March 7, 2014
The U of I Extension Master Naturalist program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. The program educates and trains adult volunteers to help disseminate natural resource information to the public and to assist with conservation and restoration activities in their communities.
"The Master Naturalist program in Illinois is modeled after our extremely successful Master Gardener program," Ferree said. "In both programs, volunteers participate in at least 40 hours of initial training. Once training is completed, they get involved in many different projects to complete their 60 hours of volunteer internship."
Ferree said that her goal as state coordinator is to continue expanding the program. "Ultimately I want to have an active program in every county in Illinois. I'll work to educate and train a larger corps of volunteers to do work at more participating partner locations."
"Rhonda will provide excellent leadership for this important program," said Mike Gray, a U of I professor and assistant dean of the Department of Crop Sciences.
Ferree has been with U of I Extension for over 25 years where she has held several positions and received many awards. She holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in horticulture, both from the U of I. Learn more about her and her programming at http://extension.illinois.edu/go/rhondaferree.
The Master naturalist program began in Texas in 1997 and was piloted in Illinois in 2004 in Rock Island County. Today the program runs in 69 of the 102 counties in Illinois and is growing steadily each year. In 2013, 456 Master Naturalist volunteers contributed 33,250 hours "helping others connect with nature." This was a 63 percent increase in hours and 53 percent increase in volunteers from 2012.
To learn more about the Master Naturalist program in Illinois, visit http://web.extension.illinois.edu/mn/.
News writer: Stephanie Henry, 217-244-1183217-244-1183, firstname.lastname@example.org
March 7, 2014
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I love to grow and use herbs. Herbs are easy to grow, beautiful, fun, and rewarding to use. Most of them are as easy to grow as common vegetables. Whether you use them in formal herb gardens or interplanted with your vegetables or landscaping, you can always find space in a garden for a few herbs.
Botanically speaking, an herb is any plant that dies back to the root each year. But by horticultural or culinary definition, an herb is a plant that is used as an ingredient for health, flavor, or fragrance.
Most of us routinely use herbs when cooking. Even an average cook knows how to use sage when stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey, chives on a baked potato, and garlic on garlic bread. But, you haven't really tasted any of these dishes until they are made with fresh herbs directly from the garden. My Grandma Kinsel always insisted that stuffing just wasn't stuffing without "fresh" sage!
Consider herbs for your garden this year. For those of you without a garden, many herbs grow well indoors, too. Here are a few more facts about herbs.
Herbs are available as seed or transplants. All the annual herbs come easily from seed. Perennial plants such as rosemary, thyme, and sage are most successful when grown from plants or rooted cuttings. Once started, herbs experience relatively few problems from insects or diseases. Many of the strong odors and tastes of herbs have evolved to ward off or discourage insects.
If you would like to know more about growing and cooking herbs, attend our upcoming Four Seasons Garden Series program on Herbs on Tuesday, April 8th at 1:30 p.m. at the Extension offices in Peoria and repeated on Thursday, April 10th at 7:00 p.m. at the Extension office in Havana. The program is broadcast statewide using distance technology. Pre-registration is available online at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt or call 309-543-3308309-543-3308
March 7, 2014
Master Gardener training this week is all about fruit. We get many calls this time of year concerning fruit trees. Questions include how to prune for good fruit production, when and what to spray for proper pest management, and why trees fail to bear. Fruit trees are a great asset to the home garden, but they do require some homework. Proper planting, pruning, fertilizing, and fruit-thinning are essential for fruit production and are important pest management practices as well.
The proper way to prune (and train) a fruit tree really depends on the tree itself. Typically we prune fruit trees annually to keep them short and open. For semi-dwarf apple and pear, a standard central leader system is recommended compared to an open center system used on peach and nectarine trees. It is imperative to start proper pruning and training in the tree's first year. Reviving old fruit trees is very difficult, if not sometimes impossible. Well-pruned trees are less susceptible to several diseases and are easier to spray.
Many different pests attack tree fruits. The best way to control pests is to start by planting the right tree. Researchers and breeders have developed many cultivars with disease resistance to fruit tree diseases such as apple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apply rust, and fire blight.
Although organic production is more and more common, we still get a number of questions each year about how to spray home orchards for pests. Most homeowners prefer to use a multipurpose fruit spray. These mixes usually contain one or two insecticides, one or two fungicides, and rarely a miticide. Alternative insecticides that are approved for use on fruits in organic production and are available to homeowners include insecticidal soap and Bt product.
I am often asked why a tree will not bear. There are several things that influence tree fruit production, but the four major factors are the normal bearing age for that variety, tree health, climate, and pollination. Dwarf trees typically bear in 2-4 years compared to 3-5 years for most standards. Tree health is necessary to promote good fruiting. Weak or diseased trees produce poor quality fruit or no fruit at all. Climate and weather play a big role. Resistance to cold temperatures varies among types of fruits. The most sensitive are apricots and sweet cherries, followed by peaches, the moderately sensitive plums, pears, and sour cherries, and the hardy apples.
