Garden Series, Garden Tips & Tree Manual


Park Forest Gardening Series

The Park Forest Gardening Series, sponsored by the Village of Park Forest and the Park Forest Environment Commission, provides area residents with free instruction in a host of gardening areas. The series is catered to both beginners and avid gardeners. Resident may attend as few or as many classes as they'd like. 

All classes are held at:

Wetlands Discovery Center
30 North Orchard Dr.
Park Forest, IL 60466

Time: 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Cost: Free
No registration required

2019 Schedule

January 26
Winter Sowing:  Yes, it’s January. Yes, there is snow outside and it’s below freezing. Yes, it’s time to plant seeds! Bring a milk jug or fruit container (something at least 4 inches deep, so there’s room for soil, roots and plants to grow up) and learn how to turn that trash into a miniature greenhouse for plants!

February 16
Pollinator Gardens:  What is a pollinator? Which bugs are beneficial, which are bad, and how to plant to encourage them to come to your garden?

March 9
Cold Hardy Vegetables:  You can start planting your vegetables in March. This program discusses the best plants for early harvests, and when to start.

April 20
Basic Beginning Gardening:  Learn all about the basics of gardening like what’s the difference between annual/perennial and raised bed versus digging in the ground?  Also learn about basic tools and safety.

May 18
Cottage Gardens:  Salvage style, multitudes of scented flowers, and the occasional critter.  Cottage gardens are the perfect spot to enjoy an evening after a long day.

June 15
Vegetable Containers:  Which combos look great, and which veggies work in hanging pots.

July 20
Spring Bulbs:  Learn all about spring bulbs. July is when you should receive your first fall bulb catalogs. Order in July since companies ship in October, and you will be the envy of the neighborhood come May.

August 17
Weeds: The bad, the really bad, and the best ways to get rid of them weeds.

September 21
Fall Clean-up:  What you should cut down, what bushes get pruned, and how to compost all those leaves.

October 12
Hardscape Ideas: Hardscape is the parts of your yard that are permanent, such as sidewalks, driveways, and fences. Learn some suggestions for more than your average concrete.

November 16
Easy ways to be more eco-friendly: Simple, easy tips on saving water, preventing runoff, composting, and saving money.

December 14
Easy house plants: Which ones are the best for low light, low humidity, and forgetfulness.

Park Forest Community Gardens

Click on the link below for more information:

Park Forest Community Gardens

Tree Owner's Manual

If you have replaced at tree due to Emerald Ash Borer infestation, this manual provided by the Morton Arboretum will give you tips and insights on caring for your new tree. Click on link below.

Tree Owner's Manual for the Northeastern and Midwestern United States

Sudden Oak Death

Park Forest residents may find the following Press Release concerning Sudden Oak Death from the Illinois Department of Agriculture informative. Although called Sudden Oak Death, and primarily a west coast disease, the pathogen has been identified in varieties of Rhododendron and Lilac purchased from various retail markets in Illinois, including retailers in both Cook and Will Counties, this past spring. The disease can infect over 100 different species of plants and the article describes the disease, its symptoms and what residents should do if they have questions or suspect they may have an infected plant. It is important that residents be aware of the threat this disease poses to oaks as areas south of Sauk Trail are heavily wooded with mature oaks.

Questions will best be answered by contacting the local University of Illinois Extension office in Matteson; (708) 679-6889


sudden oak death

Canker on an oak infected with Sudden Oak Death

SPRINGFIELD, IL – The pathogen which causes Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease that has killed large tracts of oaks and affected many native plant species in California, Oregon, and Europe, has been found in Illinois.

Phytophthera ramorum, the causal agent of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) has been confirmed in ornamental plants at ten Walmart locations in Cook, Jackson, Jefferson, Lee, Macon, Monroe, St. Clair, Stephenson, and Will Counties, and one Hy-Vee location in McDonough County through cooperative efforts between IDOA and USDA, as well as diagnostic support from University of Illinois, Michigan State, Cornell, and Kansas State Universities, and USDA labs.

The issue was first uncovered by an Indiana confirmation at a Walmart in late May on rhododendrons from Parkhill Plants in Oklahoma, which sourced the plants from nurseries in Washington and British Colombia. Shipping records were provided to IL officials shortly thereafter. 18 states in total received these plants.

IDOA and USDA field staffs began visiting identified sites in late May inspecting the plants with a primary focus on rhododendron as the main suspected carrier of the disease, but also inspected other known host plants such as azalea, viburnum, and lilac.

Symptomatic plants were sampled for diagnostic testing and placed on stop sale order pending diagnostic results or destroyed or relinquished to officials on site. Collected plants are being safeguarded by IDOA for later approved disposal. Though Sudden Oak Death affects oaks and other trees and plants, it poses no threats to humans, pets, livestock, or food sources.

Positive confirmations have been made on the following plants and varieties in Illinois and/or other states to date:

Rhododendron - Cat Cunningham Blush, Firestorm, Holden, Minnetonka, Nova Zembla, Percy Wiseman, Purpureum Elegans, Roseum Elegans, Wojnars Purple.

Lilac – Common Purple, Persian Lime.

The above varieties may not be the only plants affected as the disease can infect more than 100 different species. In general, most plants will get “ramorum blight” as carriers, however oaks are considered terminal hosts as it can often be fatal.

Diane Plewa, diagnostician at the University of Illinois Plant Clinic, says “The pathogen can cause both a blight and sudden death, depending on the host. Because P. ramorum has only been detected on non-oak hosts, the disease Ramorum blight has been confirmed in Illinois but not the disease Sudden Oak Death. Currently, there is no evidence that any oak trees in Illinois are infected at this point”.

