Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
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Will's Archives 20072006, 2005 ,2004, 2003

The Most Eye Catching Bird In Almadale Farms

Should You Aerate Your Lawn?

My Most Recent Garden Visitor

Success With Azaleas

The Gentle Bumblebee

Organic or Chemical Fertilizers?

Appreciating Our Wetlands

Container Gardening

Gardening In Almadale Farms

A Purple Martin Calendar for Almadale Farms

Night Visitors

A Few Winter Gardening Thoughts

The Most Eye Catching Bird
In Almadale Farms
 
One of our loudest and most colorful residents, the blue jay is unmistakable. It has a bright blue top with some white and some black in the wings and tail,  white below and black facial markings. The jay has a loud, raucous jay-jay cry as well as a variety of other calls. One is similar to that of the red tail hawk.

blue_jay.jpg
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The jay is a member of the crow family, a group that includes magpies, crows, raven and probably a hundred more species. The blue jay is among the largest of the songbird family and is reputed by many—myself included—to be the smartest group in the world.
Nests are usually built in evergreens 10-20 feet above ground and both male and female jays take part in the construction. Jay parents are very particular and will built several practice nests before building one which will be used to raise their young. Once the final nest is complete, the female will lay between 4-6 eggs with an incubation period of approximately 17 days. The male jay is unique in that, after the young have hatched, he feeds his young—and the female jay—while she protects the nest.
 
Blue jays stay together throughout the fall in a family group and don’t split up until the spring when the breeding season makes them all crazy. I have heard some complain that jays eat other birds’ eggs. While this may be true occasionally, according to experts, it doesn’t happen often. In fact, for the most part, jays are vegetarians. Studies have shown that very few jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of a jay’s diet consists of insects, nuts and seeds. My inside sources tell me that they may also like tofu.
 
While jays like evergreens for nesting, without a doubt their tree of choice is the oak which provides them with their favorite food—the acorn. I frequently see jays flying from nests in my neighbors’ pine trees to feast on the large, nurtured acorns of my oak trees.
 
There are many reasons why we should like blue jays. First of all, there are few birds in North America with their striking beauty. They are also fun to watch near feeders which—in my case—are located near my organic garden where the jays assist with insect control. Jays should also be given credit for saving the lives of many other birds. Possibly the most important jay contribution of all is their shrill, community, sound—the alarm “jaay,jaay” warnings when a predator such as a hawk, crow or a house cat lurks nearby.

aerator.jpg
Courtesy of Plant Talk Colorado

Should You Aerate
Your Lawn?
 
A typical Almadale Farms lawn is likely composed of approximately 60% clay, 20% sand and 20% silt. As you have probably discovered, such soil compacts easily, makes cultivation difficult and interferes with the oxygen supply for plant roots. Water can do little to enter clay soil and runoffs are common during rainfalls.

After a 2.8” rainfall on August 11, I noticed lawns being cut the next morning since the soil had not absorbed the rainfall. The villain, of course, is the miniscule clay particle that—in the absence of humus—gives clay soil very poor soil structure. Foot traffic and other activity only add to the problem. What is the solution? Experts advise that with clay soil, aeration may well be the answer.
 
What is aeration? Aeration is the process of punching holes—usually 3-4” deep into your lawn to allow water, oxygen, fertilizers and other nutrients to penetrate the soil and better reach the roots of your grass. Aeration can also help in breaking up the buildup of thatch on your lawn.
 
Aeration is best done by pushing hollow cylinders into the ground and forcing out plugs of soil to the lawn surface. I’ve seen shoe spikes advertised in some of the garden magazines...don’t waste your money on these poor substitutes which may even add to the compacting of your lawn. They do not remove “plugs” from the ground and this is the primary reason for aeration.
 
It is best to aerate in the fall or late spring. I prefer aerating in late April to mid May—just before our bermuda and zoysia lawns start growing. Do not aerate during times of drought and high heat. If there has been no rain, dampen your soil thoroughly one day prior to aerating. This will soften the soil and allow for better penetration by the metal cylinders.
 
Immediately before aeration I broadcast on my lawn alfalfa pellets, cottonseed meal, soybean meal, catfish pellets or other organic materials with a high protein content. This will improve the health of your soil. Chances are you’ve walked by a recently aerated lawn, noticed the plugs and may have thought dogs had been working overtime. Spare yourself indignant glances from curious neighbors and just mow over the plugs with your mower.
 
