Blog Banner

Green Speak

Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some.
Gardening Basics

Fairy Ring Fungus

Some things in nature are a delight to observe. Rainbows, thunderstorms, and fungus, well, specifically fairy ring fungus. Fairy rings are near perfect circles of toadstools, often seen in the lawn following a period of wet weather. Fairy rings can also be observed as a ring of abnormal turf that is a bright green or a halo of dead grass. Lore surrounds these curious circular formations. As far...

Read More >

SoilSampleTitleCard png

How to Do a Soil Test

It seems during every class I teach, or group I talk with, there are two things I say every time: 1) Read your pesticide labels, and 2) test your soil. It is what I call my "Extension Mantra." The reason I routinely tell folks to read labels and test soil is not that I get a kick-back from pesticide companies and soil labs, it is because these two simple tasks could save Illinois homeowners mon...

Read More >

Extend Your Growing Season with Low Tunnels

One of my favorite times of year to garden is in the fall. Growing vegetables during autumn in Illinois as the weather cools and daylight dwindles, can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is quite sweet. The fall and winter garden is not a place for tomatoes, peppers, or many of our favorite summer veggies. Instead, what we grow are cool season crops. Adaptation to low temperatures...

Read More >

Photo of the Week - March 2, 2017

The winter has been unusually warm these past several weeks (even months). While it has been nice to go for walks in short-sleeves and even grill outside, I truly long for winter weather. Winter without snow is terribly bleak. Snow gives residents of the Midwest something visually stimulating in an otherwise dull, dormant landscape. Finally, we're seeing a bit of colder weather as we e...

Read More >

Sustainability for the Home Landscape

As gardeners, we seek to connect with the world and ourselves through the cultivation of plants. Gardening is an act of emphasizing nature's beauty and bounty within our landscapes. In the past century, our quality of interactions with the outdoors has diminished. Introducing the Contemporary American Landscape Packed schedules gave rise to the demand for low-ma...

Read More >

Imported cabbage moth, the adult form of the imported cabbage worm.

Scouting in the Garden

Today, I caught my first imported cabbage moth in the high tunnel. More importantly, the moth crossed my radar before its larva, the imported cabbage worm, has had a chance to eat all of my turnip leaves. Scouting is an important tool we use in the garden and landscape to stop problems before they have a chance to get out of hand. It's good to get out in the garden every day, checking p...

Read More >

Measuring out the four corners of a future high tunnel.
click image to view 2 more

Get Ready for the Gardening Season

It's always a good idea to have a plan before you start digging up your yard. Sometimes a location seems like the perfect site for a garden, until you start digging and find the soil is like concrete. Or you start growing and realize the water supply is way out of reach. Now you're hauling buckets of water! So what are the criteria for having a fruitful vegetable garden? Let's e...

Read More >

Post-flooding in a community vegetable garden.

Using Flooded Produce Safely

After a series of excessive rain events, some gardeners may find their beloved produce underwater. In this situation a key question surfaces: Are my vegetables safe to eat? Floodwaters that are runoff or overflow from streams, rivers, lakes, roadways, and agricultural fields are likely to be contaminated with human pathogens and/or industrial pollutants. Following are some tips on safely handli...

Read More >

Mild Winters and the Pests of Summer

So far the winter of 2015-2016 has been unseasonably mild. Many gardeners speculate what this means for our next growing season and the pest insects we love to hate. The past two winters beheld a new term for most of us living in North America – polar vortex. Residents in Central Illinois saw first-hand the effects of severe freezing temperatures of -20°F to -30°F. One such result was t...

Read More >

Mars globe 1584x1584 2
click image to view 3 more

Should We Poop on our Plants?

Thoughts on Growing Food on Mars Inspired by the book "The Martian", by Andy Weir. Humans are a curious species. We are born to question and explore all that lies before us. Space is one of those frontiers that have attracted many humans ever since our eyes wandered upward to ponder stars in the night sky. As one would expect, it is only a matter of time before we be...

Read More >

Garden Update – Mid August 2015

What's going on in the garden this week? Here is a snapshot of observations and questions coming into the Extension office. Out in the Garden Here in Illinois the rains stopped early July and have been sparse ever since. Gardens have needed supplemental water. With the abundance and then lack of rain we've lots of soil cracking. With all that rain how could our...

Read More >

Flooded high tunnel.
click image to view 11 more

Garden Update – Mid July 2015

What's going on in the garden this week? Here is a snapshot of observations and questions coming into the Extension office. Out in the Garden The rains have ceased and the lawn and garden beds are drying out. It is almost the end of July and I have yet to water a single plant this season, even containers! Lawns can tolerate a significant amount of standing water...

