Upcoming Events

Cold Snap Won’t Faze Insect Pests










If the recent cold snap had hopes of an insect-free season springing to mind, think again.

Even after a week of frigid temperatures—uncharacteristic even for Alabama winters—insects will likely survive.

Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist said insects are not usually susceptible to cold temperatures.

“Some crops, fruit trees and even livestock animals may fall prey to cold weather, but insects can survive even record cold,” Hu said.

Insects Are Always Adapting

“Insects have been around for ages and have survived a wide range of weather conditions,” Hu said. “They have developed strategies for surviving even in the coldest temperatures by entering diapause—ceasing to feed, grow or reproduce—by hibernating in protected sites, by burrowing deep down into protective sites—such as leaf litter or the ground—or by sneaking into human-built structures.”

Hu said some insects also find shelter in hollow logs. Over time, some species will develop a higher tolerance, and in some cases—a resistance–to colder weather.

Cold Weather No Match for Many Insects

Alaska and Minnesota are prime examples of the adaptive nature of the insect. These states, known for brutal winters, also have ruthless mosquito populations in the summer.

“Both states are also known for active mosquito populations during the summer,” Hu said. “In fact, mosquitoes are far more susceptible to the lack of spring rainfall than they are to prolonged and unusually cold weather.”

Furthermore, the recent cold snap was not cold or long enough to make a noticeable difference in insect populations.

“Fire ants need two weeks of temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit to have any effect on the number of ant colonies,” she said.

Common Household Insects

Aside from mosquitoes and fire ants, other urban insects Alabamians are familiar with—termites, cockroaches, wasps, bedbugs, flies, fleas, and various ant species—are also resilient.

“Most insects have a breaking point, but cold weather typically is not one of them,” Hu said.

Termites avoid freezes by burrowing deep into the ground, underneath fallen logs and rocks. Their activity slows during winter but rarely completely ceases.

Cockroaches living inside homes or other structures have no problem at all with the winter. Roaches living outside survive freezing temperatures by hiding in safe and warm places such as organic litters, inside fallen-logs, or composters with basic necessities: food, warmth and a hiding place.

While most wasps die off in the fall, a few will move into sheltered spots to ride out the winter.

“They usually go dormant until the spring,” Hu said. “Bees stay inside their hive and keep themselves warm by fluttering their wings. The queen always remains at the center to increase her chances of survival.”

Bedbugs never leave the house. Inside homes with temperatures above 65 degrees, they are active through the winter. Bedbugs are dormant in temperatures below 65 degrees.

Houseflies rarely survive freezing temperatures outside, but they live well with adequate protection and food sources. Cluster flies also overwinter in protected locations, such as a wall void in the home, and emerge on warm days.

Most fleas survive cold temperatures by sticking with warm-bodied host animals.

Ants live in groups called colonies. They fend off freezing cold by clustering together, sealing the entrances to their nests and entering a dormant stage.

More Information

For more information on insects, visit www.aces.edu.



Photo by Oleg Doroshin/shutterstock.com.

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


Staying Safe While Hunting










Hunting safety is always a top priority regardless of game, ammo or method.  In Alabama, bow season is open now and gun season opens in mid-November for deer.

Marisa Lee Futral, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hunter education coordinator, says follow key guidelines for a safe hunting experience.

Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

  1. Treat every firearm with the same respect as a loaded firearm.  If you become careless with unloaded guns, you will soon become careless with loaded guns.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Identify your target and what is behind it before you shoot.  Never shoot at movement.  Make sure you know what is behind your target before you shoot.
  4. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions. Only have ammunition of the proper size for the firearm you are carrying.
  5. Unload firearms when not in use.  Leave the action open.  Firearms should be carried unloaded and in a case to and from the shooting or hunting area.
  6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy.
  7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.  Always unload the firearm before you cross a ditch, and never pull a firearm towards you by the muzzle.  Never lean a firearm against a tree, fence, wall or automobile.
  8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or at water.  Bullets can ricochet at odd angles.
  9. Store firearms and ammunition separately. Keep them beyond the reach of children and inexperienced adults.
  10. Never mix gunpowder with alcohol or drugs.  No one should drink alcoholic beverages or take drugs while hunting. Never go hunting with anyone that does.

