Extension Educator, Horticulture
Extension Educator, Small Farms and Local Food Systems
November 24, 2013
URBANA – Poinsettias represent 80 percent of all potted plant sales in the United States during the holiday season, said University of Illinois Extension educator Ron Wolford.
"There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today," Wolford said. "They come in a myriad of colors like red, white, pink and burgundy. Keeping your poinsettias healthy during the holiday season in the dry indoor environments in many homes can be a challenge."
Wolford offers a few tips for keeping poinsettias healthy.
"Research at the Ohio State University has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous," Wolford noted. "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."
November 24, 2013
URBANA-- Christmas trees come in different varieties. Knowing the differences can make the selection process easier, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"Some of the most commonly sold varieties of Christmas trees are balsam fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine, and white pine," said Ron Wolford. "Each type has unique tree needle retention, color, and fragrance."
Wolford provided the following information about Christmas tree varieties.
Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) has short, flat, long-lasting needles that are rounded at the tip and are a nice, dark green color with a silvery cast and fragrance. It is named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides. It was once sold like chewing gum and was used to treat wounds in the Civil War.
Canaan Fir (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis) has soft, short, bluish to dark green needles that turn to silver on the underside. Its strong branches and open growing pattern provide good needle retention and fragrance.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) has good fragrance and blue to dark green needles that have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Its branches are spreading and drooping, and it has a good conical shape. After being cut, the Douglas fir will last 3 to 4 weeks. Named after David Douglas, who studied the tree in the 1800s, it can live for 1,000 years.
Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) has dark green, flattened needles; good needle retention; and a nice scent. It is pyramid shaped with strong branches that turn upward. The Fraser fir was named for botanist John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700s.
Grand Fir (Adies grandis) has shiny, dark green needles. When crushed, the needles give off a citrusy smell. Grand fir will last 3 to 4 weeks after being cut.
Noble Fir (Abies procera) has blue-green needles with a silvery appearance. Its short, stiff branches are good for heavier ornaments. It keeps well and is used to make wreaths, door swags, and garlands. With good care, the tree will last for 6 weeks after being cut.
Concolor Fir (Abies concolor) has blue-green needles, a citrus scent, and good needle retention. In nature, the concolor fir can live up to 350 years.
Austrian Fir (Pinus nigra) has dark green needles that are 4 to 6 inches long and a moderate fragrance. It retains needles well.
Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) is big and bushy with dark green needles 4 to 6 inches long.
Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the most common Christmas tree variety. It has stiff, dark green needles that are 1 inch long and stiff branches that hold heavy ornaments well. It holds needles for 4 weeks; the needles will stay on even when it is dry. Its open structure offers more room for ornaments and it keeps aroma throughout the season. Scotch Pine was introduced into the United States by European settlers.
Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) has dark green needles 1½ to 3 inches long in twisted pairs and a strong aromatic pine scent. Its strong branches enable it to hold heavy ornaments. It is a popular southern Christmas tree.
White Pine (Pinus strobus) has soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five. It has a very full appearance and retains needles throughout the holiday season. Because it has little or no fragrance, it is less likely than more fragrant trees to provoke allergic reactions. Its slender branches support fewer and smaller decorations than some other types of trees. It is the largest pine tree in the United States and the state tree of Michigan and Maine.
Black Hills Spruce (Pinus glauca var.densata) has green to blue-green needles. Small children might find the stiff needles difficult to handle.
Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) is dark green to powdery blue and has a symmetrical shape. It will drop needles in a warm room but is the best species for needle retention. Branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. The blue spruce is the state tree of Utah and Colorado and can live in nature 600 to 800 years.
Norway Spruce (Picea abies) has shiny, dark green needles ½ to 1 inch long, a strong fragrance, and a nice conical shape. Without proper care, needle retention is poor. The Norway spruce is very popular in Europe.
White Spruce (Picea glauca) has needles ½ to ¾ inch long that are green to blue-green, short, and stiff. Needle retention is good, but crushed needles have an unpleasant odor. The white spruce is the state tree of South Dakota.
For more information, visit www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/trees.
November 24, 2013
Tree damage is just part of the devastation that severe storms afflicted throughout Illinois. It is important to use proper pruning techniques to help restore these plants' beauty and health, as well as to protect the safety of the home area and workers. University of Illinois Extension Educator Rhonda Ferree suggests the following procedures.
"Tree damage, unless it's a hazard or liability, isn't critical now." Most of tree repair work can be done later this winter, and winter is the best time to prune most woody plants anyway.
If a tree has been severely damaged, it may not be especially attractive for a few years, but proper pruning can help extend its life, and eventually, its beauty. Remove damaged limbs as promptly as possible to prevent possible personal injury and also to help prevent insect and disease problems from developing on the trees. When doing repair or routine pruning, make the cuts back to the nearest desirable limb or to the branch bark ridge on the trunk. Do not leave stubs of limbs showing after the pruning. Such stubs are good "conduits" to start wood decay and increased insect activity, especially if ragged and torn.
Also, do not "top" trees to remove damaged branches. Use judicious selection and proper pruning methods on only the limbs that need repair. "Topping", or simply trimming off the ends of the branches at the top or sides of the tree, often results in a very unattractive tree with a flush of weak branches sprouting from the pruning cut, called a "witches broom". Such branches are usually weak and have narrow branching angles, which can lead to further breakage. Topping also may not repair the damaged parts of the tree.
