Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/rss.xml Citizen scientists observe spring blooms by Alicia Hallal http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13297/ Sun, 22 Apr 2018 14:29:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13297/ cherry blossoms

URBANA, Ill. - Watching for the first blooms of spring has always been one of the most highly anticipated activities for nature and plant lovers. But keeping records of events in nature such as bloom time is actually an important scientific endeavor, says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Alicia Kallal.

This record keeping aids the study of the timing of biological events, known as phenology, such as flowering or migration, in relation to seasonal or climate changes.

"While phenology is one of the oldest environmental sciences that humans have studied, recent interest in understanding how plants and animals are responding to changes in our climate and weather patterns has reinvigorated this branch of science," says Kallal.

One of the most prominent American figures to study phenology was Aldo Leopold (1887-1948). His collection of essays on phenology, conservation, and land ethics, "A Sand County Almanac," was published after his death in 1949.

His writings beautifully illustrate the importance of keeping records of the events in nature to expand our understanding of the plants, animals, and ecosystems that surround us.

Another even earlier figure in the history of plant phenology was Robert Marsham (1708-1797).

Marsham was a wealthy land owner in England, who in 1736, began meticulously recording seasonal weather changes, tree foliation, bird migration, first sightings of butterflies and swallows, and flowering dates of several plant species.

Each year, until his death in 1797, he tracked the same phenological events.

He reported this work to The Royal Society of London in 1789 as his 27 "Indications of Spring."

"Marsham can be considered one of the first citizen scientists in history," Kallal says. "Citizen science projects allow average people to make observations in nature, as Marsham did, and report their observations to a larger network that will make their data available to researchers and the general public."

One example of a flourishing, modern-day citizen science network is Project BudBurst.

Project BudBurst began its mission in 2007 at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The goal of the project was to get people involved in nature and environmental science by having them observe the seasonal life events of plants.

Now participants across the country are making careful observations of the timing of important plant life stages throughout the year and reporting their data to Project BudBurst.

These life stages, called phenophases, include leafing out, flowering, and fruit set.

Participants can choose to make single observations to report the stage of a plant on a particular date, or observe a specific plant for multiple seasons to report when it goes through each phenophase.

Choosing plants to observe is easy; the site has a list of over 250 plants that can be sorted by the state you live in or by plant category, such as a grass, wildflower, or deciduous tree.

The list includes common species such as maple trees, dandelions, and forsythias, as well as native plants like little bluestem and red columbine.

"Project BudBurst is a very accessible way to get involved in citizen science," Kallal says. "It is great for individuals or classes of school children. The site has wonderful resources for educators that want to get youth outside and give them the experience of making scientific observations."

To learn more about Project BudBurst at their website.

"If you are concerned about invasive plants, and plant phenology has piqued your interest, you may also consider contributing observations to the Illinois Invasive Plant Phenology Report," Kallal adds.

The University of Illinois Extension Forestry Program relies on observations from volunteers to produce the monthly invasive plant phenology report. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer observer should contact Chris Evans, Extension forester at 618-695-3383 or cwevans@illinois.edu. Volunteers are asked to make monthly observations on three to four invasive species in their area.

To explore other citizen science projects in Illinois and across the nation, visit the University of Illinois Library's citizen science guide.

News Source: Alicia Kallal

Original article

Take a new look at dandelions http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13295/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:24:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13295/ Earth Day falls every year on April 22. I find that Earth Day is a great time to reflect on our world around us.

You might even try to look at a small piece of our world from a completely different viewpoint. Take dandelions, for example. To many people, the dandelion is a weedy pest that invades our lawns, but other people find many positive attributes in the plant.

Kids love dandelions and enjoy collecting masses of blooms to give to their mothers. As a mother, I equally enjoy receiving the clumps of yellow blooms. My sons Derek and Tyler routinely gave me dandelions, and I loved every one. They don't last long, but the thought is what really matters.

Kids also love the seed heads that follow flowers. Who can't remember blowing dandelions and watching them float on the breeze?

Dandelions have several uses, including culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and commercial. For at least 1,000 years, the dandelion has been in constant use as both a food and medicine. Like so many plants, its origins were in the Mediterranean regions of Europe and Asia Minor.

