Good Growing Keeping you growing with good ideas Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Living with Japanese Beetles Tue, 11 Jun 2019 16:29:00 +0000 It's about that time of year, time for Japanese beetles...

Japanese beetles are one of the most destructive ornamental pests we have in Illinois. They were first discovered in the United States in 1916 in New Jersey and have been making their way across the U.S. since then. The adults are about a ½ inch long with copper-colored wing covers, shiny metallic green heads and prominent white tufts of hair along their sides. While the larva are c-shaped white grubs that can reach 1¼ inches long. Adults will feed on over 300 different species of plants and the larva will feed on turf roots.

Adults will typically begin to emerge in late June in southern Illinois and in early July in central and northern Illinois and will typically be around for about six weeks. Although, it looks like they may emerge sooner this year (depending on where you live). Some of their favorite plants include linden, rose, crabapple, willow, grape, and raspberry. Adults will begin feeding on the upper, sunlit portions of plants and work their way down. Their feeding damage can cause leaves to appear lacey and when feeding is heavy entire branches can be stripped of leaves. One of the reasons they are so destructive is that they are attracted to plants that have already been damaged. Because of this, large numbers of beetles can be attracted to susceptible plants and why if you can get on top of populations early you often have fewer problems in the long run.

There are several different things you can do to manage Japanese beetles.

  • Adults can be removed by hand. The best time to do this is in the early morning while they are still sluggish. Put a few inches of water in a container along with a drop or two of soap (this is done to help break the surface tension of the water not kill the beetles). You can then shake or pick the beetles and put them in the bucket and drown them. This may be a great project for kids who love playing with bugs or while enjoying your morning coffee.
  • High-value plants, like roses, can be covered with cheesecloth or other fine netting during peak beetle activity to protect them. Just make sure that the openings are small enough to keep the beetles out.
  • Japanese beetle traps are not recommended for managing populations of Japanese beetles. The traps attract far more beetles than they can trap and may end up doing more damage than good. Don't believe me? Here are some pictures.
  • Chemicals can also be used to help manage beetle populations (check with your local Extension office for the most up to date recommendations). For many of the chemicals, this will require several applications. When choosing a product, make sure that the site/plant that you plan on applying it to is listed on the label. Always make sure to read and follow all label directions!
  • Controlling Japanese beetle grubs in your lawn won't have a significant impact on adult populations. The adults are capable of flying long distances and will fly in from adjacent properties.
  • If you don't want to fight the beetles you can try growing plants that are unattractive to them. Yes, they do exist! Some of these plants include columbine, begonia, dogwood, forsythia, holly, impatiens, lilacs, hosta, and violets.
Good Growing Tip of the Week: People are often concerned about smashing Japanese beetles, believing doing so may release pheromones and attract more beetles. Fortunately, this isn't the case, while virgin females do produce pheromones to attract males once they mate they no longer produce pheromones to attract males, so squash away.
Is Gardening Still Important to Humans? Yes, because gardens can heal! Wed, 05 Jun 2019 21:04:00 +0000 To be human is to be stressed. For our ancient ancestors, stress may have been encountering a predator. Today, modern stress can come in many forms, from simple disappointment or to tragic events. Unfortunately, our brains evolved to deal with fighting for our lives or running from predators, not the frustration that comes with a malfunctioning smart phone or when the internet goes out.

What can we humans do to handle these new types of stresses in the modern world that we created? Does nature still have a role to play?

In essence, yes, nature still has a major role to play in our lives. Now for the long answer.

More research is proving the importance of nature and the positive effects it can have on our physical and mental well-being.

Regardless of our age or culture, scientists have found that nature can be restorative to most humans. But how? One theory is that it is hardwired into our brains. Ancient humans had to be good observers of their surroundings because their lives depended on being mindful. So for a prehistoric individual to be engrossed by their surroundings, means they likely survived longer and were able to pass along their genes. This inherent fascination with nature is in all of us, which has led to some interesting rewards that our brain sends out that can help deal with both emotional and physical stresses.

