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April 15
Spring has Sprung!

Spring really is a time of wonder.  Our landscapes and nearby woodlands seemed drab and grey for several months.  Then suddenly, they appear to burst into life.  Most observers feel inspired by this cycle whether they're plant lovers or not.

Garden tours are one way to celebrate spring.  Several of our state's Extension Master Gardener groups sponsor varied garden/plant related activities to nurture the passion for all things garden related. 

Lee Co MG garden tour 2014 - St John garden.JPGThe Lee County Master Gardeners are hosting their biennial tour event in May.  This now highly anticipated event, is offered in even-numbered  years, generally on the weekend following Mother's Day. It is their largest event for the community. The goal is to share a variety of gardens, differing in style, size, and materials, but rich in inspiration. The garden tour stretches from Auburn to Opelika and includes a few other surprises outside city limits. Each stop is unique and provides educational information – a plant list of key plants in each garden, tags showing the scientific and common names of plants, a brief history and description of the development of each garden, and Alabama Extension System handouts relevant to the features of each garden. Visitors are encouraged to take notes to remember the ideas to use later and ask questions to learn more about gardening. Thanks to many community friends, long hours of preparation, and sponsors, this MG association in partnership with Alabama Extension is eager to share the joy of springtime with you.

Advance purchase tickets are $20 and can be found at Ace Hardware, Blooming Colors, and The Flower Store in Auburn, and at the Auburn & Opelika Chambers of Commerce.  Tickets are available for $25 at any of the gardens during the tour.  Tour dates/hours are Saturday, May 17 10:00-5:00 & Sunday, May 18 1:00-6:00.
 
For more information email Sarah, Jolly, and Susan at 2014GardenTour@gmail.com .

April 14
The Candles of Spring

I love spring.  First, let me apologize to all those who suffer from hay fever; pollen used to bother me too.  During my teens and twenties, I was miserable throughout the entire growing season.  But through it all, I loved spring.  It is not my favorite season, that position belongs to autumn, but I still love spring.  I love spring because of the NASCAR – like speed at which the natural world moves. Over the past two months, plants have awakened from their winter slumber to provide food for the rest of us on this blue planet, and reproduce. 
pine candles - andy baril.jpg
There is a unique pattern to this explosion of life, and it is absolutely amazing!  Back in late January and early February, the official coldest two weeks of 2014, the elm trees woke up and began sharing their pollen with each other to produce a new generation of elms. The next voice in this symphony was the maples.  Remember driving down the highway and seeing the slight red tone in the tree line?  Those hints of red were the maples as they broke open their buds and revealed their tiny red flowers.  Today, the elm seeds have already fallen, but the maple seeds continue to cling to their parents awaiting the day of their helicopter release into a new world.  After a slight gap in large tree activity, during which the cherry, plum, redbud, and dogwood bloomed, the large trees resumed their activity too.  Today hickories and oaks are adding their flowers and pollen to the mix, and at any moment the pines will shout with a loud burst of yellow. 

Two weeks ago in Mobile I viewed the first “Candles of Spring”; the new shoot growth of our Southern pines.  Palm Sunday, I saw them here in Birmingham. As I returned to Birmingham from Mobile, I had the privilege of crossing the Mobile/Tensaw Delta on the I-65 Bridge; on top of the bridge I wanted to stop.  The beauty of the Delta awakening, even at a distance, was breath-taking. 

Take a close look at the end of a tree branch.  Look at the tiny flowers, the male anthers releasing their pollen with every shake or wisp of wind, and the female stigma waiting for that one microscopic grain of pollen that will begin new life and produce a new seed.  While this dance occurs every spring, don't allow this year’s dance to go unnoticed.  Allow the natural world to amaze you with its beauty and complexity.  Look at that mountainside.  Look in your yard, go to a park, or walk a woodland trail.  Look at both the showy flowers of an iris or dogwood, and the simple flowers of an oak or pine.  Take a close look, maybe you, like I, will be amazed.

by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. 

April 10
So Many Azaleas to Collect and Plant

Everyone needs a hobby and something to do, right? In no particular order, mine happens to be gardening, hunting, sports, reading, and childrearing. Over the last few years, my gardening interest and plantings have expanded around my house into a very young collection. For more color, I began collecting daffodils and irises, with many being pass-along plants. I have bought and planted a few camellias along the way that have grabbed my attention. But nothing compares to my favorite and ongoing collection – azaleas.

