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The Problem with Privet By: Andy Baril

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past few weeks riding down our county roads, I have noticed the Chinese privet turning green.  Everyone will notice these plants because they will load the edges of the woods with large numbers of highly fragrant white flowers.  In the forest, privet occupies one million acres of timberland, and is the second most invasive plant.  Japanese honeysuckle wins the trophy in Alabama for being the most invasive plant in forested settings, growing on 2½ million acres.  Over the last thirty years as I have watched these two plants spread, it is my opinion that privet is the worst plant.  Honeysuckle is an edge plant that needs sunlight to grow.  Once the forest closes the canopy, honeysuckle tends to die back if it cannot grow in the tops of the trees.  Privet on the other hand will exist, as a wisp, in the understory of a forest just waiting for an opening.  Once the opening occurs, the wisp will quickly grow into a thick bush.  Without human intervention, that bush will grow into a fifteen-foot multi-stemmed tree.  As these bush-trees grow, they shade the ground.  Shade is the problem.

We have all pulled out little trees growing in our shrubs.  Nicely pruned yard shrubs have sunlight reaching through them to the ground, so any seeds that land below the bush have an opportunity to germinate and grow.  Whenever I trim my parents or my shrubs, I always have to check for baby trees.  Cutting the top of the tree does not kill the little tree.  It merely sprouts a new branch, within the bush, which turns up-ward and that branch becomes the new tree top.  Sometimes the tree is cutback so often that it can develop a thumb-size or larger stem at the soil surface down below the bush.  Many times this tree is impossible to pull out of the ground.  When the tree is too large to pull, take a small pruning saw or loppers and cut it off and herbicide the stump.  This happens in our yards, but rarely does this happen in the forest.

Shade is the issue.  Yard shrubs allow sunlight to penetrate them.  Privet grown in the woods does not allow sunlight to reach the forest floor.  Forest trees first filter out over half of the sunlight, then the privet bush-tree filters out the remaining sunlight.  Forest seeds that land on the ground under a privet bush-tree either get eaten by forest rodents, rot on the soil surface, or germinate begin to grow, then die in the shade.  Our creekside hardwood bottoms are highly susceptible to privet infestations.  Privet loves moist forest soils.  Because of this characteristic, many of our creek bottoms are becoming overgrown with privet.  Large 100’ tall oaks, yellow poplars, and cypress are being replaced with fifteen-foot tall privet forests.  Not only are the trees in danger of dying out, but the critters that depend on our native trees are also in danger.  If you have an established privet forest, it may take herbicides to defeat the invaders.

Contact your local Extension office for more information and help.

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!

 

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!

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