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Summer care of roses

Published June 8, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Roses, sometimes called the "Queen of Flowers," should be in full glory in the month of June. The many colors, scents, and flower sizes are all qualities the rose connoisseur craves. Fortunately, rose care is not difficult. What roses require, however, is consistent care.

"Roses are heavy feeders, so a regular fertilizer program is essential", explains University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Martha Smith. "Disease problems can be controlled with diligent attention and quick action."

Roses can be planted in spring in containers or in the ground. For southern Illinois, this can be late April to early May and, in northern Illinois, any time after mid-May. Because roses require a minimum of six full hours of direct sun daily, containers or rose beds should be located in sunny areas. Roses will not tolerate wet soil, which means good drainage is important.

“Dig the planting hole deep and wide enough to generously accommodate the roots. If the rose is grafted, you need to consider how deep to set the graft union. The question ‘to bury or not to bury’ the graft union has been long debated. Depending on where you live, and which rose expert you connect with, the general consensus is that in warmer climates, the bud union should be at or just above ground level, while in colder climates, the bud union should be positioned at ground level or 1 to 2 inches below ground level with mulch added above,” Smith advises.

For gardens with heavy clay or very sandy soil, compost, peat moss, or leaf mold should be incorporated into the backfill. Smith recommends filling the hole halfway, then adding water to allow any air pockets to settle out. Gardeners can then completely fill the remaining space and repeat the watering step.

If roses are stunted or have weak growth, small flowers, pale or discolored leaves, premature petal fall, and/or poor disease resistance, a regular fertilizer program may help. Rose Societies generally recommend adding compost or manure every year to the bed as well as following a fertilizer schedule.

Smith says, “A complete fertilizer, containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, is recommended May 1, June 1, and July 1. Follow the recommended rates on the label. A liquid feed is also recommended between the monthly fertilizer applications.”

Rose gardeners regularly contend with diseases. Yellow foliage with large black spots is called black spot and is a very common rose disease. Infected leaves may drop prematurely, and severe infection may cause some canes to completely defoliate. Powdery mildew, easily recognized by the white powdery patches that form over the foliage, can also be a problem. Powdery mildew can be a problem in shady areas, or where there is very little air movement.

For both diseases, fungicide should be applied as a preventative before foliage develops fully. Foliar fungicides should be sprayed every 7 to 14 days as leaves emerge, when day temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If you have experienced these diseases in the past, it is also important to practice good sanitation practices,” Smith says. “Remove diseased leaves in the fall. The fungal spores can survive mild winters only to re-sporulate and re-infect your rose again next year.”

Many gardeners are challenged by proper pruning practices.

“Starting at the flower, count the number of leaflets on each leaf. Leaves can be comprised of a single leaflet, three leaflets, or five leaflets. Leaves with five leaflets have mature buds at their base that will produce a new shoot. Choose an outward facing 5-leaflet leaf in the middle of the stem – not the base – and cut above it. By choosing a mid-level bud, you insure adequate foliage remains on the plant. Bring cut flowers inside for your enjoyment. Also, prune off faded flowers,” Smith recommends.

Smith believes any gardener can have success with roses if they follow her simple guidelines and maintain consistency of care throughout the season. To learn more about rose gardening, visit University of Illinois Extension’s Our Rose Garden website at

News Source:

Martha Smith, 618-344-4230

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Permaculture movement found lacking in diversity

Published June 8, 2016
permaculture garden
Permaculture garden. Photo courtesy of Rafter Ferguson.
  • Permaculture, a grassroots movement in which participants grow seasonal perennial foods and live sustainably, has not been extensively studied. 
  • In a large international survey, researchers found that the majority of participants were white and, although more than half were women, they were not in leadership roles.
  • For the movement to grow in a healthy and meaningful way, researchers recommend actively bolstering diversity and gender equality.

URBANA, Ill. – Permaculture is a grassroots movement whose participants attempt to live in a sustainable way, taking inspiration from natural ecosystems to “live off the land.” For example, permaculture enthusiasts may grow seasonal organic produce fertilized with manure from livestock raised on their own land, rather than bringing in synthetic fertilizers or annual crop seeds from elsewhere. The idea is to rely as much as possible on perennial crops, to recycle and reuse materials, and reduce waste.

