Good Growing Keeping you growing with good ideas Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Pathogen That Causes Sudden Oak Death Confirmed in Macomb, Illinois Tue, 16 Jul 2019 12:30:00 +0000 Emerald ash borer, Japanese beetles, bush honeysuckle, purple loosestrife, chestnut blight. These listed items are all types of invasive species, which have dramatically altered our landscape. An invasive species can be a non-native insect, plant, disease, or animal that causes environmental damage, economic harm, or impacts human health in a negative way. Those pests listed above is just a highlight of a growing list of invasive species that threaten the stability of our native ecosystems and developed landscapes.

It may not come as a surprise that I am back, taking up valuable digital space to tell you of another potentially devastating non-native disease that attacks oak trees – Sudden Oak Death or Phytophthora ramorum. The name Phytophthora (Fie-TOF-ther-uh) means "plant destroyer" and is a family of water mold fungi that has played a major role in human history. Remember the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s? That was Phytophthora infestans, commonly known as potato late blight.

Phytophthora ramorum or P. ramorum is known to infect over 30 different plant species including witch hazel, viburnums, horse chestnut, lilacs, and rhododendrons. When these plants are infected the disease is called Ramorum Blight and it may not be fatal but will cause bark cankers, leaf spots, and twig dieback. When oaks are infected with P. ramorum it is termed Sudden Oak Death, because, for several oak species, this disease will quickly kill the tree.

P. ramorum has ravaged West Coast forests attacking seven different species of oak. Leaving behind barren vistas of dead trees.

You may be thinking, "At least this disease is way over in California and not in Illinois." Unfortunately, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has confirmed P. ramorum throughout the state on infected plant material at big box garden centers. Macomb, Illinois is one of those locations that had plants confirmed with P. ramorum.

How did it get here? Most of the landscape plants we purchase at garden centers are grown on the West Coast. Regulators monitor growers to make sure a disease like P. ramorum doesn't spread across the country, but often with these things, it is only a matter of time before a mistake occurs and the disease is able to spread.

To date in Illinois, the only infected plant material that tested positive for P. ramorum are rhododendrons and lilacs sold at Walmart, HyVee, and Rural King in 2019. If you purchased these plants and are seeing signs of Ramorum Blight (dark brown spots on leaves or branch tips) contact Illinois Department of Ag or your local Extension office for guidance. Officials do not want people to dispose of these plants in compost or landfills where the disease could spread.

There is no reason to panic, as this disease hasn't been found in any of our native oaks yet. We even aren't quite sure which species of oak would be more at risk or if any would be resistant. Based on the oaks infected out west, it is thought that northern red oak and pin oak may be more susceptible. Until Sudden Oak Death is confirmed in your local area, there is no reason to pursue treatment of your oak trees.

Some good news – Just because P. ramorum thrives on the West Coast, does not mean it will succeed in the Midwest. There are many factors of our Illinois climate that could prevent this disease from establishing. We can grow a lot here in Central Illinois. Hopefully, the disease Sudden Oak Death isn't one of them.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: The plant pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death has been found in 10 counties throughout Illinois. Contact your local Extension office if you purchased rhododendrons or lilacs from HyVee, Walmart, or Rural King in 2019.

Common Tomato Diseases Tue, 09 Jul 2019 14:15:00 +0000 Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetables in home gardens. While tomatoes are relatively easy to grow there are a few diseases you should keep your eye out for. Two of the most common diseases people encounter are early blight and Septoria leaf spot. Both of these diseases are caused by fungi. Consistently wet conditions are required for both of these diseases to develop, which we've had plenty of.

Early blight (Alternaria solani) primarily infects the foliage of plants, but it can also infect the stem and fruit. It appears as irregularly shaped brown spots that have concentric rings (resembles a bulls-eye or target), commonly on older leaves. The spots are often surrounded by yellow tissue. The spot can grow to be ¼ to ½ inch in diameter and will often grow together (coalesce) forming large brown areas. Eventually, leaves will drop off of plants.