History shows that the dandelion came to this country for its culinary uses. There are even books that detail how to grow this "new" crop. "About four pounds of seed to the acre should be allowed, sown in drills, one foot apart. The yield should be four or five tons of fresh roots to the acre in the second year."

Today dandelions are used commercially in the United States. All parts of the dandelion are edible. Large quantities of the plant's leaves are used as fresh spring greens in many ethnic grocery stores and supermarkets.

Dandelion roots are domestically grown for use in patent medicines, and more than 100,000 pounds are imported annually to fulfill the pharmaceutical needs.

In addition to the leaves, dandelions are cooked as a potherb or infused as a tea. One source said that it's the dandelion flowers that pack a wallop. Yes, the flowers are also edible. My grandma used to fry them like mushrooms in the early spring, and I enjoyed eating them.

So look at the dandelion differently on Earth Day. You might even celebrate the day with a salad of dandelion greens followed by fried flower heads and a glass of dandelion wine.

Supposedly the best dandelions are found where no lawnmower has touched them. But, it is of utmost importance to look for a lawn without chemical applications, if you plan to eat it.

Backyard grapes for Illinois by Bruce Black http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13279/ Sun, 15 Apr 2018 10:26:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13279/ grapes

URBANA, Ill. – Grape vines are a beautiful feature for your landscape that provide both aesthetic and edible benefits, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Fresh-picked-from-the-vine grapes are delicious," says Bruce J. Black. "The work you put into growing your grapes definitely pays off during harvest."

Grapes can be grown in Illinois if you choose a variety that is hardy enough to survive the cold winter temperatures. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Hardiness Zone Map, Illinois has spans zones 5a through 6b. In addition to selecting for cold hardiness, select varieties for flavor, sugar content, use, maturity, and disease resistance. "This could be difficult if you are set on a certain cultivar taste, such as a French variety," Black says.

Two categories of grapes are cold hardy for Illinois: American and French-American varieties. American varieties (Concord, Catawba, Niagara, etc.) have the most cold hardiness and better disease resistance than French-American or French varieties. French-American varieties (Edelweiss, Frontenac, St. Croix, etc.) are French varieties of grapes on American rootstocks. American rootstocks allow for increased disease resistance and increased cold hardiness.

Begin your preparations for the soil the year before by removing sod and cultivating the soil in a full-sun location. Test the soil to make sure that the pH is 5.5 to 6.5 with 2 to 3 percent organic matter. After soil preparation is complete, begin building your trellis. Many variations of trellises are available, and the type you choose can depend on your cultivar. Grapes need to be spaced 8 feet apart in the row and rows should be at least 10 feet apart. At planting, secure plants to the trellis wire and wrap them with chicken wire to prevent deer from eating the leaves.

Pruning is key to well-developed grape clusters. Prune grape vines after the first year of growth, generally between February and early March, while it's still cold but before buds swell. Sunlight exposure to the core of the grapevine helps to produce sugars and allows airflow to prevent disease. On average, pruning should remove 80 to 90 percent of the previous year's growth.

"This helps to eliminate dead or dying parts of the plant that could be a source of disease," Black says. "Removal of this much of the plant can be alarming for some gardeners, but we are removing a lot of foliage annually to help provide a strong and lasting trunk for longer productivity through the years.

"The first five years of establishment are critical for a long, productive life for your grapevines," Black says.

For more information on grape varieties and production, check out the University of Illinois Extension's Small Fruit Crops for The Backyard or University of Minnesota Extension's How to Train Young Grape Vines.

News Source: Bruce J. Black
Original Article

Gardening in April http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13278/ Fri, 13 Apr 2018 10:24:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13278/ Spring has sprung, and it is time to get out in the garden. The average last frost date for central Illinois is mid-April. Therefore I wait until about Mother's Day before planting tender plants such as impatiens, basil, tomatoes, and tropicals. Even though I can't plant most of the tender plants yet, there is still a lot to do.


  • Measure the rainfall with a rain gauge posted near the garden so you can tell when to water. The garden needs about one inch of rain per week from April to September.
  • Add compost to the garden. If needed, till garden when the soil is dry enough.
  • Continue spring lawn and garden clean up.

