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The Whoo: Owls of Alabama










Have you ever been outside at night and heard a soft hoot coming out of the darkness? It was probably one of the several species of owls that call Alabama home. There are several things that people can look for to help identify what owl is hooting in their backyard.


Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, said there are four species of owls commonly found in Alabama.

“These owls include great horned, barn, eastern screech and barred owls,” Armstrong said. “These owls are commonly found all over the Southeast.”

General Characteristics

Owls have several characteristics that make them excellent hunters. They have asymmetrical ear placement which allows them to use sound to find their prey. An owl’s eyes are located on the front of their face which allows them to focus on objects. Their feathers have slots that let wind pass through so they make no sound in flight. All of these things allow owls to capture prey easily.

Armstrong said that an owl’s diet depends on the species.

“Small owls, such as the screech owl, feed on everything from insects to mice,” Armstrong said. “Larger species, such as the barred owl or great horned owl, eat squirrels and rabbits, etc.”

Great Horned Owl 

Generally, when people picture an owl, they think of the great horned owl. One of the larger owls in Alabama, they have a wingspan of 48 to 60  inches and weigh between 2 and 3.8 pounds. They are brown with gray mottling on their back and breast and have white necks.

Armstrong said that great horned owls use a variety of habitats.

“Most great horned owls are seen in open woodlands or trees that have regrown after being cut, near agricultural fields, in swamps or in orchards,” Armstrong said. “Often, these owls take over old hawk or crow nests instead of building a nest.”

Great horned owls usually spend most of the day perched in a protected area or tree. They are active mostly in the early evening and early morning hours.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource for information on owls and other birds. To learn more about the great horned owl, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Barn Owl

As their name implies, people often find barn owls in the loft of a barn. These owls only hunt at night and prefer open country land for hunting. Because they feed almost entirely on rodents, people often find them near old fields, farmyards, grain elevators and in any area that may attract mice and rats.

This owl has a white to light cream colored breast and belly and may have brown spots. Their back is pale-yellow with streaks of gray.


Armstrong said that barn owls have a distinct face.

“A barn owl’s face is white, with dark black eyes. Their face is heart shaped and their beak almost disappears in the feathers,”Armstrong said

To learn more about the barn owl, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Eastern Screech Owl

Weighing in at only 2 ounces, the Eastern screech owl is the smallest owl in Alabama. Small but feisty describes it well. They are surprisingly aggressive for their size and can take down prey as large as themselves.

There are two different color phases in Eastern screech owls; red and gray.

The red color phase owls have a red-colored back with black streaks and an orange face. Gray color phase owls have white faces with brown spotting. Their backs are brownish-gray with white or brown streaks.

Armstrong said that unlike other owls, these do not build nests.

“Screech owls use natural cavities, eaves of buildings or old woodpecker cavities for nests,” Armstrong said. “People commonly find them in open woodlands, field edges and marsh edges.”

To learn more about the Eastern screech owl, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Barred Owl


The most distinguishable thing about barred owls is their wide range of noises.

Armstrong said that people can often imitate these owls.

“Their most familiar noise is the hoot, which has five syllables and sounds like WHO COOKS FOR YOU, WHO COOKS FOR YOU ALL,” Armstrong said. “This call is easy to imitate and if done well, people will often get a return call from an owl.”

Barred owls commonly live in swamps and marshes. They may also been seen or head in wooded areas in neighborhoods. Because they are primarily nocturnal, they prefer thick forests where people will not disturb them during the day.

Barred owls nest in natural tree cavities or take over old hawk nests. They seldom build their own nest.

To learn more about the barred owl, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

For more information about owls and other birds of prey, download the Alabama Extension publication Southeastern Birds of Prey. Visit Alabama Extension online to download this publication for free.


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

In Alabama, Fall Brings More Aggressive Wasps and Hornets










Fall is the peak season for yellow jackets and hornets in Alabama. Many people encounter and experience painful stings from these wasps during outdoor activities.

Yellow jackets are black-and-yellow social wasps. Hornets and yellow jackets are the most common wasp groups, says Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.


“By fall, yellow jackets and hornets reach maximum size of family members and peak  period in activities. Hornets usually construct exposed nests in the branches of trees and shrubs or on recessed structures. They also construct nests in cavities,” added Hu. Most yellow jacket species nest in the ground but some nest in buildings, in tree cavities or structural voids.

