Upcoming Events



Shelby County Master Gardener Course

Gardening tools and flowers on the terrace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Course begins August 15, 2018

Where: Shelby County Extension Office

56 Kelley Lane, Columbiana, AL. 35051

When: August 15-November 7, 2018

Time: Wednesdays from 9:00am until 3:00pm (12-1 lunch)

Class Limit: 25 participants (please send in your registration form and $150 payment to guarantee your spot)

*Certification Requirements:

Complete Master Gardener Course (same year)

Volunteer 50 hours of service to community through approved projects

*Course Topics include:

Soils and Plant Nutrition, Plant Physiology, Entomology, Plant Pathology, Care of Landscape Plants, Landscape Design, Plant Selection, Lawn Care, Weed Identification, Houseplants, Vegetable Gardening, Home Orchards and Plant Propagation.

*For more information or an application contact:

Shelby County Extension Office at 205-669-6763

Nelson Wynn (Regional Extension Agent) 205-438-3725 or email: wynnnel@aces.edu

*Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 1606, Columbiana, AL. 35051

*Print the Application:

https://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1155/ANR-1155.pdf

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

 

Too early for tomatoes? By: Bethany O’Rear

 

 

Question:  I was out this weekend and noticed the most beautiful tomato plants at several stores in my community. I am ready to get my garden growing – can you tell me when I should plant?

Answer: Great question and quite timely, since many of us have spring fever! I have noticed the same beautiful plants at many retailers in my community, as well. And yes, it makes you want to get a head start on that delicious tomato sandwich.  However, you will need to proceed with caution.

The tomatoes that we currently enjoy are derived from tropical ancestors.  Therefore, while we have helped them adapt to more moderate conditions through plant breeding, they still need warm temperatures – air and soil – to successfully grow and produce.

To get your tomato transplants off to a great start, they should be planted in soils with a minimum temperature of 55-60˚F.  Why does the soil temperature matter?  Soils that are too cool can lead to root decay, poor (stunted) growth and disease.  So, how do you know if your soil is warm enough?  For vegetable seeds, such as beans or squash, just insert the thermometer to the depth of the seed planting.  However, for tomato transplants (or any vegetable transplant for that matter), you will need to check the temperature at a 4” depth.  Soil thermometers are available at many garden centers and hardware stores as well as online gardening sites.

You should also consider air temperature.  Tomatoes grow best with daytime temperatures of 70-80˚F and 60-70˚F at night.  Typically, our region warms to those levels during the month of May.  Now, we all know how Alabama weather fluctuates.  We can wear shorts and a t-shirt one day, and then have to don a sweater and jeans the next.  Let’s just say that you are trying to be the first in your neighborhood to pick a juicy fresh tomato, so you planted a little earlier than I recommended.  In the event of a cold snap (night time temperatures in the low to mid 30’s), your tomatoes will need some protection.  If you only have a few plants, you can cut the bottom out of milk jugs and cover each plant individually.  If that option isn’t practical, bed sheets can be used to cover several plants at a time.

So, what if you just can’t resist those gorgeous tomatoes at your local retailer?  I know, I know – the struggle is real.  Go ahead and purchase those plants.  Just be sure to plant them in a container that can easily be moved in and out of doors.

Garden Talk is written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Bethany at Bethany@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x15.

 The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Managing Spring Pests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring time brings warmer weather and blooming plants, but it also bring spring pests. Whether it is in the garden or at home, people needs to know how to deal with these pests.

“Just as spring weather conditions change considerably from year to year, so can the time to take action against certain insects,” said Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension specialist of entomology and plant pathology.

Though the exact emergence date varies from year to year, pest emergence around homes in Alabama occurs in a similar order. The temperature-dependent biology of insects makes them better in tune with an ever changing climate.

With spring in full swing, live creatures are coming out looking for food and mates. A variety of bees and wasps are taking advantage of the first blooms to feed after several months without food.

