Prairies to Perennials An almanac of all things that grow in Lincoln's backyard. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Pollinators More Than Monarchs and Honey Bees Wed, 03 Oct 2018 09:50:00 +0000 For the past several years, the decline in monarch and honey bee populations has spurred great interest in these two insect pollinators. It is important to continue to focus on their needs; however, a host of other fascinating pollinators are also working in the yard and garden. As summer winds down, there's still time to observe many of them.

This spring, the University of Illinois Extension Logan, Menard, Sangamon Unit offered an opportunity to learn how to identify native bees and other pollinators and to make and record observations as part of a Citizen Scientist program. It was an eye opener for participants! The object was to note bees versus non-bees, then to further refine identifications. In addition to the honey bee, the bee categories that participants learned about included the bumble bee, chap leg bee, striped hairy-belly bee, cuckoo bee and about six other types. A picture of the colorful green metallic bee can be seen in the accompanying pictures. The non-bee category includes butterflies, moths, beetles, true bugs, birds, flies, wasps, and spiders, some of which are also pictured.

Sizes of insect pollinators vary from just a few millimeters to hummingbird size. It can be surprisingly difficult to tell tiny bees, wasps and flies apart, much less to further identify them within their species. Wings, eyes and antennae are helpful indicators. Bees are hairy and frequently carry pollen. Once you start looking, it becomes apparent that pollinators are everywhere and have definite preferences among flowers.

In general, the best time to look for pollinators is between 9 am and 4 pm on a hot, sunny day. New blooms with fresh nectar are usually more popular than fading flowers. Individual pollinators are attracted to different flowers, generally more to native plants than hybrids. Blooming herbs are often covered with several types of tiny insects on the same days that scores of beetles visit larger blooms like hydrangeas.

Being aware of visiting pollinators adds interest to any garden. It just takes a closer look to get started.

Contributing author and photographs, Barbara Rogers, University of Illinois Extension Logan-Menard-Sangamon master gardener volunteer

Stretching our View of Herbs Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:15:00 +0000 What usually comes to mind when thinking about herbs is a low bushy plant with fragrant leaves and blooms, like basil or thyme. It's a much broader category, however. An herb has been defined as "...any plant or plant part that has historically been used for medicinal, culinary or fragrance purposes" and also, simply, as "a useful plant." Gardening with Herbs | Herb Gardening | U of I Extension

Every year, the International Herb Association chooses an herb of the Year. This year, it is Hops (Humulus lupulus).This long, vigorous vine is a hardy perennial in Zones 3 to 8 with the foliage dying back to the ground each winter. Rhizomes are planted in the spring and vines need to be trained to sturdy supports starting in May. Each plant produces multiple vines that can reach 20 to 30 feet. There are both male and female plants, but only the latter produce the cone-like structures called strobiles that contain lupulin glands full of oils and resin that provide the aroma. The hops plant needs full sun and well-drained soil.

Growers should select the top two or three vines for each trellis and plants should be at least 3.5 feet apart. A tall and strong support system must be provided to avoid tangling vines and decreased production. Cones appear as the weather warms up and are typically ready to harvest in August. Hops need steady watering during the growing season and monitoring for pests including spider mites, aphids, leaf hoppers, and Japanese beetles.

Hops plants have been in use for centuries, but the proliferation of microbreweries in recent years has caused a spike in hops cultivation by specialty growers and home gardeners. The University of Illinois Extension Logan-Menard-Sangamon Master Gardener volunteers planted two varieties (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus' and Humulus lupulus 'Newport') four years ago in the Herb Garden at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. These plants have done well and attract a lot of interest from visitors to our Garden.

The main use of hops is to flavor beer but its anti-microbial properties inhibit the growth of organisms and contribute to flavor stability, too. Hops plants have also been used medicinally.

Pictures show hops growing at the Herb Garden, Master Gardener Janice Buscher giving a presentation on hops, and a hops bloom. The Herb Garden is located on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in front of Building #30 along 8th Street in Springfield. You are welcome to stop by.

Contributing author and photos by Barbara Rogers, Master Gardener volunteer.

