Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
Will's Archives 2003
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Below you will find the following articles written by Almadale Farms' favorite Master Gardener, Will Stafford.
 
  • Where Are My Birds?
  • Damaged Trees In Almadale Farms
  • Lawns In AF
  • Give Your Indoor Cat a Treat
  • They're On Their Way
  • Growing Tomatoes In Containers or Limited Space
  • Beneficial Insects & Other Creatures
  • Late Summer Gardening In AF
  • Will's Timely Article About Choosing Trees
  • Planting Trees
  • Snakes

Where Are My Birds?

I have received a few calls expressing concern about the limited number of wild birds at our feeders and other sites in Almadale Farms. There is no cause for alarm. Birds still have a plentiful supply of wild seed, berries and -- to a lesser extent -- insects for their consumption. After a few hard freezes and some colder weather most natural sources of food will be exhausted and there will likely be a noticeable increase of birds congregating around the feeders. Not surprisingly, winter-feeding by homeowners attract more birds than summer feeding for a very good reason. Normally the only birds that visit a feeder in the summer are those that happen to be nesting in the backyard. However, in the winter most garden birds abandon their nesting territories and are more likely to be found in flocks. Eating and survival--not nesting--become major concerns.  I have several hollies and nandinas that are loaded with red, plump berries. When the birds have stripped these plants of their berries, their next stop will likely be neighborhood feeders. I make sure that my plants have heavy crops of berries by adding rock or super phosphate to the soil in the spring and early fall. The berries are beautiful and the birds--especially cardinals and jays--like them.

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 So--fellow birdlovers--be of good cheer. To date, it has been relatively mild in much of the country. When this changes, watch for the number of birds to increase as the "snowbirds" head south.

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Ginkgo in Fall

Damaged Trees in Almadale Farms

 

Many trees in Almadale Farms were severely damaged by the straight-line windstorm, which we experienced in July. The hardest hit was the Bradford Pear. As a result of the storm, many trees are gapped, misshapen, have broken limbs and have become very unattractive. While some maple, oak, crape myrtle and other varieties of trees suffered minor damage with proper care and pruning may regain an attractive form. This is highly unlikely with the Bradford Pear, which should be replaced as soon a possible. In addition to being an eyesore and detracting from property values, damaged Bradford Pears will become more susceptible to disease and further damage by ice and windstorms. Damaged Bradford Pears should be replaced with one of the oak family, such as willow, pin, scarlet, white and others. There are also other hardwood varieties. If you want a slow growing, hardy tree with brilliant autumn colors, try the gingko. It is important to remember that our covenants require two hardwood trees in our front yards.

 

November is the perfect month for tree planting. If planted now, your trees will have a head start with root development and recovery from planting shock. Dry planting days may become rare since we are heading into our wet season.

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Lawns In Almadale Farms

Two types of warm weather grasses can be found in Almadale Farms--bermuda and zoysia. Currently--unless I have overlooked one--there are two zoysia lawns in our subdivision, (1925 McCool Forrest &1875 Winsley Way) and the backyard at 1727 Dymoke.

 

Both types of grasses, bermuda & zoysia, have advantages and disadvantages.

Bermuda is much easier to establish and easier to cut--but is more easily victimized by weed grasses such as crabgrass, nutgrass, spurge and other weed grasses. Initially, zoysia is very slow in growth--but once established--makes a thick carpet, which chokes out most weed grasses.

Zoysia will grow in full sun and in shade--bermuda will not grow well in shade. A good mulching mower generally works well with bermuda if it isn't cut too low. Zoysia can also be cut with a mulching mower but I don't recommend it--matting can be a problem. Zoysia is green here from approximately April 1 to the first heavy frost and maintains a rich color--after bermuda has begun to turn brown. Regardless of the type of grass in your lawn, it should not be cut too closely during late summer or fall. Leave your grass taller for the winter season--it will look better and be more disease resistant.

Give Your Indoor Cat A Treat
 
Most cats like grass, and in the absence of grass, may nibble on ornamental plants (many of which are poisonous) and perhaps even occasionally a plastic plant. There are many theories regarding cats' cravings for grass. Based on what I've read  the most logical reason is that grass enzymes help to dissolve ingested fur balls. However, it could be that most cats are vegetarians…who knows? Regardless, cat owners can make their furry friends happier by growing some grass. It is a simple thing to do. First of all, get a plastic container 1' by 3' ( larger is better) and fill it with good potting soil. I also like to add a little Osmocote. A depth of 3" or deeper is recommended. While there are several seed mixtures, my favorite is rye grass, which yields a hardy grass and grows quickly. Keep the container in a cool place, with some sun exposure and water lightly daily. I keep mine just outside my screened porch until the rye grass can become established. After it reaches a height of approximately 3-4", I move it inside my screened porch.
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My pet Manx, Bismarck, loves  rye grass and nibbles the tender rye shoots daily. I am sure that I now enjoy much higher esteem with him. If you're lazy, you can always buy a pre-grown mixture of grass at the pet store. However, your cat will likely prefer the fresh, succulent rye grass.