Septoria leaf spot (Septoria lycopersici) is also primarily a leaf infection, but will also infect the stems (rarely infects fruit). It forms small (1/16 to 1/8 of an inch) circular spots on leaves. These spots have a tan or light-colored center with dark purple or brown margins. Spots will grow to be around ¼ of an inch in diameter. Like early blight, the individual leaf spots will often coalesce forming large areas of diseased tissue. Heavily infected leaves will turn yellow and fall off of the plant. Unlike early blight, it does not form concentric rings. But, if you look closely (may need to use a magnifying glass) you can often see small black pimple-like fruiting bodies in the center of the leaf spots.

There are a few things you can do to manage these diseases. First, remove and destroy any diseased foliage. Make sure leaves are dry when handling plants. If leaves are wet you may end up spreading the disease. Fungicides can also be applied to plants. This will not get rid of the disease on infected leaves but will protect healthy leaves from infection. When using pesticides, make sure to read and follow all label directions. Contact your local extension office to get a list of recommended chemicals.

There are also several different things you can do to manage these diseases in your garden for next year. Make sure you are practicing crop rotation. Ideally, you wouldn't grow any solanaceous (tomato family; includes peppers, eggplants, and potatoes) plants in the same area (this is often easier said than done in backyard gardens). Early blight can survive in the soil, on seeds or infected plant debris for a year. While Septoria can survive for up to three years on infected plant debris, as well as weedy hosts, it does not survive in the soil on its own. Because both of these diseases can survive on plant debris, it is important to remove any diseased plant tissues from your garden. Controlling susceptible weeds, like nightshade, and volunteer tomato plants that can act as a source of infection are also important parts of keeping your garden clean.

Next year, if you are growing tomatoes from seed look for disease-free seed. If you are purchasing transplants inspect plants for any leaf spots before purchasing. Regardless of whether you are growing from seed or transplants, look for disease resistant varieties. Make sure to properly space your tomatoes. Adequate spacing will allow airflow between plants and it will allow them to dry-out faster. It is also a good idea to stake or cage your tomatoes. This helps speed up the drying of plants and keeps them off of the ground. Using mulch on the ground also creates a barrier between the soil, where disease spores may be, and the plants. Finally, avoid watering late in the day and try not to get the foliage wet. The longer the leaves remain wet, the greater the chance disease will develop.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Most home gardener's stake or cage individual tomato plants. If you're growing numerous plants it may be worthwhile to trellis them. Two commonly used trellising techniques are the Florida (basket) weave and the t-post string trellis.

The Unseen Menace...Chiggers! Tue, 02 Jul 2019 09:36:00 +0000 How can something so small cause so much agony? This thought, along with several other expletives ran through my mind as I clicked from webpage to webpage searching for a cure to my constant itching. What was the source of my anguish? Chiggers! My entire body (mostly the more private parts) was covered in chigger bites.

Through the blinding itching hysteria of the next couple days, I found lots of so-called curatives on the internet and realized there is a vast amount of false information out there about chiggers. So in an attempt to ease another poor souls pain, or at least keep you from doing something really foolish to relieve itching, let's start by dispelling some of these myths.

Chiggers are insects that only feed on mammals. FALSE

First, chiggers are not insects; instead, they are classified as a Trombiculid mite, a relative of spiders and ticks. According to Dr. Phil Nixon, retired Extension Entomologist, "nymph and adult chiggers are predators on insect eggs, other mites, and insects…and decaying organic matter." It is their younger stages that feed on any hapless passerby. These guys are very difficult to see with the naked eye at about 1/50th of an inch across, about the size of a pinpoint. Immature chiggers feed on a variety of animals including birds, reptiles, and mammals.