They're Back, Japanese Beetles Tue, 12 Jun 2018 13:38:00 +0000 Japanese beetle adults may be munching on roses, lindens, raspberries, birch trees, crabapple and apple trees in your neighborhood. The beetles are voracious foliage and fruit feeders of nearly 300 species of plants. Feeding on plants generally lasts for about six weeks.

The Japanese beetle is approximately 1/2 inch long and is metallic green with coppery wing covers. The beetles chew the leaf tissue between the veins leaving a skeletonized leaf. Adults most actively feed from 9 am to 3 pm on warm, sunny days. Normally they start feeding on the upper portions of plants and work downward. Japanese beetles prefer plants exposed to direct sunlight.

Since it is an introduced species, Japanese beetles don't have any natural predators in the United States.

Damage to trees and shrubs is considered to be primarily aesthetic, beetles are unlikely to cause dieback to healthy trees. According to Phil Nixon, Extension Entomologist, "even heavily attacked trees and shrubs rarely exhibit severe dieback because the beetles attack after the bulk of food production has already occurred in the leaves. Photosynthetic production primarily occurs early in the season when the leaves are still soft and pliable. Japanese beetle defoliation occurs later in the growing season. This allows one to selectively treat those trees and shrubs in very obvious landscape locations and to ignore the damage on others."

There are several control options for Japanese beetles.

Because the adult beetles prefer foliage previously damaged by other Japanese beetles, early hand-removal of beetles is effective. In the late afternoon and evening, disturbed beetles fold their legs and drop to the ground. By holding a container of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or soapy water under beetles and poking at them, one can easily collect a pint or so in less than an hour. If this is done every day or two for the first couple of weeks after the beetles emerge, subsequent damage through the summer is reduced. Although labor-intensive, this is a viable option.

Netting is used to provide complete protection. Rosarians protect prize individual buds and blooms or even entire plants with netting. Backyard blueberry growers use netting as well. Shadecloth with a high light transmittance, spun-bound polyester row covers, netting sold in fabric stores, window screening, and other meshes all work well.

Adult beetles can be difficult to control. Heavily attacked plants can be sprayed Carbaryl (Sevin), cyfluthrin, permethrin foliar sprays provide temporary protection. Always read and follow label directions for safe use of pesticides. Sevin is toxic to bees and other beneficial insects and should be sprayed in the evening. Protect natural enemies such as birds and predator insect by keeping the use of conventional pesticides to a minimum. Spray only plants where damage is very noticeable or food crops that are under attack. Plants in less obvious parts of the landscape and large trees can go untreated.

Pheromone traps are available that contain a pheromone (externally produced hormonelike chemical) attractive to male Japanese beetles and a floral lure attractive to female beetles. The pheromone traps are useful for detecting beetle emergence, but not recommended as a control. Research shows that beetles are attracted from a considerable distance to areas near the traps but then switch their seeking behavior to food plants, resulting in heavier plant damage near traps. Even though the traps catch large numbers of beetles, there use is not recommended.

Recycle Plastic Pots Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:22:00 +0000 Earth Day is Sunday, April 22. Join the fight to end plastic pollution by visiting Earth Day Network website and calculate your plastic consumption and make a pledge to reduce your amount, .

Plastics are a problem mostly due to their un-biodegradable nature, and the challenges behind properly discarding them.

Gardeners can reduce part of their footprint by recycling plastic pots. In Springfield, Illinois plastic garden pots can be recycled at local businesses including Green View Garden Center, Meijer, Farmer's Market Garden Center, and Lowe's.

Several times a year, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteers collect clean plastic pots that are 1 gallon size and larger. Upcoming collections will be held:

-April 27 and 28, 9am to 1pm, at the U of I Extension office, 700 S. Airport Drive, Springfield

-May 5, 8am to 1pm, Springfield Civic Garden Club sale, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Barn #26, Springfield

If you have questions about future collections, call (217) 782-4617.

