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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.


“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!

Fall is Pecan Time









Pecans are a staple in many recipes. To ensure you have the best quality nuts for your next dish, harvest pecans as they drop from the trees.  Do not wait and try to harvest them all at one time at the end of the season.

“Harvest your pecans promptly for best quality. Don’t let them lie on wet ground for extended periods of time,” said Doug Chapman, a regional commercial horticulture agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

As soon as pecans fall from the tree they begin to dry and cure. This process improves the quality of the nuts until they reach their optimum appearance, aroma, flavor and texture. If the nuts get wet after initial drying the seed coat will darken and the oil in the kernel increases the fatty acid levels. This condition causes the nut to be stale and rancid. Take pecans to a dry location inside.

“Drying is one of the most important steps in assuring a high-quality appearance and flavor in pecans,” Chapman added. “If possible, spread pecans out in a dry, moderately warm place and dry several days before storing. Once dried to a crisp texture, pecans should be refrigerated or frozen.”

Crack and shell your pecans as soon as possible. Shelled pecans can also be frozen until you are ready to use them.

Storing pecans

Pecans stored below freezing can keep for two years. Be sure kernels are dried properly before freezing. Lay the nuts out several days in a warm, dry place. Kernels should be crisp and break easily in half if dried properly.

 “Don’t store pecans in packages with apples or other fruits,” he said. “Also, don’t store them in rubber-like packages or in rooms that may be musty.”  Pecans absorb gases from the storage atmosphere, which can change the flavor and the pecan’s stability.

Caring for your pecan trees in the fall

If you need to apply lime or zinc to pecan trees, fall is a good time to do so. Soil testing will provide detailed instructions on fertilizing and liming. Clean up and destroy pops, shucks, leaves and limbs to reduce pest problems.

Pest problems

If trees have lost leaves by Nov. 1 because of aphids, downy spot, pecan scab or other damage, expect to see a reduced pecan crop next year.


Featured image by Mike Donenfeld/Shutterstock.com


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

Master Gardener Class Schedule for October!










Shelby County 2017 Regional Master Gardener Course 


October Schedule


10/4/17   Shelby County Extension Office: Woody Ornamentals & Invasive Plants    9:30am-3:00pm (Sallie Lee)

10/11/17   Shelby County Extension Office:  Home Lawns    9:30am-3:00pm (Dr. David Han)

10/18/17   Shelby County Extension Office:  Pruning    9:30am-12:00n (Bethany O’Rear)

The World of Roses    1:00pm-2:00pm (Paul Saeger)

Honey Bees    2:00pm-3:00pm (Don Driggers)

Shelby County Extension OfficeGraduation    TBD   (SCMGA)


For more information call:

Shelby County Extension Office #205-669-6763 

Nelson D. Wynn, Regional Agent, wynnnel@aces.edu /205-438-3725

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

Garden Talk: Allergies gone wild –what’s blowin’ in the wind? By Sallie Lee

Young woman sneezing into tissue.








Question:  My allergies, which normally give me a fit in spring and again to a lesser degree in the fall, seem to have started earlier this year and are driving me crazy!

What is with this allergy season?  I’m not imagining miserable itching watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat.  But for late August, this is weird! Is it that Goldenrod plant that seems to grow everywhere?  I’ve heard that’s the culprit in which case my weedeater is going to be wearing out every one of these plants that grow wild on my property.  Is there anything else I can do to get rid of the “guilty” plants?

Answer:  OK, for those who moved to Alabama during the last year or for those who have issues remembering, the word is Ragweed. Botanically known as Ambrosia spp, which sounds like a misnomer if ever there was one, this member of the Aster family becomes a topic of intense negativity about this time of year. Actually in most cases it’s a totally different  plant, Goldenrod (Solidago spp) that gets the bad rap and unfortunate eradication by misinformed homeowners and gardeners.

Why the disconnect and misdirected frustration?  Both Ragweed and Goldenrod bloom this time of year, from mid-August until “late fall.”  In addition to timing, they often grow in the same general conditions; full sun and average to slightly dry soil conditions.  The major difference between the two is that those pretty, yellow goldenrod flowers are insect pollinated while ragweed is wind pollinated.  That means to all allergy sufferers that while goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky, just right for honeybee pollination, ragweed is wind pollinated. Considering that a single ragweed plant can produce 1 billion (yes, that many) grains of pollen per season, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, “the answer IS blowin’ in the wind.” Medical data indicates ragweed causes about 50% of all allergies blamed on pollen in North America.

