Northwest Illinois Horticulture Corner In the far Northwest Corner of Illinois, gardening is a very popular pastime! Get your info here! Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Right plant, right place Mon, 12 Feb 2018 14:30:00 +0000 News source/writer: Jennifer Fishburn, 217-782-4617,

URBANA, Ill. – As gardeners, we go to the garden center, wander the aisles, and find a plant we can't live without. Then at home, we walk to our garden with plant and shovel in hand and look for a space to put our new impulse purchase.

"These spontaneous plant purchases often result in a mixture of plants that have no continuity, leaving our garden without a good overall design and visual interest," says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Jennifer Fishburn.

According to Fishburn, each garden bed should have a design theme, such as an edible plant garden, or a goal, such as attracting butterflies or birds. A well-thought-out design will influence your plant choices and help prevent you from straying into the "hodgepodge" zone.

"The time spent planning and drawing a design will be time well spent," Fishburn says. "A plan will also reduce costly mistakes, avoid incorrect placement of plants, and result in fewer pest and disease problems. A design can be a simple sketch on paper or a formal drawing done to scale. Be sure to draw plants at their mature size."

In addition, do some homework and research the characteristics of the plant, such as flower color, shape and bloom time, foliage color and texture, mature height, spread and shape of the plant, and pest resistance.

Selecting the right plants to fit the needs of the location is very important to the success of your landscape. Fit your plant selections for the site rather than altering the site to fit the plant.

Find out about the conditions under which the plant prefers to grow, such as hardiness, heat tolerance, amount of light, and soil and moisture conditions. Plants with similar growing conditions should be incorporated into the same planting bed.

Before selecting plants, learn everything you can about the site. Conduct a site analysis, which is a study of the features of the landscape. Conditions to take note of include amount of light, soil type (clays, loam, or sandy), soil pH (acidic or basic), water holding capability of the soil, and temperature extremes for the area.

"One of the best ways to prevent problems is to purchase healthy plants. Look for plants with healthy, properly colored foliage. Inspect foliage for signs of insect damage, insect eggs, or diseases," Fishburn says.

A well-planned landscape can enhance and sustain the quality of our environment. Plants not only add aesthetic beauty to the landscape; they also attract wildlife, help protect water quality, reduce soil erosion, improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and reduce heating and cooling costs. Properly placed plants also have economic value and can increase the property value of a home.

Perennial plant of the year – Allium 'Millenium' Mon, 29 Jan 2018 14:30:00 +0000 News source/writer: Martha A. Smith, 309-756-9978,

URBANA, Ill. – The Perennial Plant Association has awarded the title Perennial Plant of the Year 2018 to Allium 'Millenium'. This herbaceous perennial, a relative of the common onion, is a workhorse of the late summer garden. Bred by Mark McDonough, horticulture researcher from Massachusetts, 'Millenium' was introduced through Plant Delights Nursery in 2000 where it has proven itself year after year, earning rave reviews.

"This cultivar is the result of a multigenerational breeding program involving Allium nutans and A. lusitanicum (formerly Allium senescens ssp. montanum), selected for late flowering with masses of rose-purple blooms, uniform habit with neat shiny green foliage that remains attractive all season long and for its drought-resistant constitution. The spelling, though, raises questions. It is often spelled 'Millennium', consistent with the correct spelling for the turn of the century, but was apparently registered under the name 'Millenium,'" says Martha Smith, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

The genus Allium contains over 900 species of bulbous plants in the Northern Hemisphere, but is perhaps best known for a dozen or so species that compose the culinary vegetables and herbs: onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, and chives. The genus is also known for a few dozen ornamental flowers that grow from bulbs and sport tall stems with big globe-shaped blooms in spring. The vast majority of the genus is little known and absent from horticulture, yet possesses significant ornamental potential once more species are introduced to cultivation.

Allium 'Millenium' has numerous virtues to add to the landscape setting. Growing best in full sun, each bulb typically produces an upright foliage clump of grass-like, glossy deep green leaves reaching 10-15 inches tall in spring. In midsummer, two or three flower scapes appear from each bulb rising above the foliage, with each scape producing two to three showy two-inch spherical umbels of rose-purple florets for up to four weeks. The flower umbels are completely round (spherical), not domed or hemispherical as they are in some Allium species. They dry to a light tan, often holding a blush of their former rose-purple color.

