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Tips for fall gardening

Published August 11, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - Taking a walk in cool, crisp weather, attending football games, picking apples, and choosing the perfect pumpkin are some quintessential activities for the fall, said University of Illinois horticulture educator Ron Wolford.  

“Planting bulbs is probably the number one garden activity that takes place in the fall, but there are a number of other gardening and fall-related activities to do,” Wolford said.

Some tips for fall gardening tasks include:

Get ready for frost

“On average, the first fall frost occurs around October 15, but we have had frost in September,” Wolford noted. “First frosts usually occur when cool weather arrives with clear nights and light winds.”

Open grassy areas are most likely to have frost versus areas under trees that are protected because the trees keep heat from escaping. “Plantings close to the foundation of your home often survive a first frost because of the heat given off from house,” he said. “To protect plants cover them with blankets, newspaper, straw, sheets, tarps, boxes, or plastic sheeting. Apply the covers later in the afternoon and remove them in the morning.”

Floating row covers can also protect plants. This spun polyester material will raise the temperature 2 to 5 degrees around the plants, Wolford said.

Plant a green manure crop

Green manure crops include clover, annual ryegrass, winter wheat, winter rye, and buckwheat. Green manure crops turned into the soil in the spring will improve soil structure and add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. “Sow the seed thickly. Keep moist until germination occurs. Cut back plant’s flowers to prevent self-seeding,” Wolford said.

Transplant perennials

“Transplant and divide perennials now,” Wolford recommended. “If you are planning to transplant established plants, cut them back by half and move them to a prepared spot. Keep them watered until the plant is established.”

Divide perennials when flowers get smaller, when the center of the plant dies out, or when the plant gets too big. “All transplanting and dividing should be completed by October 1 to allow good root development before cold weather sets in,” he noted.

Repair lawn

Autumn is the best time to repair lawns, Wolford said. Seeding bare spots in the lawn from late August to mid-September will allow the new growth to have enough time to germinate, grow and harden off before cold temperatures arrive. “There is less competition from weeds in the fall because most of the annual weeds are dying out. Plus we are usually blessed with cool temperatures in the fall, which is great for growing grass. Ideally dig the soil to at least 6 to 8 inches deep, spread grass seed over the area, and tamp down. Keep the soil moist until germination. Cover with weed-free straw to conserve moisture.

“If you are laying down sod, water the new sod several times a day for one to two weeks until it begins to knit or take hold. Be sure that water goes down through the thick sod and moistens the soil underneath for good root development. Do not let seed or sod dry out,” he cautioned.

Plant trees and shrubs

Plant trees and shrubs from September through early October. “Planting during this time period will allow the plants to become established before winter sets in. Water plants every 7 to 10 days during dry weather until the ground freezes,” he said.

Garden clean-up

Remove dead plants from the vegetable garden after frost. If plants were not diseased, they can be turned into the soil or placed in a compost pile. “Leaving dead plants in the garden will provide a home for overwintering insects. Spread a 2- to 3 inch-layer of organic matter over the garden and dig in. The garden will be ready for planting in the spring,” he said.

For more gardening information, visit the U of I Extension's Hort Corner.

News Source:

Ron Wolford, 773-233-2900

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Study shows link between hunger and health care costs

Published August 10, 2015
money in a mousetrap

URBANA, Ill. – According to a recent study, households that have a tough time putting food on the table face another big challenge. In addition to being food insecure, they have higher health care costs.

“We already know that adults in households that are food insecure have more negative health outcomes than adults in food-secure households,” said University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen. “However, the cost of the negative health outcomes associated with food insecurity were unknown.  This study allows us to quantify these additional costs.”

Gundersen said the total health care costs were higher for food-insecure adults across numerous categories.  These included inpatient hospitalization, emergency room visits, physician services, same-day surgeries, home health-care services, and prescription drugs.  In total, these costs rose with increasing severity of household food insecurity. 

The study analyzed data for 67,033 residents of Ontario, 18 to 64 years old, who participated in the Canadian Community Health Survey. Although the data were from 2005 to 2010, Gundersen noted that the prevalence of household food insecurity in Ontario has not changed significantly in recent years. The survey identified whether individuals were marginally, moderately, or severely food insecure. That information was linked to Ontario administrative health care data to determine individuals’ direct health-care costs during that same time period.

“After adjusting for sociodemographic variables, total costs were 23 percent higher for adults in marginally food-insecure households, 49 percent higher for those in moderately food-insecure households, and 121 percent higher for those in severely food-insecure households, compared with adults in food-secure households,” he said.  “These higher costs are staggering.”