Bringing Gardening Inside Tue, 14 Nov 2017 10:11:00 +0000 University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteers can choose from a variety of volunteer opportunities.Some plan and care for demonstration gardens. Others present programs on a variety of horticultural topics or answer gardening questions from the public. For the past 15 years, Master Gardeners have visited St. Joseph's Home on Thursdays from Spring through Fall, talked with residents and their family visitors, and spend time with residents doing a garden-related activity. Many of the residents formerly had yards planted with flowers, fruits and vegetables, and share memories and experiences during the weekly meetings.

Activities  include PowerPoint presentations, some have lots of plant materials to pass around and discuss, and some are "hands on" like repotting residents' plants that have overgrown their containers. Occasionally, local experts make guest appearances and share their knowledge on topics including orchids, day lilies, and birds. When the activity involves in-season fruits and vegetables, the program frequently includes a tasting or edible snack.

One activity that's popular year after year is flower arranging. In the companion pictures, you can see Master Gardeners Pam Catalani, Mary Kern, Frank Thornton, and Chris Schmitt preparing flowers for residents,one arrangement in progress, and some finished vases for residents to take to their rooms.

The Garden Club is a volunteer activity that brings the garden inside to share with folks who have limited opportunities to get out. While this Committee receives little attention, the  Master Gardener volunteers find it a satisfying and worthwhile way to encourage interest in horticulture.

Article and photos contributed by Barbara Rogers, Master Gardener volunteer

Fall Garden Tasks Thu, 02 Nov 2017 15:22:00 +0000 Don't let recent cool temperatures make you think that the gardening season is over. Fall is a great time to get a few last chores done and get a head start on next spring. Here are a few items to add to your fall garden "to do" list.

It's not too late to plant spring bulbs. While bulbs should be planted as soon as possible, they can be planted until the ground freezes. Select firm, disease free bulbs. Plant large bulbs such as tulips and daffodil 6 to 8 inches deep. Small bulbs such as crocus and grape hyacinth should be planted 3 inches deep. Be sure to plant bulbs with pointed end up and flat side down.

Clean annual plant debris from vegetable and flower gardens. This includes plant remnants and weeds. Don't underestimate the power of a few weeds. Remember the saying "One year of seeds equals seven years of weeds."

Perennial flower beds should be mulched. Be sure to do this after plants are dormant, around mid-November. Mulch with a loose organic mulch to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Most plant debris can be removed from the garden, however ornamental grass foliage can be left as it adds winter interest to the landscape.

Start a compost pile with leaves and garden debris. Many gardeners enjoy turning composting leaves, lawn clippings, shredded twigs, and vegetable and food waste into something that can be reapplied to the landscape. Composted material is a great soil amendment. A compost pile should be contained structure. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate- tie four pallets together or stack several layers of concrete blocks together. The minimum size for a compost pile should be 3' x 3' x 3' and the maximum size is 5' x 5' x 5'. For compost bin ideas stop by the Master Gardener demonstration gardens located on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in front of building #30.

Enjoy the beauty of fall while preparing your garden for winter.

Plant a Pollinator Pocket Wed, 23 Aug 2017 15:22:00 +0000 Pollinators are crucial to the pollination of more than 150 food crops in the United States. Many of these being fruits, nuts and berries which wildlife depend on and humans enjoy eating.

Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, flies, wasps and bats. As gardeners, we can provide pollinator-friendly gardens that provide valuable habitat to insects and wildlife. Consider including native plants in gardens. Native plants once established need less water, don't need fertilized, require less maintenance and are better adapted to local growing conditions.

A well designed pollinator garden should include:

  • A variety of flower shapes, sizes and bloom times
  • If possible, use native plants
  • Clumps of similar flowers
  • Located garden in full sun
  • Provide a nesting location such as bare ground or a hollow stump or log
  • Provide shallow water sources

Pollinator plant and design ideas can be found by visiting one of our University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteer demonstration gardens.

-Extension office, 700 S. Airport Drive, Springfield

-Demonstration gardens, along 8th street, in front of Building #30, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield

-Imagination Station Children Garden, Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield

-Prairie Wildflower Garden, Lincoln Memorial Garden, behind Ostermeier house, Springfield

While at the Children Garden at Henson Robinson Zoo, check out the pollinator faceboard or read a good book from the Treehouse Library.