The cycle begins with a few mated overwintered females who start new nests in early spring and become foundress queens. The new nests may contain a dozen developmental cells, remain relatively calm and often overlooked.

By fall, annual nests reach maximum size and typically contain 300 to 120,000 developmental cells, depending on the species and environmental conditions. “Some species maintain large perennial colonies in South Alabama.  Multiple queens rule the colonies which are tended by thousands of workers and contain millions of cells,” said Dr. Hu.

Most of the summer, yellow jackets are predators and feed on other insects. In the fall, their diets change to preferable sugary concoctions. They are attracted to rotting fruit and tree sap, human beverages, sweet food, fruit juice and the like. They also labor long hours to collect enough food to feed and maintain the colony through the winter.

Humans should be aware of stinging wasps when in fruit orchards, flower beds, picnic areas, outdoor restaurant seating and at backyard barbecues.

Managing Yellow Jackets

“The most useful tool for managing yellow jackets is a dust applicator,” Hu said. Hand dusters and air dusters are the more common applicators. A pest control professional wearing protective garments should operate dust applicators.

Dr. Hu says air carries dust formulations deep into cavities and voids of wasp nests. The dust particles remain on the concealed surfaces awaiting contact with foraging yellow jackets, which, in turn, contaminate other nest mates.

Using wettable powder insecticides in surface-treating yellow jacket nests can accelerate the colony-elimination process. It permits sameday nest removal.

Apply aerosol and mist insecticides, such as pyrethirins, and other botanical extracts to nest cavities after dark when nest members are in the treatment zone.

Although it is necessary to close off multiple entry points for wasps from structural voids to living and work spaces, homeowners should never caulk close an exterior entrance to an active yellow jacket nest in a structure. This action alarms the trapped wasps and causes them to seek alternative escape routes to the outdoors.

Except for honeybees, all female and worker wasps and bees can sting repeatedly. With occasional stings comes the likelihood of increased sensitivity to venom.

“Be cautious of small areas bare of vegetation because they could be ground nests of yellow jackets,” added Dr. Hu.


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


Watch Out For Snakes










With warmer weather upon us, snakes and other wildlife are more active. It is not uncommon to run across a nonvenomous snake during the summer months. While venomous snakes are known as the bigger threat, nonvenomous snakes can still pose a health risk to people.

They do not have venom to harm people, but a snake bite can cause infections. Left untreated, these infections could cause serious health problems.

Places Snakes Are Found

As silly as it sounds, the greatest health risk nonvenomous snakes pose to humans is people hurting themselves trying to get away when they are frightened. Knowing where snakes tend to hang around can help people be alert when in these areas.

Snakes are found just about anywhere. Sheds, barns, flower beds, gardens and wood piles are great places for snakes to hang out.

Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, said snakes like to stay in areas where they can find food and feel protected.

“Snakes are most likely to be found in areas that provide cover or shelter for them and their prey,” Armstrong said. “Removing these types of areas from around your house will help reduce, but not eliminate, the possibility of snakes around the home.”

Snakes May Be Aggressive

Armstrong said that snakes can be aggressive creatures.

“Overall, most snakes, regardless of species, are not aggressive. However, any snake, venomous or not, may be aggressive if cornered or picked up,” Armstrong said. “Some species tend to bite more readily than others, but there is great variation even within a species.”

Health Risk

Nonvenomous snake bites can cause problems because of possible infection. Armstrong said that anytime skin is opened, the risk of infection is there.

“All snakes have teeth so, they all have the potential to break the skin,” Armstrong said. “This introduces infection to the area.”

What To Do When Bitten

In the event of a person being bitten, Armstrong said that thoroughly washing the wound is usually enough. However, people should always watch the area for any signs of infection.

“Generally, washing the wound site with soap and water is sufficient,” Armstrong said. “Any wound, regardless of the source, should be monitored.”

Don’t Pick Up Snakes

When a snake comes near a home, a general first reaction is to want to move the snake far away. Armstrong said that this is the main reason people are bitten by nonvenomous snakes.

“Most bites occur when people are handling snakes,” he said. “I recommend leaving them alone if they are not venomous.”

