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Decide now on summer lawn care

Published March 10, 2016
Lawn mower

URBANA, Ill. – Summer lawn care decisions should be made in early spring, according to a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“By planning ahead, managing the lawn becomes easier,” explains Richard Hentschel.  “Decisions on lawn feeding and watering schedules will influence your lawn maintenance for the remainder of the season.”

For example, feeding the lawn and watering will change how often the lawn will need to be mowed. Watering can be helpful if feeding the lawn with organic fertilizers, but it is not required. If the lawn is only fertilized once in the season, it is best to apply the fertilizer in fall, when rain and cooler temperatures return.

“Lawns that receive limited or no feeding will not need to be watered to take advantage of those feedings,” Hentschel says.

If the decision is made to keep the lawn green throughout the summer, there is a commitment to water the lawn beginning as the spring rains slow in order to keep the lawn growing through the hot summer months.

“The lawn will also need to be fed, so the decision of watering and feeding go together,” Hentschel says.

Whether or not it is fed and watered, the lawn will need to be mowed more often during periods of vigorous active growth. Mower clippings should be left in place to recycle nutrients back into the lawn.

Many homeowners wonder how high to set the mower blade. Research indicates that the taller the grass blade, the deeper the roots. Deeper roots allow the lawn to resist drought damage and stay greener longer into the summer. This is partly because the taller blade will shade the soil from the sun, keeping the soil cooler and conserving soil moisture.

“Setting the mower deck up just one notch can make a big difference,” Hentschel says. “There are only a couple of times a year that the lawn should be cut slightly shorter: in the spring to clean up the lawn from the winter, and when you are going to top-dress the lawn with black dirt or organic matter while it is actively growing.”

Hentschel concludes by sharing his mowing mantra: “Mow high, mow often, with a sharp mower blade.”

For more information on home lawn care, visit U of I Extension’s LAWNTalk website, at

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

New treatment may prevent losses from apple scab

Published March 9, 2016
Apple scab
Apple scab

URBANA, Ill. – Apple scab, a fungal disease affecting apple orchards in Illinois and worldwide, can significantly reduce fruit quality and yield. In fact, the disease recently damaged more than 50 percent of some apple varieties in Illinois orchards. When samples from those orchards were tested, some strains of the fungus were found to be resistant to traditional fungicides.

“I rushed to do something to prevent this disaster. We did an experiment in 2014 and 2015 and were lucky to get very good results,” reports University of Illinois plant pathologist Mohammad Babadoost.

Babadoost and his team tested a new protocol using combinations of systemic and contact fungicides. Dithane M-45 (mancozeb), a contact fungicide, should be applied at the green-tip stage at 3 to 4 pounds per acre, along with the systemic fungicide Inspire Super (difenoconazole + cyprodinil) at 12 fluid ounces per acre. After seven days, the treatment should be followed up with a combination of Dithane M-45 and Fontelis (penthiopyrad) at 20 fluid ounces per acre. Each treatment should be repeated three times, seven days apart, for the most effective control.

“When we tested this combination of chemicals, we could not find even a single scabby apple,” Babadoost says. “Growers that trialed the treatment in 2015 reported no scab.”

Despite the success of the treatment, Babadoost notes that it should not be seen as a silver bullet. “We are in a battle with the pathogen almost all the time,” he says.

Apple scab causes lesions on leaf and fruit tissue that thicken and take on a scabby appearance. In later stages of the infection, the skin of the fruit can crack, allowing in secondary pathogens that can lead to fruit rot or other symptoms. All growing portions of the tree are susceptible to the fungus.

Babadoost warns, “Any green tissue is subject to being attacked. It starts very early in the season. If growers are able to control it effectively as soon as growth starts in the spring, there will be almost no disease by summer. But if they miss the window in spring, summer will be a disaster.”

In addition to the new fungicide treatment protocol, other control options are available to growers. For example, growers can choose apple varieties that are resistant to apple scab; including ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Jonafree’, and ‘Gold Rush’; avoiding susceptible varieties, such as ‘Fuji’, ‘Gala’, ‘Honeygold’, ‘Winesap’, and others. A more extensive list of resistant and susceptible apple varieties is provided in Babadoost’s recent U of I Extension Fact Sheet.

Again, Babadoost issues a warning: “Even if an apple variety is resistant, it might not be resistant forever. Resistance might break down.”