While other Alliums can look scraggly in the heat of the summer, 'Millenium' doesn't let the heat bother it. Easily grown in Zones 4-9 (and possibly Zone 3), it makes a great perennial in many areas of the country. In very hot summer climates, it does appreciate afternoon shade.

No serious pest problems have been reported other than bulb rot, which may occur in wet soils. In overcrowded growing conditions leaf spot may occur. Deer and rabbits leave 'Millenium' alone. Alliums are sometimes avoided due to their reseeding behavior. Fortunately, 'Millenium' exhibits 50 percent reduced seed production, thus less potential for self-sown seedlings.

Allium 'Millenium' has true bulbs attached to a short, stout rhizome, forming an ornamental herbaceous clump that is easily propagated by division. Growers can expect a good display with three to five bulbs per one-gallon container. Free draining soil medium and full sun are required. Once in the garden, 'Millenium' can easily be lifted and divided in either spring or fall. Cut back foliage in late fall.

Pollinators will flock to Allium 'Millenium'. Butterflies and bees will thank you for adding 'Millenium' to your garden. Pair with shorter goldenrods (Solidago sp.) such as 'Little Lemon', which reaches one and a half feet tall. Goldenrods are late-summer pollinator magnets that will offer beautiful contrasting golden yellow blooms.

Another late summer re-blooming perennial to consider is Oenothera fremontii 'Shimmer' with its low growing, silvery foliage adorned daily with large yellow flowers that open in late afternoon and fade to an apricot color by morning. Being tap-rooted, this evening primrose is well behaved, not creeping through the garden as some rhizomatous spreading evening primrose are infamously known for.

Allium 'Millenium' also looks great backed with the silver foliage of Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, or the native Scutellaria incana, Downy skullcap, with its numerous spikes of blue flowers above trim green foliage. Or simply plant en masse and enjoy the rose-purple display!

This low-maintenance dependable perennial will not disappoint. Blooming at a time when most of our garden begins to decline in the tired excess of the season, 'Millenium' offers much needed color. It is truly an all-season plant offering attractive shiny foliage spring through summer and capping off the season with its crown of perfectly round, rose-purple flower umbels.

2018 All-America Selection winners Mon, 22 Jan 2018 02:30:00 +0000 News source/writer: Bruce J. Black, 815-632-3611,


URBANA, Ill. – Cold, blustery temperatures have been moving across Illinois lately and gardeners are starting to put the landscape to bed for the winter. Why not weather the season indoors and start designing next year's garden?

"Planning your garden is essential to make sure that you have enough space for your plants while ensuring your garden has color and bloom all year long," says Bruce Black, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "After mapping out perennials you currently have planted, think about what new plants could be added to your landscape. A great starting place is the All-America Selections."

All-America Selections (AAS) is a non-profit organization that releases a number of trialed plants each year as AAS Winners. All-America Selections tests new varieties every year at their 80 private and public trial sites located around the United States and Canada.

Currently, there are five trial locations distributed throughout Illinois: three northern, one central, one southern. Independent judges, who are professional horticulturists in geographically diverse areas, evaluate trial entries against comparison plants. The results and observations are compiled and winners are chosen. For the best plants suited to the area, Illinois residents should look for Great Lakes winners or national winners on the AAS Winners lists.

Three 2018 AAS National Winners have been announced, which include two vegetables and a flower.

Corn, Sweet American Dream (Zea mays var. American Dream): American Dream has super sweet bi-colored kernels, is very tender and has excellent germination, reaching maturity in 77 days. National Vegetable Winner.

Tomato (cocktail), Red Racer F1 (Solanum lycopersicum var. Red Racer F1): Red Racer is a compact determinate tomato, producing cocktail-sized (1.5 inches), uniform, red-clustered tomatoes with a good sweet/acid balance. Ideal for container gardens and available in conventional and organic seeds. National Vegetable Winner.

Ornamental Pepper Onyx Red (Capsicum annuum var. Onyx Red): Onyx Red is a 6-12-inch compact annual with dark purple foliage with purple-red fruit. National Flower Winner.

Looking for something else to fill in your landscape and gardens?

The All-America Selections website ( contains a list of all past vegetables and flowers winners since its founding in 1933.

"Reading about these new plant introductions is sparking my excitement for spring," says Black. "I may start planning our youth summer gardens a bit earlier this winter."

