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 A winter experiment for youth: Forcing paperwhites by Brittnay Haag Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:15:00 +0000 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."]]>
The Legend Mistletoe with Chris Enroth Sun, 10 Dec 2017 10:52:00 +0000 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 isViscum album."

Mistletoe native to North America falls into the genusPhoradendron,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.

Source: Christopher Enroth, Extension Educator, Horticulture,


Climate change may confuse plant dormancy cycles Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:58:00 +0000
Day length is governed by our trip around the sun each year – that's set in stone – but unusual temperature fluctuations are becoming more common as our climate is changing. So what happens to perennials when the sun tells them they should stay dormant, but warming soil tells them another story? A new study from the University of Illinois has some answers.
Switchgrass and prairie cordgrass, both native perennial grasses grown for biomass, come out of dormancy when the soil warms up for a week or more, usually in April. As temperatures rise, stored carbohydrates in the plants' rhizomes are converted into mobile forms to fuel growing tissues. If this happens during an unusually early thaw, new shoots could be killed and rhizomes could be left depleted when temperatures return to their normal range. The plant may not have enough oomph to produce new shoots later in spring, affecting biomass yield in agronomic settings or competitive ability in natural plant communities.
To look at the interplay between soil temperature, day length, and dormancy in switchgrass and prairie cordgrass, D.K. Lee and his collaborators designed a study to trick the plants.

"We dug plants up from the field and brought them into warm greenhouses in Illinois and South Dakota every month from October through March," says Lee, an agronomist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I. "The only lighting was the sun, so the plants had to react to the ambient photoperiod, or day length."

The warm temperatures triggered plants to start growing, but some of them got confused by the short days after they emerged. "Plants collected from October to January woke up, then, 'whoa!' The days were much shorter than they normally are when they wake up. Especially in October, November, and December, day length keeps decreasing. It's too short. The plants think it's weird," Lee explains.

So weird, in fact, that the plants reentered a kind of dormancy. New switchgrass shoots stopped growing, but stayed green and alive; the researchers referred to this as stagnation. But the new shoots that prairie cordgrass produced died back completely. "Cordgrass went back to sleep," Lee says. "The temperature cue for breaking dormancy was overridden by the day length cue."
Lee notes that the original intent for the study was to gather information for breeding purposes. "Often times, we are trying to make crosses between two different populations with two different flowering times," he says. "We artificially try to control and synchronize flowering by altering day length. Here, we weren't changing day length, but we still wanted to see what happened with flowering." The plants were allowed to continue their growing cycle through flowering. For the most part, flowering happened when it normally would, as flowering tends to be controlled more by day length than temperature.
Regardless of the original intent of the study, Lee keeps coming back to what his results say about potential effects of climate change on perennial plants. "We think of climate change as being a slow and steady process; it's possible that evolution could keep up with a pace like that. But we're seeing extreme and sudden temperature fluctuations. That's what we're worried about," he says.

If perennial plants come out of dormancy during an early thaw and then get hit with a late frost, which is what happened in 2012 in Illinois, the crop for that year could be lost. Even though prairie cordgrass is known to be cold tolerant, if short days force it back into dormancy after emergence, it still may have lower yields.

Those are just the agronomic concerns. Lee reiterates that temperature fluctuations could have major consequences for perennial plants in natural ecosystems. "What would happen if all the perennials die off or produce less biomass one year because of an early warm spell? Would aggressive annual weeds take over? The perennial plant community might have a shock."

The unknowns are why Lee plans to continue studying perennial plant responses to day length and temperature. "We still don't really know what's happening with the carbohydrate reserves as these plants just start to break dormancy. Even before we see shoots coming out, they're metabolizing and mobilizing carbohydrates. That's a big energy consumption process, and we need to learn more to be able to predict how they'll cope with temperature and day length cues," Lee says.Perennial plants in the Midwest are well attuned to their surroundings. They hunker down all winter in a dormant state, just waiting for a sign that it's safe to unfurl their first tender leaves or flower buds. For many plants, the cue is a sustained warming trend, but day length also factors into the dormancy equation.

Perennial Plant of the Year is Allium 'Millenium' Tue, 05 Dec 2017 16:35:00 +0000 Allium 'Millenium' has been awarded the 2018 perennial plant of the year. I actually just heard about this plant at a pollinator conference in October from Steve Foltz, Director of Horticulture at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, calling it a must have plant for the pollinator garden. The zoo has placed it on their Zoo's Best Perennials for Pollinators list where they promote plants throughout the zoo so that homeowners know what to plant in their own yards. The program involves teen volunteers known as the Buzz Troop who use cameras to track pollinators to different flowering plants.

