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 Birding Equipment…how to use binoculars http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13111/ Sun, 07 Jan 2018 15:22:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13111/ We are enjoying watching the birds at our feeder this winter. They add action and color to an otherwise static winter scene.

Bird watching is a popular hobby in America. According to a 2016 US Fish and Wildlife Service survey, more than 45 million people watch birds around their homes and away from home. If you aren't already, you too can be a birder. All you need is the will and some basic equipment.

Most people use binoculars to bird. The most common ones that I see are 7 x 35. The first number signifies magnification and the second number gives the size of the lens in millimeters. A bigger ratio of magnification to lens size gives a sharper image. Therefore an 8 x 42 is sharper than an 8 x 32; however, the 8 x 42 is larger and more bulky to carry.

Regardless of the type of binoculars you have, you need to know how to use them. Binoculars need to be calibrated for each user, using the single adjustable eyepiece knob. Everyone's eyes are different, so they must be calibrated for your eyes. Once you know your number, it will never change. For my binoculars, I use the 2+ setting, while my husband's setting is different.

Adjust the binoculars to fit your eye width using the center hinge. If you wear glasses, roll the rubber edge down or twist each eyepiece all the way inward. Those without glasses need that extra space left alone. Finally, rotate the center wheel to focus both eyes on the subject in view.

If you are serious about birding, you might also consider getting a spotting scope. Spotting scopes work from a farther distance away and often require a tripod for stability. Scopes magnify a subject 20x to 80x, compared to the 7x or 8x on most binoculars.

Birders typically carry a notebook to record their findings. Some also use their smartphone or tablet to play bird calls and look up identification characteristics.

One of my favorite birding websites is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at www.birds.cornell.edu. There you'll find directions on calibrating your binoculars and downloadable birding checklists for your location. Start building your bird life list today.

Birding from the comfort of your home is a fun winter activity. I recently produced a YouTube video on bird feed types and tips. I talk about how adding variety to your bird feeders attracts a wider variety of birds. Learn about types of seed and feeders that you can use in your yard. All of my YouTube videos are available at go.illinois.edu/ILRiverHortvideos.

New Year's Day Rose Parades of the Past http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13047/ Sun, 31 Dec 2017 14:41:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13047/ As most of my readers know, one of my favorite activities of the year is watching the New Year's Day Rose Parade. Every year I am amazed by the amount of work that goes into creating the floats using only natural materials.

I've been writing about various plants in the rose parade floats since 2002, and this year I'm pulling some of my favorite excerpts from those articles. My first article in 2002 was all about orchids. I especially liked the use of orchids to create flowering trees. For example, the City of Duarte, California float called "America – Let's Celebrate" had lush trees of pink roses, gerbera daisies, and lavender Dendrobium orchids. Other floats had trees with yellow or white orchids.

Orchids were on almost every float.

2003 highlighted the Hawaiian Ti plant. The Ti plant is special to me because my Grandma Simmons had them. Ti plants were used on many floats that year, but I especially liked its use on the Automobile Club of Southern California's "A Big Adventure," starring Stuart Little. For those who haven't seen the Stuart Little 2 movie, in it the little mouse flies an airplane through New York City. On the float Stuart Little's plane was decorated in yellow strawflower and carnation petals with accents of red Ti leaves. Stuart's jacket was made of maroon Ti leaves.

In 2005, my favorite float was from FTD and was appropriately called "Garden of Dreams." The float featured fairies dancing among giant lily of the valley blooms. I love lily of the valley! It showcased the widest selection of springtime flowers ever used in the Rose Parade, at that time. In addition to 12 varieties of roses, there were tulips, daffodils, iris, tuberose, forsythia, lily of the valley, calla lilies, hydrangea, peony, delphinium, alstroemeria, snapdragons, bouvardia, freesia, nerine lily, viburnum and larkspur. Wow!

My favorite float in 2006 was by Farmers Insurance Group called "Protecting Your Family." It featured a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex and her baby in phenomenal detail. They used pinecones to recreate the dinosaur's scales. Anthuriums were used for their tongues. Bromeliads created the forest floor. They even used pomegranate halves for added effect here and there.

Of course roses are always prevalent in this parade. In 2007 roses were on almost every float. The Bayer Advanced float, titled "The Red Carpet of Roses", featured fifty varieties of roses, including a debut of the All-America Rose Selections' 2007 winners for best roses of the year — Rainbow Knock Out®, Moondance™ and Strike it Rich™. The Santa Fe Springs float, "Our Hometown", included six foot tall roses. It also used roses to look like cascading bougainvillea.

Vegetable were a favorite in 2013, especially Kaiser Permanente for its use of purple cabbage all around a float's lower edge. Titled "Oh the Healthy Things You Can Do," this float used the Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Thing Two to get people energized and moving. What fun!

