Flowers, Fruits, and Frass Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Hydrangeas on the Mind at Eureka Library on June 25 with Ellen Culver Thu, 13 Jun 2019 11:33:00 +0000  

She's dynamic. She is researched, and she was born to garden. She has shared her experiences growing succulents to the Eureka Library participants and is back to share her gardening observations on growing hydrangeas. The Eureka Library will be hosting University of Illinois Extension McLean County Master Gardener, Ellen Culver, on Tuesday, June 25 at 6:30 p.m. for a program "High on Hydrangeas." "Hydrangeas are the flowers you grow in your landscape to make the neighbors envious," states University of Illinois Extension Educator, Kelly Allsup.

Hydrangeas come in many forms and colors and are easy to grow with the right placement and care. Hydrangeas prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. Hydrangeas need room to grow and should be pruned at the correct time depending on the species. Hydrangeas do not do well during drought and require at least two inches of rain or supplemental watering to stay happy. Kelly states, "In my garden, the hydrangea is always the first plant to wilt and show drought stress." Hydrangeas also like additions of organic matter at the time of planting.

Ellen says, "There is a hydrangea (or two) for every garden." Come to the Eureka Library to explore the various types of hydrangeas and learn more growing information and pruning tips for this beloved plant. This presentation just may answer the often-asked question, "Why doesn't my hydrangea bloom?"

The Eureka Library is located on 202 South Main Street in Eureka, Illinois. Please call the library staff at (309) 467-2922 today to reserve your spot to attend this exclusive program.

TIPS AND TRELLISING FOR TOMATO SUCCESS Fri, 07 Jun 2019 15:02:00 +0000  

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Give a little time and attention to managing water, nutrition, and airflow, and you will have an ample harvest of garden tomatoes.

One of the most common issues for home gardeners is blossom end rot, a black patch on the bottom (blossom-side) of your fruit, caused by a localized calcium deficiency when your plant gets thirsty—the nutrients aren't making it all the way through the fruit when there isn't enough water to move them. Water your tomatoes at least one and a half inches per week, and mulch or mound at the base to conserve water. Inconsistent watering can also cause the tomatoes to crack when they are ripening.

Although tomatoes are heavy feeders, it is best not to over-fertilize as too much nitrogen can decrease yield, damage roots (especially if under-watered), and cause excessive vegetative (green) growth. Use a starter fertilizer at time of planting even if you have amended with compost. A starter fertilizer contains low amounts of nutrients, ideally with a ratio of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (often referred to as N-P-K) under 10.

In the beginning, nutrient requirements are low for tomato plants. As they grow the requirements rise, but then drop down again once fruit has become full size. Use one tablespoon of ammonium sulfur fertilizer per plant when tomatoes are the size of a golf ball. Follow up with a 10-10-10 fertilizer application every four weeks after that.

As you peruse tomato varieties to grow this season, one of the first questions you should ask is "Are these determinate or indeterminate plants?" Each requires different strategies for managing airflow.

Determinate (bush) varieties produce their fruits on the growing tips, causing the branch to stop production once the fruit has set. They are most often used for container gardening or small spaces and generally do not need to be trellised or staked. Examples of determinate varieties: Roma, the Mountain series, and Cherry Gold.

Indeterminate plants produce their fruits on side branches off a main vine and are able to produce fruit all summer and fall until they die off at the first frost. They can grow between six and twelve feet tall and require trellising or staking. They generally taste better than determinate tomatoes because of the foliage to fruit ratio. Some of the most popular varieties, including heirlooms, are indeterminate types, such as Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Sweet 100.

For indeterminate varieties, it is essential to trellis in order to increase airflow around the plant, which reduces foliage diseases, and to keep the foliage and fruits off the soil. There is nothing more disappointing than a gorgeous tomato eaten up or rotting because it has been lying on the ground. An upright plant also makes it easier to spot pests.


Most gardeners trellis their tomatoes at planting, or shortly after. Trellising a half-grown tomato is an impossible task without damaging the plant. Basic tomato cages found at any big box store or garden center are the simplest, most popular, and most affordable method of trellising. However, these tend to topple over once the plant grows large, and they don't fare well against Illinois winds. These are more effective with smaller determinate varieties but are insufficient for indeterminate tomatoes.