LANDSCAPE (Lawns, trees, shrubs, and flowers)Lawn

  • The last Friday in April is National Arbor Day. Plant a tree, or support an organization that does.
  • Lawn: Consider replacing some lawn areas with groundcovers. Mow lawn to 2-3 inches removing no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at any one mowing. Establish or renovate turf with seed or sod, if needed. If appropriate, apply a pre-emergence herbicide to control crabgrass when forsythia begins to bloom. Read and follow all label directions.
  • Flowers: Scatter annual poppy seeds in flower borders without covering for early summer flowers. To extend the blooming period of gladiolus, plant early, middle and late season selections each week until the middle of June. Plant pansies and hardy annuals. Begin planting and dividing most perennials except bearded iris and peony. Cut down ornamental and native grasses to the ground before growth starts. Finish pulling back protective winter mulch from around perennials and roses.
  • Woodies: Examine trees and shrubs for winter injury and prune as needed. Prune spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia soon after bloom. For multi-stem plants, use renewal pruning by removing oldest stems at soil level. Prune summer and fall blooming clematis. Fertilize trees if not done in fall and if soil test or reduced growth indicates the need. Continue planting trees and shrubs, and consider using native plants.

GARDEN (Vegetables, fruits, and herbs)

  • Plant bare root plants before they leaf out, soak plants in warm water for 2 hours before planting.
  • Plant seeds of frost tolerant plants such as spinach, lettuce, carrot, beet, chard, parsnip and radish.
  • Continue planting or dividing rhubarb and asparagus.
  • Continue planting fruit trees, grapes, and brambles such as raspberry and blackberry.
  • Plant strawberries. Pinch off first-year flowers to encourage strong root systems.
View all of my garden tips by the month on my Garden Calendar, available for as a free pdf-format download.]]>
Community Garden Webinar Series New Available http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13299/ Mon, 09 Apr 2018 15:11:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13299/ There is a good amount of planning that needs to go into creating a successful community garden. To help people and organizations build and maintain productive community gardens University of Illinois Extension created the Community Garden Webinar Series. This series takes users through a variety of modules discussing the different steps that can be taken to develop a successful community garden.

Community gardens are started for a variety of reasons and provide numerous benefits to a community. They provide food to locations suffering from food insecurity, allow citizens to grow their food, beautify an abandoned lot, and much more. Research has shown that people who participate in community gardens eat more fruits and vegetables.

The Community Garden webinar series is broken up into six modules.

  • The first module goes through the steps needed to create a successful community garden.
  • The second module discusses how you can go about planning your garden and different techniques that are used to plant gardens.
  • The third module discusses different types of vegetables that are commonly grown in gardens and the basics on how to grow them.
  • The fourth module discusses how to successfully start plants indoors from seeds for use later in the garden.
  • The fifth module discusses basic community garden care, including watering, fertilizing, pest control considerations, and more.
  • The sixth and final module discusses gardening safety and some of the considerations needed to make sure community gardens are safe and enjoyable for all.

The webinar series is available to be viewed online at go.illinois.edu/communitygarden.

Source: Ken Johnson, 217-243-7424, kjohnso@illinois.edu]]>
Homemade herbicide considerations http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13264/ Sun, 08 Apr 2018 13:21:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13264/ weed

URBANA, Ill. – Recipes for homemade weed killers abound on the internet. University of Illinois Extension specialist Michelle Wiesbrook explains why homemade is not always better.

"It's important to keep in mind that anyone can post anything and make it look believable," Wiesbrook says. "All the author needs is a recipe using easy-to-access ingredients, an adjective like 'amazing' or 'best,' and a pretty picture to draw attention to it. These little DIY gems spread like wildfire on social media."

Popular mixes tend to include one or more of these main ingredients: vinegar, boiling water, bleach, baking soda, alcohol, salt, dish soap, and borax. We tend to associate a certain comfort level with these products. After all, they can often be found around the home and some of them are even edible!

Unfortunately, the disadvantages of these home remedies often outweigh the advantages. These products don't contain labels with safety or rate information, and yet they can still be hazardous to your health.