Someday I'll make it to see the parade in person. It's a top item on my bucket list!

YouTube Videos Show How to Care for Houseplants http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12198/ Tue, 26 Dec 2017 11:36:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_12198/ Houseplants add life and beauty to a home. My new YouTube videos provide simple tips on houseplant care.

After watching these short videos, even those with "brown garden thumbs" will know how to have healthy houseplants throughout their home.

Over watering house plants is very common. Watering Houseplants teaches you how to know when to water and how much to water your house plants.

Selecting the correct pot and correctly handling the plant and roots are critical aspects of repotting houseplants. I demonstrateRepotting Houseplants from her home gardening work center.

Moving Houseplants Indoors shows how to clean and groom houseplants.

My latest video spotlights African Violets. She provides tips to keep them flowering and looking their best.

My horticulture YouTube channel extends my gardening education into another realm of social media. Predictions are that video content in various formats will be the hottest social media in 2018.

View these videos at http://go.illinois.edu/ILRiverHortvideos. You'll also find current garden news on my ILRiverHort Facebook and Twitter pages.

Holiday Cones http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13046/ Fri, 22 Dec 2017 14:22:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13046/ Each year the Fulton and Mason County Master Gardeners hold a greenery workshop during their last meeting of the year. Attendees bring greenery and other decorations to use in their arrangements. I brought boughs of pine, cedar, and bayberry and pinecones, ribbon, and lights for decorations. This year I was fortunate to have my sister Lynn Miller and Mom Doris Simmons join me. They brought hemlock branches full of cones. It's fun to see all the different types of cones.

Cones are the seeds of conifer plants that keep their needles all year. All conifers have seed-bearing cones. Although many people call all cones "pinecones," pine cones are only on pine trees. Other types include hemlock cones, spruce cones, fir cones, and cypress cones.

The hemlock branches that my mom brought were full of cute little cones. These were a big hit at this year's workshop. The hemlock tree has some of the smallest cones of the evergreens. Hemlock cones are ½ inch around and come in chestnut brown to a dark brown/grayish color. Hemlock cones are beautiful, sturdy little cones that some people say look like a little rose.

The most commonly used cone is a pine cone. Mature cones on an eastern white pine are six to eight inches long by 2 inches wide. They are light brown with white tips on each cone scale. In the east, these cones sometimes grow much larger and are sold as giant eastern white pine cones.

The true giant cones typically come from Florida. Some of these mammoth beauties are up to 11 inches long and 16 inches around the base. They come in random colors of brown, gray or red and some have green tips.

For a small round pine cone, use those from the Scots pine (also called scotch pine). These are one to two inches tall by one inch in diameter. Pine cones' colors vary from blonde to brown with red or gray tints. Scots cones have a small pyramid prickle and a rounded bottom. Even smaller are the cones from a mugo pine that are only one inch by one inch when mature.

For a longer, cigar-shaped cone find a Spruce tree. The Norway spruce produces the largest spruce cone at three to six inches long. The Colorado blue spruce cone is two to four inches long and has a softer, lighter appearance.

If you prefer a fancy cone, try the Douglas fir cone. The Douglas fir is not a true fir but is a relative of the hemlock family. The Douglas fir cones are 2-4 inches long and are very lightweight, with delicate, papery scales that also have distinctive 3-pointed bracts resembling the tail and hind feet of a mouse. The color of Douglas fir cones ranges from a gray-brown to rust.

Sugar-n-Spice and Everything Nice http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13024/ Sun, 17 Dec 2017 13:37:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13024/ Sugar and spice make everything nice, especially Christmas cookies. But, do you know where your sugar and spice come from?

The sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane. Worldwide, 70 percent of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas. In a tropical setting like Hawaii and Jamaica, it grows in fields and looks similar to corn.

To get sugar from sugarcane, the cane is pressed to extract the juice, then boiled, and spun to produce raw sugar and syrup (molasses). The raw sugar is then sent to a refinery where it is washed and filtered to remove remaining non-sugar ingredients and color. It is then crystallized, dried and packaged into refined (or granulated) sugar.

Most of the sugar we eat here probably came from sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop resembling a large parsnip grown mostly in the temperate zones of the north. Beet sugar processing is similar to sugarcane, but it is done in one continuous process without the raw sugar stage. The sugar beets are washed, sliced, and soaked in hot water to separate the sugar-containing juice from the beet fiber. The sugar-laden juice is purified, filtered, concentrated and dried in a series of steps similar to cane sugar processing.