A second method of trellising tomatoes is homemade wire cages; home gardeners and small scale farmers construct these out of four-foot tall rolls of wire mesh, stacked and zip-tied double high to create a six- to eight-foot tall column. The mesh should have 4- to 6-inch openings for easy harvesting. The cages must be reinforced with at least one t-post, at least six-foot-tall, and set in the ground at least six inches deep. This is the method used by Bill Davison, Local Food System and Small Farms Educator, because most of the work is done in the beginning of the season, but the method does require more upfront cost the first year.

A third method, the Florida weave or basket weave, creates a hedge of tomatoes. This method costs less than wire mesh trellising, using less than half as many t-posts, but does require more labor throughout the growing season. One t-post is placed at the beginning of each row, and after every third tomato plant. Tightly secure twine to the post at the end of the row, one foot from the ground. Jute is recyclable and breaks down over time; polypropylene is stronger and more durable season-to-season; we prefer the latter. Snake the twine between the plants, pulling tight around the next t-post and securing it with a handful of wraps, before returning, snaking on the opposite side of each plant to secure it between the sections of twine. Additional rows of twine are added every eight inches as the vine grows taller. All growth should be removed from the bottom 12 inches of the plant once the second row of twine is added. When the plants reach the row at the top of the t-posts, they can be pruned back for height.

If you would like to learn more about tomato trellising, I will be posting pictures of progress throughout the season at

Get outside and Celebrate National Trails Day with us on June 1 by Sherry Thomas Tue, 21 May 2019 11:22:00 +0000 BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension's Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists will hold their annual Trails Day Celebration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 1 at Sugar Grove Nature Center. The event is free and open to the public so plan a family outing and spend National Trails Day outside with nature.

This year we have speakers, special guests and awesome activity stations planned including a visit from University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic for both a raptor session at 10:30 a.m. followed by a mammal program at 11 a.m. Other scheduled appearances include Illinois Weather at 11:30 a.m., Sugar Grove Nature Center animal feeding session at Noon, Miller Park Zoo mammal program at 1 p.m., and ending the day hearing all about the History of the Funks Grove area at 2 p.m.

And no worries, we have many nature-related activities to fill the day that focuses on hiking, nature crafts, honeybees & bird learning, first aid, trail safety, and more outdoor learning activities for both adults, and children. Participants are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch and stay all day to take advantage of as many activities as possible. Think you will forget your lunch? Bring some cash along as we will have food vendors available for the first time this year.

Sugar Grove Nature Center has over seven miles of hiking trails where participants can enjoy the diversity of plants and animals that live in the prairie, woodland, and savanna habitats. Guided hikes will take hikers along creeks and streams where birds and butterflies fly, toads hop, fish swim, herons hunt, and beavers are busy building dams. So plan ahead as you will not want to miss out on this year's "Mystery Trail." Sugar Grove Nature Center is located at 4532 N. 725 E. Rd, McLean, IL 61754.

University of Illinois Extension's Master Naturalist program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. For questions and more information about this event, location or becoming a Master Naturalist, follow and click on Find à Events Calendar or feel free to contact Sherry Thomas, University of Illinois Extension Ag & Natural Resources program coordinator for Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties at (309) 663-8306.

You can also search Events on Facebook for Funks Grove National Trails Day Celebration.

Looking to make your gardenpop? Try annual flowering vines by Brittnay Haag Wed, 15 May 2019 15:10:00 +0000  

Each spring gardeners begin looking for new and colorful plants to make their garden pop. "If you are looking for a plant that grows quickly, has interesting and colorful flowers, and will add a vertical element to your garden, look no further than an annual flowering vine," said Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program educator. All of these vines are easily grown from seed—either started directly in the soil or indoors 4 to 6 weeks before planted outside and after the threat of frost has passed.

Most annual vines climb by tendrils or twining (twisting their stems or leaf stalks) up any support such as a fence, trellis or arbor. They can also be planted to creep along the ground to form a colorful groundcover. These vines are sun-loving, easy to care for and have very few pest issues—an all-around great plant! While you don't need to prune annual vines, they may need limited "redirection and guidance" every so often. Many of these plants easily reseed in the gardens. Here are some tried and true gardener favorites.

cardinal climber (Ipomoea multifida) - This vine will add unique color and texture to the garden. It has palm-shaped leaves and grows 10 to 20 feet long. The abundant bright red tubular flowers are perfect for attracting hummingbirds.

hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) – Purple-lovers, this plant is for you! The leaves are greenish-purple with deep purple veins and purple stems. Fragrant purple flowers turn to shiny red/purple pods when mature on the vine. The plant grows 10 to 15 feet long.

black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) - A less vigorous vine than others, it grows 4 to 8 feet long. Velvety, 3"-wide leaves form a dense canvas for the black-eyed Susan-like flowers. Blooms may be orange, yellow or white, all with dark centers.

scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) - The vine foliage may look similar to a garden pole bean, but the cluster of scarlet flowers and 3-5" red pods definitely set it apart. The vine can grow 8 to 12 feet long. The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. The pods are edible as snap beans or shelled later.