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They're On Their Way!
My favorite day of the year is fast approaching....the arrival day of the first purple martins at my three martin houses. This is a sure harbinger of spring and a forthcoming change in our weather. Purple martins time their arrivals from Brazil and other warm climate countries to coincide with the availability of food. If you haven't cleaned your purple martin houses, then do so before March when martins usually appear. Purple martins are very bad news for mosquitoes and other flying insects which favor Almadale Farms because of our northern and eastern proximity to wetland areas. More importantly than the martins' voracious appetites for insects is their beautiful aerial acrobatics which you must see to believe.
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If you are considering attracting martins to your residence you should begin thinking about getting a house raised. However, before buying a house, be certain that your lot is properly suited for martins. Martins like clear flyways away from trees and buildings. In 2003 I wrote two purple martin articles for the Nature Society--an organization devoted to the purple martin culture--and another for the Shelby County Master Gardeners Association. One article addresses the question of the suitability of your yard for attracting martins and the other the proper maintenance of a purple martin site. I will be happy to deliver copies of these articles to residents of Almadale Farms and will mail copies to non-residents if you will send me a business size stamped envelope. Call or send me an E-mail and I'll be happy to advise you regarding a suitable location and other important considerations.

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Red Brandywine Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes in Containers or Limited Space.

 

Almost everyone likes to grow tomatoes. Unfortunately many of you have limited space and are unable to rotate your tomatoes plants to different growing sites each year. A two year...or longer intervention ... is strongly recommended since some serious diseases can live in the soil for several years.  If you don't rotate your planting sites, your tomatoes may become small, misshapen or non existent. Tomato problems can be caused by many diseases and insect pests but one of the most serious is the root knot nematode--a slender, translucent, unsegmented worm which is about 1/50" long. The nematode can cause root knots, galls, injured root tips and many other problems. Unfortunately. the tomato is a favorite food of this pest.

What does a gardener do if there is only limited growing space? First of all replenish your soil with organic matter such as compost, rotted leaves, leaf mold and other organic matter. When you've picked your last tomatoes, destroy your old tomato plants since are major disease carriers.  Add organic substances such as soy meal, cotton seed meal and alfalfa pellets. If you have the space, plant marigolds in the space formerly planted growing tomatoes. There are also several all natural gardening products on the market. Next near--when you replant--be sure that you buy tomato plants labeled VFW. VFW plants are more resistant to the major wilts--verticillium and fusarium---and nematodes.
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What did the old timers do about nematodes? I've heard that some used sugar--and I've read references to the benefits of sugar in one of my old organic books. Curiously, sugar kills nematodes by drying them out--the body fluids move out of the nematodes--and they die of dehydration. The interesting thing about this to me is that sugar is a great source of energy and is included in some organic products as well as much of the food we eat Overall, the best thing you can do is to build up the humus content of your tomato plot. If you plan to have tomatoes next year, start preparing your soil now.

Beneficial Insects and Other Creatures

 

Believe it or not, pesticides--synthetic or natural--aren't your garden's first line of defense. That role belongs to predators that stalk and feast on pests that that would otherwise ravage and often destroy your vegetables and plants. Many "friendly" predators--such as spiders, lady bugs wasps, toads, lizards, garden snakes and birds can make a real difference in your garden. One of my favorites is the mantid--often called the praying mantis because it often lifts its front legs as if it were praying.

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Photo taken by MJ Doran

 The mantis found in our area is normally bright green and 2-3 inches long. The mantis eats anything that it can catch--including their own young and other adult mantises. It's a sad, macabre fact of life that after a male mates with the much larger female, she often repays his efforts by eating him. Regardless of their eating habits mantis are a real novelty and should be welcomed. You can encourage friendly predators to take up residence in your garden by being discreet with the use of chemical sprays and poisons.

Late Summer Gardening in Almadale Farms

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The real test of a good gardener comes during the dog days of late summer. Unless your garden is given constant attention it will soon spend itself and not maintain that beautiful look when it was planted. Such negligence can be discouraging and expensive. Annuals and perennials cease to bloom while weeds ripen and spread their many seeds to plague us next spring. However, just a little effort will help to keep things blooming up until autumn and possibly beyond the first freeze. Now is a good time to clip back leggy plants, remove all faded flowers and seed pods, cultivate lightly among your plants, fertilize and water--water--water. You will not be disappointed by this extra effort.