This year has produced abundant flowers due in part to sufficient rainfall through most of our spring and summer.  Healthy plants produce more flowers, a boon in most gardens. But with ragweed, more flowers equal more pollen and so on, the “benefits” of which we’re currently reaping.

Other than waging war on stands of ragweed (see photos), we can take action to ameliorate ragweed’s impact on our health. Pollen counts are usually highest in the morning until about 10:00 am, so limiting outside activities during those hours can help. Conditions for enjoying the outdoors will be best right after a heavy rainfall. If you must be outdoors during heavy pollen outbursts, a facemask will help reduce exposure to pollen.

Goldenrod is a more noticeable plant so we tend to blame what is readily visible.  Goldenrod’s yellow flowers hold a nectar source that is attractive to bees including the “honey” kind and butterflies, often considered the last strong nectar source of the season for them.

Goldenrod has a fascinating history involving Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and George Washington Carver, but that’s an article for another time.

If you’re not sure which one is growing in your yard, and it could be both, contact your county Extension office for help in determining whether or not you need to take action.


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!


Garden Talk: Stinging Caterpillars By Kerry Stober














Question: Which caterpillars can sting me?

Answer: I will start by saying that unless you are 100% certain you know the insect you are seeing is safe to touch, you should not pick it up with your bare hands and expect leave the encounter unharmed. You should not be fearful of caterpillars, but always use caution when you encounter a species with horns or hairs. Most stings produced by these larvae are mild and symptoms go away quickly.

Caterpillars are the larval form of insects in the order Lepidoptera.

There are several thousand species of caterpillars in the Eastern United States and it is estimated that they make up around 10% of the existing described species in the world.

These insects are usually described as having an easily distinguished head and 13 body segments, which have six legs in the front and most of the time have fleshy false legs in the back (the number of these can vary). They come in a huge variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, but the caterpillars I want to talk about today are the most feared – the ones that sting!

Caterpillars that sting are not using the same apparatus as a bee or ant that stings. Caterpillars that can sting have hollow projections called setae that grow from poisonous glands on their skin. People usually say these caterpillars look “hairy” or “spiky”. Not all caterpillars with setae are venomous, and some are simply trying to appear like a similar more dangerous species. This can make differentiating them a little difficult. Stinging caterpillars do not actively try to sting predators; but when they are touched, their hairy setae break off on the attacker and the poison is released.

The most common family of stinging caterpillars in Alabama are the slug caterpillars. This family includes the saddleback caterpillar, the stinging rose caterpillar, the hag moth caterpillar, and the spiny oak slug. Most of these caterpillars are solitary and can be found from summer to late fall. Almost all the caterpillars in this family have large, easy-to-see projections that bear setae. They are often brightly colored and look quite unique. The saddleback’s sting is the most painful of this group, while the others are described as being relatively mild.

Another group of stinging caterpillars is the giant silkworm. In Alabama, we often see the Io moth caterpillar and the buck moth. Both of these bear short spiny setae all over their bodies and they are some of the largest stinging caterpillars in the state.

The puss caterpillar is another common stinging larvae. It has a unique appearance, in that it is covered in a coat of long fine tan hairs. This furry creature can produce severe reactions (some have required medical attention) and has a fairly wide variety of hosts. Though petting this larvae may seem tempting, stay away!

There are several common species of caterpillars in the state that look dangerous, but are completely harmless to humans. The hickory horned devil, spiny oak worm, and hornworms all have spiky looking horns that can be scary to see, but are not venomous. There are also several hairy species, namely the walnut caterpillar, fall webworm, and sycamore tussock, which are also harmless and commonly found.

I hope that this information can be helpful to you in differentiating between the stinging and non-stinging caterpillars of Alabama, and if you are ever in doubt, don’t touch!


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

Beekeeping 101 Workshop: Sept. 19, 2017

Bee and Daisy

Beekeeping 101 Workshop

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

North Shelby County Library

(Alabama Green Industry Training Center)

5521 Cahaba Valley Road

Birmingham, AL 35242


Time: 5:45 p.m. – 7:45 p.m.


The free workshop is for beginner beekeepers.

This workshop will address beekeeping (how to get started), what is special about honeybees; how bees make honey, and why do bees swarm?


Contact Shelby County Extension Office to register by Sept. 15 (205-669-6763).


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