Key to fruit production is an understanding of how the tree pollinates. Some trees must be pollinated by another tree to produce fruit. Check the tree tag or catalog carefully when buying fruit trees to be sure you have the proper "mix".
For additional questions, our Master Gardener Plant Detectives and Extension staff are armed and ready to "Help Others Learn to Grow." Contact us at email@example.com, www.facebook.com/ILRiverHort, or call the Garden Helpline at (309) 685-3140(309) 685-3140 Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
March 7, 2014
Many people consider getting plants established in shady areas of the yard as a challenge. Fortunately, this does not have to be true. There are many options available to gardeners for shady areas. Want to learn more?
I will present Create a Shady Garden Respite at this year's Gardeners' Big Day, March 29th at Dickson Mounds Museum. In this program I cover both the art and science of gardening in the shade. I discuss how to garden in the shade and give a variety of plant options beyond the usual hosta and fern. You'll also learn other elements that are needed to round out a relaxing space that connects you with nature. For more information or to register, go to http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt or call 309-543-3308309-543-3308.
What kinds of plants are grown in the shade? The most common ones are hosta and ferns, but there are so many more.
Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) is a beautiful little groundcover that grows four to six inches tall. It does well in light conditions from full sun to full shade. Barren strawberry likes well-drained soil and actually does well in rock gardens and somewhat dry soils.
As the name suggests, Barren strawberry has a strawberry-like appearance with dry, inedible fruits. It has yellow flowers in late spring to early summer. Just like strawberries, it creeps and spreads by rhizomes. Each plant forms a mat that is 18 to 24 inches wide. The plant is semi-evergreen, so will remain green all year long.
Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) provides brilliant yellow flowers from early spring to early summer. I have a patch of this growing under my mature redbud tree at the side of my house. It is gorgeous. The plant thrives in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. It has gray-green foliage and is also semi-evergreen through the winter. Basket-of-gold mounds six to twelve inches tall. This plant is especially nice in a rock garden, wall, or front of a border.
Liriope or lilyturf is a grassy looking member of the lily family. It grows in mounds 12 to 18 inches tall and wide with clusters of white or purple flowers in summer. The plant does best in well-drained soil in the sun or shade. I saw this growing in huge masses in Savannah, Georgia's shaded town squares.
Liriope is also semi-evergreen, though the foliage is sometimes damaged with our icy, windy winters. It makes a great edging or low accent border plant. It also works well as a groundcover around trees or on slopes. The grassy texture doesn't go well with all other plants, however, so use it carefully.
Visit me at Gardeners' Big Day on March 29th to learn more!
March 7, 2014
Master Gardener training this week is all about vegetables. Trainees learn how to plan, plant, grow, harvest, and store vegetables. They also learn specifics about growing the various different types. After training they are prepared to answer questions about everything from asparagus to watermelon.
Tomatoes are the most popular home garden vegetable grown in America. We answer many questions each summer about tomatoes. There are literally hundreds of varieties of tomatoes available, making it difficult to choose which one to grow. Adding to that confusion are various symbols and terms describing the plants. Let me try to simplify several of these tomato terms.
Hybrid. Just like the name implies, a hybrid is a mix of different tomatoes. Plant breeders cross-pollinate plants, resulting in seeds that produce plants with some desirable trait. They are bred for disease resistance, color, taste, skin quality, shipping ease, and so on. Intentional breeding produces cultivars, while accidental crossings produce varieties. The terms are commonly used interchangeably.
Heirloom. More and more heirloom tomatoes are available each year. These are varieties that have been passed down through the years by saving seeds from fruits of non-hybrid varieties. Since tomatoes normally do not cross-pollinate, their seeds produce plants almost identical to the parent plant. These rarely have disease resistance, but do offer weird and tasty types. These are also known as open-pollinated plants.
Grafted Tomatoes. In recent years, an age-old technique called grafting has been used to create stronger, more productive, disease-resistant plants. Grafting involved blending two plants together physically, not through pollination and genetics. One plant becomes the roots (rootstock), while the other becomes the top (scion). Be sure you know if you have a grafted tomato plant because the graft union must remain above soil level in order to work.
Label Abbreviations. Tomato labels often have various abbreviations on them. These designate that the variety has some disease resistance trait: A for alternaria disease resistance, F-fusarium, N-nematodes, T-tobacco mosaic virus, and V-verticillum. This does not mean they are immune to the disease, but rather that they are less likely to get that disease.
Indeterminate or Determinate. These are the two types of tomatoes grown. Determinate tomatoes set fruit at the ends of their branches on terminal buds. Once buds are set they stop growing in height, so these plants need little or no staking and generally have a short harvest period. Indeterminate plants keep growing, setting fruit on lateral buds along the stem. These can grow quite tall, are usually staked, and keep producing fruit throughout the growing season.
Consider trying a new tomato variety this summer. Now is the perfect time to start tomato seeds indoors for planting outdoors in early May. Starting your own seeds provides a larger selection to choice from, instead of being limited to only what retailers have available.