Let's start with vinegar. Vinegar can be effective for weed control, but only if it is a strong enough grade, which the bottle in your kitchen likely isn't. Vinegar contains acetic acid that in concentrations over 11 percent can cause burns if it gets on your skin and permanent corneal injury if it comes in contact with your eyes. This is why reading and following the label is so important. There are now registered herbicidal vinegar products you can buy that have use and safety information on their label.

What about borax? Although borax may sound like a "natural" weed-control method, it is important to remember that it can still be harmful to children and pets and mixtures should be kept out of their reach.

"Registered pesticides that have been studied extensively come with labels that tell you how to protect yourself and others," Wiesbrook points out. "The borax box only tells you how to wash your clothes."

A problem with using borax is that the chemical it contains, boron, does not break down or dissipate like conventional weed killers do, so repeated or excessive applications can result in bare areas where no vegetation can grow. Similarly, salt, which is sometimes used for long-term weed control, destroys the soil structure and is mobile, meaning it can migrate to nearby areas in your garden, resulting in unwanted plant damage.

Some homemade weed-killer ingredients can have a lasting effect on the soil making it so that nothing will grow there for a long time. Depending on the area and what you are trying to accomplish, that may not sound so bad. Yet, conventional herbicides are made to break down or dissipate in a timely fashion. While it is frustrating to see new weeds grow back, it's reassuring to know the soil is still healthy enough to promote growth.

On the other hand, one other important disadvantage of some homemade weed controls is that they often work only temporarily or only partially affect the top growth. Take boiling water, for example. Pouring it on green leaves would mean certain death, but the roots underground are still protected.

"If your weed is a perennial or if it has a deep taproot, you can bet it will grow back," Weisbrook says. "Plus, how safe is it to carry big pans of boiling water out the door to your garden? Everything has a risk, and furthermore everything can be toxic or dangerous—even water."

Some claim that their recipes or methods are more effective or longer lasting than registered herbicides. What about their environmental impact? Are these products mobile in the soil? Will they end up in the groundwater? Have they been tested for this use? Would U.S. EPA approve these weed control methods? If not, would they insist the contaminated soil be removed?

Finally, money savings is often what drives the use of these mixtures. But how much are you really saving? When calculating this, be sure to factor in your personal safety, any potential environmental damage, and the expected length of control. Don't cut corners when it comes to these important factors—even if the recipe does sound "amazing."

Original Article

Purchasing Trees and Shrubs http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13262/ Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:11:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13262/ It's that time of year when trees and shrubs begin popping up at retail sales areas throughout Illinois. Here are some tips to consider as you plan your new woody plant purchases.

The most important choice is what type of plant to buy. Consider many factors when making this choice, as it is critical. Consider shade versus sun, soil conditions, insect and disease resistance, seasonal features, and more. Be sure its mature size will fit the space. These websites will help in selecting the right plant for the right place: http://extension.illinois.edu/ShrubSelector and http://extension.illinois.edu/treeselector.

Beyond this, consumers must also decide which market form or plant package to purchase. Trees and shrubs are available as bareroot, balled and burlapped, container-grown, packaged, and mechanically transplanted plants.

The most commonly sold plants are container-grown in a pot or some other type of container. Retailers like these plants because they facilitate cash and carry sales and are cleaner to transport. They are also easier to plant and care for. Because they were grown in the container, these plants have their entire root system present. Beware of root-bound container plants, especially those with roots that circle around the inside of the container. Roots that circle could cause major damage to plants later in life.

Bareroot plants do not have soil around their root system but are usually wrapped in moist sawdust or peatmoss. Packaged plants, such as roses, are often bareroot too. These plants are sold in dormant form, without leaves, in early spring. Before purchasing bareroot plants, inspect them to make sure that their stems and roots have normal color and texture. Beware of plants that have either soft, mushy roots or roots that have a gray mold growing on them.

Balled and burlapped plants are the traditional market form of woody plants. This method of plant packaging involves the digging of a plant with a ball of soil around the plant's root system. The soil is held in place by a piece of burlap and sometimes a wire cage. It is important to remove any twine around the tree trunk before planting these plants! This is a good way to move large plants.

Mechanically transplanted trees allow movement of very large trees directly into the homeowner's yard using a tree spade. Although more expensive, this method provides consumers with the opportunity for larger trees and thus "instant" landscapes.

Buy and plant a tree this year. It will provide you and future generations with years of enjoyment!