"This cultivar of flowering onion is a result of breeding Allium nutans and Allium lusitanicum and was selected for late flowering masses of rose-purple blooms, uniform habit and neat shiny green foliage that remains attractive all season long" states University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Martha Smith. Allium "Millenium" is full sun perennial with leaves growing a foot tall with multiple spherical umbels of florets 18-20 inches tall that last about a month. Another attribute making it an outstanding plant is its drought and heat tolerance. However, in hot summers it may benefit from afternoon shade, but requires at least six hours of sun.

Allium 'Millenium' is a bulb on a horizontally spreading rhizomatous stem that clump and gardeners have the option to divide every three to four years after the foliage dies. Alliums are planted in the fall, before the ground freezes, along with other flowering bulbs like tulip and daffodils. Unlike giant alliums that grow, three to four feet tall, these Millenium alliums stay compact and are more floriferous. They also have sterile seeds and therefore do not spread like those annoying garlic chives. Flowering onions in general are not dug up by voles or squirrels and not browsed by deer.

Perennial plants of the year must be standouts amongst their competitors. Generally, they must be sustainable for a wide range of climate conditions, have low maintenance requirements, be relatively disease and pest free, and have multiple seasons of interest. Allium 'Millenium' fits all the requirements and is a must have for the perennial garden.


Images by Walters Garden

and Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder

Rabbits and Richard Sun, 03 Dec 2017 10:03:00 +0000 Colder weather, frozen soil, fallen and windblown leaves, and later any accumulated snow, all will force rabbits to take shelter and begin to look for food anywhere they can. Once the ground is frozen, rabbits will have fewer places to take shelter or hide. Foraging for food will mean staying a lot closer to the protection of their winter home.

While the weather remains favorable, rabbits feed on the diversity of plant material in the home landscape, lessening damage to any one plant. Rabbits feed on grass, clover and other lawn weeds, as long as the ground is open. Once those choices are gone, rabbits turn to young twigs and branches of plants, and once that food source is exhausted, tender bark on thin barked trees. Examples would be fruit trees, crabapples and burning bush. It is common to find young trees completely girdled by the rabbits, having eaten the bark all around the small trunks from the ground up several inches, by spring. On the smaller plants, rabbits can eat them down to the ground quickly if that is the sole source of food. Rabbits tend to find a place to live for the winter and then move out from there locating food. The damage is far worse closer to their winter home than farther out in the yard, even if the plants are the same.

Feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire or a more specific type of fencing designed to keep the younger rabbits from getting into your plantings. This fencing has the wire at a much smaller spacing near the bottom where a baby rabbit could get through. This is not so important in the winter, but is great for next spring when offspring are feeding. If possible, get the fencing in place now. Work it down into the soil surface so later when the ground does freeze it is locked in place and wildlife cannot easily burrow underneath it. If you have a perennial bed, it can be easier to fence out the entire bed than create individual structures for each plant. If protecting young trees, the fencing will need to be several inches larger than the trunk. The height will vary, just keep in mind that a rabbit will walk up the snowdrift and feed higher on the tree so a typical roll of poultry fence may not be high enough if you know your yard drifts around your trees. Plan accordingly.

Other materials can be found at most garden centers and work well too. Plastic wraps that spiral around the trunk work, but you may need to use more than one to get up high enough on the trunk. There are also rolls of tree wrap that will prevent feeding and provide winter protection from the sun, especially on thin barked trees. If you are wrapping for both the rabbits and to prevent frost cracks, wrapping up to the lowest branch on newly planted single-stemmed trees is recommended. For fruit trees that have low scaffold branches, both the wraps and fencing are suggested.

Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with the Green Side Up podcast

Pictures taken by Michelle Grabowski, Univ. of Minnesota

Cover crops provide bed and breakfast layover for migrating birds by Cassandra Wilcoxen Wed, 29 Nov 2017 16:14:00 +0000 After harvesting a corn or soybean crop, farmers may plant a cover crop for a variety of reasons—to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve water quality. Now there's another reason. University of Illinois research shows that migratory birds prefer to rest and refuel in fields with cover crops.