Although permaculture principles are well established, the movement has not been studied in a systematic way. University of Illinois landscape agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell and graduate student Rafter Ferguson set out to explore who is participating. They hope to provide insights into permaculture’s potential for growth and its influence on the larger sustainability movement.

After examining survey responses from 731 English-speaking permaculture participants across 45 countries, their results show that vast majority of participants are white. In countries where racial disparities are greater, fewer people of color are participating than in countries with less inequality.

“The absence of people of color in our survey results seems to be problematic across a lot of environmental movements,” Lovell says. “It may be that people of color might not identify with the term ‘permaculture’, even though they might be practicing something very similar,” she adds. “In an earlier study, we found a lot of participation by several urban ethnic groups in permaculture-like home gardening.”

The survey also reveals that just over half of the respondents are women. This apparent parity is tempered by the discovery that women are disproportionately excluded from professional roles in the movement. These are usually paid positions that range from consultant to teacher to designer.

“Our results reflect what we see in general. Even where women are close to matching the number of men working in an organization, we see that they often aren’t in the leadership roles. For women to be lifted up within the permaculture movement, there has to be more thought about purposefully putting women in those roles,” Lovell notes.

The study examined socioeconomic factors, and generally found that participants in the permaculture movement tend to be of intermediate or high socioeconomic status. The influence of particular socioeconomic factors differed. For example, income was relatively low, but the level of education and homeownership were higher than national averages.

“The most interesting thing that came out of the study, for me, was seeing how very complex these relationships are, and how many interactions there are between gender, socioeconomic status, and the different roles within the movement,” Lovell says.

So, what does all this mean for the future of permaculture?

“The factors limiting diversity and equality in permaculture must be addressed thoughtfully and systematically if the movement is to grow and contribute to sustainability in a meaningful way,” Lovell says.

The article, “Grassroots engagement with transition to sustainability: Diversity and modes of participation in the international permaculture movement,” is published in Ecology and Society and can be read at

Climate change will affect farmers’ bottom line

Published June 7, 2016
Arizona farm
Arizona farm
  • Climate change will disproportionately affect the agricultural sector, both in production and in land value.
  • Farmland values in the Southwestern United States will be strongly impacted by climate change, with greater impacts to highland areas versus lowland areas.
  • The influence of neighboring farm practices on farmland values is important, especially as it relates to irrigation and communication between farmers.

URBANA, Ill. – Over the next 70 to 100 years, our climate is projected to change dramatically, with major impacts on a wide variety of economic sectors. But the sector that is most likely to be affected by these changes is agriculture. A number of studies support this assertion, but relatively few look at the effect of climate change on agriculture from a comprehensive economic perspective.

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Illinois recently investigated the effects of climate change on farmland values in the Southwestern United States.

“We chose to look at farmland values because they reflect the sum of future expected profits and account for adaptation. And that’s exactly what climate change is about: long-term change and adaptation,” explains U of I economist Sandy Dall’Erba.

The team focused on a single climate region, the U.S. Southwest, where climate changes are expected to make farming even more difficult than in other regions. The predictions say that places like Arizona will get hotter overall, with more frequent heat waves and more sudden and extreme rainfall events that could lead to periodic flooding. But even within that one climate zone, the team expected some variation. To capture that, they separated out the effects on lowland counties versus highland counties.

What’s new about the work is that the team used an economic model that allowed them to look across production systems, so they could evaluate farmland values for soybean producers and cattle ranchers alike. The model, known as the Ricardian approach, also allowed for adaptation on the part of the farmer.

“Farmers are smart; you can’t assume that in 100 years they’re going to still be farming corn like they are now,” Dall’Erba says. “Climate is changing, new practices and new technologies develop, so they may switch to another production system. The Ricardian approach assumes farmers will adapt.”

Further, they were able to integrate what they called “spillover” effects: the influence of one farmer’s practices on another. “A simple example is irrigation – the amount of water you get is very much dependent on how much the farmer upstream from you is taking away. That element has been pretty much overlooked in this framework so far,” Dall’Erba notes. Another example of spillover is communication between farmers about farm practices and the availability of certain subsidies.