We are engrossed with nature, therefore pain and discomfort are lessened because natural scenes distract our brains. Anxiety and mental fatigue are reduced when we are outdoors because nature does not require our deliberate focus. When we see plants, our brains can process that information with little effort. In an ironic way, plants remind us of what is like to be human. As one researcher said, "Plants take away some of the anxiety and tension of the immediate now by showing us that there are long, enduring patterns in life."

One way to create places of restoration is through healing gardens. A healing garden can come in many forms, but the most important component is real, living, green plants, flowers, and natural elements like flowing water. Some human elements, such as abstract sculpture, are discouraged from being used in healing gardens. Abstract art can be interpreted in multiple ways, and if a person is dealing with some type of stress, it is likely that interpretation is going to be negative. Other things to avoid are loud modern-day noises such as traffic or air conditioners.

Immersing oneself in nature is good, and the act of gardening goes one step further. The physical activity and sense of accomplishment are huge benefits to human health. In addition, the great thing about plants is that they respond to human care in a non-threatening way and plants don't discriminate. Cultivating a plant or entire garden can be a huge boost to self-esteem.

Gardening can transcend social problems. No matter your race or social status, a love for plants can bring people together. Several researchers and projects have shown gardening to promote positive social interaction.

Spirituality varies from person to person, but nature often plays a role. Being within a healing garden creates a sense of peace and connectedness to oneself, others, and perhaps things greater than us.

While everyone may agree, it is common sense that being outside is good for you, having scientific research to quantify those statements is important. Plus, researchers are finding that nature and gardening are far more important than most may think. As we continually lose nature every day and retreat indoors to our modern conveniences (and stresses), it is important to remember to get outside and enjoy the world around us. It may be through our engrained infatuation with the natural world that we can make it better and perhaps reduce some of our own stress along the way.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Healing gardens are not therapeutic gardens. Therapeutic gardens have themes and are specifically designed for certain users. For instance, a therapeutic garden may have plants and features that highlight touch and sounds for those with vision impairments.

Squash bugs Tue, 28 May 2019 20:58:00 +0000 If you've ever grown squash or pumpkins (or other cucurbits, like cucumbers) then you've likely encountered squash bugs. Squash bug (Asasa tristis) adults are brownish-black and about 5/8 of an inch long. The adults will overwinter in protected areas (under plant debris, around buildings, etc.) and emerge in the spring. When they emerge they will seek out cucurbit plants to feed on as well as mate. Females will lay clusters of about 20 bronze colored eggs on the undersides of leaves, commonly where two veins meet to form a V, or on stems. The eggs will hatch about one to two weeks later, typically from mid-June to mid-July. Newly hatched nymphs have a black head and legs with light green bodies. As they grow, they will turn light gray and continue to darken as they age until they become adults. It takes them approximately five weeks for them to go from an egg to an adult.

These bugs have straw-like mouthparts (piercing-sucking) that they will stick into a plant and suck the sap out (like a juice box). Their feeding causes yellow spots to form on leaves. These leaves will eventually turn brown and die. In addition to damaging the leaves, their feeding can also disrupt the flow of water and nutrients to the leaves. Because of this, leaves will often wilt. Younger plants are much more vulnerable to feeding damage and can be killed if feeding is too extensive. While larger, vigorous plants can tolerate more feeding damage, runners can still be damaged or killed. They may also occasionally feed on the fruits of the plants, causing sunken dead areas (which can allow rot organisms to get in).

Since the bugs overwinter on plant debris, good sanitation in the garden is important. Make sure to remove plant debris in the fall, especially if you had issues with them during the growing season. The bugs may also hide out in mulch. If populations get high it may be a good idea to remove it to reduce the number of hiding spots they have.

It is important to get control of squash bugs early in the season. Not only because young plants are more prone to damage, but also because they are more difficult to kill the older they get. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage these bugs in your garden. First make sure you are growing healthy, vigorous plants by providing adequate water and fertility, healthy plants can tolerate more damage than sickly ones.

You can resort to the old stand-by of pest control – hand picking. Like Japanese beetles, you can simply knock them off plants or drop them into a bucket of soapy water. It's important to note that both the adults and nymphs are 'shy' and will quickly run for cover when they are disturbed, so you may have to do a little bit of hunting for them. If you encounter egg masses, you can crush them, or tear that part of the leaf off and destroy/dispose of it. You can also set up a trap for the bugs as well. Simply place boards, pieces of newspaper or cardboard out in the garden. The bugs will congregate under them at night. Then, come morning, you can come out and dispatch them however you see fit.