 

If you are a bit lazy, place soaker hoses around all your foundation plants and shrubs. You can cover these hoses when you mulch again. Soaker hoses allow our plants to receive adequate water--without wasting as much as we use. Soaker hoses are an excellent alternative to hand spraying and other watering methods. Here's why--soaker hoses reduce water use--minimizing run off and evaporation. Importantly, plant foliage doesn't receive direct spray--lessening the chance of foliage disease. Soaker hoses are easy to install.

  • Attach the soaker hoses to your faucet.
  • Open faucet slightly--1/4 to 1/2 turn.
  • Works best when used for long periods of time(approx. 1-2 hours).
  • Can be used above ground or covered with mulch.

The problem of multiple faucets can be easily overcome. I use a "four headed" brass faucet for connections to my soaker hoses and regular hoses. You can get a high quality brass multiple faucet from garden stores. I ordered a faucet from Gardeners Supply Company(www.gardeners.com) for approximately $30. Plastic faucets cost less. You're welcome to come and see my system. I strongly recommend this very economical watering system.

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Red Maple

The great ice storm of l994 and our recent "wind" storm demonstrated once again that we must be very discerning when choosing trees for our yards and common areas. There are several important considerations when choosing trees. When our houses were constructed, builders were supposed to have planted two hardwood trees in the front yard as the primary tree planting. Hardwood trees were planted on many of our lots. Others were not so fortunate. Softwood trees such as the birch, and ornamental trees, most notably the Bradford pear, was frequently substituted for hardwoods. The Bradford pear has beautiful spring blooms and leaves until late fall. However, except for its use as a specimen, ornamental Bradford pears have many disadvantages. It is a grafted or hybridized tree, which is brittle, soft wooded and has a relatively short life span of approximately 15 years. It adds very little to long-term property values.

Hardwoods should always be used for our primary, front-yard plantings. There are approximately 100 varieties of hardwood trees. Hardwoods most frequently recommended by local nurseries, usually come from the oak, ash, maple, elm and linden varieties. The best of the best are oak trees. Oak trees are beautiful, long lasting, stable, more insect and disease resistant. Oaks like our heavily acidic soil and will make your property more valuable. The willow oak being my favorite, has leaves that are small and fall periodically. There are many other varieties of oak. Examples are red (often called scarlet or cherry bark), white, water, and pin to name a few. Avoid red and water varieties, if possible. These retain brown leaves all winter. My second favorite tree (not a member of the oak family) is the gingko, a unique, slow growing tree which can be male or female. Nurseries usually only sell the male gingko since the female produces smelly fruits. The gingko is a beautiful tree with hard corklike bark and fan shaped leaves. In the fall the color becomes orange, then a brilliant yellow, before falling, all at approximately the same time. I have three beautiful gingkoes in my back yard. One which I raised from seed. Call me if you wish to see them.

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Mid November through December is the perfect time for planting trees in our area. You can also plant during warmer months. But if you do, be very attentive to your tree's needs. Improper planting causes more trouble with trees and other plants than anything else. The main trouble is in failure to dig the hole deep enough and big enough. There should be room in the bottom for several inches of prepared soil mixed with leaf mold or peat moss. I also use cottonseed meal or milorganite which are excellent additives because they release nutrient slowly and will not burn the roots.

A newly planted tree must have water every 7-10 days during the first two summers. Don't stand and hold the hose; but rather let the hose trickle for two or three hours. Fertilize during January, February or March. I like to "spike" my trees. That is, to drive fertilizer spikes around my trees' drip line. Don't always go for the larger tree because a smaller or medium sized tree will recover much faster from planting shock and resume its growth. Smaller trees are also much less expensive. If you use a nurseryman, get a written guarantee.

Finally, don't plant azaleas or other shrubs under your trees. This is not good for the tree or shrub. Under the trees' canopies are shallow root systems. Digging beds for shrubs may disrupt the tree's root system causing roots to dry out and preventing a healthy growth cycle. Conversely, it is very difficult for shrubs to thrive while competing with trees, (especially large trees), for nutrients. The tree always wins!

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Late April through early May is usually snake mating season. Snakes are most active and aggressive during this time. There are several species of snakes in our area—both venomous and non-venomous. The two most common venomous species are the water moccasin (also known as the cottonmouth) and the copperhead. The water moccasin is normally found in or near water. It is dark colored with white around its mouth--thus the name cottonmouth. The copperhead is also found near water as well as in the woods and other shaded places. The copperhead has color patterns of buff, pink or tan alternating with bands of red or brown. Nonpoisonous species include corn snakes, rat snakes, garter snakes, green snakes and water snakes among others. These nonpoisonous snakes are harmless and help control the numbers of rats and mice. Unfortunately, many people mistake corn snakes for copperheads and water snakes for cottonmouths.

Killing snakes is unnecessary and harmful to the ecosystem and is also illegal under state law. There are several products that can be used to deter snakes. These include Snake-Away, moth balls and sulfur which can be applied around the perimeter of your home and lot.

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