I am not sure why I like azaleas but I blame my interest in azaleas on my college days at Auburn University and visits to Callaway Gardens. In college, I was introduced to so many different types of plants but immediately loved the subtle spring splash of color of the native azaleas and the burst of color of evergreen azaleas. Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia has all types of azaleas on display and is a must visit for me each spring. There is just something special about seeing all that mass of color blooming in the spring in the South.

Azaleas have been around for years but they still may be the most popular flowering shrubs in Alabama. If you don't have one or more growing in your yard, then you will be missing out on one of the best spring flowers show ever seen. With so many new varieties now available on the market and various shades of colors, I know there is at least azalea out there you will fall in love with.

The native azaleas are deciduous and can be found naturally growing in forests and along creeks all across the Southeastern U.S. Their honeysuckle-like flowers make them quite unique. The most common ones found growing in Alabama naturally or in yards are the Piedmont Azalea (pink to white), Florida Azalea (yellow to orange), Alabama Azalea (white), and Sweet Azalea, (white).

The popular evergreen azaleas we have come to adore as shrubs originated from Asia. Most varieties seen and sold today are hybrids and are a result of many years of breeding and selection. The most common Azaleas types grown in Alabama are Southern Indica, Kurume, Glen Dale, and the Encore™ series.

The Southern Indica azaleas are large plants and often reach a mature height of 6 - 10 feet. The flowers are large and showy at 3 inches wide. These azaleas are not as cold-hardy (hardy to Zone 8) as others so are more popular in the southern half of the state. Common cultivars are 'George L. Tabor' (light pink), 'Mrs. G.G. Gerbing' (white), 'Formosa' (magenta), and 'Pride of Mobile' (dark pink).

Kurume azaleas are the most popular group and are the first ones to bloom in the spring. They have very compact growth and lots of small flowers (½ – ¾") but may reach 5 - 6 feet in height. They are more cold-hardy (to Zone 7) and can be found growing in most of Alabama. Popular cultivars include 'Coral Bells' (salmon pink), 'Hinodegiri' (vivid red), Hershey Red (bright red), and 'Snow' (white).

Glen Dale hybrids grow to be about 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. These azaleas are very cold-hardy. However, they are somewhat hard to find at garden centers and nurseries in Alabama. Two cultivars commonly found for sale are 'Fashion ' (salmon) and 'Glacier' (white).

The Encore™ series azaleas were released in 1998 and are new to most people. They are best known for blooming twice a year, in the spring and again in mid to late summer or fall. There are currently 25 cultivars on the market ranging widely in color, shape, and size. None are over 5 feet tall. However, all are suppose to re-bloom. All cultivar names begin with 'Autumn' and are sold in distinctive maroon pots.

Azaleas can be planted any time of year if proper attention is given to providing adequate water. Most people buy azaleas in the spring when the plants are blooming so they can choose the right color combinations. Fall is probably the best time to plant, however, because the plants then can become better established before hot weather.

Azaleas require an acid soil pH (5.5) to grow properly. Pick a place with light to moderate shade. Azaleas receiving some shade during the winter usually suffer less cold damage. Pine trees with moderate filtered shade give ideal protection for azaleas. However, heavy shade throughout the day may reduce the flower production and result in weak growth.

When planting azaleas, remember you will get the most effective display of flowers by planting a mass of single variety (3 or 5 or 7 plants) instead of using many varieties and color together. Plant azaleas a few inches higher than you would with normal plants so that the top of the root ball is slightly above ground level. Remember - Plant them high and they will never die. Add pine bark or peat moss to the planting hole to improve drainage and lower pH. Afterwards, be sure to mulch them heavily with pine bark or pine straw. Additional watering and monitoring will be required in the spring and summer to help them become established and survive.

An azalea collection will provide you enjoyment for many years to come. Enjoy the show!

Shane Harris is the County Extension Coordinator for Tallapoosa County.

 

April 10
Green Grass on This Side of the Fence

​Question: My family and I have recently purchased a new home. All things considered, the home came with a beautiful garden and what appears to be a zoysiagrass lawn. I haven’t lived in a home that has a “manicured” lawn before, what can I do to ensure that my yard looks as good as my neighbors? Where should I start?  