"For a fun addition to any garden, make a teepee out of poles and plant vines along the outside for a green summer hideout for the kids," suggests Haag. "While not typically grown for their flowers, gourds are another great, easy-to-grow annual vine to try out. The vines produce ornamental fruit that can add an interesting size, shape texture to the landscape and used to decorate in the fall." Gourds will need substantial support to bear the weight of the fruit though.

Whether you have a newer garden that needs some maturity, or a mature garden that needs a pop of color or height, annual vines may just be the perfect plant for you. Check out the seed catalogs and gardener centers for some inspiration!

For more information about growing annual vines, visit the University of Illinois Extension vines website at

Become a citizen scientist for pollinators with University of Illinois by Deborah Seiler Fri, 03 May 2019 12:02:00 +0000 University of Illinois Extension is calling all lovers of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that keep our crops and gardens growing to join scientists in tracking their distribution and habitat use across the state, from the comfort of your home, school, or community garden.

I-Pollinate is a citizen-science research initiative through the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, designed to collect state-wide pollinator data. Volunteers can join up to three research projects and collect data on monarch butterfly egg and caterpillar abundance, pollinator visitation to ornamental flowers, and state bee distributions.

David Zaya, a plant ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, is leading the monarch butterfly portion of the project. Zaya has been involved in state efforts to help the monarchs as they are considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

"Older landowners across Illinois have told me anecdotes of how many more bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects they used to see," says Zaya. "Scientific data has started to show evidence of these declines, too. Our hope is that I-Pollinate will help us understand and use gardens to contribute to pollinator conservation and resurgence."

Zaya has worked with Alexandra Harmon-Threatt from the U of I Department of Entomology to design a study anyone can join by planting a simple 4x6-foot "pollinator pocket" as their personal study site for the summer. Instructions for the garden are provided on the project website linked below.

I-Pollinate volunteers can also join a decade-long project called BeeSpotter, led by entomologist May Berenbaum. The project uses photos submitted by volunteers across the Midwest to collect baseline information on the population status of honey bees and bumble bees. In addition to providing crucial information on where different bees occur, BeeSpotter volunteers have discovered two rare species in Illinois.

To learn more about becoming a citizen scientist

Ants in the Kitchen Thu, 02 May 2019 08:51:00 +0000 Ants are thriving in my kitchen, my bathroom, and at my office. They usually enter buildings after heavy rains and persist as long as the environment is to their liking. In the kitchen, they are seeking out sweet treats, and are attracted to the moisture in the bathroom. Despite ants not causing damage to the home and being beneficial in aerating soils, they are a general nuisance and are easily evicted. The eviction must include an integrated approach.

First, identify the ant. This is an important step as they have different nesting sites, food preferences and control methods. Some of the most common ants in Illinois are pavement ants, odorous house ants, small honey ant, carpenter ant, large yellow ant and pharaoh ant. To identify your ants, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health: Prevention and Control of Ants for a visual comparison and descriptions (

The small black ants may be difficult to distinguish. My ant visitors have been identified as odorous house ants. They are small and black, with faint striping on their abdomen, and when crushed they smell like coconut. Odorous house ants nest under rocks and debris but can also nest in the floors and walls. They eat sweets, meats and dairy. My eviction plan included sanitation, exclusion, and baits.

I started with cleaning out the cabinets, securing better food storage, and running the fan in the bathroom after showers to prevent moisture build up. Ants use pheromones to mark their trails, so I disrupted the ant trails I could find with a solution of water and bleach multiple times. The water and bleach was a fleeting line of attack, as in a few hours, the returned.

The next step is to find their nest. Many ants enter homes from outside nests looking for food. To find their nest, you must trace the ant trail back to the origin. For most, the nesting sites will be in soil under objects outside like stones, boards, firewood, or blocks. They can also nest in wall spaces and under floors of your home. In the past, I have traced my ant back to the compost bin outside my kitchen window. Currently, the ants are using the structure of my home. Therefore, I will need to repair and caulk cracks that are allowing them access to my home. If it is not clear where the ants are entering, you may treat a one-foot-wide area around the perimeter of your house.