"Here in the Midwest, we're in one of the major flyway zones for migratory birds, where there once was plenty of habitat for grassland birds to safely forage and rest during their migration. Now that agriculture is the dominant landscape, they're finding it harder to get the resources they need on the way to their breeding grounds," says Cassandra Wilcoxen, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I.

"We think cover crops, such as cereal rye, likely provide migrating birds with more vegetation and a safe area to escape from the elements and from predators," Wilcoxen says. "Cover crops also increase insect abundance, another food source for birds. The increased number of insects allows migrants to fuel up faster and move on to their breeding grounds.

"Grassland birds prefer large, open areas: the bigger, the better. Agricultural fields are huge, so the cover crops provide a large habitat where birds can rest, forage, and potentially even nest."

Fields with cover crops are not going to replace natural habitats, but in early spring there can be miles of fields with little vegetation. The advent of cover crops provides a potentially important habitat for birds returning to the Midwest from areas as far south as Argentina. The large green fields are likely a beacon for migratory birds.

Over two planting seasons, Wilcoxen monitored birds in corn and soybean fields with and without cover crops. She observed 6,133 individual birds of 52 species, with 13 species accounting for 90 percent of all birds detected. The most common species were the Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and American Robin.

"Fields with cover crops always had more birds, and corn fields with a cover crop were the overall winners," Wilcoxen says. She thinks corn plus a cover crop, especially cereal rye, was the favorite because there is more residue on the fields; the remaining corn stalks along with rye provide more cover for the birds.

What's the downside? Wilcoxen says it's all in the timing.

"The window of time to plant a cover crop in the fall is fairly short. Cover crops can be aerial seeded, drilled, or broadcast. But depending on how wet the fall is, there is only a short time when it can be planted. Drilling is the best method because you know you're getting good seed-to-soil contact," she says.

Another timing issue emerges in the spring: when to kill the cover crop.

Wilcoxen says it's tricky. "Some grassland birds nest in the spring, so in order to give birds the time they need, farmers may need to hold off terminating their cover crop. Those are the sorts of recommendations that will require more research," she says. "It's true of any new farming practice. You have to play around with it to get it right."

"In our experience, most farmers using cover crops have learned about the practice from their neighbors, and we are hoping this continues and cover crop use continues to grow," Wilcoxen says.

Will what's best for migratory birds motivate farmers to plant cover crops and terminate them a bit later to allow birds to use them for habitat? Wilcoxen is hopeful. She says one of the aspects of her work that she enjoys most is bringing together the agricultural community and the wildlife community to work together for long-term environmental health.

"Production agriculture has taken a lot of habitat from wildlife, but we need it to provide food for us and the world. But how do we mesh the two? Where are the opportunities? No-till is a great example. It helps slow soil erosion and it helps birds. Now cover crops are another overlapping win-win opportunity to benefit both agriculture and wildlife."

Wilcoxen assumes a new position next week as watershed specialist for the Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District. She will be coordinating the Lake Decatur Watershed Program that aims to increase conservation practices and offers education and outreach opportunities about the importance of soil conservation and water quality.

Start the Holiday season off with Nature inspired crafts in Eureka Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:18:00 +0000 Universityof Illinois Extension and Heartline and Heart House are teaming up to celebrate the holiday season by offering a free make and take Holiday Nature Ornament Program. Not only are these type of ornaments trending this holiday season but also they can be very affordable, easy to make and a fun family affair. These small ornaments can adorn any tree small or large to fulfill that great gift idea.
Many people, especially women, experience high levels of stress during the holidays according to research done by the American Psychological Society. They may have to decorate the home, buy presents, plan dinners, and organize family events all while managing the stresses of everyday life and without breaking the bank. It can be an overwhelming task for us all.
Let University of Illinois Extension and Heartline and Heart House reduce this stress by helping you cross one thing off your list and start the season on a positive note with these very personal naturally inspired ornaments. The program will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28 at the Heartline and Heart House location at300 Reagan Drive in Eureka.
University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Kelly Allsup, will lead a demonstration to make two different kinds of ornaments using seasonal favorites including cinnamon sticks, oranges, and cranberries. All are welcome & encouraged to attend this festive workshop and kick off your holiday season with nature.For more information on this program or details on future Extension programming, please contact us at your local Extension office at (309) 467-3789. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Kelly Allsup at (309) 663-8306