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We get this kind of question VERY often at the office, and especially this time of year and particularly the part about your neighbor… In a world where the appearance of your lawn can put you in certain circles, keeping your grass up to par might be a priority. Though many folks prefer to hire a lawn care company to manage their lawn, the average homeowner is fully capable of keeping that nice green, almost weed-free lawn that some of us strive for.

There are a few things that must be taken into account before we begin. You have a good start by knowing that your lawn is indeed a variety of zoysiagrass. Knowing the difference between the types of turf grasses in the beginning saves you a lot of trouble AND heartbreak down the road. While there are many varieties of turfgrass available, there are four very common species in our area: Zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, and Centipedegrass. These grasses are referred to as warm season grasses versus cool season grasses, which include fescue varieties and ryegrass. Oftentimes, especially if you have moved into a home with an established lawn, differentiating between the grasses can be difficult.  If you're not sure contact your local Extension office for help in the identification process. Each grass type has unique preferences and can be adversely affected by certain fertilizers and herbicides. READ THE LABEL BEFORE APPLYING ANY PRODUCT!

Fertilizing will help your lawn get off to a good spring start, but refrain from fertilizing on the first pretty day of spring. Wait until your lawn is completely green and you are well past the last expected frost date of the season. Any fertilizer applied before then will only be feeding the weeds because the grass will still be dormant and can not utilize nitrogen or any other nutrients being applied.  Before applying lime, nitrogen, or any other fertilizers, a soil test is recommended to assess the condition of your lawn and to provide recommendations for optimum rates. Soil testing can save you time AND money throughout the year by preventing application of excess product.

The next thing to discuss is to pre-emergent herbicides. Pre-emergent herbicides are formulated to do just what the name indicates, to kill weeds before they appear. The key to using pre-emergent herbicides is applying the product at the right time to achieve maximum efficiency. If applying in the spring we generally recommend that the product be applied anywhere from the mid to late February for best results. If in the fall, mid to late September would be best. Be sure to follow the rates and directions on the label to prevent any damage to the lawn. In the spring, look for products that that will control crabgrass and in the fall look for a product to control weeds such as annual bluegrass and hairy bitter-cress. (These often kill other weeds too; just check the label) Any weeds that get past the pre-emergent applications can be eliminated with spot treatments of post-emergent herbicides.

To scalp or not to scalp is a really common question that we receive in the spring. Remember that one type of grass is different from another grass, so the recommendations can differ greatly. For your zoysiagrass, scalping is not recommended. Zoysiagrass performs best when it is mowed at a height of ¾” to 2”. If your lawn is taller than that, you can reduce the height slowly once you begin mowing after green-up. I emphasize slowly so that the grass is not cut back below the growing points (buds), which can set the lawn back several weeks. On the other hand, bermudagrass can be cut back hard and kept at a length of ¾” to 1 ½”. Maintaining turf at its recommended height can prevent self-shading, increase airflow and help prevent disease. A healthy lawn competes fiercely with weeds. Also, it is not necessary to remove the clippings from your lawn, in fact it is recommended that you DO leave them. Clippings can replenish nitrogen back to the soil and leaving them in place acts as a fertilizer for your lawn. If you are able to mow frequently (every 7-10 days during active growth), excess clippings shouldn’t be a problem.

Between mowing, fertilizing and controlling weeds, keeping a lawn can be tough work. But, as with most things, hard work and persistence pay off in the end. Establishing and following a schedule of care for your turf is important to maintain a healthy lawn all season long. For more information on the care of your lawn, contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Office.

by Hunter McBrayer of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

March 17
Cranking Up for Spring

Spring has sprung!  Although Jack Frost may still have one last remaining freeze up his sleeve, for all purposes spring has arrived.  Not only do recent temperatures speak of spring, but look along the highways and county roads during your weekend getaways.  Eastern redbud, Chickasaw plums, Carolina jessamine, and sassafrass are all in bloom.  Along with our native wild plants, forsythia bushes, daffodils, and irises have joined the celebration in showing their colors too.  Some of us have even see our first hummingbirds in 2014.  As the signs of spring grow stronger my desire to get into my garden also grows.  During my travels, I have seen many gardeners have already awakened the soil from its winter’s sleep.  However the soil in my garden is still too wet to work.  As I wait for a week of dry weather, I get my power tools ready for another growing season’s work.spring garden prep - andy baril.jpg