Main Causes of Accidents while Hunting

Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension regional forestry and wildlife agent identified the three main causes of accidents while hunting.

  • Tree stand accidents
  • Failing to properly identify a target
  • Self-inflicted accidents

“When using tree stands, hunters should wear a harness,” said Carter. They should also use something to pull up their bow or gun, such as a rope.” Alabama regulations now require all hunters utilizing a treestand on wildlife management areas to wear a full body harness.

Another tip for hunter safety is properly identifying yourself.

“Wearing blaze orange identifies that you are a hunter,” he said. “This is the most effective way to identify yourself to other hunters.”

Alabama hunting laws require deer hunters personsto wear an outer garment above the waist with a minimum of 144 square inches of hunter orange or either a full-size hunter orange hat or cap. Hunters are not required to wear hunter orange when hunting from a stand ­elevated 12 feet or more from the ground, when hunting in an enclosed box stand, when ­traveling in an enclosed vehicle, or when traveling on foot no more than 20 feet ­directly between an operating enclosed vehicle and a stand where the hunter is exempt from the hunter orange requirement.

A small logo and/or printing is permitted on the front of hunter orange caps; otherwise, hunter orange must be of solid color and visible from any angle. Only hunter orange, commonly called blaze orange, is legal.

To prevent injuries, hunters should always put safety first. Following these guidelines will ensure a safe and successful hunting season.


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


Garden Talk: Plinking on the Roof By: Andrew J. Baril






















It began again this past weekend.  Like clockwork, in the middle of the night, before the rays of sunlight early Saturday morning, I heard a plunk on our roof.  This is a sound I know well.  My wife and I have been living in our little mountain cabin for over ten years now.  I’ve heard this sound before.  For the months of October and November, I will be hearing the plinking of oak acorns and hickory nuts on our metal roof.

Here at our Talladega cabin we have a host of oak trees.  We have black, blackjack, cherrybark, chestnut (mountain), northern red, post, southern red, water, white, and willow oaks.  We also have mockernut, pignut, and shagbark hickories along with a whole host of additional hardwoods.  According to one of Extension’s publications; “Management of Hardwood Forests for Timber in Alabama”, we have around 200 different hardwood species in Alabama, including 25 oaks and 8 hickories.  Because Southern Pines so dominate our timber industries, many people tend to overlook hardwoods.  However, based on US Forest Service inventory research, hardwoods comprise the majority of Alabama’s standing timber volume.

Most of our forest wildlife friends value these hardwoods for food and shelter.  Most of the food value is found in the leaves and seeds.  Leaves are eaten mainly by insects that in turn are eaten by other creatures.  The seeds are eaten by both small and large alike.  How many times have we walked through the woods, picked up seemingly good acorns, only to later find a caterpillar in them?  Yes, insects feed on the seeds too!  Most often when we in Alabama think of acorns and nuts, we think of deer, turkey, and squirrels.  Squirrels need large trees to survive.  Squirrels live off seed sources from hickories, oaks, and pines.  Deer and turkey are different.  They require a variety of habitats.  They like both field and forest.  During the fall, acorns and nuts provide the needed fat in their diets to help see them through the lean days of winter.  Humans can also consume acorns, but they are not as tasty as your cultivated pecans.  The meat inside the shell contains higher levels of tannic acid than what we are accustomed.  Indians used to collect acorns from white and chestnut oaks along with American chestnuts, black walnut, and wild pecan as a food source for the long winter months. As a side note; within the white oak family (oaks that produce white lumber) the acorns mature in one year, while those in the red oak family (pink lumber) take two years to produce mature acorns.  Also, white oak family acorns tend to be larger than the red oak acorns.

Fall is my favorite season of the year.  Cool Canadian air, leaves a changing on the hillsides, and college football, for me, it all began this weekend with a single plink on my roof.

Garden Talk is 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.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

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

Black Bears in Alabama: What to do in an encounter










Black bears populate the Southeast, and Alabama is no exception. Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife scientist and professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, sheds light on the current black bear population and what to do if you encounter one.

“Black bears have always been native to the southeast. They have always been in this area, but the population is in decline obviously due to habitat loss and persecution.”

