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Give rosemary as a sign of love and remembrance

Published December 12, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - Rosemary is a wonderful herb. It not only looks and smells good but also makes a great addition to many culinary dishes.

According to Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture, rosemary is often found at Christmas time in wreaths and topiaries.

“If you follow the meaning of flowers, rosemary signifies love and remembrance, making it a great holiday gift,” Ferree says.

Rosmarinus officinalis is a tender perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. Ferree says that rosemary grows well in Central Illinois, but it will not overwinter outside.

“Because it doesn’t transplant well, many people grow it in containers that can be moved indoors for the winter,” she explains.

Once indoors, treat rosemary similarly to other houseplants. Because its native seaside climate is cool and moist, Ferree finds that mimicking that environment in the home produces the best growth. It prefers temperatures around 63-65 degrees Fahrenheit and lots of light. A southern or western exposure is usually best.

Ferree says that the key to overwintering rosemary indoors is proper watering.

“It tends to dry out rather quickly and drop leaves,” she adds.

Monitor the soil carefully to be sure it gets enough water. Let it dry some between watering because waterlogged plants will suffer.

Rosemary is not only beautiful; it is also durable in the garden. As a pollinator plant, it attracts butterflies and honey bees. It has few pest problems and even tolerates deer browsing and drought conditions. Some sources say it grows well as a companion plant with sage.

Rosemary means "dew of the sea" because it is watered by ocean mist in its native Mediterranean. On the other hand, the meaning might also refer to the shimmering blue flowers that cover the rosemary bush in mid-winter there. Typically our summers are not long enough, nor our homes bright enough, for flowers to develop.

There are many uses for rosemary. It is used as a gourmet seasoning for meat, poultry dishes, and potatoes. Although Ferree prefers fresh rosemary, it can also be used dry.

Like most herbs, harvest the young tender tips and foliage. Occasionally, longer, woody stems can be harvested and used as skewers for kabobs. 

For more information on rosemary and other herbs, visit the U of I Extension herb website at

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Corn use for ethanol update

Published December 11, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – The recent strength in ethanol production has led to speculation about changes to USDA’s estimate of corn used for ethanol in the pending World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, ethanol production for the week ending Dec.1 set a new ethanol production record with an average of 1.108 million barrels per day, continuing eight consecutive weeks of more than a million barrels a day of production.

“Currently, the WASDE forecast for corn consumption for ethanol production is 5.475 billion bushels, up 36 million bushels from 2016-17 marketing-year estimates,” Hubbs says. “The ability to surpass this projection is possible, but foreign demand for ethanol will be crucial as we move into 2018.” 

Domestic ethanol consumption is influenced by domestic gasoline consumption, due to the ethanol blending requirement, and the biofuels volume requirement associated with the Renewable Fuels Standard, Hubbs says. The EPA final rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard for 2018 was released on Nov. 30. The renewable fuels volume requirement is set at 19.29 billion gallons for 2018, up slightly from the 19.28 billion gallons required in 2017. The conventional ethanol requirement is set at 15 billion gallons for 2018, the same as in 2017 and equal to the statutory requirement level.

“If the gasoline consumption forecast used by the EPA is correct, the E-10 blend wall will be near 14.3 billion gallons in 2018,” Hubbs says. “The EPA believes an ethanol supply of 15 billion gallons is reasonably attainable in 2018 with a total domestic capacity of 16 billion gallons.  Because the ethanol blending requirements did not change, the possibility for greater corn usage in 2018 due to blending is low unless gasoline consumption increases beyond current expectations.”

According to the most recent Energy Information Agency (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. retail gasoline price is projected to average $2.45 per gallon in 2018, an increase of 5 cents from the current expected price in 2017. Despite the projection of higher gasoline prices, gasoline consumption is forecast at 143.27 billion gallons in 2018. The 2018 gasoline consumption projection is up from the 143.03 billion gallons projected for consumption in 2017. 

“EIA’s forecast of ethanol production is set at 1.04 million barrels per day,” Hubbs says. “If the EIA projection is correct, approximately 15.9 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2018.  To exceed the current USDA projections for corn use in ethanol, exports need to repeat the impressive performance of the 2016-17 marketing year.”