Small growers, organic growers, and home gardeners can prevent infection by removing or applying a five percent solution of urea to all dead leaves on the ground, as the fungus overwinters in leaf litter. Removing nearby crab apple trees will also be beneficial. Organic growers can apply organic sulphur- or copper-based fungicides, but Babadoost is not confident that organic fungicides will provide good control of resistant strains of apple scab.

“Production of organic apples in Illinois is not an easy task,” he says.

Growers should monitor and treat trees early and often to prevent widespread infection. With the new treatment protocol in place, the 2016 growing season holds a great deal of promise for apples in Illinois. For more information, read the U of I Extension apple scab Fact Sheet.

Updating a home with new foundation plants

Published March 9, 2016
Foundation plantings
Foundation plantings

URBANA, Ill. – Plants around the front of a house serve many purposes. A properly designed front landscape can greatly enhance the appearance and market value of a property. These plantings can also be used to blend the structure of the house with the general surroundings so that the house looks natural on its site. But any plantings can become old, overgrown, and in need of a change. That’s why spring makes an excellent time to update plants growing around the house, according to University of Illinois Extension’s Rhonda Ferree.

“Foundation plantings are the combination of plants around the front door, the front corners, and a transition area that joins them,” says Ferree, a horticulture educator.

Ferree recommends that homeowners start their foundation planting designs by standing in front of the house and drawing a rough sketch that shows the front door, windows, and roof lines. A “V” drawn from each corner eave down to the front door serves as a guideline for plant heights along the front of the house. The tallest plants should be no taller than two-thirds the height of the corners of the house. Select plants that will stay relatively short for the area nearest the front door.

“Think of your front door as the center of interest and focal point,” Ferree advises. “The entrance planting should help direct attention to the door. Use plants with year-round interest, because they are seen closely and more often.” 

Plants do not need to be placed around the entire foundation – the home’s features should be softened, not camouflaged. If this space is exceptionally long, plants can be used to break up the long line. However, it is best to avoid long rows of the same type of plant to fill these areas. In some situations, a bed of groundcover or mulch may be all that is necessary to tie the entrance planting and corner plantings together and also make maintenance and mowing easier. 

Plants should not be planted too close to the foundation, where the soil is often dry or otherwise less-than-optimal for plant growth. Plants should be far enough from the house to avoid growing against the house and to maintain good air circulation. Ferree suggests planting no closer than 1.5 feet from the foundation.

Spreading shrubs should be planted far enough apart to prevent later crowding and avoid the need for constant pruning. On shrub spacing, Ferree says, “Allow for width equal to the eventual height of the plant.”

Unfortunately, not all homes and lots fit the situation described here. Because houses come in all shapes and sizes, there is no “cookbook” recipe for landscaping. Every situation is unique and different. But in nearly all cases, it will help to remember these key points when landscaping the front of a house: the house is the focal point, focus on the front door, and soften architectural features so that the house blends in with its surroundings.

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting You can also post questions on Ferree’s Facebook page at

News Source:

Rhonda Ferree, 309-543-3308

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Container gardening

Published March 8, 2016
Container gardening in a shoe
As long as there is adequate drainage, any container can be planted.

URBANA, Ill. – Many would-be gardeners may be discouraged by a lack of available outdoor space. The solution may be container gardening, according to University of Illinois Extension educator Ken Johnson. 

“Anything that you can grow in the garden can also be grown in a container,” Johnson says. “You just need to provide your plants with a few basic needs: a container, growing media, water, nutrients, and light.”

When growing plants in a container, a number of factors should be considered.

Anything that can hold soil and has drainage can be used to grow plants. According to Johnson, this can be a pot from the store, a bucket, a milk carton, or even a shoe. “But if you’re going to be growing something you plan on eating, it may be best to stick to a more traditional pot,” Johnson suggests.

Containers must have drainage holes, but these can be added easily to any container type. It is also important to consider the size of the plant, and to ensure that the container will offer ample space for the plant when fully grown.

When choosing a growing medium for your container, the best choice is something that is well aerated, drains well, and is able to hold enough water for the plant to grow.

“The best and most common growing media for containers are called soil-less media, because they don’t actually contain any soil,” Johnson says. “They are made up of things like peat, vermiculite, bark, coconut coir, and perlite.” These can be purchased commercially as all-purpose potting mixes, or you can make your own.

Because soil in containers dries out much faster than soil in the ground, it is important to keep containers well-watered. “Plants vary in their water requirements, but a general rule of thumb is that plants should be watered when the top inch or so of your growing medium feels dry,” Johnson says. 