If you wear long pants tucked into your socks you will not get chiggers. FALSE

While wearing protective clothing is a hindrance, chiggers are quite inclined to climb around the host to find a suitable feeding site. The thinner the skin the easier it is for the invader to insert its piercing mouthpart, which is why you typically get bites around ankles, behind the knees, in the groin and armpit area and around beltlines. However, through my own experience over the years, I have found that chiggers typically stop at a spot where clothing is restrictive, such as sock and belt lines. Once, when venturing in the tallgrass prairie in Kansas I came home with the emblazoned outline of the vest I was wearing in chigger bites on my chest and back.

A chigger burrows into your skin, so you have to suffocate them using nail polish, or bleach, or alcohol, or turpentine, or fire, etc… FALSE!

This seems to be one of the top misguided thoughts out there on chiggers. They do NOT burrow into our skin, so you can at least remove that unpleasantry from your mind. Therefore, you have no reason to 'suffocate' them and certainly no reason to be pouring bleach on your skin or heaven forbid hold a flame to the bite.

In reality, chiggers use their piercing mouthparts to inject digestive fluids into the top layer of your skin. These juices react with your skin cells and form a straw-like welt, that the chigger uses to suck up your liquefied skin cells. When exposed to air the fluid oozing out of the bite will solidify into a hard cap, which distinguishes chigger bites from others.

Chiggers can transmit disease. FALSE

None of our North American chiggers have ever been reported to spread any type of disease.

Chiggers can bite you several times. FALSE

A chigger will only bite once. After that, they remain attached unless the host either scratches them off or washes them off with warm soapy water. Phil Nixon points out, "Chiggers drop off of the host after a day or two to molt into the next stage. They don't stay on the host for very long". Additionally, some satisfaction can be taken in that once you scratch or wash these pesky guys off, they die.

So if you are a poor soul suffering from a terrible case of chigger bites reading this and screaming "Okay I know what's true and false, but how to get rid of the bites?!" Well, my answer is, you don't. You simply have to let the irritation run its course. I know your heart just sunk, but let me continue. There is no cure-all medicine for chigger bites, the best strategy is once you have been in areas you suspect to harbor these nasty guys or you actually start seeing bites, wash any clothes you were wearing during exposure and take a warm shower. This will remove any chigger that may have made it in on your clothing or you. Once the itching begins, there are various products available to relieve your discomfort at drug stores or from your physician.

Take solace that usually the itching subsides within a week. During this time try to scratch as little as possible and keep your hands and bites clean to avoid secondary infection.

What can you do to protect yourself? Because never leaving my house is an absurd option, I usually have a can of insect repellent containing DEET in my bag. My dislike of chiggers is overridden by my need to be outside. Perhaps I am my own worst enemy.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Take heart that many, many living things feed on and within you without leaving any sign of their presence. However, when it comes to temporary, itchy, agony, chiggers are the worst. Next time you head out for a hike or picnic in grassy areas, products containing DEET have shown to reduce the number of chigger bites.

Scouting in the Garden Mon, 24 Jun 2019 20:54:00 +0000 As summer kicks into high gear we often start to see more pest problems. An important and often overlooked part of pest management is scouting. It can help you figure out what is going on in your garden/landscape and help you determine if you need to take any action to manage any pests that are present (particularly if you are going to be using pesticides). Take a stroll through your landscape at least weekly and be on the look-out for pests and diseases.

While you are scouting, one thing to keep in mind is are there enough pests for it to be worthwhile to treat and is the damage they are causing going to be detrimental? For example, if you have some pests eating your tomato leaves you can wait longer to control them compared to if they are eating the fruit. Some ornamentals may be in a more visible location (by the front door) where damage is less tolerable than to plants in other areas (in the backyard tucked away in a seldom used corner).

Start by scanning your landscape as a whole. Look for any plants that look out of the ordinary and start by inspecting them a little more closely. A magnifying glass or hand lens may be helpful, especially when looking for smaller pests, but aren't necessary.