Fending off Spring Pests

Hu says now is the time for home residents to control troublesome spring pests and to pest-proof homes. Homeowners can use these tips to manage spring pests:

  • Seal everything. Insects can squeeze through any gap, crack or opening. The time you spend sealing openings is an excellent investment in prevention of invaders later on.
  • Keep waste around the home cleaned, covered or sealed in tight containers. Promptly clean up pet excrement. Food left out is an invitation for insects seeking a quick snack and drink. Don’t leave clutter inside or outside where pests can hide.
  • Do not bring them in. Many insects are excellent hitchhikers. Inspect items like garden plants, bags of soil and mulch before bringing them in.
  • Minimize excess moisture and organic matter around your home. Check your home for damp areas. Create unsuitable environments to deter insects. Water plants early in the morning rather than the evening. The water will soak in and the excess will have a chance to evaporate.
  • Minimize hiding places. Clean up leaf litter, mow your lawn regularly and discard the clippings away from the home.
  • Minimize contact between house and landscape. Trim plant material that touches the outside of the home. Insects can crawl up a plant and easily onto your home.

Common Spring Pests

Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees are among the first early spring adventurers. They fly around collecting nectar/pollen from blooming ornamentals and buzz around homes looking for wood in which to lay their eggs. They do not eat wood, but do severe damage by boring half-inch wide burrows that can extend up to 14 inches. Carpenter bees bore into exposed dry wood, such as siding, the back side of fascia boards, porch window trim and porch ceilings. They also bore into decks, fence posts, swing sets and outdoor furniture.

According to Hu, if you had carpenter bees last year, you will likely have them again this year because carpenter bee females prefer to reuse the old galleries for the next generation.

Wasps

Hornets, mud daubers and yellow jackets are all under the category of wasps. Wasps help control other insect populations, but their stings are unwelcome. They are especially attracted to sweet food and drink. They build new nests in the spring. Hornets have open structure nests with visible hexagonal cells, often built under the eaves of houses and other cover areas. The nests resemble an upside down umbrella.

Yellow jackets build open nests surrounded by a papery covering. The are often found within wall voids and attics or cavities in the ground.

Mud daubers construct small mud nests in or around homes and under open structures.

Hu said spring is the time for wasp/bee inspection and nest removal.

“Remove nests when they are small and there are only a few wasps to deal with,” Hu said. “You may be able to knock a nest down and dispose of it before the queen lays eggs. You can use a can of wasp spray to kill the wasps before removal. Wear protective clothing for this job.”

Ants

Ants are generally around the perimeter of a home, but may invade homes for food and refuge on rainy days. Most ants are opportunistic when it comes to temperature and food. They are active all year with increased activity in the warmer months. Argentine ants are the most common species around homes, but fire ants and black carpenter ants are also common.

Argentine ants build colonies in moist, dark, undisturbed places like under plant pots. Fire ant mounds are built in lawns and flowerbeds. The large black carpenter ants live in rotting or moisture-damaged wood. Piles of sawdust-like shavings indicate their presence.

To control Argentine ants, begin with killing them at the colony site. Next, get rid of all potential nesting and food sources around the home. You can also treat them with an insect growth regulator (IGR). Most of the currently available fire ant baits work well when applied using label instructions. Bait should be fresh and less than a year old. Another choice is creating an insecticidal barrier between the perimeter of the home and the landscape.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches can carry disease-causing pathogens and contaminate households. They can trigger allergy symptoms in some people. The large cockroaches, including American and smokybrown cockroaches generally live and reproduce outside homes. These cockroaches may wander into homes but will not usually survive long inside. They are scavengers that love food waste and rotting organic materials.

“Your first defense is to protect and seal your home’s perimeter so that the cockroaches never make it inside,” Hu said. “Baits are proven to be effective in controlling cockroaches.”

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

General Pesticide Safety Workshop April 5th

 

This workshop is for homeowners and anybody that is interested in pesticide safety

When:  April 5, 2018

To pre-register contact Shelby County Extension office (205) 669-6763

Pre-register by Monday, April 2nd

Where: North Shelby County Library off of highway 119

Workshop Time: 10:00a – 12:00n

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

 

Garden Talk: No-Till Gardening – is it for me? By: Sallie Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question:  I’ve been hearing a lot about “no-till” gardening in the last couple of years, and would like to know more about the practice.  Would it work in my backyard gardens?  Is no-till more appropriate for growing vegetables than in my flower beds? I’ve heard no-till is better for soil structure, which apparently is becoming a bigger issue as well.  Will no-till really help reduce run-off, soil erosion, and reduce the need for weed control?