Finally, just remember that your lawn requires three elements to looks its best—moisture, nutrients and air. Aeration should help.

My Most Recent Garden Visitor
 
Since moving to Almadale Farms in 1997 I have had many four legged—and a few two legged—garden visitors. These visitors have included squirrels, skunks, chipmunks, ducks and rabbits. After a recent June rain shower, I noticed the unmistakable footprints of my latest garden visitor—a raccoon—an animal with very distinctive tracks. They resemble the hand and foot prints of humans with the front hands having five fingers and the back hands having a heel and five long toes.

raccons_in_a_tree.jpg
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Raccoons aren’t quite as prolific as some other animals—usually having three or four young at a time. Young coons are born blind and helpless and have cries that sound somewhat like that of a human baby. Adult raccoons may weight up to 38 pounds and are distinctively marked—having a black mask and a heavily furred, ringed tail with a pepper gray and black body.
 
Ordinarily a nocturnal animal, raccoons will den in hollow trees or hollow logs where they spend most of their daylight hours. They particularly like hardwood swamps, marshes and bottomlands—making the area east of Almadale Farms area a perfect habitat.
 
I’ve had many experiences with raccoons and give them a wide berth. They fear nothing and have nasty tempers—so don’t ever provoke them. I have been told that coons are more common in the Memphis area than any other part of the state. As has been the case with many wild animals, the loss of natural habitat and wholesale landscape changes have forced raccoons to coexist with humans.
 
They especially like areas close to water and have an insatiable appetite. They are omnivores, which mean they will eat almost anything that comes their way. Their favorite garden vegetable is corn but they are also fond of berries, bird eggs, fruits and mice. The raccoon’s diet also includes aquatic animals such as frogs, turtles crayfish and other fresh-water animals. By far their favorite food is fish—making your Koi or other pond fish prime and easy targets. If your garden pool hasn't received a visit from a hungry coon, you likely will.
 
Wondering how to get rid of your masked visitor? People have used predator urine, sound emitters, mothballs and other methods—without much success. A very strong trap is the most effective deterrent—but be careful. Interestingly, the raccoon is the official Tennessee state mammal and is protected. Therefore, if you are having a serious raccoon problem, call the City of Collierville Animal Control Department for assistance.

azaleas.jpg
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Success With Azaleas
 
According to the Mid South Gardening Guide the first azaleas known to have been planted in Memphis came from Georgia. That same year azaleas were found growing wild in our Wolf River bottoms and successfully transplanted. Fortunately, the Almadale Farms area has an almost perfect climate for growing azaleas. There are many varieties and are relatively easy to grow if you follow some basic procedures. Following is my regimen.

1. Good drainage is critical. If possible get some good topsoil, woods dirt or compost. Peat, sand and leaf mold are also good additives. Well rotted manure is perfect but in its absence use leaf mold or well rotted leaves. I always add a cup of cottonseed meal per plant. After putting the ball in place, cut away the top portion of burlap—or remove from the container.
 
2. In order to avoid direct winds, sites facing east or north are usually better.
 
3. Shade is helpful but semi-shade works well too. My east facing azaleas get some morning sun with mostly shady afternoons.
 
4. Ideally, your soil PH should be between 5.0 and 5.5 for azaleas to thrive. PH refers to the acidity-alkalinity level of soils with 4,0 being the most acid while the highest alkalinity is approximately 7.5. The Almadale Farms soil is heavily gray clay—and very poor, but it is an acid base soil. Azaleas must have both an acidic PH—along with good drainage. PH testers are available at many garden centers.
 
5. The ideal azalea mulches are oak leaves or pine needles. Other types will suffice.
6. Don’t over water but don’t allow your plants to dry out.  Azalea soil should be thoroughly moist before cold weather occurs. I use soaker hoses with my azaleas and many other plants.
 
7. My favorite fertilizers are cottonseed meal and alfalfa pellets—both organic additives. I especially like cottonseed meal. These fertilizers will feed your azaleas as well as earthworms and soil improving organisms. Good feeding dates are approximately May 15-June 15. Buy these fertilizers in 50 lb. bags at Russell’s or Hall’s in Collierville.
 
8. There is little need for pruning unless there is a broken twig.
 
9. While scale, red spiders and white flies can be bothersome, I have only experienced one serious pest—the lace bug which may appear in mid-May. Use insecticidal soap or pyrethrum for control.
 