Sweet baits were another part of my eviction plan. Some sweet baits contain insect growth regulators that prevent larvae from reaching adulthood, ultimately killing all the female foragers and starving the nest. Others disrupt the colony functions, the ant's respiration, or are toxic when eaten. If they like the bait, you may see multiple individuals visiting. At this time, you do not want to use bleach water to cover up ant trails. If they do not accept the bait, try another kind. Do not use insecticide sprays or dusts when implementing the baits.


Photo by Alex Wild

The ants you see wandering around the kitchen are the wingless sterile female workers whose only job is to gather food. They come from a colony of winged female queens and winged males. In June on calm sunny days, they may swarm and aggregate to mate. The winged females leave to find a nest site and the males are left to die. The queen is larger and loses her wings once she has established a nest, and may live for multiple years laying eggs.

Most swarming ants cause concern in homeowners because they believe them to be termites. However, identification between the two is simple. Both termites and ants have two pairs of wings, but ants have shorter back wings and termite's wings are of equal length. Ants have antennae that are in an elbowed shape and have thin waists between the thorax and abdomen. Termites' antennae are not bent, and their waist is broad, keeping a consistent shape down the length of the body.

Recommendations for outdoor pest management from the University of Illinois Extension include applying sprays or granules that contain bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, esfenvalerate, gamma-cyhalothrin, lambda-cyhalothrin and permethrin for treatment on nests outside.

For baits, look for abamectin, propoxur, and thiamethoxam (paralyzes pests by interrupting the nervous system), boric acid, dinotefuran, fipronil and indoxacarb (disrupts ant colony function), hydramethlnon (disrupts cellular respiration and toxic when digested). Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University Entomologists suggest baits contain insect growth regulators (hydramethylnon) as an option. He says it affects growth or prevent queens from producing fertile eggs.

Always with any pesticide read and follow the directions on the pesticide labels before using them.

Strawberries Revisited Mon, 29 Apr 2019 11:42:00 +0000 Strawberries: Signs of spring

University of Illinois, Horticulture educator, Kelly Allsup says "plant strawberry plants this spring for next year's harvest of plump juicy berries." Strawberries can be greatly rewarding and only require a few simple timed garden tasks.

Before planting bare root bundles, amend the soil with organic matter. Organic matter consisting of plant and animal materials will provide nutrients, help retain water and encourage root growth. University of Illinois strongly suggests not planting strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers have been grown because of disease issues.

There are two types of strawberries; June bearing, day neutral or Everbearing. June bearing strawberries are the most commonly grown producing large plump berries for two to three weeks in late spring. One common way to plant June bearers is in a matted row configuration, meaning 24" between plants at time of planting. Then four weeks later, runners (daughter plants) will need to be pressed down creating a box with four corners around the mother plant. All of the remaining runners should be removed in addition to all of the flowers for the first year.

Everbearing strawberries can be planted as a ground cover in the landscape. This type produce smaller berries throughout the growing season.

It is imperative not to let the strawberries go through drought in late summer months or you may be compromising next year's fruits. Winter covering of three to four" of straw will protect strawberry crowns form cold temperatures and will need to be removed in spring. Consistent weeding may be needed to keep the plants healthy. Remove all blossoms during the first growing season to ensure larger harvest in subsequent years.

After harvest the second year, fertilize and renovate your strawberry patch. To renovate your patch trim back to two to four" and thin plants to every six".

Strawberries crowns can be planted in containers and treated as an annual. Remove runners, fertilize every three to four weeks and ensure at least six to eight hours of soil. Strawberries are shallow rooted so deep pots are not needed.

Encourage native pollinators by limiting chemical spray and planting blooming annuals like cosmos and zinnias to increase yield and fruit quality. An individual strawberry, which has about 200 multiple flowers should be visited multiple times by pollinators. Bumble bees, honey bees, smaller wild bees, drone flies and hover flies can be found pollinating strawberry patches. Some studies have shown that honey bees like pollinating the outer flowers and the wild bees like pollinating the lower flower and the combination of pollinators can be ideal.

One year of patience and a few simple timed garden tasks can provide your family with strawberries that are sweet, red and juicy the way they are supposed to be. For more information on growing strawberries, please visit University of Illinois Extension Website called Strawberries and More at