Armstrong wrote a line to remind people about picking up snakes; “some snakes bite, but others don’t. It’s a chance you shouldn’t take. So, in the wild don’t pick ‘em up and you won’t make a big mistake.”
As a general rule, Armstrong said that if you are in an area where snakes might be present, closed-toe shoes and long pants are a must.

Find more information about snakes in Alabama in Alabama Extension’s publication, “Identification and Control of Snakes in Alabama.” This covers information and some common myths about about snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous. To download the full publication, visit Alabama Extension online here. For further information, contact your county Extension office.

Shelby County Extension Office (205) 669-6763


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


Look Out for Poisonous Plants











Spring and summer months are perfect for outdoor activities. When camping or hiking, it is important to know what plants to avoid. Some poisonous plants can cause harm to humans and animals.

Animals and Humans React Differently

Some plants cause reactions or death in humans, but do not have the same effect on animals. Some animals are deathly effected by some plants, but they do not hurt humans.

Andrew Baril, an Alabama Extension regional agent of forestry, wildlife and natural resources, said when it comes to poisonous plants, animals and humans react differently.

“Humans need to look out for poison ivy, poison oak and sumac and don’t touch it,” Baril said. “Animals don’t normally have a problem with the touching these plants, but if your dog rolls in a patch of poison ivy and you rub the dog, it will get on you.”

According to Baril, dog hair can carry the oils found in these plants.

“They can bring them into a home and the oil can get on carpets, rugs, furniture or wherever they lay,” Baril said. “Oils can remain potent for over a year. Therefore, dogs should be bathed after they had been seen playing in the plants.”

Coming in Contact with Poisonous Plants

Unless someone is severely allergic, generally nothing will happen to a person just touching poison ivy, oak or sumac. Problems occur with these plants when someone crushes the leaves or stem and releases the oils.

“If the oil is allowed to come in contact with skin, a rash will develop for most people,” Baril said “If one does come in contact with the oils, it is best to wash the area with warm water and a mild soap. Don’t scratch the area; just lightly remove as much of the oil as possible.”

Baril said that in his opinion, encountering the oils while burning the plants is worse than touching or crushing them.

“Smoke encountering the eyes, and inhalation into one’s lungs is extremely painful, and could lead to hospitalization and even death,” Baril said.

He offers a few tips on how poisonous plants, and precautions to take to avoid them.

  • Poison ivy and poison oak have leaves with three leaflets, often with a reddish spot where the leaflets attach to the stem.
  • Do not burn any part of these plants.
  • Always wear long pants and close-toed shoes when in wooded areas.
  • Consider application of a preventive lotion, such as Ivy Block, before going outdoors.
  • Always wash clothes immediately upon return from walking in wooded areas.

Don’t Eat Wild Plants

Baril cautioned that touching a poisonous plant can be bad, but eating one can be even worse.

“If you don’t know for sure what plant you are handling, don’t ingest the plant,” Baril said.

Dr. Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Extension specialist of forestry and wildlife sciences, said there are wild plants that are editable.

“Unless you’re 100 percent sure you’ve identified a plant correctly and made sure it is edible, don’t eat any wild plants,” Loewenstein said. “Some plants have fruits that look safe to eat, but are not. A few examples are Chinaberry and the Chinese tallowtree.


Loewenstein says the fruit of Chinaberry (Melia azederach), is the most toxic part of the tree. The leaves, bark and flowers are mildly toxic but usually cause no problems. Swine and sheep are most commonly affected by eating Chinaberry, but children have been poisoned by eating the berries,” she added.

Chinese Tallowtree

Chinese Tallowtree

“All parts of the Chinese tallowtree (Triadica sebifera)plant are poisonous, especially the fruit,” said Loewenstein.

She added that while she believes not many people would be tempted to eat the seeds, eating berries from this tree can cause diarrhea, listlessness, weakness and dehydration. These symptoms may not occur until two to four days after the plant is eaten.

Alabama Extension’s publication, “Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States,” goes into detail about the toxicity of dozens of poisonous plants. It also lists symptoms of exposure and treatment after coming in contact with poisonous plants. You can read the full publication here.

There is also the publication “Touch-Me-Nots – Recognizing and Avoiding Poisonous Plants of Alabama.” You can find this publication here.


Featured Image: Brett Marshall, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Rash Image: zawafoto/shutterstock.com

Chinese Tallowtree Image: KPG_Payless/shutterstock.com

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.


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 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 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!