“Until recently, one of the last strongholds of black bears was in Mobile. At that time we estimated there were about 50 bears in that area,” Armstrong said.

According to Armstrong, the Mobile population of black bears was imperiled because of the city’s development and urbanization. However, they stayed there because the Mobile Tensaw River Delta provided refuge, and eventually they would scatter to the outskirts of the city.

Current black bear population in Alabama

“You might hear estimates ranging from 300 to 1,000. I think 300 might be a little high for resident bears,” said Armstrong.

“We have transient bears that come through the state, and those are the bears people often see. A lot of them are young males dispersing from being pushed out of their home. They can cover a tremendously, large area.”

Georgia has a fairly large bear population, particularly in the North Georgia mountains.

“The bears that we have in north Alabama and even central Alabama are primarily coming in from Georgia. As their population expands outward, we get the bears coming in. Of course, some of those bears coming through may end up staying,” Armstrong added.

Armstrong said a mama bear and her two cubs were recently caught on a game camera. “That’s positive proof of reproduction taking place in Alabama.”

Things that attract black bears to your property

  • Trash cans
  • Dog food left out overnight
  • Deer feeders

“Everybody in Alabama doesn’t need to put out a bear proof trash can, but if you start having bear activity in the area it is something you should be proactive about. It’s much easier to not let the habit form. If the bear gets used to coming on your property and feeding, then you have to break the habit,” Armstrong said.

What to do if you encounter a black bear

In any bear encounter, Armstrong suggests retreating slowly as the best method of preventing conflict with a bear.

“Don’t approach them or try to attract them,” Armstrong said. “There is something about making eye contact with animals that makes them feel threatened. Back away and don’t run because running brings on chasing. When you encounter a black bear, stand up as tall as you can and make yourself look big.”

Armstrong added, “Don’t corner them. Give them a way to get away because they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them. They don’t want to get into a confrontation, but they will if they have to and they will win.”

When asked about an encounter with a mama bear and her cubs, Armstrong said, “definitely don’t get between a mama bear and her cubs. The maternal instinct is strong and she will defend her cubs. Remove yourself from their proximity.”


If you see a bear in your area and are concerned, call the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Alabama Black Bear Alliance.


Featured image by NaturesMomentsuk/Shutterstock.com

Bear crossing road image by Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Mama bear and cub by Hal Brindley/Shutterstock.com


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

Garden Talk: Danger Follows the Buzz of Summer By: Andrew J. Baril
















Every summer here in Alabama, there is an eerie buzz in the woods.  Those living close to water are used to the regular serenade of croaking frogs.  Their croaking usually begins just before sundown and continues until its crescendo around the crowing of the early morning, 3:00 am rooster.  This croaking however is not the buzz I am hearing.  The eerie buzz occurs in both hardwood and pine forests.  It sounds off in both the city and the country.  It happens close to water and in the driest ecosystems.  The buzz I am thinking about is the mating call of the Periodical and Annual Cicadas.

Periodical cicadas are broken into two groups based on its 17- or 13-year periodic appearances.  Seventeen-year cicada tend to live up North while the 13-year cicada lives in the South.  Most of the cicadas in Alabama belong to what scientists call ‘Brood XIX’.  This brood last appeared in 2011, and should return in 2024.  One thing I find interesting about these cicadas is that all of the adults come out of the ground around May 1, and they are gone by the beginning of June.  Adults appear only to reproduce.  At this time, the cicada crawls out of the soil up a tree or other structure, then it sheds it exoskeleton and emerges with wings.  Once the wings are dry, the male cicada begins to sing to attract a female.  After breeding, the female lays her eggs on a small branch of a hardwood tree.  Adult cicadas die shortly after mating, but the eggs remain.  In six weeks, nymphs hatch and fall to the ground, and begin their life in the soil.

Annual cicadas are what we typically call ‘dog-day’ cicadas.  There are several species of these insects, and they take two to five years to complete their life cycle.  However, the annual cicadas overlap their cycles, so every summer we hear adult cicadas singing in Alabama.  This all male choir began their song a few weeks back and should continue through mid-September.  They complete/begin their life cycles just like the periodical cicadas.  Therefore, every summer we have cicadas, but some summers we have more.