Before planting your azaleas, visit a local nursery to get varieties that are suitable for our area.

bumblebee.jpg
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Gentle Bumblebee

Almadale Farms is blessed with many beautiful flowering trees, shrubs and vines from early spring throughout summer. A wide variety of flowering annuals, perennials and even some vegetables are part of our landscape—making it attractive to the bumblebee. However, the favorite flowering plant of the bumblebee is the crepe myrtle. For much of the summer, this tree has many fragrant flowers just brimming with nectar and pollen. Another reason bumblebees prefer our prolific crepes is the enormous number of flowers of the same variety that are found on this tree. No other tree or shrub flowers so profusely for such a lengthy period—especially if you feed it some phosphorus mid-summer.

Every gardener should plan to grow bee-attractant herbs and blossoming, aromatic plants that bees find attractive. Thyme, bee balm, lavender, rosemary, mint, sage catnip and many other herbs are impossible for bees to bypass. Abelias, hollies, roses and many other flowering shrubs will also produce results.

Those of you with lots of flowering plants likely have large bumblebee populations. Unlike the honey bee, bumblebees are social insects with annual nest—-and may return to their old habitats—somewhat like purple martins. Bumblebees are very docile and will only sting if provoked or if their nests are endangered. Unlike honey bees, bumblebees do not die after one sting but can sting repeatedly. While honeybees are especially valued for their honey production, bumblebees do not produce large amounts of honey—only enough to feed their developing young.

Bumblebee nests are often found in woodpiles as well as underground cavities. At its peak a bumblebee nest may contain a population of 300–500. Why are all bees so important? Without pollination by nectar-gathering bees, flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs would be barren. While bumblebees have several enemies in the insect and animal world, man’s excessive use of chemical poisons is the greatest threat to this invaluable garden ally. If you feel it necessary to spray against harmful insects and diseases, try to do so during the half hour after sunrise or just before sunset when bees are least active.

 

Organic or Chemical Fertilizers?
 
What constitutes fertilizers and what are their functions? Fertilizer manufacturers have long described the contents of their fertilizers, using formulas such as 5-10-10, 6-12-12-12 or 4-8-4. Such fertilizer formulas are simply ways to show the amounts and mixtures of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. For example, in the combination of 2-4-4, 2 percent is nitrogen, 4 percent is phosphorus and 2 percent is potash. The remaining 92 percent consists of “inert” or filler ingredients. In addition, bags or containers may include references to such elements as zinc, iron, magnesium, sulphur, calcium and a multitude of other ingredients—usually in small quantities.

lawn-fertilizer.jpg
Courtesy of Planet Natural

What are the functions of these ingredients? I won’t reference all the ingredient possibilities but the three main elements—nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium promote growth, stimulate early root development and blooming, increases stalk and plant strength respectively. Let’s review some of the major differences between organic and chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers contain mineral salts that are readily available for uptake by plant roots. However, these salts do not provide a food source for soil microorganisms or earthworms and will even repel earthworms because they acidify the soil. Organic fertilizers serve as both soil builders and conditioners, thereby feeding both soil and its inhabitants. I recall seeing farm land that had been literally “burned out” by the overuse of chemical fertilizers—especially ammonia nitrate or urea.
 
Some commonly used organic fertilizes and additives are manures, sulphur, magnesium, lime, bone meal, alfalfa pellets, cottonseed meal, fish meal, soybean meal, catfish pellets, hard rock phosphate, crushed oyster shells and other organic substances. These will reward the gardener with more  microorganisms, earthworms and other insects which till and aerate the soil. When digging a new flower or vegetable bed, I routinely add alfalfa pellets and cottonseed meal—my two favorites.
 
If you have read many of my articles, you will have likely realized that I favor organic fertilizers. In summary, there are two major differences between organic and chemical fertilizers. (1) Organic fertilizer builds good, productive soil—chemical fertilizer are a short term solution. (2)Organic fertilizer contains protein which is essential to the good health of earthworms and other helpers—chemical fertilizer doesn’t. Most of the organic fertilizers can be bought in 50 lb. sacks which can save you lots of money. These are available at our two Collierville farm and garden supply stores Russell’s—near the square—and Hall’s on Highway 72.

ghostrivercanoes.jpg
Courtesy Wolf River Conservancy

 Appreciating Our Wetlands
 
The term “wetlands” is very general since there are many different types of wetlands, each with its own unique properties and characteristics. The Wolf River Blvd area likely comes closest to being a marsh. Wetlands are important for many reasons. The prevention of flooding and the filtering of water are especially important functions of this area, one of the largest of its type in Shelby County. Just as important is the mix of aquatic life and habitats which provide a variety of food sources and cover for nest sites and the rearing of the young. Migratory and wading birds such as cormorants, herons and egrets as well and hawks and owls favor wetlands because of the abundant food.