Read More >

Beebalm with prolonged standing water issues.
click image to view 6 more

Garden Update - Start of July 2015

What's going on in the garden this week? Here is a snapshot of observations and questions coming into the Extension office. Out in the Garden Rot, rot, rot. With all this rain landscapes and gardens have been suffering from saturated root zones. Here's a comparison of beebalm in the same planting area, only one is located where we've seen several days of...

Read More >

Contaminated Landscape Materials: Rubber Mulch

Despite our best intentions to create healthy gardens and landscapes, sometimes we wind up introducing a material that has potential to affect environmental or human health. Do you know if you have any in your yard? Let's look at a material commonly found in the landscape and its potential impact on environmental and human health. Rubber Mulch According to the E...

Read More >

Salsa Gardening

These days it seems like salsa is everywhere. Americans have come to love this condiment as it tends to show up on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing is better than fresh salsa. Better yet, the ingredients used to make salsa are incredibly universal and can be grown in your backyard. If you love fresh salsa, this summer think about setting aside a sunny area (6 hours or...

Read More >

Layer Your Landscape to Benefit Birds

My son loves birds. And it all started with a walk on a cold, snowy day during the winter of 2013-2014. As we walked, a sound caught his attention. It was something he never heard before. It was the rat-a-tat pecking of a woodpecker. He looked around excitedly trying to pinpoint where the sound originated. "What is that daddy?" he asked. I replied with, "It's a woodpecker, using...

Read More >

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
click image to view 2 more

Make Creating a Monarch Waystation a Goal for This Season

Things sure do seem to be getting clean outside. Not clean in the ordinary sense of course, but in terms of weeds. Our yards are cleaner, farms are cleaner. For the past century humans have spent a lot of energy, time and money on cleaning up the landscape. It has led to increased farm yields, and large luxurious weed-free lawns. Sounds pretty good, right? Well not so good if you happen to depe...

Read More >

McDonough County Master Gardeners pose with their favorite daylilies.
click image to view 4 more

2015: Year of the Volunteer

The Illinois Senate has declared 2015 the "Year of the Volunteer". This is not a random labeling of a year, but one that takes into account the benefits of volunteerism. According to the November 2014 Harvard Health Letter, volunteering allows an individual to "let go of the inward focus [and] focus on others", which is associated with lessening of physical and emotional aches and pains...

Read More >

Using Landscape Chemicals Responsibly

This past summer, a homeowner called the local Extension office concerned about cicada killers. I immediately set about my normal talk describing the benefits of cicada killers and how they are not prone to sting humans. The homeowner graciously listened to my pitch and then said they understand, but they do not appreciate how the cicada killer makes their lawn surface so bumpy. I conceded thei...

Read More >

Home Horticultural Remedies

Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of the ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long t...

Read More >

Use Only What You Need with Xeriscaping

During this cool, wet weather it is hard to think about the hot, dry summer ahead of us. Yet, if the past two summer droughts still resound in your memory, you might be looking for ways to limit your gardens water use. Let's look at one such technique that citizens in the arid west have adopted and is spreading eastward. In 1976 and 77 a severe winter drought brought the Colorado econom...

Read More >

The Dilemma with Weed-and-Feed Lawn Products

As a long winter's chill lingers into spring, the itch to get out in our yards has never seemed more compelling. One of the ritual tasks performed by many homeowners in the spring is applying weed-and-feed products to their lawn. Contained within these products is a pre-emergent herbicide to combat germinating weed seeds and then a helpful boost of nitrogen fertilizer to give our lawns that lus...

Read More >

Tackle Your Winter Pruning and Winter Blues by Attending Gardener's Day

Pruning your trees and shrubs can be done almost any time of year, however, it is best to avoid making any pruning cuts while woody plants are preparing for dormancy in early fall. So the old adage to prune 'when the saw is sharp' is mostly true. When asked for the ideal time of year to prune, many Extension services recommend pruning while trees and shrubs are dormant. Dormant pruning is often...

Read More >

Extreme Cold and Your Plants

Being a fan of winter, this weather has been an absolute blast, but even I must admit- darn it's cold out there. One question I have been hearing a lot is "What about our plants?" Well, if you religiously adhere to the USDA cold hardiness zones then you should have nothing to fear. More than likely your trees, shrubs and perennials will emerge and leaf out to greet the spring. But who are we ki...

Read More >

Winter Dormancy in the Landscape - Gambit or Gamble

By late November, the last of the leaves float down to the ground and the landscape appears stark. All is quiet and nothing is growing as our gardens have been put to bed. Or are they? As I walk outside in the frigid cold, it is obvious my body has yet to adapt to colder temperatures, yet the turf stands green and crisp on a frosty morning. Evergreens brighten up a barren image of my yard. Even...

Read More >