In my title, I said there is a danger following the buzz of summer.  Here is the danger: copperhead snakes.  Any time God gives us a bounty, he expects us to either collect the harvest or he sends another collecting – nothing is wasted.  Salmon runs in Alaska attracts brown bears.  Cicada runs in Alabama attracts copperheads.  I have not seen this yet this summer at my cabin in the Talladega woods, but my friends on the Bankhead have shared this on Facebook: ‘a picture of a copperhead sitting at the base of a white oak waiting for a newly emerging cicada to climb up their tree’.  It is a feast fit for a king.  If you are lucky, and wearing a headlamp, you might even get to witness a king snake catching, killing, and eating a copperhead.  Nights in the forest can be exhilarating.  By morning, the snakes have all but retreated to the cool safety of the den to sleep off their nightly meal.  Be warned!  As long as the buzz continues, the snakes will come out to feast each evening.

Garden Talk is 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.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

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


Garden Talk: Nighttime Howlers By Andrew J. Baril















Summer is on its way in Alabama.  Those of us who live in central Alabama have the typical hazy, hot, humid days of summer headed our way.  Soon the ‘dog days of summer’ will be upon us.  Thinking of dogs and having Buster sitting here with me on my front porch prompted this article.  Each night I hear coyotes howling in the night.  Coyotes are nothing new for us here in the Talladega Mountains, but for my urbanite friends in Birmingham, they can be quite a scare.

Let’s look at coyotes.

Coyotes mate in February/March and pups are born April/May.  Pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent upon milk for the first few weeks.  The family unit or pack consists of the Alpha male and female, this year’s pups, and possibly last year’s pups if they have not bred.  During the fall/winter the adults chase off the pups to establish new territory and find a mate.  In prime habitat (farm/forest cover), coyotes can live in high densities up to 15 per square mile (640 acres), and they normally live less than three years.According to Dr. Mark Smith, Extension Specialist, at Auburn, coyotes (Canis latrans) are everywhere in the state. Yes, as a Regional Extension Agent, I have responded to coyote questions throughout my region, including Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Hoover.  With the extirpation of the red wolf and mountain lion from Alabama, coyotes have moved in, and in the last fifty years, they have become the largest carnivore in the state.  They range in size from 20 – 50 pounds.  Coyotes have succeeded in filling this niche because the coyote is an opportunistic omnivore; in other words, they will eat just about anything.  They have been known to eat grass and other light herbaceous vegetation, fruit (including your watermelons), seeds, reptiles, rodents, rabbits, birds, dog & cat food (and occasionally the small pet), carrion, white-tail fawns, sheep, goats, poultry, and calves.  Recently research has shown that coyotes do play a role in the decrease of the doe/fawn ratio. Large hunting clubs should maintain a trapping program if it desires to grow a large deer herd.  Ranchers understand the coyote problem and attempt to minimize losses with guard dogs, donkeys, and llamas.

Dangers normally occur when coyotes become habituated to humans.  Do not leave pet food out at night!  Outside cats and small dogs need a ‘safe spot’ and a fenced yard for their security.  Large dogs need to be trained not to follow coyotes into the woods.  A good livestock dog will run the coyote off away from the livestock, but not chase it through the woods.  Dogs that roam rural communities are fair game.  Should one of a farmer’s livestock die, bury the animal properly.  Do not give coyotes a reason to live close to your farm.  In the city, keep your garbage in the garage over-night (this is also good advice if you have roaming dogs or raccoons in the neighborhood).  Garbage trucks are not running at 4:00 AM.  Place your garbage curbside during the daylight hours.  Any source of food is an encouragement for coyotes to relocate to your property.

Finally, let me put the coyote issue in proper perspective.  Nationally 15 – 20 people die every year from dog attacks, whereas one or two people are non-fatally attacked by coyotes.  We need coyotes.  Coyotes fill the role that the mountain lion and wolf once filled.  Not only do coyotes help keep down the surplus rodent population, they also eat the dead stuff (carrion) that we hate to have around.  Coyotes are here to stay, let us learn how to safely live with them.