Answer:  While gardening, farming, and cropping have been around for thousands of years, practices and processes have changed as new information is gleaned, we’ve become better stewards of our existing resources, and attitudes and abilities result in ‘perspective modification’. As recently as 1943, a book titled “Plowman’s Folly” by E.H. Faulkner suggested plowing was a major contributor to soil erosion, but didn’t offer workable alternatives to the practice. Seventy-five years later, debate still wages regarding the virtues of tilling or not (no-till).

Realistically, home gardeners seeking to convert traditionally tilled gardens to the no-till category may find it necessary to start from scratch.  But prior to that point, does your gardening dilemma or situation lend itself to no-till?

Whether planting a vegetable garden, herb or flower beds, or edible/ornamental shrub area, tilling should be used for specific purposes. If soil is very compacted and/or has a high clay content, initially tilling or rototilling the area may be advisable. Refrain from tilling when soil is wet as that action destroys soil structure and results in soil being more compacted. If the area is fairly small, double-digging is a great way to rotate soil and provide an upper body/cardio workout! If tilling must be done, balance that damage by growing a cover drop in the area to be tilled as it will add organic matter and help rebuild soil structure.

Please note that no-till doesn’t mean ‘no work’.  As mulch breaks down and becomes soil, new mulch needs to be added.  If done periodically, that activity will keep soil from compacting, which it will do if its surface is exposed to heavy rain and overhead watering. If mulch is not replaced and soil is compacted, tilling may be needed to break up soil prior to planting, which defeats the intention of no-till gardening.

No-till in a nutshell? Once the garden, bed, or planting area is established, the surface is not disturbed again.  Amendments including compost, manure, peat moss, lime, and fertilizers (organic or synthetic) are top dressed instead of being tilled into the soil. Top dressing means materials will work into the subsoil by rainfall, irrigation, and activity of subsoil organisms i.e. earthworms. Mulch takes care of most weeds, those that are blown in by wind or distributed by birds and other animals can be hand pulled if done when plants are still small and soil is moist.

The following links to no-till sites might be helpful in deciding ‘if’ and ‘how’ a no-till practice can be attained and maintained.https://www.tenthacrefarm.com/2015/11/transitioning-to-a-no-till-garden/

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/building-a-flower-bed-without-digging/

You might start with one bed or area of your garden to determine what works best for your specific conditions, expanding as experience and familiarity with your soil is gained. But before starting a no-till garden or bed, a soil test should be part of your ground work!

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call  #205-879-6964 x11.  

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Poinsettias: The Christmas Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poinsettias are the most recognizable flower associated with Christmas. It is no surprise that they are also know as the Christmas flower. Every year many people have them scattered around their home as decoration for the  holiday.

The Poinsettias Story

There is a legend that a little girl in Mexico and her cousinwere on their way to church in honor of the Christ child. The children did not have money for gifts. On the way to church, she picked a bouquet of wildflowers. As she laid them lovingly on the altar, they turned into beautiful poinsettias.

This story spurred on the name “Flores de Noche Buena” or Flowers of the Holy Night.

How To Select

“When picking a poinsettia, choose one with colorful bracts but one that the blooms have not opened,” said Chip East, Alabama Extension regional agent in commercial horticulture.

Bracts are the colorful leaves most people associate with the plant. The actual poinsettia flower is the small green or yellow flower in the center of the bracts. Plants should appear full with dark green leaves attached from the colored bracts to almost the base of the plant. The leaves should be completely free of disease and insects.

Varieties

“Although most Christmas poinsettias are red and green, there is a wide array of other colors, including pink, white, orange, marbled, pale green and cream,”  added Shane Harris, Tallapoosa County Extension coordinator.

Care and Maintenance

Once a poinsettia is in the house,  place it in the window when possible. However, it can be moved to other areas for display when needed, said East.

The plants do not tolerate moisture or shady areas They thrive in bright sunlight with moderate temperatures no higher than 70 degrees. If  sunlight is too direct, the bracts will discolor.