For more information about gardening, check out the University of Illinois Extension websites Watch Your Garden Grow, or University of Illinois Extension Horticulture YouTube Channel,

Annual Joys of Gardening event offered February 17th Mon, 15 Jan 2018 14:30:00 +0000 Freeport, IL--Mark your calendars for the 21st annual Joys of Gardening program offered by the University of Illinois Extension and the U of I Extension Master Gardeners. Slated for Saturday, February 17, at the Highland Community College Student Conference Center, 2998 W. Pearl City Road, Freeport, the program will begin with registration at 8 a.m., keynote address at 8:25 a.m., and breakout sessions following the keynote.

Terra Brockman, Author of The Seasons on Henry's Farm and Founder of The Land Connection will give the Keynote address "The Joys and Challenges of Growing Fruits and Vegetables". Brockman is the fourth of five generations of a central Illinois farm family, and aJames-Beard-nominated author. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Epicurious, Zester Daily, the Christian Century, and Edible Chicago. In 2000, she foundedThe Land Connection,an educational nonprofit that trains farmers in regenerative agriculture, and helps builds healthy, community-based food systems. When she is not writing or speaking about food and farming, you are likely to find her working for food on herbrother Henry's vegetable farmor hersister Teresa's fruit farm.

Following the keynote presentation will be a series of four breakout sessions. Each breakout session will include unique garden related classes. Session 1: 21st Century Victory Gardens, Cooking with Fresh Produce, Making Succulent Terrariums, Climate Resources for Gardeners, and Garden Plants: The Best and the Beautiful. Session 2: The Backyard Orchard, Growing with Hydroponics, Right Tool for the Job, Putting Rain to Work, Creative Container Gardens, and The Basics of Keeping Bees. Session 3: Successful Squash, Area Gardens to Visit for Free, A Gardener's Guide to Invasive Plants, Composting: Creating a Better Pile, I Love Whole Grains, and Intermediate Bee Keeping. The day will conclude with a single presentation in Session 4: Providing for Pollinators. Local professionals, Extension Staff and U of I Extension Master Gardeners will lead each of the classes.

Joys of Gardening will again feature the popular Master Gardener Seed Giveaway. Master Gardeners have collected, cleaned, and packaged seeds from their yards and these seeds will be available to participants at no charge. In addition, a silent auction will be held to support programs offered by the University of Illinois Extension- Master Gardeners. There will be door prizes and educational displays as well.

For more information about Joys of Gardening visit or call (815) 235-4125. The registration cost for the program is $25 and includes lunch. Registration deadline is February 9.

A winter experiment for youth: Forcing paperwhites Thu, 28 Dec 2017 14:30:00 +0000 News source/writer: Brittnay Haag, 309-663-8306,


URBANA, Ill. – Even though it is cold outside and snow may be covering our gardens, we can still exercise our little ones' green thumbs. Bring the garden inside this winter with fun activities and experiments! Winter is the perfect time for kids to learn basic plant concepts and develop an interest in the garden.

"A great family-friendly activity to bring spring inside is forcing paperwhite bulbs," says Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program educator. "Forcing bulbs" is a technique that causes them to flower in conditions other than what they would naturally experience outdoors.

Because of their delicate nature, paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) bulbs will not overwinter successfully outside in Illinois. However, they are great bulbs to force inside, enjoy the bloom, and then discard. Unlike other bulbs, they do not need a cold treatment before blooming.

To grow paperwhites inside this winter, you need just a few supplies and care.

  1. Purchase bulbs from your local garden center or online company.
  2. Select a 3 to 4 inch deep, clear container with no drainage holes. The container can be a decorative glass or as simple as a plastic cup. The clear sides of the container will give kids a great view of the roots forming from the bulb.
  3. Fill the container three-quarters full of small rocks or marbles.
  4. Place the bulb on top with the tip side facing up.
  5. Fill the container with water until it is just barely covering the bottom of the bulb.
  6. Place the container in a sunny, warm window.
  7. Observe the bulb every day. Make sure to replenish the water as it evaporates or the roots absorb it. Roots and tips will begin to appear in 1 to 2 weeks.
  8. When the bulb begins to flower (about 1 month), move the plant to the coolest area in your house to prolong the bloom. The star-shaped cluster of flowers produces a strong, musky fragrance and are a nice addition to your home décor.

For older children, set up a scientific experiment with multiple bulbs in a variety of situations. Place the containers in shaded versus sunny locations or vary the water levels on the bulbs and see how they grow.

For younger children, this activity also provides the opportunity to learn about the individual parts of the plant and their function.