Garden Talk is 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.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

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

Photo credit: Alabama Extension

Garden Talk: Bark Beetles and Your Pines

Ponderosa pine trees stand "dead and red" after being killed by mountain pine beetle near Kamloops, B.C. More dead trees dot the hillside behind.By Andrew J. Baril

ALL green plants are food for other creatures!  I am repeatedly reminded of this statement from one of my botany professors almost forty years ago.  I really do not mind this statement as I am busy eating a beautiful salad, admiring recently canned vegetables, or picking an abundance of corn from my garden.  However, I do not like this statement if it is a chipmunk eating recently planted bulbs, or horn worms working on my tomato plants.  Let’s say this together, “All green plants are food for other creatures.”  Now that wasn’t so bad.  Today, I would like to talk to you about bark beetles and your Southern Pine trees.

You probably have read stories or heard on the nightly news about how Southern Pine Beetles ‘could’ destroy Alabama’s timber industry.  Remember the key word: ‘could’.  A whole host of things could happen tomorrow that would change our lives forever, but probably won’t.  My good friends, please do not let anyone steal your joy.  Life is too good to worry about things that may or may not happen.  Someone once said today has enough trouble of its own to worry about tomorrow.  Now that we have solved that issue, let me change our attention to the beetles.  In Alabama, we have six Southern Yellow Pines growing in our forests.  They are commonly known by these names; long-leaf, short-leaf, slash, lob-lolly, Virginia, and spruce.  These trees are easily recognizable by their cones, needles, and bark as one studies them.  Each tree has its likes and dislikes as to where it prefers to grow, how much water it drinks, and how much room it needs to survive.  All of these trees are considered pioneer species.  A pioneer species is one that if all of the vegetation is removed from a property and the property is left alone, the pioneer species close by will soon occupy the vacated property.  Another thing about pioneer species is that they produce a bunch of wind blown seeds!  An openly grown lob-lolly pine can produce 20 – 25,000 seeds every year, and if they land on the bare soil they will germinate and start to grow.  Growing twenty thousand, 4-inch tall trees on a baseball field is one thing, but when the trees are the size of the hood of your car, only 75-100 trees can grow on that same field.  What happened to the rest of the trees?  They died.  Nature thinned the weak trees out of the woods.  Did you know that trees wrestle?  Yep, trees are in a death wrestle the moment they germinate.  Tree tops, or crowns, wrestle for sunlight.  Tree roots wrestle for nutrients and water in the soil.  The looser dies and the winner goes on to wrestle another day.

This is where the beetles come in to play.  If all the trees had to do was wrestle for nutrients, water, and sunlight that would be easy, but God created this world to be complex; to show His glory.  In doing so, trees have added variables to wrestle with.  Fire, disease, storms, lightning, seasons, drought, all play their part in strengthening or weakening the trees, and then there is always something eating on them too.  Here in Alabama, we have basically three bark beetles.  They are commonly known as the Black Turpentine, Ips Engraver, and Southern Pine beetles.  The Ips Engraver can be divided into the small (4 spined), the medium (5 spined), and the large (6 spined) beetles.  The small beetle attacks the top third of the tree and the large attacks the bottom third.  Guess where the medium beetle attacks, yep the middle.  These beetles are tiny from 1/16” to ¼” long.  The three IPS Engraver beetles only attack weak trees.  They finish off the already dying tree.  If one notices pitch tubes (sap that looks like popcorn) in the center of a bark plate, they have the IPS beetle.  Pulling the bark off an infected tree one will see ‘galleries’ which form the letter “I” or “H”.  Black Turpentine and Southern Pine Beetles (SPBs) begin killing dying trees, but if their numbers grow large enough, they will attack and kill healthy trees.  The largest of the bark beetles at 5/16” long, the Black Turpentine beetle only attacks the bottom 6’ of a tree.  Another way to identify this beetle is to notice a red/pink color to its pitch tubes.  The most destructive pest in Southern forests is the Southern Pine Beetle.  Again it is small, up to 1/8” in length.  Living about one year, the female SPB can lay about six generations of beetles each year, here in Birmingham.  Two ways to identify SPBs is to look at pitch tubes and galleries.  SPB pitch tubes are located in the crevasses between the bark plates, and their galleries form the letter “S” under the bark.  Should epidemic population levels arise, SPB damage could be catastrophic.  Remember what I said about “could.”