“If a pretty wrap is around the pot, remove the plant from the wrap before watering,” East said. “Allow the water to drain before placing the plant back in the decorative wrap.”

The average lifespan of an attractive poinsettia is about two to four weeks, or with exceptional care, six to eight weeks. However, it is actually a perennial plant that could live for many years.

“Getting a plant to reflower is difficult for the home grower but can be done,” East said. “Spending time to reflower a poinsettia would make a home grower appreciate the nursery that originally grew it.”

If someone wants to attempt to reflower and maintain their poinsettia, it will need more attention than in the Christmas season. For more in-depth information about post holiday care and reflowering tips, see Extension article “Consumer Poinsettia Care.”

 

White poinsettia image by photolona/Shutterstock.com

Featured image by AGCuesta/Shutterstock.com

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

Fall and Winter: Insects in the Home By: Kerry Stober

Home infested by Asian Ladybugs and Flies during Automn in Quebec Canada. Picture was taken inside and outside during a beautiful sunny day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: How can I keep hundreds of lady bugs from crowding my windows in the fall?

We all know that being indoors during the fall and winter months is cozy and comfortable. Often, insects who begin showing up during this time feel the same way, as they are searching for a warm home in which to overwinter, and our houses seem very hospitable places. Though you may be a little creeped out by these crawly organisms invading your personal space, there are some easy ways for you to prevent them from coming indoors.

Often these heat seeking insects will overwinter under vinyl siding, or in the walls of our homes. This makes them “out of sight, out of mind” but any small cracks in these walls or gaps large enough to crawl through will be utilized by the insects! Once they make their way inside and discover that it is a pleasant environment, they can send signals to all their friends inviting them to the party through the use of pheromones. What was one or two then becomes hundreds and can be a problem for the human homeowner.

The first warning I want to give is this. Don’t squish them! Many of the insects that enter our houses can release liquids that stain or have a foul odor. We also want to avoid using pesticides indoors, not only because it is safer for you, but also because these insects’ metabolisms are slowing down as they get ready to settle in for the winter and the chemical controls may not be very effective. Use a vacuum to suck the insects up where you find them, as this makes them easy to dispose of and you don’t actually have to touch them. Caulking and filling cracks (easy entry points) and making sure door or window seals are still intact are good methods to produce barriers to these insects.

The most common insects you might see in your home are the Asian lady beetle (aka lady bugs), brown marmorated stink bugs, and box elder bugs. There are a few others which are less common like palmetto bugs (or wood cockroach), some flies, and seed bugs. Keep in mind that lady bugs are considered good insects, as they eat some less desirable garden pests in the spring and summer, so scooping them up and putting them back outside as you find them is a kinder method of control. Also, none of the home invading insects mentioned will be actively reproducing while they take shelter in your home. So you should not see populations expand as time passes, especially if you are diligent in keeping them scooped or vacuumed up. The sneakier insects that successfully find a place in your home to over winter may reemerge in early spring as the temperatures begin to rise, so scouting at those times is a good decision if you know they have been problematic in the past.

I know that many people have a fear of insects in the home. Though these fall and winter invasions can be worrisome, know that they are easy to control and are not dangerous to you or your loved ones.

Garden Talk is written by Kerry Stober of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Kerry at KDS0010@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x19.

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the perfect Christmas tree doesn’t have to be difficult. Christmas, and the holiday season in general, can be a stressful time for many people. There are holiday parties to attend, presents to buy, meals to make and decorations to set out.

Finding the perfect Christmas tree for your home should not be as stressful as some make it out to be. Norman Haley of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System has some great advice for finding the perfect tree.

Selecting a Christmas Tree

Common Christmas tree species grown in the South and available at ‘cut your own’ farms are Leyland cypress, Virginia pine, Arizona cypress, Eastern red cedar and white pine. Trees often found at precut vendors include: Fraser fir, Douglas fir and blue spruce.

Haley said the best time to get your tree depends on if you want to buy a precut tree, or cut down your own. If you cut your own tree, Haley said to plan ahead on when to cut it.