The best pre-season tune-up begins in the fall, by draining the gas tank and running all small engines dry of gas.  If your tools were not ‘winterized’ have no fear.  Before cranking up the engine disconnect the fuel line from the carburetor, empty the tank of old gas, reconnect and refill it with new gas/stabilizer/and oil mix if necessary.  On larger engines change the engine oil too.  Once everything is back in place, spray a touch of ether in the carburetor, and pull the cord.  The engine may be a bit sluggish, but it should crank up after a few pulls.  Once running, allow the engine to idle for a few minutes before using the tool.  This idle time allows the engine to heat up and run better.  This is especially true for chainsaws which are turned in many different directions while being used.

Whenever the weather allows me to work in my garden, I do not want my power tools to hold up the process.  Living at the base of a tall hill has an interesting set of difficulties for me.  The upper reaches of our property tends to dry out quickly and has drought-like conditions during the summer months.  Longleaf and Virginia pines, chestnut oak, and mockernut hickory dominate the woods in these upper reaches.  At the base of the hill where our house, yard, and garden are located; moisture is readily available.  Remember, water flows downhill.  Coming down the hillside, rainwater flows quickly until it reaches the bottom.  In the flats water pools, it forms ephemeral ponds during spring rains.  As the rain water slowly congregates into streams and creeks, they meander across these flats on their way to the Coosa River.  In areas a bit higher in elevation but still in the ‘flats’ is our garden.  While it may take longer to dry out for optimum working and planting, it tends to retain moisture during the summer.  Should we get a week of dry warm weather, by this time next week I should have planted my English peas, potatoes, and sweet corn.  

written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. 

March 06
Freeze Damage? - When to Prune

WOW, what a winter we have had. From short sleeves to parkas within the same week, we have certainly had our share of the “Alabama weather” that everyone talks about.  We are expecting to have more cold damaged plants this spring than in the previous two or three years. But don’t fret; while your landscape may show battle scars from a tough winter, chances are that most plants will be just fine.

cold damage - magnolia.jpgWith plants such as tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans), cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera), Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis spp.) and many others showing winter damage, Extension agents are getting call after call about cold damage. The best answer at this point is simply to wait it out. While many plants are showing scorched and browning leaves, bare stems, and desiccating branches, it is hard for us to determine EXACTLY how much damage has been done.

Gardenias, for example, can be severely damaged by cold temperatures. The leaves are not very hardy and will fall off with minor cool temperatures. While we might think that the plant has crossed over, we cannot fully know until spring.  Often times, stems and branches that appear “dead”, still set bud and leaf out in April.

If your plants have been damaged by cold, HOLD OFF pulling out the pruners and the shears. At this point in the season pruning, especially hard pruning on woody plants, can cause more damage than good. First, pruning almost always initiates new growth when not done in the dead of winter. With the warm temperatures that we are likely to experience, buds may break and new growth can begin. If we have another cold snap and a heavy frost or freeze, all of the new growth stands the chance of being damaged or killed. Second, cold damage can take a while to rear its ugly head. It can be weeks before the extent of damage is fully know. Being the lazy gardener that I am, I want to prune once and be done. If you jump the gun and prune early, you stand a chance of missing some of the damaged tissue. Lastly, pruning early can actually cause you to remove more plant material than is necessary.  Sometimes, that “dead” tissue isn't really dead and can regrow if given time. If you prune before you can see the transition point from live to dead, you could be removing healthy wood.

If you are feeling giddy and must get out in the garden, try this instead. Don’t worry about the cold damage. Prune off those braches that you know are dead (FOR SURE dead tissue can be removed at any time).  If you haven’t already, remove the dead parts from the crowns of ornamental grasses, rake out the leaves, remove old flower stalks and start a compost bin. If you simply can’t wait and must prune woody plants now, scratch the damaged stems with your thumb nail and check for green tissue before you start hacking. Remember that if you are doing hard pruning, use proper pruning techniques to reduce problems from disease later down the road.  Maybe with a little patience and TLC, your garden will look better than it did before.
For more information on proper pruning techniques, contact your local County Extension office or visit www.aces.edu .

by Hunter McBrayer of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

February 26
Gardening is Healthy!