Water plants thoroughly, until water starts to trickle out of the drainage holes. In warm, dry weather, containers may need to be watered more than once a day. Unglazed ceramic pots also tend to dry out faster than glazed or plastic pots.

Johnson explains that soil-less media are usually low in nutrients. Because of this, container-grown plants may need to be fertilized at some point. “You can use either slow release or liquid fertilizers,” he says. Make sure to follow the directions on the label when applying fertilizers, to avoid damage to your plants. 

It is also important to know the light requirements of container-grown plants (i.e., full sun, partial shade, or shade). Most vegetables and annual flowers need at least six hours of full sun to grow properly. Other plants can be damaged by too much bright light. Most plants come with labels that indicate their light requirements.

Before planting, it is recommended that growing media be thoroughly moistened. Johnson notes, “Leave about one inch of space between the rim of your container and the soil. This will help prevent water from overflowing your container.”

If growing plants from seed, plant at the depth indicated on the seed package. “It is usually a good idea to overseed and then thin the seedlings to the spacing indicated on the package, as not all seeds may germinate,” Johnson says. “If growing from transplants, use plants that look healthy and make sure to thoroughly water your container after they have been planted.”

To learn more about container gardening check out the U of I Extension’s Successful Container Gardens website at


News Source:

Ken Johnson, 217-243-7424

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Expectations for the March 1 corn stocks estimate

Published March 7, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – On March 31, the USDA will release the quarterly Grain Stocks report containing an estimate of the stocks of corn that were in storage as of March 1. The information in that report may be over shadowed by the estimate of producer planting intentions released in the Prospective Plantings report on the same day. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good, the corn stocks estimate will still be important as it allows a calculation of the magnitude of feed and residual use of corn during the second quarter of the marketing year. In turn, that calculation will provide the basis for evaluating likely feed and residual use for the entire year and the likely magnitude of year-ending stocks. 

“Anticipating the magnitude of the March 1 stocks estimate begins with an estimate of the supply of corn available during the December 2015-February 2016 quarter,” Good said. “Stocks at the beginning of the quarter were estimated at 11.212 billion bushels in the December Grain Stocks report. Census Bureau estimates show imports during December 2015 and January 2016 totaling 14 million bushels. Imports for the quarter, then, may have been near 20 million bushels, resulting in a total available supply of 11.232 billion bushels.”

Next, an estimate of exports and domestic processing uses of corn during the quarter can be made based on weekly and monthly data available to date. 

“An estimate of exports is based on cumulative weekly export inspection estimates available for the entire quarter and Census Bureau estimates for the first two months of the quarter,” Good explained. “Cumulative marketing-year export inspections through the first half of the marketing year totaled about 603 million bushels. Through the first five months of the year, cumulative Census export estimates exceeded cumulative export inspections by 34 million bushels. If that margin persisted through February, exports in the first half of the year totaled 637 million bushels. Exports in the first quarter were reported at 303 million bushels, leaving 334 million bushels as an estimate of second quarter exports.”

Domestically, the USDA’s Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report estimated that a total of 893 million bushels of corn were used for ethanol and co-product production in December 2015 and January 2016. Good said that based on weekly estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), ethanol production during February 2016 was 3.3 percent larger than during February 2105. The increase was aided by an additional day in 2016.

“If corn used for ethanol and co-product production in February 2016 also increased by 3.3 percent, use for the month totaled about 407 million bushels,” Good said. “Use for the quarter, then, is estimated at 1.3 billion bushels.”

The USDA projects that 1.37 billion bushels of corn will be used to produce other food and industrial products during the 2015-16 marketing year. “Typically, about 49 percent of that use occurs in the first half of the marketing year,” Good said. “If that pattern is followed this year, and the USDA projection is correct, use during the first half of the year likely totaled 671 million bushels. Use during the first quarter was reported at 331 million bushels, leaving the second quarter consumption estimate at 340 million bushels.”

For feed and residual use, the question is how large should use have been during the second quarter of the marketing year if use is on track to reach the USDA’s projection of 5.3 billion bushels for the entire year?

“The historical seasonal pattern of feed and residual use should be helpful in answering that question, but that pattern has fluctuated over time,” Good said. “For example, during the 15 years ending with the 2009-10 marketing year, use during the first half of the year ranged from 61.6 percent to 70.3 percent of the marketing-year total, with an average of 65 percent. For the four years ending with the 2013-14 marketing year, use during the first half of the year ranged from 72.9 percent to 75.6 percent of the marketing-year total, with an average of 74 percent.”