Insecticides can also be used to manage populations of squash bugs. Chemicals are most effective on young nymphs, the older and larger they get the less effective they are. If plants are blooming while you are using insecticides make sure to apply them when bee activity will be at a minimum, usually early in the morning or in the evening. As always make sure to read and follow all label directions.

Outdoor Summer Activities for Families: Tips to keep you and the kids outside Tue, 21 May 2019 10:33:00 +0000 As the school year ends it is soon to be the lazy days of summer. Homework and textbooks will vanish, while beach towels and sunscreen become the staple accessory. Parents will find themselves shuttling kids to swimming pools and perhaps a vacation of their own! As we transition from cool spring weather to hot summer temperatures and indoor air conditioning, remember there is a lot we can do outdoors in the summer.

Plant Summer Vegetables

Home vegetable gardening is returning as a popular outdoor hobby. Both baby boomers and millennials find time spent growing food as a rewarding experience. A vegetable garden doesn't require a tiller or backbreaking labor. A couple of large containers on the patio will do for tomato or pepper plants. My favorite is planting herbs in pots. Whether cooking in the kitchen or on the grill, I can pluck some basil or thyme to add flavor to my dish. For all those veggies that you don't grow, visit your local farmers' market to support local growers.

Make Art from Natural Materials

Nature art activities get the family outside and doing something creative. The act of making whether it is art or functional is incredibly rewarding for youth or adults. Use flowers to make a smiley face, or moss and pinecones to build a miniature landscape. Encourage your family to explore different textures and colors found in the surrounding environment. Use grapevines to make bracelets or crowns adorned with flowers and different leaves. During our county 4-H fair, a creative young girl made bookmarks and greeting cards out of pressed and pounded flowers. And of course, you can always send the kiddos on a scavenger hunt to gather materials for a bouquet.

Go for a Hike

Pack a Saturday picnic and hit the trails. Take breaks during your walk to listen for birds or rustling leaves.

Come take a hike with University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists as we celebrate National Trails Day on June 1st. Master Naturalists will be hosting hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and families at Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve located at 1590 Angling Road, Highway 4, Alexis, Illinois. Blackthorn Hill offers 110 acres of prairie and woodland with trails for all ages and skill levels.

Our celebration of National Trails Day includes activities for all ages, plus guided hikes, food, demonstrations, and speakers. The event kicks off at 8 AM and the final hike begins at noon. Guided hikes will leave at the top of every hour, with each hike consisting of its own theme.

Guided hikes will include:

  • 8 AM Birding Hike
  • 9 AM Invasive Species Hike
  • 10 AM Woodland Hike
  • 11 AM Prairie Hike
  • Noon Butterfly and Insect Hike

Education stations will be positioned at the trailhead in the shelter. Come learn outdoor skills and how we can be environmental stewards in our own backyards. Kids can participate in a wildlife scavenger hunt to find hidden silhouette shapes of wild animals along the trails. Find them all to win a prize! Check out the Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve website for more information.

Can't make it to Blackthorn Hill Nature Preserve? Check out the American Hiking Society for a trail event near you.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: During a hike have family members pick out leaves of different shapes and preserve it as a memento of your adventure. Preserving a leaf can be as easy as placing it between two sheet of tissue paper and then inside a thick book.]]>
Mosquito and Tick Season is Upon Us Tue, 14 May 2019 20:24:00 +0000 I've been seeing mosquitoes and ticks for several weeks already, and as the weather gets warmer they'll get more numerous. Not only are these critters annoying, many are also capable of transmitting a variety of diseases.

There are three main types of mosquitoes. The permanent pool mosquitoes, which reproduce in relatively small numbers in permanent bodies of water such as lakes and ponds. The floodwater mosquitoes, which lay their eggs on low-lying dry soil and will hatch when the areas flood (the eggs can survive for more than two years while waiting for proper conditions). Finally, there are the container breeding mosquitoes. They prefer stagnant water and include the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, the main vector of West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis, and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, a potential vector for Zika virus.