Finally, the team evaluated multiple climate change scenarios. In most socioeconomic research relating to climate change, a single scenario is tested. Dall’Erba’s co-author, U of I atmospheric scientist Francina Dominguez, knew that it was important to provide a range of what the future climate will look like. As such, the researchers worked with seven scenarios of future climate data derived from several global and regional climate models.

Taking all of these factors into account, the team found that irrigation, population density, and farm subsidies all increased farmland value, but subsidies had an effect in highland counties only. In addition, heat waves were found to hurt productivity.

Their results also indicated that land values in one location are influenced by irrigation and climate conditions in neighboring locations due to water depletion, water run-off, and/or sudden floods that follow intense rainfall.

“Counties are open economies, so elements beyond their boundaries have an influence on them,” Dall’Erba says. “Overall, and based on the set of future climate scenarios accounted for in our work, it seems that highland counties will be more affected by climate change than lowland counties.”

The next step for the research team is to apply their approach to the rest of the country. Because they found variation between highland and lowland counties within a single climate zone, they’re expecting to find even more spatial variation when they look at the country as a whole. They also plan to incorporate the role of trade of agricultural products into their system.

“One element that has been overlooked in the field is that one locality may experience a sudden drought and, as a result, may import more corn or cotton from elsewhere. That kind of spillover due to unexpected weather events outside your own locality is something that deserves a lot more attention. Several articles along these lines have already appeared, but they focus on international trade. Much more needs to be done on the trade network taking place within countries,” Dall’Erba says.

The article, “The impact of climate change on agriculture in the Southwestern United States: The Ricardian approach revisited,” is published in Spatial Economic Analysis. The work was funded by the Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions Initiative as well as USDA’s Environmental and Natural Resource Economics program.

The full text of the article can be read at:

Natural lawn care

Published June 7, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Do you assume a lush, green lawn requires heavy application of fertilizers and pesticides, or hours of back-breaking weed pulling? Kim Ellson, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, says there is a way to maintain an attractive lawn with environmentally friendly methods that don’t require major effort.

“There are some simple changes you can make that will reduce the environmental impact of your lawn, and help keep your lawn attractive,” Ellson explains. “These include using organic fertilizers and pesticides, grasscycling, mowing methods, alternative grass species, and achieving healthy soils.”

Turf grass in northern Illinois is typically made up of cool season grasses that actively grow when temperatures are lower in spring and autumn. Fertilizer applications should be made during these times.

“The simplest change to reduce chemicals in one’s environment is by replacing synthetic fertilizers with organic fertilizers,” Ellson suggests. “Organic fertilizers are naturally slow-release and add organic matter to the soil with every application.” 

Another easy change is “grasscycling,” the practice of leaving lawn clippings on the lawn to break down naturally and serve as a soil amendment.

“For many people, the thought of leaving grass clippings on their lawn is frightful,” Ellson admits. “But if the grass is cut frequently, the clippings will be short enough to fall between the existent grass blades and break down rapidly.” 

She says a dried hay appearance on the lawn means the clippings are too long and the grass should be cut more often.

Proper mowing is a critical factor for management without chemicals. Grass should be kept at 2 to 3 inches in height, and should not be cut more than a third of its height when mowing. Lawns cut too short become stressed and vulnerable to drought stress, weed competition, pests, and diseases.

Mower blades should be kept sharp to ensure a clean cut and to avoid shredding the grass. This allows grass to heal efficiently and be less susceptible to diseases.

“No-mow lawns are starting to enter the market and offer an attractive, environmentally friendly alternative, especially suitable for areas in your yard that are not heavily frequented,” Ellson says.

If grass clippings do not decompose quickly, this is a sign that soil microbes and earthworms may be suffering from an overuse of synthetic pesticides. Ellson recommends discontinuing use of these pesticides in such cases.

For gardeners that do have trouble with lawn pests, organic pesticides are available. These introduce fewer environmental risks than their synthetic counterparts. For example, corn gluten is an organic pre-emergent herbicide that is safe for established plants and provides nitrogen fertilizer. Ellson says to apply it prior to weed growth and reapply annually. 