​Q. Thankfully, the cold weather gave us a short break, though we know there's more to come. I am contemplating growing backyard vegetables for the first time. While researching different methods and various vegetable varieties, I keep running across numerous articles detailing the health benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables – increased exercise, healthier dietary choices, and even stress relief. In fact, several years ago, a close friend of mine, who is a cancer survivor, experienced these benefits first hand through her participation in a gardening study with a local hospital. Can you provide additional information about this study and do you know if the study will be repeated locally?

vegetable basket.jpgA. Yes, this winter has been quite a cold one. I think we all have experienced cabin fever on some level!

I am so glad that you asked about the gardening study, also known as Harvest for Health. This program was such a great experience for everyone involved. In fact, it was so successful that it is presently being replicated in several surrounding counties.

Harvest for Health, an ongoing study at UAB, pairs breast cancer survivors with a Master Gardener from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

"Having a garden may help breast cancer survivors and their families eat better, get more exercise and become healthier," said Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., RD, professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and associate director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Studies have shown a link between diet and cancer, and between physical activity and cancer. We want to see how cancer survivors respond to this gardening intervention, as well as how it affects their diet and exercise behaviors, and their health-related quality of life and physical health status."

UAB's study provides the gardening materials. Master gardeners visit with the survivors twice a month for one year, offering advice, expertise and suggestions, while answering the questions new gardeners have.

The study began in Jefferson County, AL, in August of 2013. Recruiting is now aimed at Shelby, Blount, St. Clair and Walker counties. Eligible participants are breast cancer survivors from those counties who have completed their primary therapy (e.g., surgery, radiation or chemotherapy) and who do not currently raise vegetables at home.

"We're looking for people who don't already eat five or six servings of fruit or vegetables a day, or those who are not already physically active," Demark-Wahnefried said. "We want to provide this study to women who will benefit the most. Besides being a good source of exercise, gardening is a good way to learn about healthy diet and nutrition."

The Master Gardeners, who have completed a rigorous certification process from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, are all volunteers. "They are very excited to be making a difference," Demark-Wahnefried said. "In fact, we have plenty of Master Gardeners standing by. We just need more breast cancer survivors to participate in the therapy."

The research team believes that Harvest for Health will be both fun and educational, while also motivating survivors to eat better. Preliminary results showed improvement in physical function in many participants.

"They show improved strength, especially in their hands, improved mobility, and an increased ability to get up and down," Demark-Wahnefried said. "That's an added benefit on top of better nutrition."

Participants in the study do not have to go to UAB, but will have three visits from the research team at their home during the course of the project, along with the twice-monthly interactions with the master gardeners.

The study is funded by a grant from the Women's Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. For more information on how to participate, contact study organizers at 205-996-7367 or harvest4health@uab.edu.           