Neither the northern house mosquito nor the Asian tiger mosquito travel very far, typically no more than half a mile. Because of this, efforts to reduce mosquitoes around your home neighborhood can greatly reduce their populations. After getting an adequate blood meal, adult female mosquitoes will lay eggs in any stagnant water source. Therefore, removal of as many water sources as possible from yards and communities will help to reduce populations (they can develop in as little as one cup of water):

  • Make sure to clean out gutters so they don't clog and hold water.
  • Replace water in birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • If you have drip trays under potted plants make sure to empty them frequently as well.
  • If you have an ornamental/garden pond stock it with minnows or other surface feeding fish that will eat mosquito larvae (unfortunately koi won't help, they're vegetarians).
  • Ornamental/garden ponds can also be treated with BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis) which isavailable as donuts, briquettes, granules, and can provide larval control for a month or more.
  • If you have a swimming pool make sure it is cleaned and chlorinated.
  • Make sure to get rid of, or put drainage holes in old tires, tin cans, abandoned cars, and ceramic pots.
  • Basically, anything that is capable of holding water needs to be emptied frequently and regularly, as it takes mosquito larvae 5-7 days to develop into adults.

While mosquitoes tend to get most of the headlines, tick populations have been increasing throughout the last several years. While they are most common in forested areas or areas with tall grass, they can be found anywhere where there is vegetation. In Illinois there are three species that commonly feed on people: the American dog (or wood) tick; the blacklegged (or deer) tick; and the lone star tick.

There are several steps people can take to avoid tick bites:

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation.
  • Wear light-colored clothing (so it is easier to spot ticks) and tuck pants into socks
  • Apply a repellent containing DEET (20-30%) as directed (this goes for mosquitoes too).
  • Permethrin can be applied to clothing (as directed) or clothing can be purchased that has already been treated that will kill ticks when they get on the clothing.
  • Examine clothing, skin, and pets frequently for ticks when outdoors
  • If you find a tick attached, remove it promptly by grasping it firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out. Do not burn or smother the tick!
  • See your doctor if any unexplained rash or illness accompanied by a fever develops

If you'd like to learn more about mosquitoes and ticks come to Preventing Mosquito and Tick Bites in Carrollton (5/21) or Jacksonville (5/22).


Good Growing fact of the week: Blacklegged (deer) ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, are incredibly small. The larvae are about the size of a poppy seed; nymphs about the size of a pinhead; and adults are about 1/8 of an inch long.

Landscaping: It's for the Birds! Tue, 07 May 2019 14:30:00 +0000 Attracting birds to your backyard can go beyond setting out birdfeeders.

Creating a landscape that welcomes birds by providing critical pieces of habitat will not only benefit birds, but other wildlife as well. And it is a great way to introduce young people to nature and have something the whole family can share. According to Cornell, with nearly 80 percent of wildlife habitat owned privately and 2.1 million acres converted each year to residential use – it is critical we create bird-friendly landscapes.

When designing a bird-friendly space, it is always best to start with a plan. As you begin to put pencil to paper one of your goals is to have a diverse landscape. The typical foundation planting, often comprised of yews and daylilies, fails at providing the three things birds need: water, shelter and food. Utilize native or well-adapted plants and design for year-round attractors.

You need to visualize your landscape in layers!

Birds don't simply live in the tree tops. In fact, most species of birds require a variety of layers during their lifecycle from the low to medium to high. You can categorize these layers as groundcovers, herbaceous plants, understory shrubs and trees, and overstory trees. Layering provides cover for birds and protects from predation both from the ground and from above.

Leaving dead limbs and tree snags and brush piles are all great sources of food and shelter for certain birds. What a great excuse for the messy gardener! Don't tidy up the planting beds in the fall. Leave those seed heads for birds to eat over the winter. Instead of bagging up your fall leaves, shred them and place them beneath your shrubs as mulch. Fall leaves harbor overwintering insects that birds will find delectable and come spring your leaf mulch will become a flurry of birds as they search for nesting material.