“As with all forms of gardening, one has to remain on top of things,” Ellson advises. “Do not allow weeds to get out of control or set seed. A single weed plant can produce incredible amounts of seed.”

A more comprehensive or sustainable approach to lawn care looks at both turf and soil health. Achieving optimal soil health is a long-term project that will require repeated applications of soil amendments and avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals. 

“Healthy soils have a high percentage of organic matter and microorganisms, even though we tend to forget about the latter,” Ellson explains. “Adding a thin layer of fine compost to your lawn at least annually is an excellent way to amend your soil. Organic fertilizers and grass clippings also add organic matter, which feeds and sustains the microorganisms that support grass naturally.”

For new lawns, the selection of suitable grass types can ensure a turf that is more resilient to weather, weeds, pests, and diseases. 

“Ultimately the endurance and success of natural lawn care will be determined by people’s mindset and their acceptance of lawns with a slight difference in character,” Ellson says. “Is the convenience of chemicals worth the environmental and health implications for our family and pets?”

News Source:

Kim Ellson, 847-818-2905

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Hog profits: Battle between higher hog prices and higher feed prices

Published June 6, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Higher feed prices are once again the main story reducing prospects for profitability in pork production. In the first quarter of 2016, corn prices received by U.S. farmers averaged $3.60 per bushel and high protein meal at Decatur averaged $276 per ton. Today, those prices are closer to $4 per bushel for corn and nearby meal futures are above $400 per ton. Will higher feed prices erase hog profits?

According to Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt, it is fortunate that lean hog futures have also received a recent boost due to prospects for additional pork exports to China. “In 2014, Chinese pork producers reduced herds due to poor margins. Now there is a shortage of pork, resulting in record-high retail prices. China’s pork imports have been growing and China will likely displace Japan as the world’s top pork importer this year. This is no small feat because Japan has been the largest pork importer since 1989,” Hurt says.

USDA analysts have forecast total U.S. pork exports to grow by 5 percent this year to 5.2 billion pounds. However, weekly export data this year points to even larger growth. Total export commitments for 2016 are 17 percent higher than last year at this point. Export commitments include the amount already shipped this year plus undelivered sales. With the prospects for Chinese imports to expand this summer, Hurt says total export growth may be stronger than the current 5 percent USDA forecast.

“Pork producer margins are currently caught between the good news of potentially higher pork prices from growing exports and the bad news of higher feed prices from reduced South American corn and soybean production and weather concerns for 2016 U.S. crops,” Hurt says. “Both pork prices and feed prices are in a period of upward dynamics right now. How these two issues ultimately work out will have a great deal to do with margins for the remainder of 2016 and 2017.”

Hurt says hog price prospects have improved somewhat.

Prices in 2016 are expected to be near $52 per live hundredweight, compared to an average of about $50 last year. Prices are expected to be in the mid-to-upper $50s in the second and third quarters and then seasonally drop to the higher $40s in the fourth quarter this year and first quarter of 2017. Although hog prices for 2016 are expected to be about $2 higher, the cost of production is also expected to rise by nearly $2 per live hundredweight with current feed price estimates based on futures markets for the rest of the year.

“This means that margins will be similar in 2015 and 2016,” Hurt says. “Small losses of $3 per head are estimated for last year and projections for this year are for losses of $2 per head. These are small losses, so one could characterize the industry as operating near  breakeven costs for both years. Breaking even covers all costs including depreciation, labor cost and an equity return,” he explains.

According to Hurt, the seasonality of hog prices will continue to be an important determinant in the profitability by quarter. Hog prices tend to be the highest in warm weather months and the lowest in cool weather months. Following this pattern, profits are expected to be $10 per head in the second and third quarter this year and losses of $16 per head are expected in the fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017. 

“Higher feed prices have raised the red flag on expansion,” Hurt says. “Producers well remember the extreme feed prices experienced in 2008 and again in 2011, 2012, and 2013. That unpleasant memory should help keep expansion plans on hold for now.”

Hurt adds that two important factors determining margins this year are 1) the potential for higher pork exports and thus higher hog prices and 2) the potential for higher feed prices.

“These are tugging at margins in opposite directions,” Hurt says. “Who is going to win the battle? So far, the impact of higher hog prices has been roughly offset by higher feed costs.”