long. Popular in the United Kingdom. Close-up photo of tree:

White Fir or Concolor FirAbies concolor – blue-green needles are 2 to 3 inches long; nice shape and good aroma, a citrus scent; good needle retention. In nature can live to 350 years. Some taxonomists separate white fir into two distinct species; A. lowiana of California and A. concolor of Oregon and the Rocky Mountains. Close-up photo of tree:

Austrian PinePinus nigra – dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long; retains needles well; moderate fragrance.

Close-up photo of tree:

Scots or Scotch PinePinus sylvestris – most common Christmas tree; stiff branches; stiff, dark green needles one inch long; holds needles for four weeks; needles will stay on even when dry; has open appearance and more room for ornaments; keeps aroma throughout the season; introduced into United States by European settlers.
Close-up photo of tree:

Virginia PinePinus virginiana – dark green needles are 1 ½" – 3" long in twisted pairs; strong branches enabling it to hold heavy ornaments; strong aromatic pine scent; a popular southern Christmas tree. Virginia pine is an aggressive pioneer that produces pulpwood more rapidly than most pines on poor sites. It is also useful for mine land reclamation.

White PinePinus strobus – soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five; retains needles throughout the holiday season; very full appearance; little or no fragrance; less allergic reactions as compared to more fragrant trees. Largest pine in United States; state tree of Michigan & Maine; slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine. Its wood is used in cabinets, interior finish and carving. Native Americans used the inner bark as food. Early colonists used the inner bark to make cough medicine. White pine (also called ship-mast pine) had a pivotal role in the American Revolution, and provided lumber for colonial expansion westward.
Close-up photo of tree:

Blue SprucePicea pungens – dark green to powdery blue; very stiff needles, ¾" to 1 ½" long; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical; but is best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. State tree of Utah & Colorado. Can live in nature 600-800 years.

Norway SprucePicea abies – needles ½" – 1" long and shiny, dark green. Needle retention is poor without proper care; strong fragrance; nice conical shape. Very popular in Europe.
Close-up photo of tree:

White Spruce – Picea glauca – needles ½ to ¾ inch long; green to bluish-green, short, stiff needles; crushed needles have an unpleasant odor; good needle retention. State tree of South Dakota. White spruce is a conifer of northern forests, adapted to a wide range of environments from Alaska to Newfoundland.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at

Spring and Summer Storm Recovery Resources Mon, 10 Apr 2017 03:49:00 +0000  

Chicagoland is often hit with spring and summer storms. The following are resources to help you prepare for and recover from these storms.

Sign up for Weather Alerts from NotifyChicago


City of Chicago: Flood Preparedness

Cleaning and Repairing Flooded Basements

Flooding: Disaster Resources

Flood Recovery Checklists

Flood and Storm Recovery Links

Family Disaster Supply Kit

NOAA: Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States


Lightning and Personal Safety

Repair Storm Damaged Trees with Care

Safe food handling during power outages

Frozen Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out

Refrigerated Foods: When to Save and When to Throw Out

Using Portable Generators Safely

Sump Pump Tips

Select the Perfect Christmas Tree this Holiday Season! Wed, 23 Nov 2016 10:30:00 +0000 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.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at

Arbor Day Resources 2016 Tue, 05 Apr 2016 14:30:00 +0000 Arbor Day is celebrated in Illinois on April 29, 2016. Across the United States Arbor Day is mostly a spring event, but some states celebrate Arbor Day in other months. The first Arbor Day took place on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska. It was started by Julius Sterling Morton. His son, Joy Morton founded the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. The following are some Arbor Day related web sites that celebrate the beauty and value of trees.

National Arbor Day

Learn about trees, their benefits, value and general care.

Arbor Day History

Learn about the origin of Arbor day started by Julius Sterling Morton.

How to Celebrate Arbor Day

Discover ideas on how to celebrate Arbor Day in your community.

U.S. State Trees

Each of the 50 states and several United States territories have designated an official tree.

What Tree Is That? Mobile and Online Versions

Tree Identification Guides from


This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves.

US Forest Service "Smokey Bear" website provides a host of activities for students, including forest crossword puzzles, activity book, find the fire hazards, coloring pages and a forest word find.

Illinois Forestry

Educational web site about Illinois' most valuable, renewable natural resource –trees.

Forestry Images

Images of tree insects, diseases and more

Oregon State University: Woody Landscape Plants Database

A database of almost 900 woody landscape plants.

Trees Are Good

Educational web site of the International Society of Aboriculture.

Miracle of Fall

Learn why leaves change color, check foliage updates, driving tours, cams, photos, and festivals.

Selecting Trees for Your Home

This site will help you make informed decisions when selecting a tree for your home landscape.

Selecting Illinois Trees

Buying a tree is a major investment. Here's help in choosing the best tree for your location.