What plants are recommended? Cornell has a wonderful website called All About Birds and is a wealth of information. Here is a sampling of their recommended bird-attracting plants:


  • Overstory- Oaks (Quercus sp.), hickories (Carya sp.), walnuts (Juglans sp.), beeches (Fagus sp.)
  • Understory – Serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.), native dogwoods (Cornus sp.)
  • Coniferous – Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), spruces (Picea sp.)
  • Shrubs – Shrub dogwoods (Cornus sp.), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)


Water is another critical component to have in a bird-friendly landscape. Incorporating a birdbath or water garden in your landscape can provide a wonderful focal point or pleasing space in your yard.

Birds are attracted to moving water. Installing a small pump in a water feature will add interest in the garden for both you and the birds as the sound of moving water attracts species of all types. Birdbaths should be 2 to 3 inches deep and 2 to 3 feet wide with an edge for perching. Clean the birdbath once a week with soap and a thorough rinse of water. Keep your birdbath full of fresh, cool water and sit back and enjoy the sight of birds making your backyard their home.

There are many wonderful resources to help you create a bird-friendly backyard. University of Illinois Extension can help get those resources in your hands. Contact your local county Extension office today! Another great resource would be your nearest Illinois Audubon Society group. Check Illinois Audubon's state website for local chapter information.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Evergreens are an important source of cover for songbirds, especially in winter when predators like sharp-shinned hawks or house cats are known to stalk bird feeders for a meal. According to Cornell, place your feeders within 10-feet of protective cover. This distance can be adjusted depending on what common predators are in your yard.]]>
It's Peony Time! Tue, 30 Apr 2019 10:17:00 +0000 Herbaceous peonies are a common sight in many gardens and some of the most beautiful flowers you will find. They belong to the genus Paeonia which is native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America. They have been cultivated in Asia for more than 2,000 years. These cultivated peonies were brought to Europe and later the United States around 1800. In addition to their beauty, they can be quite long-lived. Many plants have been growing and flowering for more than 50 years and some plantings have been recorded to be over 100 years old.

Depending on the species and cultivar, peonies will bloom from late spring to early summer (typically starting in early May in central Illinois). Peonies were traditionally white, blush, pink and red in color. However, due to breeding, coral, yellow and patterned peonies can now be found. In addition to a wide variety of colors, blooms also come in a variety of different shapes. The American Peony Society recognizes six different types of flowers: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, bomb, and double.

If your peonies aren't producing buds and blooming, there are several different things that could be causing this.

  • If you planted peonies in the last year or two and they aren't producing flowers don't be alarmed; it can often take 2-3 years for them to establish and bloom.
  • Excessive shade can also lead to poor flower development (peonies prefer full sun and can take some shade). If this is the case, dig up peonies in the fall and place them in a sunny location.
  • One of the more common reasons peonies don't bloom is that are planted too deeply. The crown of the plant should be no more than two inches below the soil surface.
  • Over-fertilizing can also reduce the bloom of your peonies. Too much nitrogen fertilizer will cause the plants to produce a lot of foliage and a reduced number of blooms. Established plants with good growth only need to be fertilized every few years, if at all. If you decide to fertilize, do so after they are done blooming and use a balanced fertilizer or one with a higher phosphorous content (middle number).

Despite the old wives tale, peonies do not need ants to help them flower. Ants are commonly seen on the buds of peonies and many think that they help pry the flower buds open. Peonies have glands called extrafloral nectaries on their sepals (leaf-like structures that cover the flower before it opens) that release nectar. These are different than the nectaries that are inside of the flower that produce nectar to encourage pollination and provide food for pollinators. It is believed that plants have these extrafloral nectaries to attract beneficial insects. The beneficials (such as ladybugs and ants) will feed on the nectar and protect the plant from pests.

Despite being beneficial, one common complaint with peonies is the presence of ants on the flowers, especially when they are being cut to bring indoors. To get rid of the ants on the flowers stick the flowers in some water and swish them around. This should remove most of the ants.

Just like roses and many other flowers, it's a good idea to remove flower heads and/or seed pods when plants are done blooming. This will help the appearance of the plants and also prevent the plant from sending energy into producing seeds.

Good Growing fact of the week: In addition to herbaceous peonies there are also tree and intersectional peonies. Tree peonies are multi-stemmed woody shrubs that grow 3 to 7 feet tall. Intersectional (also referred to as Itoh) peonies are hybrids created by crossing tree and herbaceous peonies.