by Bethany A. O'Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

February 17
Preparing Your Soil for Spring Gardening

    
     Winter is upon us and spring is just around the corner.  Many gardeners are already thinking about what they can do in the garden or landscape. Now is the perfect time to begin preparing your lawn and garden for the upcoming spring.
     One of the most critical parts of any garden, whether you are growing roses or turnips or just trying to maintain a beautiful lawn, is the soil. A well maintained “healthy” soil is the first step to successful gardening. So how do you determine the health of your soil? Have it tested! A soil test will determine the pH and fertility of your soil. Just as regular check-ups are important for your health, it is important to have your soil tested once every three years to ensure that you are properly maintaining it. Everything you need to submit a soil sample is available at your local Extension office. soil-testing1[1].jpg
     Remember when collecting a soil sample that every square foot of soil can be different so it is essential to take a composite sample. A composite sample is a collection of 15 to 20 uniform cores of soil taken from random spots in the garden, lawn, or shrub bed. After collecting the samples for a given area you should place them in a clean bucket and mix thoroughly. Place about 1 pint of the mixed soil into the soil sample box. In a garden take the core samples from the depth the soil was tilled. In a lawn take the core sample from 2 to 3 inches deep at 15 to 20 spots. Submit separate samples from the front lawn, back lawn, and other areas where soil may differ or where different types of grasses are grown. Be sure to fill in all the information on the soil sample box and information sheet as completely as possible. It is very important that you list the plants that are or will be growing in the soil you are having tested. The cost for soil testing is $7.00 per sample and once your sample arrives at the lab it takes 3 to 7 days to process. For each soil sample you submit to the Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory, you will receive a report that will include soil test results, and fertilizer recommendations.
     Soil pH directly affects the nutrients available to plants and it is the most important analysis from the soil test for the homeowner. The pH of a soil is a measure of the soil’s acidity or alkalinity. A pH of 7.0 is neutral, below 7.0 is acidic, and above 7.0 is alkaline. The optimum pH varies depending on the plants being grown. For example, most garden plants and lawn grasses do best in a slightly acid soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0). On the other hand, azaleas, rhododendrons, gardenias, hydrangeas, and blueberries grow best in a very acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5). In Alabama, most of our soils are acidic and liming is often necessary in gardens and lawns. Because of the length of time and amount of moisture needed for the lime-soil reaction to raise the pH the fall is the perfect time of year to have your soil tested and begin preparing it for next year’s activities.
     When applying lime keep in mind that the most important factor determining its effectiveness is placement. Incorporation of lime into the soil is essential because most liming materials are only slightly soluble in water and travel very slowly through the soil. Moisture is essential for the lime-soil reaction to occur so a summer liming application can be very ineffective. Lime can only be surface applied on already established lawns and if rain is not in the forecast be sure to water it into the soil.
Maintaining an optimum pH will make your fertilizer applications more effective and go a long way in giving you the prettiest yard on the street or the best tasting garden treats!
More information on soil testing can be found in Extension publications ANR -6-B and ANR-388.   These publications are available at your local Extension office or can be found on the Auburn Soil Testing Lab website at
http://www.aces.edu/anr/soillab/forms-pubs.php .



February 17
Protecting the Waterfront

How we take care of our properties can have a positive or negative effect on the bodies of water around us. Fertilizers and pesticides we put into our landscapes and the soap from washing our cars can end up in the creeks, bays, and oceans around us.  Simple changes in the way we manage our properties can have a big impact and help protect the water bodies we play in and depend on.
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In natural areas such as forests, heavy rains seep into the soil. In human-built landscapes, water often runs from impervious surfaces such as roofs, walks, and drives not into the soil but into our waterways. This is “stormwater” which can impact our watersheds—surface water such as rivers and lakes, and groundwater from which many of us get our drinking water.

This impact on our watershed is often negative, in several ways. Stormwater can:
--change hydrology, or how water flows over and through the land. Examples are flooding, stream bank erosion, and lowered groundwater tables.
--wash sediment into surface waters, making water cloudy. This, in turn, can make it hard for fish to live but better for invasive plants to take root and grow.
--wash nutrients from fertilizers and pet wastes into watersheds. This speeds up algal growth, which can not only be a nuisance for swimming and boating, but harmful to animals, humans, and particularly fish.
--wash bacteria from pet wastes into water, making humans and pets sick, and closing beaches.
--wash toxic contaminants into waterways, such as oil and gasoline from drives and roads, or pesticides and herbicides. Many of these are quite toxic to aquatic life, and can harm other animals and humans.
--increase thermal pollution as water runs over hot paved surfaces. Such warm water has less oxygen than cool, so makes it harder for fish to breathe and survive.

To minimize such negative impacts of your landscape on our watersheds, consider these practices before applying pesticides to your landscape.

 

--Put the right plant in the right place. Healthy, stress-free plants suffer less from pests.
--Identify the plant first. Be aware of its normal, healthy appearance.
--Identify the pest second. Not all suspicious characters cause problems.
--Ask yourself, “Do I really need a pesticide?” This could save time, money and the environment.
--Read and abide by the pesticide label. THE LABEL IS THE LAW.
--Avoid having leftover chemicals. When choosing chemical controls, buy and mix only what you need.
--More is not better. Use the lowest labeled concentration rate that will get the job done.
--Protect beneficial creatures. Spot treat the pest and avoid broadcast applications of pesticide.
--Buy separate sprayers. Don’t mix herbicides with insecticides and fungicides.
--Follow the label instructions for disposal. Do not put unused pesticides in household garbage containers.
 