Due to data limitations and differences in health-care systems, Gundersen said a similar analysis is not possible for the United States.  However, although there are obvious differences between the United States and Canada, there are enough similarities that the general conclusions regarding the relationship between food insecurity and health care costs are likely present in the United States as well. 

Gundersen mentioned three main implications for the United States.  First, health-care providers should screen patients for food insecurity and then assist them to access additional supports, especially food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).  Second, when considering the benefits associated with SNAP and other food assistance programs, their effects on health-care costs should be acknowledged.  Because SNAP leads to reductions in food insecurity, it also leads to reductions in health-care costs.  Third, there is an increasing concern about the stubbornly high rates of food insecurity in the United States, despite the end of the Great Recession.  This concern and the urgency of the search for solutions should be heightened by the higher health-care costs associated with food insecurity. 

“Health care costs associated with household food insecurity in Ontario” was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and was written by Valerie Tarasuk and Naomi Dachner from the University of Toronto; Joyce Cheng, Claire de Oliveira, and Paul Kurdyak from the Centre for Addition and Mental Health in Toronto; and Craig Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Department Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.


A review of USDA crop yield forecasting methodology

Published August 10, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will release the first survey-based yield and production forecasts for the 2015 corn and soybean crops on August 12.  A comprehensive review of the NASS forecasting methodology was provided in a Marketing and Outlook Brief in 2011and NASS provides a very detailed description of the methodology in the publication Understanding USDA Crop Forecasts. In addition, a summary of survey and estimation methodology is included with each Crop Production report.

“Even though a description of the NASS crop production forecast methodology is widely available, there always seem to be some misconceptions about how NASS makes corn and soybean yield forecasts,” said University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good.

Good provided the following overview of the methodology and said that while the summary does not do full justice to the very comprehensive forecasting methodology, he presents it to assist in placing the upcoming yield forecasts in the proper perspective.

NASS corn and soybean yield forecasts are made in August, September, October, and November. The final yield estimate is released in January after harvest based on the comprehensive December Agricultural Survey of producers. Two types of surveys are used to collect data for the monthly NASS forecasts in August through November. The monthly Agricultural Yield Survey (AYS) of producers is conducted in 32 states for corn and 29 states for soybeans with a total of about 25,000 producers surveyed for all crops in August. The Objective Yield Survey (OYS) is conducted in 10 states for corn and 11 states for soybeans. The surveys are generally conducted in a two-week period ending about a week before the release of the forecasts.

For the AYS, a sample of farm operations to be surveyed is drawn from those who responded to the acreage survey in June. Although the sample of operations to be surveyed changes from year to year, for any particular year the same operations are interviewed each month from August through November. Survey respondents are asked to identify the number of acres of corn and soybeans to be harvested and to provide a forecast of the final yield of each crop. Based on these responses, average yields are forecast for each survey state and for the United States.

The goal of the OYS program is to generate yield forecasts based on actual plant counts and measurements .The sample of fields (1,920 for corn and 1,835 for soybeans) for the OYS survey is selected from farms that reported corn (soybeans) planted or to be planted in the June acreage survey. A random sample of fields is drawn with the probability of selection of any particular field being proportional to the size of the tract, and two plots are randomly selected in each field.

Data collected from each corn plot during the forecast cycle are used to measure the size of the unit and to measure or forecast the number of ears and grain weight. These data include (as available based on maturity) row width, number of stalks per row, number of stalks with ears or ear shoots per row, number of ears with kernels, kernel row length, ear diameter, ear weight in dent stage, weight of shelled grain, moisture content, total ear weight of harvested unit, lab weight of sample ears, weight of grain from sample ears, and moisture content of shelled grain from sample of mature ears. Corn yield is forecast based on the forecast (or measurement if maturity allows) of the number of ears, the weight per ear, and harvest loss.  

Data collected from soybean plots (as available based on maturity) include row width; number of plants in each row; number of main stem modes, lateral branches, dried flowers and pods, and pods with beans; weight and moisture content of beans harvested by enumerator; and weight and moisture content of harvest loss. The data collected are used to forecast yield based on a forecast (or measurement if maturity allows) of the number of plants per acre, the number of pods with beans per plant, the average bean weight, and harvest loss.

For both corn and soybeans, the state average yield forecast based on the OYS is the simple average of the yields for all the sample fields. In addition, a state yield forecast is also made by first averaging the forecast or actual yield factors (such as stalk counts, ear counts, and ear weight) and then forecasting the state average yield directly from these averages. This forecast is based on a regression analysis of the historical relationship (15 years) between the yield factors and the state average yield. State average yields are combined to forecast the U.S. average yield.  

The NASS corn and soybean survey and forecasting procedures produce a number of indicators of the average yield. In August, these indicators include: average field level yields from the OYS, average state-level counts from the OYS, and the average yield reported by farmers in the AYS. Each of the indicators provides input into the determination of the official yield forecasts by the USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Board.