Still looking of other ideas for indoor winter gardening activities with kids?

"Try decorating a flowerpot for the summer patio garden, making a bird feeder with pinecones coated with birdseed, creating a garden plan and ordering seeds, or visiting your local library to read children's books about gardening," Haag says. "There's enough fun to stay busy all winter long."

Watch where you step: The legend of mistletoe Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:30:00 +0000 News writer/source: Chris Enroth, 309-837-3939,

URBANA, Ill. – Decorating with mistletoe has been a holiday tradition for many centuries in North America and Europe. It begs the question: Why do we have this strange tradition that prompts friends, family, and even enemies to kiss when they meet underneath mistletoe?

"Perhaps you have been one of the lucky—or unlucky—few that have found yourself under the mistletoe for a kiss," says University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Chris Enroth.

It is widely accepted that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe began in the 16th century, but the history of the plant goes back much farther than that. Mistletoe is considered one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants in European folklore.

It was used in ancient times, centuries before the birth of Christ, by Druid tribes living in what is considered modern-day Great Britain. In fact, the plant was so sacred to the ancient Druids that if two enemies met under the mistletoe, they would lay down their weapons and exchange greetings. Druid priests would harvest mistletoe with a golden knife and pass it around to celebrate the new year.

Mistletoe was banned from Christian ceremonies for many years because of its pagan origin, but Christian leaders eventually incorporated the plant into decorations and celebrations to draw in the old tribes of Britain and Europe.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe began in 1520 when William Irving wrote, "A young man should pluck a berry each time he kisses a young girl beneath the hanging plant, and once the berries were gone the romantic power of the plant faded." Hence, many gentlemen sought mistletoe cuttings with an abundance of berries to hang in their homes.

"In addition to its interesting history, mistletoe is also an interesting plant," says Enroth.

It is a true parasite and grows as an evergreen in a variety of trees, but is common in apple trees, poplars, lindens, and willow. Mistletoe draws water and nutrients from its host. Although it typically does not kill the tree outright, it weakens it to the point of shortening the host's lifespan, making it vulnerable to other pests and disease.

"There are many different species of mistletoe," says Enroth. "The species celebrated in ancient texts and used in European celebrations is the European mistletoe, whose scientific name is Viscum album."

Mistletoe native to North America falls into the genus Phoradendron, and is the mistletoe commonly sold in the United States.

Can you find mistletoe in Illinois?

"That would be highly unlikely at least in Central Illinois," says Enroth. "Mistletoe is not common to our north-central Illinois climate, but can be found in Hardiness Zone 6 and becomes more prevalent further south."

Enroth adds, "You may have success finding mistletoe in Southern Illinois. With the warming climate, we have seen southern plant species begin to creep northward."

Most commercially harvested mistletoe grows in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Mistletoe is toxic and ingesting berries in large amounts can be lethal, so keep it out of reach of children and pets, or hang artificial mistletoe.

The name mistletoe translates directly to English as "dung-on-a-twig," as ancient tribes thought the plant germinated sporadically from bird droppings. Since "dung-on-a-twig" does not lend itself to the plant's romantic legend, let's stick with calling it mistletoe and be careful where you stand this holiday season.

Twelve Christmas tree facts Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:30:00 +0000 News writer/source: Ron Wolford, 773-233-2900,


URBANA, Ill. – Ron Wolford, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, shares these Christmas tree facts that are sure to spruce up your yuletide knowledge.

  1. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states as well as Canada.
  2. The average growing time for a Christmas tree is seven years.
  3. 350 million Christmas trees are growing on Christmas tree farms in the United States.
  4. 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year.
  5. There are 4,000 local Christmas tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
  6. In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
  7. Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882.
  8. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890.
  9. The tradition of an official Chicago Christmas tree was started in 1913 when Mayor Carter H. Harrison lit the first one in Grant Park.

10. From 1887 to 1933 a fishing schooner called the Christmas Ship would tie up at the Clark Street Bridge in Chicago and sell spruce trees from Michigan to Chicagoans.

11. Since 1971, the Province of Nova Scotia has presented the Boston Christmas tree to the people of Boston. This gesture is in gratitude for the relief supplies Boston sent after a ship exploded in 1917 in the Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbor, leveling parts of the city and killing or injuring thousands.

12. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lit except for the top ornament. This was done to honor the American hostages in Iran.

For more information, check out the University of Illinois Extension website, Christmas Trees & More, at