Based on recent USDA revisions in the estimated amount of corn used for ethanol and co-product production during the 2014-15 marketing year, Good said that feed and residual use during the first half of that year accounted for about 69 percent of the marketing-year total.

What pattern is being followed this year?

“If last year’s pattern is being repeated this year, and the USDA projection for the year is correct, feed and residual use during the first half of the year should have totaled about 3.657 billion bushels,” Good said. “Based on revised estimates of corn used for ethanol and co-product production during the first quarter of the 2015-16 marketing year, feed and residual use totaled 2.199 billion bushels during that quarter. Second quarter use, then, would be projected at 1.458 billion bushels. Adding that use to the estimates of exports and domestic processing uses, results in a projection of total quarterly use of 3.432 billion bushels. That total would leave March 1 stocks at 7.8 billion bushels, 50 million bushels larger than stocks of a year earlier.

“The dilemma in interpreting the March 1 corn stocks estimate to be released on March 31 is that the seasonal pattern of feed and residual use for the current year will not be known until the year is over,” Good concluded. “Based on the historical fluctuation in that pattern, a stocks estimate within 150 million bushels of 7.8 billion bushels probably should not change expectations that feed and residual use is on track to reach 5.3 billion bushels for the year.  Nevertheless, the corn market will likely react to a stocks estimate that reveals a pace of feed and residual consumption that is much different than that of last year.”


NRES Alumna Develops Certified Master Beekeeper Curriculum

Published March 7, 2016
Beehives in a watermelon field
Many farmers use beehives to pollinate their crops.

NRES alumna, Dr. Moneen Jones, received her PhD from NRES in 2010. Her advisor was Dr. Richard Weinzierl, Professor of Entomology and NRES Departmental Affiliate. Dr. Jones has developed a Certified Master Beekeeper curriculum, and the brochure for the program has been nominated for a literary award. 

Courtesy of the Daily Dunklin Democrat newspaper:

For that person who may have thought about being a bee charmer and making honey, but they really did not know where to begin, the Fisher Delta Research Center (FDRC) in Portageville has the answer. They are teaching a beginners course, Bee Pollinator Advocate, a first four-hour course in the newly developed Certified Master BeeKeeper curriculum developed by Dr. Moneen Jones, University of Missouri research entomologist at the FDRC.

On Sept. 2, 2015, at the Annual Field Day at the FDRC, Jones talked about the importance of bees to the area, as well as the new Certified Master Beekeeper Pilot Program that was being offered by MU. Before the meeting, she designed a brochure about bees and the apiary (bee yard) at the center and distributed them on field day. Since that time, her brochure has been nominated for a literary award and has helped to increase the number of individuals interested, producers, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators by 248 percent. "So far, the program is going in a positive direction," she said. "Nebraska, Florida, and Texas have a Certified Beekeeping Program, and I've seen their beekeeping courses, but this class has two purposes." First, it is designed to offer interested individuals some type of background on beekeeping, so that when they join a beekeeping group, they already know a little about what they are getting into. The second purpose is so that people will be able to determine whether they want continue in it. She added that many certification classes do not offer any hands-on training, but the second part of the certification program will offer that. Read the entire article on the newspaper's website:

News Source:

Laura Ford, staff writer, Daily Dunklin Democrat

NRES Fall 2015 Teachers Ranked as Excellent

Published March 7, 2016
Blue and Gold Column

NRES congratulates the following Teachers Ranked as Excellent for Fall Semester 2015:

The asterisk * indicates that the faculty member or TA was rated Outstanding.

Allan, Kingsley                    NRES 454

Arai, Yuji                             NRES 351

Gracon, Renee                   NRES 594

Green, Eric                         NRES 285, TA

Happel, Austin                   NRES 201, TA

Hunter, Dane                     NRES 201, TA

*Matthews, Jeffrey            NRES 285, 419

McSweeney, Kevin             NRES 471

Molina, Miriam                    NRES 201, TA

Mulvaney, Richard              NRES 201

Stickley, Samuel                 NRES 454

Straker, Kaitlin                   NRES 426, TA

Suski, Cory                         NRES 285, 409

Taft, John                           NRES 415

Ward, Michael                    NRES 348

Yannarell, Anthony            NRES 219

Congratulations on a Semester of Excellence, Teachers!!!!


News Source:

Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, 217-333-3490