“Expect most trees to last a maximum of three weeks after cutting. After that, the tree’s needles begin to shed and lose fragrance.”

If you buy a precut tree, Haley said the timing can be difficult because you don’t know exactly when the tree was cut.

“The best advice is to shake the tree and run your hand down the branches. Very few green needles should come off,” Haley said.

Haley added to make sure the trunk is reasonably straight and that there is only one trunk. “Trees with dual or split trunks can be difficult to put in a stand.”

Right Spot, Right Tree

Measure the height and width of the room before purchasing or cutting down a tree so you know how much space your home has for a tree.. When buying a precut tree, the taller the tree, the higher the cost.

Pay attention to branch stiffness when picking out your tree.

“Heavy ornaments require stiff branches. Arizona cypress, eastern red cedar, blue spruce, Fraser fir and Virginia pine have stiffer branches,” Haley added.

Once you’ve found the perfect tree and brought it home, cut the stump again and place it in water.

“Check the water daily. Fresh cut trees will absorb a great deal of water in the first few days after cutting.  This prolongs fragrance and keeps the needles from shedding,” Haley added.

Haley reminds tree buyers to not let the tree linger too long after the holidays are over. “It will begin to shed needles, and dry branches and  becomea fire hazard.”

 

Featured image by mary981/Shutterstock.com

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

 

Beating Fire Ants This Fall

Fall is a great time to treat fire ants.

“Fall is a great time to treat fire ants,” Dr. Kathy Flanders, an Alabama Cooperative Extension Entomologist said. “Fall temperatures are perfect for fire ant activity and foraging, making it an opportune time to put out fire ant bait.”

While the warm weather is rolling out and cooler air moves in, fire ants are still actively foraging. Fire ants look for protein-rich foods all year, but especially in the late spring and early fall.  Foragers usually continue searching for food until temperatures drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Using treatment plants like the Two-Step Methodcan provide specific and continued control of fire ants, in a cost-effective way.

Fall is an important time to protect livestock from fire ants.

Researchers have developed an interactive, customized management tool for managing fire ants in pastures and fields. Use of the management tool will allow for a cost-effective application of pesticides in hopes of knocking out a significant portion of the fire ant population before the winter season. There are also resources available with specific guidelines for management of fire ants in a livestock operation.

Dragging pastures is not a sure or complete fire ant control method, but dragging a pasture before a freeze could help control the fire ant spread in that area.

High traffic areas can include calving areas and hay storage areas. Flanders said young livestock are very vulnerable targets, but caution and diligent treatment can help prevent damage by fire ants.

Fire ants will be looking for a warm place to overwinter.

Double-checking door seals, pipe coverings and concrete foundations can help prevent a home invasion in the winter. As temperatures drop, fire ants begin searching for warm places to spend the cold months. Often, this means mounds inside the house or built against the foundation.

Alabama Cooperative Extension professionals developed management options for treating fire ants inside homes and buildings. The first and most important suggestion: treat fire ants in the surrounding landscape to prevent fire ant infestations near the home. This publication includes product names and uses, and tips for fire ant control in the home.

Fire ants may be in your pile of leaves, wood stack or winter garden.

Outdoor temperatures determine the amount of activity present in a fire ant mound. When the temperatures are right, leaf or compost piles, wood stacks and winter gardens are all likely hiding places for fire ants.

Flanders said it is important to check for fire ants before playing, working or carrying wood inside. A proactive approach to controlling fire ants in these areas would be best. This is also a time to consider a slow-acting bait for continued control going into the cold season. Treat the areas before piling up leaves to play in or for compost, treat your preferred firewood location and treat your garden before planting.

Working with neighbors or surrounding landowners can boost your chances of knocking a dent in the population.

Fire ant control is more effective when larger areas are treated. When an 80-90% control rate is acceptable, consider participating in a community- or neighborhood-wide treatment program. If the problem is widespread, a large treatment plan could be more effective than treating in small areas. Flanders said Extension professionals have developed a community-wide management program that is available for use and implementation. Find the program here.

More information can be found on the Alabama Fire Ant page and Extension Fire Ant Community of Practice page, including fire ant treatment optionsnews and tips.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!