The pathogen travels well in soil and water, so escape into the environment is a concern. Blight symptoms of the disease include, but are not limited to, foliar spots, browning or wilting leaves, tip/shoot dieback, and brown or black discoloration on stems and/or trunks. For more details and photos, please visit the California Oak Mortality Task Force's website.

Walmart and Rural King are participating in voluntary recalls of the potentially infected plants remaining at their sites. Scott Schirmer, State Plant Regulatory Official at IDOA says “These situations are never easy, but when industry recognizes the severity of the situation and cooperates to help address the issue, it’s a tremendous asset to the overall response effort. However, it is also important to have cooperation from residents who may have purchased these plants to get an idea of what may already be planted in the Illinois landscape.”

Because the disease is incurable, Illinoisans are encouraged to contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture or their local University of Illinois Extension office for further guidance if they have purchased rhododendrons from Walmart, Hy-Vee, or Rural King since April, and if those plants are looking symptomatic or in poor condition. The most likely source of infection would be plants purchased this spring; older, established plants are not very likely to be infected with P. ramorum. It is not recommended to destroy or dispose of these plants without State or Federal guidance. This is an ongoing investigation, guidance and recommendations may change.

Rain Garden Blog

If your Park Forest backyard is like mine you are no doubt surprised at how wet it is and perhaps saying to yourself; “I don’t remember it being this wet for some time.”

Data from the Illinois State Water Survey, which has a weather recording station at the Park Forest Water Treatment PlanRain Garden 01.jpgt shows that this March and April have been significantly wetter than average and one of the wettest in over a decade.

March 2016 rainfall totaled 3.5”, the third wettest since 2006 and 1” above the average of 2.6”. March also had 14 rain days, the most in that same time period. April totals are not posted yet but Water Plant logs report 2.5” of rain. The combined total of 6” makes this the 2nd wettest March/April in the last five years and we have already had almost 2” of rain the first 10 days of May!

What does this one extra inch of rain in March amount to in my backyard? Quite a bit actually. One inch of rain off a 40’ x 70’ roof equals 1,743 gallons. On one acre, this inch of rain equals about 27,000 gallons and on one square mile it equals 17.38 million gallons. Park Forest covers 4.96 square miles, so this extra inch of rain amounted to some 86.2 million gallons of water in Park Forest alone. More importantly, in my yard this extra inch of rain meant there was an extra 5,000 gallons of water that needed managed in some way.

I would like to share my experience in managing our overly wet backyard. Most of you have probably heard of a rain garden and some may have planted one in their yard. The idea behind a rain garden is that by using deep rooted, native plants that can tolerate flooding, the excess water can follow the roots and drain deep into the soil. This keeps storm water from draining away into the storm sewers and helps replenish ground wRain Garden 02.jpgater that is used by our lawns, trees and other landscape plants.

Several years ago my wife and I decided to plant a rain garden in our backyard using a low area that did not drain well as the garden basin. This area would hold water for several weeks in the spring and on into June and was the perfect place for mosquitoes to breed. We actually dug out about six inches of soil, making it deeper and contoured more of the yard to drain into this depression. The first few years were largely trial and error, mostly error, as we tried different plants and learned how to winter the garden. Even with only a few plants we noticed that the water did not remain as long, and as we have added a few plants each year and these have matured we have found that after a typical heavy rain water does not pond for more than three days. Add to that the wonderful textures and colors of a native garden and one couldn’t ask for a nicer place to spend a summer evening.

The picture on the left shows some of the planting. To the right is a portion of the rain garden after some heavy rains this Wednesday and Saturday. The sedges in the foreground and Blue Flag Iris in the background are three season old. Other plants are just beginning to emerge and some are under water. Water doesn’t percolate as quickly this spring as the ground is already saturated and not all the plants are actively growing but this six inches of water will be mostly gone in four or five days.

The picture below taken on May 16, 2016 at noon. You can see the water has receded about 2”.

Rain Garden 03.jpg

What we have learned:

  • Choose plants carefully, being mindful of how much sunlight the plants will receive. Most native plants want full sunlight. We have mostly shade in our yard and must choose very carefully. Choose plants that will tolerate both flooding and extended periods of drought. Choosing plants that will tolerate both means I don’t have to irrigate as much after the plants are well established.
  • Do not mulch with leaves in the fall. I left the leaves that fell naturally into the garden this year but did not add any and it appears that all plants survived and were not smothered by excess mulch. Thick layers of leaves also impedes drainage.
  • Be patient. Most native plants take two to three years to establish.
  • The yard will still be wet at times but it’s certainly more tolerable than it was.
  • Buy plants from a good nursery with staff that understand native plants and rain gardens.
  • The U of I Extension and Master Gardeners/ Master Naturalists are a good reference.
  • Birds love the natural environment
  • For our next project we want to experiment with a hummingbird/rain garden in another area of the yard.

I encourage you to consider a rain garden as a way to manage the excess rain water in your yards and to enjoy the many benefits that come with this type of garden. If you have any questions or want some more tips, the Park Forest Environment Commission is sponsoring a Saturday Garden Series at the Wetlands Discovery Center. The Wetlands Discovery Center is located at the west end of the Park Forest Aqua Center, 30 N Orchard Dr. You may also call me at the Recreation & Park office, 708-748-2005 or email

Robert Gunther, Director of Recreation & Parks
Village of Park Forest