Ethanol export numbers are available from U.S. Census trade data for 2017 through October.  For the 2017 calendar year, U.S. exports of ethanol are at 1.09 billion gallons, up almost 16.6 percent from the similar period in 2016. 

“A note of caution is warranted when considering ethanol exports in the current marketing year,” Hubbs says. “During the first two months of this marketing year, ethanol exports are down 19 percent from previous marketing year levels. The large reduction is due to drastically lower export levels to Brazil and China.”

According to Hubbs, Chinese imports of U.S. ethanol are minimal thus far in the marketing year. Brazilian ethanol imports from the U.S. are down 49 percent from last year for the first two months. During the 2016-17 marketing year, U.S. ethanol exports totaled 1.37 billion gallons, with exports to Brazil comprising 36.5 percent of the total. The imposition of the 20 percent tariff rate quota on Brazilian ethanol imports on Sept. 4 is curtailing Brazilian imports.

“The tariff becomes active at export levels greater than 150 million liters per quarter (39.6 million gallons) and restarted in December,” Hubbs says. “U.S. ethanol exports will require increases in other markets to meet or exceed the export levels attained during the 2016-17 marketing year.”

Corn consumption levels for ethanol production during this marketing year is provided in the USDA Grain Crushing and Co-Product Production report. Grain crushing for fuel alcohol is available through October. For the first two months of the marketing year, 915.6 million bushels of corn have been processed for ethanol. The grain crush is up 2.8 percent from 2016-17 marketing year processing numbers over the same period.

“Using EIA weekly ethanol production numbers, November ethanol production averaged over 1 million barrels per day,” Hubbs says. “These production levels place corn use for ethanol production in a range of 555 to 565 million bushels for the month. With a conservative estimate of corn crush in November, total corn consumption for ethanol production through the first quarter of the marketing year would be well above the current WASDE projection. Although this is an encouraging sign for corn use, ethanol stocks have risen for five consecutive weeks to reach 22.5 million barrels as of Dec.1, a level not attained since June. During the same period last year, ethanol stocks fell around 700,000 barrels under strong export demand.

“The December WASDE report may increase the corn use in ethanol projection due to the strong production during the first quarter of the marketing year,” Hubbs concludes. “Lower ethanol export totals and growing ethanol stocks may create a wait-and-see scenario. Another strong year of ethanol production is highly likely, but flat projections for gasoline consumption and lower ethanol export levels may limit growth over the last marketing-year’s performance.”



New study identifies genetic basis for western corn rootworm resistance in maize

Published December 11, 2017
Western corn rootworm adult
Western corn rootworm adult

URBANA, Ill. – Farmers are stuck. Western corn rootworm can destroy cornfields – and profits – but populations of the “billion-dollar bug” have stopped responding to insecticides and the genetically modified corn hybrids designed to resist insect attacks. But there may be hope. In a new study, University of Illinois researchers uncover the genetic basis of resistance to western corn rootworm, paving the way for development of non-GM corn hybrids that can withstand the worm.

“Our previous research showed that there is no inherent resistance in the elite hybrids grown by most farmers in the Midwest,” says Martin Bohn, corn breeder in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I. “We want to improve native resistance to western corn rootworm in maize, without using transgenics.”

The work was done within the context of a large, longstanding project called Germplasm Enhancement of Maize (GEM), which aims to diversify the tools available to corn breeders by tapping the genetic resources of maize accessions from all over the world.

“Some of my colleagues look into lines that yield more, some look into nutritional characteristics. We were screening for insect resistance. There were not that many, but we found some. We had to look into lines from Argentina, Brazil, and the Caribbean Islands to find it,” Bohn says.

The resistant corn lines can’t just be released here in the United States. For one thing, the plants are massive, leggy giants compared to the elite hybrids Midwestern farmers are used to growing. They’re also adapted to very different environments, and wouldn’t flower at the right time to produce reasonable yields.

By crossing exotic and elite lines, GEM created plants with a quarter of the genes of the exotics. Several of these lines remained promising with regard to their level of resistance.

But the team still didn’t know why the new lines were resistant. “What is the genetic basis of resistance? If you find that, then you can screen other exotic materials for resistance much more efficiently and effectively, with a more targeted approach,” Bohn says.