Cornell University: Recommended Urban Trees

Helps you choose the best tree for your site, plus profiles of best urban trees.

Tree Web sites for Kids:

Arbor Day Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources

Collections of lesson plans, ideas and resources for celebrating Arbor Day

Trees are Terrific

Listen and read along with Pierre Quercus to learn about trees and their value to us.

Exploring the Secret Life of Trees

Learn all about the parts of a tree and gain an appreciation of trees.

Walk in the Woods

Take a virtual walk in the woods and learn about all the wonders of nature.

Dr. Arbor Talks Trees

Focuses on tree anatomy and physiology. Students will learn some of the basic inner workings, chemical principles, and fun ways to get to know trees better

Kids for Trees

Tree curriculum for kids from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, includes a teacher's guide.

Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat Teacher's Guide

Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat is an exhibit at The Morton Arboretum that provides an interpretative lesson plan focused on the importance of endangered trees. A teacher's guide, and other resources, are available for this unique exhibit.Find lesson plans for grades Pre-K through 12 within the downloadable guide provided. Or, select the grade-specific guide listed.

A Couple of Reliable Gardening Resources Fri, 29 Jan 2016 16:41:00 +0000 I just finished the February Garden Calendar for the University of Illinois Extension website. I have been doing the calendar since 2012. A couple of the resources I use for compiling the calendar are the USDA Partners and Extension Map and Extension One Search. These are great websites for gardeners looking for reliable information.

The USDA Partners and Extension Map is a map of all the Extension websites in the United States. Just click on your state to connect to your state's extension site.

Extension One Search allows you to search hundreds of Cooperative Extension sites providing easy access to resources provided by your Land-Grant institution.

So the next time you have a gardening question, check out these websites for reliable, research-based information.

Keep Your Poinsettia Alive Mon, 28 Dec 2015 10:48:00 +0000 Poinsettias represent 80 percent of all potted plant sales in the United States during the holiday season.

There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. They come in a myriad of colors like red, white, pink and burgundy. Keeping your poinsettia healthy during the holiday season in dry indoor environments can be a challenge.

Here are few tips for keeping your poinsettia healthy.

  • Purchase a poinsettia with fully colored bracts (modified leaves) and tightly closed flower buds. The plant will start to decline after the flower buds have completely opened.
  • After purchasing the poinsettia, make sure it is wrapped completely. Exposure to temperatures below 50 degrees in just the short walk to the car can damage the bracts and leaves.
  • Place the poinsettia near a south, west, or east-facing window. Six hours of indirect light is ideal. Placing the plant in direct light may cause the colorful bracts to fade.
  • Indoor temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees are ideal for long plant life. Placing the plant in a room a few degrees cooler at night will extend the color show of the poinsettia. Temperatures above 80 degrees will shorten the life of the bracts.
  • Keep the poinsettia away from warm or cold drafts. Drafts can cause premature leaf drop.
  • Over-watering is the number one poinsettia killer. Water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. After watering, thoroughly empty any water in the pot's saucer. Be sure to punch holes in the decorative foil to allow water to drain through.
  • Do not fertilize when the poinsettia is in bloom. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month after it blooms.

Research at the Ohio State University has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous. Some people are sensitive to the plant's sap, causing skin irritation.

For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea. It is probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens.

For more information on poinsettias, visit the University of Illinois Extension website The Poinsettia Pages at

Christmas Tree Care Safety Tips Sun, 20 Dec 2015 11:56:00 +0000 According to the National Fire Protection Association between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 7 deaths, 19 injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually.

To keep your tree from becoming a statistic, follow these tree care safety tips.

After purchasing your tree place it in an unheated garage or some other area out of the wind and cold (freezing) temperatures until you're ready to bring it indoors. Make a fresh one inch cut on the butt end and place the tree in a bucket of water.

When you decide to bring the tree indoors, make another fresh one inch cut and place the tree in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water, or a rule of thumb is one quart of water for every inch of diameter of the trunk.

Be sure to keep the water level about 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; aspirin; sugar and other additives added to the water are not necessary. Research has shown that plain water will keep a tree fresh.

Keep the tree as far away as possible from heat sources such as heaters, vents, radiators and fireplaces. Keeping the room cool that the tree is in will slow down the drying process.

Check all Christmas tree lights for worn electrical cords. Use UL approved electrical decorations and cords. Be sure to turn off the tree lights when leaving the house. Unplug tree lights at night. Miniature lights produce less heat and reduce the drying effect on the tree. Be sure not to overload electrical circuits.

Many fresh cut trees if properly cared for will last a few weeks before drying out. Take down the tree before it dries out.

Recycle your Christmas tree. Many communities will pick up trees and turn them into mulch. You might put the tree in your backyard and place bread and suet among the branches for the birds.

For more information, please check out the University of Illinois Extension web site Christmas Trees and More at