“The accuracy of the USDA yield forecasts relative to the final yield estimates varies from year to year, but as would be expected, improves each month through the forecast cycle as the crops become more mature,” Good said. “A year ago, we provided a comprehensive analysis of the NASS yield forecasting accuracy for corn and soybeans.”


Fall and winter tree care

Published August 10, 2015

URBANA, Ill. - When the cool weather of fall arrives, the desire to work outdoors is enticing. The heat and humidity of summer are past, and the changing colors of leaves are pleasing and relaxing. The impulse to clean up plants and make sure that the gardens are put to bed before snowfall can be strong, and often people pull out pruning tools and begin to prune trees too late in the season, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Kari Houle explained that pruning trees in late summer and fall encourages new growth that won’t have time to harden off before winter arrives. “Hardening off” means that the plants have time to prepare for the coming freeze. “The only reason that pruning should occur in the fall is to remove dead or damaged branches to minimize stress on the tree,” she said.

“The best time to prune trees is during the dormant season. If you don’t end up having time to prune trees during the dormant season, avoid pruning right after trees leaf out in the spring,” Houle said.

Another good habit to get into regarding fall and winter tree care is to provide adequate soil moisture. “Reducing irrigation in fall can cause stress on trees, and it’s best to keep soil moist as long as the ground isn’t frozen as roots will still pull moisture up,” Houle said. “By providing supplemental irrigation, you reduce stress on the tree through the winter.

“This is especially important for evergreens as they can suffer from winter desiccation, which is loss of moisture from intense winter winds and sun,” she added.

Making sure to properly mulch trees helps to also reduce ground temperature fluctuations as well as to assist in maintaining soil moisture. Houle recommends organic-based mulches. “Apply mulch 2 to 4 inches deep and maintain a 2-inch gap between the tree trunk and mulch,” she said.

For many years, it was recommended to wrap newly planted trees or thin bark trees to protect them from sunscald over the winter. Houle said that research has shown that tree wraps do not help to minimize temperature fluctuations but can in fact increase the temperature extremes on the trunk of the tree.

“Tree wraps can also be a perfect place for insects and disease to take up residence,” she said. “If you do need to wrap the trunk of the tree to protect it from animals such as deer, then abstain from use. If using tree wraps for protection, then make sure to use light-colored wraps and wait until as late as possible, removing the wrap early in the spring.”

News Source:

Kari Houle, 217-332-3382

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

State Master Gardener conference set for Sept. 17-19

Published August 10, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Registration is now open for the 2015 University of Illinois Extension State Master Gardener Conference to be held Sept. 17-19 at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon, Ill. 

The public is invited to join Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists from Madison, St. Clair, and Monroe counties for three days of tours and classes celebrating the 40th anniversary of Illinois Master Gardeners.  

“This is a great educational opportunity for anyone interested in the environment and/or gardening,” said Monica David, U of I Extension Master Gardener coordinator.  “We have outstanding nationally recognized speakers and some great tours planned that would be interesting for everyone.”

The deadline to register for the conference is Sept. 1. No late or onsite registrations will be accepted. 

The keynote speaker will be Rosalind Creasy. Creasy is an internationally known garden and food writer, speaker, and landscape designer. Her first book, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, won the Garden Writers Quill and Trowel award and coined the term “edible landscaping.” Creasy will talk on edible landscaping and heirlooms.

The Saturday general session will feature a presentation by Mike Jeffords on exploring nature in Illinois. Breakout sessions on Friday and Saturday will feature four tracts including plant materials, natives, elements of design, and edibles. 

The plant materials tract will feature talks on hostas by Mark Zilis; grafting fruit and nut trees by Kansas State University Extension specialist William Reid; roses by David Gunn; and amaryllis by Jason Delaney, both from the Missouri Botanical Garden. 

The natives tract will include talks on garden invasives by Chris Evans from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; dragonflies; native landscaping; and more. The third tract—elements of design—will emphasize downsizing your garden; planting for birds; rain gardens; woodland gardens; and aesthetics and hardscapes in the garden. A fourth tract—edibles—will feature talks on horseradish, culinary herbs, fruit trees, heirloom seeds, and more.

Tours will include:

  • Full-day tour 1 - six Master Gardener and Master Naturalist projects
  • Half-day tour 1 - Gordon Moore Park (hosta garden and rose garden) and the Riverlands Audubon Center
  • Half-day tour 2 – Eckert’s Farm, St. Louis Composting, and Heimos Nursery

Hands-on garden craft classes will also be offered at the same time as the tours.

Register at Visit for more information.