The researchers haven’t found the gene for resistance – Bohn says the trait is likely too complex for it to boil down to a single gene – but the group has identified regions of the genome that appear to contribute to resistance, using a technique known as QTL mapping. There were some common themes among the regions.

“When we look at other genes in these regions, one of the common denominators is ascorbate biosynthesis,” Bohn says. In other words, one mechanism explaining western corn rootworm resistance might be the manufacture of ascorbate in the plant. The ascorbate synthesis pathway produces free radicals that injure feeding insects.

The analysis turned up another set of genes that may be involved in resistance, but this one is a little more complex. When western corn rootworm larvae are feeding on roots, some corn plants release a compound into the soil that calls nematodes to attack the larvae. The second set of genes appears to be related to the manufacture of compounds that attract those nematodes. 

“This is very important because plants can’t uproot themselves and go somewhere else, so they have to use other mechanisms to protect themselves,” Bohn says.

The results are a first step in introducing native resistance mechanisms into new elite hybrids, but much more research is needed before that happens. And Bohn cautions that the level of native resistance found in the study is no match for the power of transgenic insect-resistant corn, at least not yet.

“The idea is when you know where the genes with these small effects are located, perhaps it is possible to bring them into one common genetic background. If we can accumulate these genes, over time we might increase the level of resistance so that it makes sense for farmers to grow them.”

The article, “Quantitative trait loci mapping of western corn rootworm (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) host plant resistance in two populations of doubled haploid lines in maize (Zea mays L.),” is published in the Journal of Economic Entomology. Bohn’s co-authors include J. Marroquin from U of I, S. Flint-Garcia and B. Hibbard from USDA-ARS, K. Dashiell from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, and D. Willmot from AgReliant Genetics.

The work was partially supported by funds from the USDA-ARS “Germplasm Enhancement in 477 Maize” Project by Specific Cooperative Agreements and the Hatch Project ILLU-802-315.

News Source:

Martin Bohn, 217-244-2536

Perennial plant of the year – Allium ‘Millenium’

Published December 11, 2017
Allium 'Millenium'
Allium 'Millenium,' courtesy Walters Nursery

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.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

2018 All-America Selection winners

Published December 7, 2017
AAS winner, ornamental pepper onyx red
AAS winner, ornamental pepper onyx red

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,

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Healthy holiday food gifts

Published December 7, 2017

URBANA, Ill. - The holiday season brings many celebrations and traditions to enjoy, including gift-giving. Caitlin Huth, a University of Illinois Extension educator and registered dietitian, shares five healthy holiday food gifts this season.

Gift jars.  “Instead of cookie and brownie mixes in jars, try healthier mixes as gifts this year.  Noodle soup mix with whole-grain noodles and low-sodium bouillon makes for an easy meal one night for whoever receives the gift,” Huth says. “Another idea is giving seasonal oatmeal mixes, such as pecan pie flavored with cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped pecans.” Her “Healthy Eats and Repeat” blog contains directions for these recipes with downloadable gift tags.

Seasonal fruit.  From pre-made boxes or baskets to a bundle made at home, seasonal fruit like oranges and pears make delicious, healthy gifts. Huth suggests including recipe ideas or recipe cards with the gift for ways to use the fruit, such as slow-cooker orange cider and baked pear crisp. Adding unusual citrus fruits, such as blood oranges or ugli fruit, to a basket is a fun way to introduce new foods.

Seasoned nuts. “As a food that contains heart-healthy fats, nuts make a great addition to a holiday gift,” Huth says. During the holiday season, spiced nuts add a festive twist.

Gifts for military. Whether sending gifts to military friends or family, or sending a package as part of a service project, Huth suggests including healthy holiday foods that travel well. “Along with dried foods like dried fruit, lower-sodium jerky and unsalted nuts, try packing seasonal flavored tea and coffee,” she says.

Food bank and food pantry donations. Consider serving others this holiday season by donating to your local food bank or pantry. “While direct food donations are helpful, many food banks can get a lot more food per dollar donation,” Huth says. Consider making a monetary donation to your local food bank or pantry in honor of a family member or friend. Some food banks may send a card to that person as a thank you. Huth notes, “This gift idea is nice for anyone who says they do not want a gift this year.”

News Source:

Caitlin Huth, 217-877-6042

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension