Blog Banner

Green Speak

Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some.
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 >

Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) in my garden.
click image to view 4 more

Ohio Spiderwort in the Garden

Observation is part of the fun of gardening. Waking up in the morning, I let out my dog Murphy, and walk through my yard studying the intricacies and habits of the plants in my landscape. A morning dew is helpful to spot spider webbing or allow the tiny hairs on a flower petal to shine in the rising sun. Walking through the garden in the early morning is just as good as drinking a cup c...

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 >

Finding the Sublime Beauty in the Midwest

Sublime- for most of my young life my understanding of this word was misplaced. It wasn't until the pursuit of my graduate work that sublime was made clear. Sublime is a feeling experienced when encountered with unspoken beauty and possibly terror that leaves us in admiration. Think about standing on the beach looking at the ocean. The vastness of the water holds us in a trance of awe and a pan...

Read More >

Fitting Natural Landscapes into a Modern World

If your HOA covenants, city codes, or neighbors disparage wildlife habitat, make the natural landscape easily recognized as a 'garden' and more intentional. Some tips for success: Borders – This can be a mowed edge, fence, or an edge of low plants. (I like prairie dropseed as a transition from lawn to a natural garden) A bordering device frames the planted area a...

Read More >

Habitat in the Home Landscape

If I may steal a line from Doug Tallamy- For decades the prevailing notion of developers is that humans are here, therefore nature needs to be elsewhere. In our minds we always think of nature as elsewhere, but certainly not in our very own yards. With the expansion of housing and commercial properties into the rural hinterland and urban greenspace, nature is running out of alternative habitat....

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 >

Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

Growing up, a family tradition was going out to the Christmas tree farm to find that perfect tree. As a child it was fun going out to pick our tree, cut it and then watch it hauled to the barn on a sled, shook for all its worth to get the dead needles out, and finally bundled up on our car ready for home. My wife had an altogether different experience growing up. She would help her moth...

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 >

Controlling Mosquitoes on Your Property

Let it be known that in my family I hold the record for number of mosquito bites at one time. While on a vacation in the coastal swamps of Georgia (yes I said 'vacation'), I racked up over 100 mosquito bites. So what makes a person more...

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 >

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 >

The main culprit to our dog-damaged lawn.
click image to view 3 more

Dog Gone Lawn

It never fails. Every time I present a topic on lawns this question arises, “How do you prevent lawn damage if you have dogs?” Turns out, I really enjoy this question! Being a dog owner to two yellow labs for almost nine years, I have had my fair share of ragged lawns and muddy paw prints. Let’s start by examining the why and how in which our lovable pooches are so efficient at destroying our t...

Read More >

Several inches of snow rest on the landscape after a January snowfall in 2014.
click image to view 2 more

The Resilient Landscape, Preparing Your Plants for Weather-Related Disasters Part 3: Winter Storms

Following is a continuation of my exploration on the aftermath and preparation of weather-related disasters on our landscape plants. You can find the articles on wind HERE and drought HERE . Frozen Stuff In the book Weatherproofing Your Landscape, authors S...

Read More >

The serpentine feeding galleries created in the plant tissue just beneath the bark. The feeding cuts off movement of water and nutrients, killing the ash tree. (Look closely you can see a little EAB larva in the bottom right)
click image to view 2 more

Emerald Ash Borer Confirmed for Warren County Illinois

The presence of emerald ash borer (EAB) has been confirmed for Warren County Illinois, with the initial finding coming from Kirkwood. EAB is a devastating exotic pest that attacks one of the most popular landscape trees in America, the ash tree. Unlike most native borers which only target dead or dying trees, EAB preys on healthy ash trees. However, the presence of EAB in Warren County...

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 >

The Resilient Landscape, Preparing Your Plants for Weather-Related Disasters Part 2: Drought

Following is a continuation of my exploration on the aftermath and preparation of weather-related disasters on our landscape plants. You can find the first article on winds HERE. Drought In the book Weatherproofing Your Landscape, authors Sandra Dark and Dean Hill classify weather-related disasters as the 'Big Four' – wind, drought...

Read More >

This bald cypress tree is sited in a high wind area yet, is able to tolerate the heavy wind loads. You can tell the constant wind has caused the limbs on the downwind side to curl upward in their growth.

The Resilient Landscape, Preparing Your Plants for Weather-Related Disasters Part 1: Winds

Over the past few years it feels like we've earned the ire of Mother Nature. In Illinois we've experienced a severe drought in 2012 followed by another drought in 2013 along with the coldest winter in decades this past 2014. Plus, the tragic tornadoes that ripped through Central Illinois in November of 2013. It is heartbreaking to see the results of natural disasters, when it affects en...

Read More >

Another sweetgum tree hit by cold temperatures. This tree has nearly leafed out by the first week of June.
click image to view 2 more

Only the Hardiest Shall Survive!

What made it through this winter? I know many of us barely did, but now that spring has seemingly sprung into summer my concern turns to the landscape. Here in west central Illinois we live in USDA cold hardiness zone 5b, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of -10 to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this winter we saw temperatures dip below the -20 degree mark, granting us a zone...

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 >