Most of our spices are native to the tropics, and many come from trees. If you've ever been on a trip to the Caribbean, you've probably seen the plants that produce our allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Allspice, grown on the pimento tree (Pimenta dioica), is a dried berry native to Jamaica that tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of tropical cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). These are small trees that grow about 30 feet tall that are native to southwest India.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) trees are the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices, obtained from different parts of the plant. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree's fruit, and mace is the seed's veil-like covering.

Ginger is an herbaceous perennial plant with a beautiful flower. It has a knobby, bumpy root with a peppery yet slightly sweet flavor. The tropical spice ginger (Zingiber officinale) is different from our native ginger (Asarum canadense).

The next time you eat "sugar and spice and everything nice," think of our tropical friends that produce these crops.

Grow Your Own Birdseed http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13025/ Sat, 16 Dec 2017 13:45:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13025/ Feeding and watching birds has become one of America's favorite pastimes. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, nearly half the households in the United States provide food for wild birds.

The most commonly used birdseed are sunflower seeds, with black-oil sunflower seeds being the most popular. It's small size and thin shell make it easier for small birds to eat. Striped sunflower seeds are larger with thicker shells. Sunflower (Helianthus sp.) are easy plants to grow and come in various colors and heights.

All sunflower shells contain allelopathic toxins that prevent other seeds from germinating. This is partly why the ground beneath a feeder is often bare when feeding sunflower seeds. If this is a problem, consider feeding sunflower hearts instead. The hearts are expensive but contain no shell.

Safflower seeds look similar to sunflower seeds but have a very tough shell that only larger birds can crack. They are the seeds of the annual safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius). This herbaceous, thistle-like plant is also grown commercially to produce vegetable oil.

To attract finches, use a tube hanging feeder filled with black nyjer seed. Although sometimes also called thistle or niger, the nyjer seed sold today is not a thistle at all. Rather, it is a daisy-like plant, known as Guizotia abyssinica. Nyjer is an annual flower with bright, yellow-orange flower heads that turn into seed pods. You can grow your own by starting the seed indoors or planting seed directly in the ground after all danger of frost is gone. Similar to sunflowers, you can harvest the seed or leave the plants for birds to feed on all winter.

Cereal grains are used alone or as filler in birdseed mixes. They include dried whole kernel corn, cracked corn, millet, and milo. Millet or milo are the little round seeds often found in mixes. Millet comes from a Pennisetum plant, while milo is a type of grain sorghum. Both are available as ornamental plants with attractive colored leaves and seeds. Purple Majesty (Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty') is a cultivar of pearl millet with dark purple foliage and stems, and stunning purple-brown seeds that are a favorite of many birds. Ornamental sorghums are available in earth-tone colored seed heads and grow seven to twelve feet tall.

Like picky kids, birds have different food preferences. Hands down, black-oil sunflower seeds are the most popular food among a large variety of birds. Cardinals love safflower. Juncos and sparrows go wild for white proso millet; goldfinches can't resist nyjer seed, and chickadees and titmice will delightfully indulge themselves with peanuts. In a nutshell, the key to successfully attracting birds to your backyard is to add variety.

2018 Garden Calendar Available http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13048/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:49:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_13048/ My 2018 Garden Calendar is now available. It provides garden tips, a calendar of events, and a picture each month spotlighting University of Illinois Extension volunteers and programs.

New this year are hyperlinks to information on various topics in the monthly tips. Just click on the underlined-blue links while viewing the electronic copy and it will take you to the connecting ILRiverHort blog, Pinterest pin, or YouTube video.

January displays Master Gardeners (MGs) from Fulton & Mason Counties learning more about irises at MG Margaret Kelly's iris garden. A tip and corresponding hyperlink explain how to plant an indoor edible garden.

February features the Peoria MGs providing gardening information at the Spring Home Show held at the Peoria Civic Center. Next year's show is February 23-25. Learn how to test the viability of last year's leftover seed in a Pinterest link.

April's photo reveals Fulton County MGs hosing a miniature garden program. A linked chart shows planting times for garden vegetables. April is the time for frost tolerant plants, such as spinach, lettuce, and radishes.

June shows Tazewell County MGs having fun while they teach about gardening during their annual Plant Bingo Event. Next year's event is June 7 at a new venue in E. Peoria. Instagram users can link to a video on proper mowing heights for healthier lawns.

July pictures Mason County Junior Master Gardeners harvesting potatoes grown in straw bales. All fair dates are listed, as well as a link on how to reduce mosquitos in your yard.

October illustrates Horticulture Educator Kari Houle teaching tree identification to this fall's Master Gardener trainees. Our 2018 MG training will begin in April or May. Fall is the time to plant garlic.

November has a picture of Master Gardener trainees with Master Naturalists during one of their combined classes this fall. Master Naturalist training will be in June next year. Tips and links discuss spring flowering bulbs and tool care.

My entire garden calendar is available as a free pdf-format download at HERE.