How can I stop bark beetle damage?  Nothing.  However, I can lessen the probability of them coming to my forest.  Number one, if planting pine trees, plant the best tree for the site.  Don’t plant lob-lolly on the mountain top and don’t plant long-leaf in a wet bog.  Number two, burn your pines at least every three years!  In some places, the trees need fire every year.  Sure some trees will die in the fire, but the strong will get stronger.  Number three use herbicides.  A farmer grows more corn without weeds growing in the field.  The same thing is true for trees.  Hardwoods and privet are weeds in a pine plantation, and they are wrestling with the pines.  Number four, thin the timber before it gets too crowded.  Have your timber marked by a professional forester.  Not only will you net more money – your forest will look better too.  Remember, bark beetles are part of creation, they are here to stay.  The best way to protect your forest is to have strong vigorously growing trees.  The best way to protect large yard trees is to protect their roots.  Place a ‘Do Not Dig’ sign in your yard to remind yourself that if you cut that root, you may kill the tree.  Blessings.

Garden Talk is 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.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to Andrew J. Baril, or call 205 879-6964.

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

Garden Talk: Recovering from Last Year’s Drought By Bethany A. O’Rear

Recovering from Last Year’s Drought

Question: As we all know, last year’s drought was of the exceptional kind. I lost several plants in my yard completely. Of the ones that remain, several of them seem to be struggling this spring.  What can I expect, going forward?  What steps can I take to help my landscape recover?

Answer: Drought can be a funny thing. Well, not that funny … but people notice it is dry when there is no rain, yet they seem to forget about it once the rain sets in.


Last summer and stretching into fall and winter, Alabama, minus portions of 2 counties in the southeastern corner of the state, experienced the worst drought that we have seen since 2007.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, portions of Central Alabama are still in the exceptional drought category. While the rains of winter returned some water to once-dry ponds and creeks, we as gardeners and homeowners have not seen the end of the effects on our landscapes and naturalized areas.

Drought is much more than scorched grass and wilted tomato plants. It affects plants on the microscopic level, weakening or completely disabling the necessary functions they need to live.  To put things in a timeline, just as we see our plant leaves start to wilt, their roots, even those of established trees, are beginning to suffer.  As soil moisture is pulled away from the roots, cell death in the roots and vascular tissues begins to occur.  As drought continues, root and shoot dieback leads to decline and, in some cases, plant death.

Even if plants are not killed, it can take them months or years to repair the damage. So drought affects trees, shrubs and other plants, not just in the short term but also long term.

We are all very familiar with the short-term symptoms of drought – wilting, leaf scorch, defoliation, etc. – all of which are particularly obvious on young trees and shrubs or new lawns. But it is the long-term effects that will haunt us over the next few years.

Here’s what to expect …

  • Some plants will not come out of dormancy this spring.
  • Lawns will be much thinner or non-existent this year. This will lead to space in the turf for a heavy set of spring and summer weeds.
  • Some trees and shrubs that do break bud after dormancy will have roots systems insufficient to support the canopy, leading to dieback or death next spring and summer.
  • Long term, the stress of drought can reduce a plant’s ability to fight disease and insect pests. It is common in the years after drought to see an influx of Southern Pine Beetles and other stem boring insects that attack trees, both coniferous and hardwood alike.
  • Where dieback occurs, dead branches leave wounds for fungal diseases to invade healthy tissue. In the case of many Leyland cypress trees, which are prone to fungal cankers, the stress of drought allows the disease to spread throughout the tree, leading to plant death.


Now that we have discussed many of the negatives associated with last year’s drought, what are my recommendations for landscapes for this year?

First, be kind to your trees. If long-term weather forecasts play out, we may be in for another dry summer. The plants that are desperately trying to bounce back will need TLC throughout the season. Water them when possible.

Stay away from excessive fertilizing. The root system of plants may already be compromised from cell death last summer, and they certainly do not need more canopy to sustain.

In lawns that were heavily affected by drought, controlling weeds will be of paramount importance in helping the lawn recover. Remember, grass needs three things to grow – sun, water and nutrients. Weeds are better at gathering these three things than grass, so we have to work to keep them out.

Lastly, if you see that a tree or shrub has succumbed to disease or insects, it may be time to consider a replacement. Sometimes, the only way to have your yard looking its best is to plant something new.

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!