Haag: Give thanks for plants | Home & Garden

Everyone should add plants to their “thankful list” this year. Through photosynthesis, plants create oxygen in our atmosphere, which allows us to breathe fresh air. Also, directly, or indirectly, practically all food comes from plants. There are over 350,000 plant species in the world … we have a lot to be thankful for.

As a horticulturist, you can imagine I love and appreciate plants. My career revolves around plants, but my life has always revolved around plants too. Growing up on a Central Illinois farm, my parents instilled a love of plants and growing things at an early age. Many plants deserve my thanks this year.

I may not personally grow corn and soybeans, but they are two of the plants I am most thankful for. Corn and soybeans were some of the first plants I learned to grow and care for, and still to this day are my family’s livelihood and popular topic of discussion. If you can’t grow acres of corn and soybeans, try your hand at growing colorful varieties of Indian corn to decorate for Autumn, or edamame, the Japanese term for fresh, green soybeans that have been bred to be harvested and enjoyed in the green pod stage.

Tomatoes are probably the most grown vegetable in Central Illinois gardens. Who doesn’t love a freshly picked tomato from the garden? We can’t forget it is also the staple ingredient for many favorite foods including marinara (pizza and pasta!), ketchup and salsa. My Grandpa Bill grew the best tomatoes in town. His “secret,” was his perfected fertilization schedule. Apply a starter fertilizer when planting tomatoes to help them grow faster and develop flowers sooner. Get a soil test this spring to determine how much and what type of fertilizer you need to apply to your garden.

Trees provide shade, structure and height in our landscapes, but they give us so much more. Fruits, nuts, paper, chewing gum, hair products and chocolate, are just some of the things we have a tree to thank! They give the birds a place to nest, and they can even use used as firewood if they die. One of my favorite trees for fall color is black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) which turns a gorgeous scarlet red. Next spring, plant a tree in your yard. You will be forever grateful!

I am so thankful for flowering spring bulbs after a long, cold winter! While it seems like such a chore to plant them in the fall, it pays off in the spring when that first delicate, colorful bloom pops its way up in the brown landscape. Plant bulbs in October to allow time for a good root system to develop before winter. Spring bulbs will bloom starting in late February (snowdrops) and continue until late June (alliums). Bees will thank YOU for planting these early bloomers too!

Think about what you had for supper last night and how plants are connected to it. Or think about a plant that has made a positive impact on your life. What plants are you thankful for this year?

WRITER: Brittnay Haag Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

Haag is a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.