For the first year or so after the damage, the tree may produce many unbalanced branches. Remove the weaker or undesirable limbs as they appear. The storm damage and pruning can cause a severe "shock" to the tree. Routine annual pruning should be done when most trees are dormant, but repair pruning needs to be done as soon as feasible.
Professionals may be needed to do the work, especially on large trees. Following storms, some contractors may approach homeowners to do repair work on trees. Homeowners should remember these tips on proper pruning when approached by contractors. Be sure to ask about their pruning and clean-up techniques, experience, insurance, local references and other pertinent information. If possible, soliciting several bids may be appropriate on larger jobs. Find a certified arborist at www.illinoisarborist.org.
For more information on care of storm damaged trees and general pruning guidelines, check out these on-line fact sheets:
Iowa State Extension: Managing Storm Damaged Trees http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/SUL6.pdf
Minnesota DNR: Storm damaged trees repair & replacement checklist http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/treecare/maintenance/stormdamage.html
Iowa St. Extension: Pruning Trees: Shade, Flowering and Conifer http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/SUL5.pdf
University of Illinois Extension: Selecting Trees for Your Home http://urbanext.illinois.edu/treeselector/
University of Illinois Extension: Illinois Tree Selection http://urbanext.illinois.edu/treeselect/index.cfm
If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any event listed in this news release, contact your local Extension office.
University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.
Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer
November 24, 2013
Trees are tough and durable handling wind, rain, snow loads, drought, compaction and freezing. Depending on the species, they can be very adaptable to poor growing conditions. However, not all trees found in the garden center are ideal for growing in Central Illinois without additional care.
For instance, the primary issue that faces the University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardeners in the Plant Clinic is growing problems with evergreens. Evergreens when grown incorrectly or planted in the wrong location can have a multitude of problems, from browning, disease pressures and poor root health.
The primary issue is evergreens cannot go into the winter months dry. The issue evergreens face is drying out from the wind or sun. It's crucial that evergreens are kept watered until the ground freezes. Since evergreens do not drop their leaves like deciduous trees, they are still living and breathing throughout the winter and need to be able to uptake water as a result.
University of Illinois suggests watering evergreen and newly established trees at least 1 inch a week when it hasn't rained. Making sure evergreens go into the winter well watered will prevent future problems with these plants and trips to the Master Gardener Clinic. Evergreens that are stressed by drought are more susceptible to insects and disease and can turn brown.
Another issue that may affect trees in the winter months is sunscald, which occurs when sunlight heats up the south and southwest side of deciduous tree trunks. This causes cells to come out of dormancy and become active. As the temperatures drops, the active cells and conductive tissue are destroyed, causing injury that may appear later as sunken crack.
Sunscald can be managed by using commercial tree wraps, which are made of crepe paper and help to insulate the bark. In early November, wrap trunks upward from the base of the tree up to the lowest branches. This is typically done on the most recently planted trees until they become well-established. Be sure to remove tree wrap and tape the following April to avoid girdling, moisture buildup against the tree and places for insects to hide.
Winter feeding of rabbits and voles also may be of concern. Putting up a barrier, such as chicken wire or hardware cloth, is really the easiest and most environmental defense for trees. As Candice Miller, horticulture educator puts it, "preparing your trees for winter may be an additional amount of work, but the payoff of having a healthy tree next spring is definitely worth it."
November 24, 2013
This fall, Master Gardeners are collecting seed from California poppies, impatiens, larkspur, annual phlox, gaillardia, musk mallow, aster, bleeding heart and bachelor's buttons from Sarah's Garden at the David Davis Mansion Historic Site in Bloomington.
Without collecting seed each year, the Master Gardeners would be unable to maintain the 141-year-old garden's historic status. Letters let Master Gardeners and mansion staff know the kinds of plants grown in Sarah's garden, and entries revealed Sarah saved and started seed. Seed saved from Sarah's Garden is not only planted the next year or saved for three years in special vaults (well, McLean County Master Gardeners Kay Henrich's and Mary Jane Bohall' s refrigerators) but are sold in the mansion's gift shop. This year the powdery mildew on the zinnia prevented seed formation, forcing the Master Gardeners to dig into their vaults for next year's display.
When saving flower and garden seed from this season, you are selecting for the plants that do the best in your own backyard. These particular plants may be vigorous in your soil, have a larger blossom, bolder color, greater yield and improved flavor. For future seed-saving endeavors, here are a few tips:
-- Timing – Seed must be well-ripened to have enough energy to germinate. Seed should be collected from only the healthiest and most vigorous of plants on days with low humidity.
-- Seed process – If collecting from vegetables, harvest before fruit gets overripe and remove seed from pulp. Large seeds like squash, melon and cucumber should be washed and laid out to dry without allowing for reabsorption of water. Seeds of dill, sunflower, celosia, and calendula can be sifted through screen to remove chaff. Watch out for drying time on plants like fox glove and larkspur that will drop seed from lower flowers while the ones above will be in flower. Capsule seed pods like love in a mist and poppy can be shaken out through the opening on the top. Entire flower heads of marigolds and cosmos can be removed and placed in a paper bag.
-- Seed process for tomato – Tomato seeds must be fermented in the pulp for four days to prevent disease and break dormancy. Select the seeds that sink to the bottom.
-- Seed storage – Store your seeds dry and cool. Seeds must be dried well before being placed in sealed containers.
-- Labels – Always label seed with the plant name and the date the seed was collected.
-- Seed germination test – Place seeds in wet paper towel to test for germination viability and rate before planting.
To visit Sarah's Garden online, go the www.daviddavismansion.org.