Here are some additional changes to the landscape that will help reduce the negative effects of stormwater runoff.
--Drip line infiltration trench. This is simply a trench, about 18-inches wide and about 8-inches deep, with crushed stone of various sizes in layers, under the roof drip line. It captures heavy roof runoff, allowing it to seep into the soil naturally. It works best in sandy or well-drained soils; otherwise you may need to install a perforated PVC pipe as well in the trench.
--Driveway infiltration trench. This is a trench similar to the above drip line one, only along a driveway or walk.
--Pervious walkways and patios. While such solid, paved walks are seen sometimes in public spaces, you can make these at home with space between bricks, flagstones, or other pavers. Water can soak between pavers into a stone reservoir underneath. You can find pervious pavers for drives too.
--Rain barrels. Place these large drums, often plastic and 55-gallon capacity or similar, under downspouts to collect water for later use in watering plants. Make sure and empty between rains, and have enough to capture runoff from large storms. Cisterns are larger capacity versions.
--Rain gardens. These bowl-shaped gardens utilize soil, mulch, and plants to absorb runoff and allow it to then seep into the soil naturally. Not just any plants can be used, since they need to withstand dry periods, then being in water for short durations.
--Vegetated Swale. Picture this as a long rain garden, a shallow channel with plants that takes water runoff from paved surfaces and directs it slowly to an area where it can infiltrate the soil. The plants help trap sediment, remove pollutants, and prevent erosion. Swales are often about 2 to 3 feet deep, with gently sloping sides. If the soil is compacted or clay, remove a foot or two from the bottom and add some sand to create a sandy loam.
--Water bar. If you have a moderately steep path, drive, or walk, consider adding one of these. Bury a 6- or 8-inch wide rot-resistant timber across the path at an angle, with a trench of similar depth on the upward side, lined with geotextile (like weed barrier) fabric and filled with crushed stone. As water flows down the slope it will soak into the trench, then the timber directs it to the side where it can infiltrate. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont was used as a resource for this article.

 

February 10
A Gardener's Winter Blues

​If you are anything like me, this cold weather is bringing on the annual bout of cabin fever. Although the conditions are not exactly perfect for gardening, there are a few things that you can do this season that can help bring forth a successful year in the garden. 

winter garden blues - hunter mcbrayer.jpgNow is the best time to review your records from last year and to learn from your mistakes. If you did not write down your successes and failures last growing season, try it this year, you will be amazed at the information that you can gather from simple notes. Look at the varieties of plants that produced the most, tasted the best and cost the least. I like to draw simple diagrams of my garden so that I can remember where I planted what veggies, and practice crop rotation on a small scale. Start researching the catalogs for new varieties of plants that you want to try.

If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to finish cleaning up the garden from last year’s crop.  Scrape and clean off tomato cages and trellises to remove old plant matter, pull up all of the residual dead plant material, and pull winter weeds before they go to seed. After cleaning up, take some of those tree leaves that you have been raking from around the yard and spread them over the garden to add organic matter to the soil. This will also help shade some of the winter and early spring weeds from germinating and growing, and perhaps eliminate some of the hard work that is coming in the summer months. 

Although this may seem elementary, winterizing tools is an essential part of gardening and saving money. Remove soil and other debris with a steel brush to prevent corrosion and decay.  If the tools have wooden handles, remove splinters with fine sandpaper and apply a light coat of oil over the wood and metal parts.  Many wooden handles will rot if stored improperly, costing money and causing headaches in the spring so store them inside, out of the elements. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to drain the fluids from the engines of your equipment and do any maintenance that is necessary.  Winter is a great time to take mowers, tillers and line trimmers to the shop for maintenance so that when spring rolls around and everyone is scrambling to get theirs fixed, you will be riding high with your perfectly running equipment.

If it has been three years or more, this would be a great time to submit a soil test. Soil testing is a simple and inexpensive way to gauge the status of your garden.  The Auburn Soil Testing lab (http://www.aces.edu/anr/soillab/forms-pubs.php ) will check the pH of the soil, perform a nutrient analysis, and give recommendations to produce a larger harvest.  This can save money in terms of fertilizers, lime, and other treatments. Remember, proper soil pH allows plants to take up nutrients from the soil and utilize them fully, making a healthier, more disease and pest resistant plant.  For more information on soil testing or for soil testing kits, contact your local Extension office.

Although winter may be a time that you can actively grow plants, there are plenty of activities to get you through the rest of the season!

Written by Hunter McBrayer of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

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