Often time's insects will hide on the undersides of leaves, so going out and flipping over leaves is a good way to scout for insects. Many pest insects like to feed on young, tender growth, so make sure to take a little extra time when inspecting new shoots. Insects and diseases will also build up on older leaves of plants as well so make sure to check them out too.

After you have gone out and looked in your garden or landscape at the pests, you need to figure out what they are. Pest identification is important because it will help determine potential management techniques. Some pests may not cause much damage and management may not be warranted if they are found. Others can cause quite a bit of damage and will need to be managed. In some cases, the issues you are seeing may not be pest damage at all. Properly identifying pest will help determine what kind of management strategies should be used or if any are even needed.

If you need help determining what a pest is or if it's something you need to think about managing, you can bring samples into any of our extension offices. You can also send samples to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic. Their website can be found at There you will find instructions on how to submit samples as well as any fees that may apply.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: When we scout we often do it during the day. If you want to change things up a bit grab a flashlight and head out at night. Some pests such as cutworms, slugs, and snails are most active at night.]]>
Millennials & Succulents: What is all the hype behind these plump plants? Wed, 19 Jun 2019 14:36:00 +0000 While attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, one of my favorite classes had nothing to do plants. It was Personal Finance 101. The professor, Dr. Ted Pilger, spent an entire semester giving out some of the best advice I've ever heard in a classroom. From selecting a retirement plan to how to buy a car. One of the most memorable quotes referred to his negotiating on car prices. He said, "When they stop calling me 'sir', I know I'm making progress."

To show our appreciation of his lectures, the horticulture students gave Dr. Pilger a pot of cactus and succulents. To which he immediately exclaimed, "Thank goodness something I don't have to water!"

If only we knew then, that succulents were going to take the garden center market by storm. This group of plants have been rising in popularity since 2007. According to a survey completed in 2017 by Garden Center Magazine, succulents accounted for 15% of garden center sales in the Midwest. That number has most certainly risen for 2019.

Succulents are everywhere! You can buy them at grocery stores, farmers' markets, and even clothing stores. These plants have become popular for multiple reasons, but primarily for the one stated by Dr. Pilger – you don't have to water succulents, at least not that often.

Succulents are a plant that has thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. Therefore, succulent is a very broad term that can include many plants. Some of the common succulent plants you may be familiar with are hens and chicks, jade plants, aloe plants, holiday cacti, and many others.

According to Illinois Master Gardener Specialist Candice Hart, succulents thrive on neglect and dry soil. The easiest way to kill a succulent is to water it too much.

Turns out, succulents span generations. These plump and delightful outdoor or indoor plants are beloved by baby boomers and millennials alike! However, according to many industry folks, millennials are helping to drive the succulent market.

Perhaps the catalyst for succulent popularity was the Great Recession. This may seem like an odd market driver, but there is a hypothesis shared by some of those whose job is to think about the home garden market. Upon, entering or attempting to enter the job market during the recession, many millennials struggled to earn a living. They often had to move back in with their parents or with friends. Home décor can be expensive, but succulents are relatively cheap and the maintenance, as was mentioned, doesn't amount to much. Succulents were a great option for emerging young adults to turn a house, apartment, or basement room into a home.

As early adopters of social media, millennials began sharing pictures of their new houseplants online. Fortunately, succulents are very photogenic. Pinterest posts popped up on using succulents for home decorating. People started making Instagram pages solely for succulents. The succulent craze began to spread online to where it is now today with succulents in every store and home.

Do you want to learn about succulent care and have some succulent pets of your own? University of Illinois Extension will have a succulent make-and-take at the 2019 Heritage Days in Macomb. Join Master Gardeners at the old Kirlin's Hallmark building on the north side of the courthouse square on June 28, 1 to 3 PM and June 29, noon to 2 PM. Cost to plant and take home a succulent is $2 per person or $5 per family for multiple participants.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: If growing succulents indoors, a southern- or western-facing window is preferred. If the ideal lighting situation is not available, many succulents will grow under incandescent or fluorescent supplemental lighting.

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.