Almadale Farms is very fortunate to be located near the wetlands which adjoin our subdivision. Standing dead trees provide nesting habitat for woodpeckers, bluebirds, bats, squirrels, deer mice and other animals. There are also lots of insects which can lay their eggs in the wet, low areas. The insects are too numerous to reference but my favorite is the dragonfly, a major source of protein for many birds but especially the purple martin. Mayfly and dragonfly larvae are in abundance.

Some trees to be found are cypress, oak, willow, hickory and other varieties. Those of you who live in east Almadale Farms can attest to the abundance of wildlife which is heavily dependent on the wetlands. These include beaver, deer, bobcats, foxes, rabbits and coyotes. All of these have been seen in our area.

Plant life includes mosses, ferns, grasses, sedges, wildflowers and other shrubs. The wetlands are also vital to thousands of frogs and crayfish. Unless you are a light sleeper, the summer frog choruses are an unforgettable experience. Several harmless snakes as well as the poisonous water moccasin and copper head are permanent residents of the wetlands.

Our wetlands make Almadale Farms a special place—especially to nature lovers. My only concern is that someday these wetlands will be “developed” into oblivion. If our wetlands are destroyed, wild animals and birds won’t be the only ones to suffer. Pollution levels will rise because the wetland vegetation won’t be filtering the water. Flooding will increase because there won’t be wetlands to store the water. Although the future looks grim, there is some hope. Some local residents have joined the Wolf River Conservancy.

If you are interested in visiting what is probably the most beautifully preserved segment of what was here when America began, then I encourage you to visit the Okefenoke Swamps, a half million acre swamp park located near Waycross, Georgia and Ft. Stewart. I had the privilege of being stationed there briefly many years ago. It would be a great vacation for those interested in nature.

 

Container Gardening
 
Many plants can be grown successfully in containers. These include herbs, flowers, lettuces, arugula, strawberries and, the subject of this article—tomatoes. Unfortunately, not all of you have a garden. While small spaces in the yard may be used, many prefer to use containers. Almost any kind of container including baskets, plastic or ceramic pots can be used. However, my favorite is the half whiskey barrel. Perhaps it’s the whiskey aroma which I find so attractive. Whichever type of container you choose—the larger the better.

containertuliplettuce.jpg
Courtesy P. Allen Smith

Soil: To be most successful, I recommend the use of a quality synthetic soil mix which will give tomatoes the medium needed for vigorous growth and fruit production. There are many Collierville garden stores which sell special soil mixes under a wide variety of trade names including Jiffy Mix, Super Soil, Pro-Mix, Baccto Potting and Miracle Grow Potting-Soil among others.

The ingredients in the mixes may vary but the underlying principle of all mixes is the same and must provide certain key essentials (1) fast drainage of water through the soil and (2) a reservoir of water in the soil after drainage. Drainage is critical and is a major reason I prefer half whiskey barrels in which drainage holes can be easily drilled. Regardless of the container type, be sure there are drainage holes in the base. These holes should be approximately 1/2" in diameter. Fill the container bottom with rocks or gravel before adding soil. Container tomatoes need frequent watering since plant roots can’t reach for extra moisture as garden grown tomatoes do. In the heat of summer when plants are large, water your plants daily.

Varieties: Cherry tomatoes and other small varieties are best for containers. If you’re trying container growing for the first time, cherry patio types such as Sweet 100, Tiny Tim or Pixie are good choices. Of course, there are other choices—paste and regular tomatoes. These prolific varieties are easy to support or you can let them trail from a container. Regardless of the variety, be sure to buy disease resistant plants whose descriptions reference resistance to V verticillium wilt, F fusarium wilt and N nematodes.

 Fertilizer: Give the plants some fertilizer every week or so by adding a small amount of soluble balanced fertilizer to the water. Osmocote is also outstanding but should be used at the time of planting. Tomatoes like regular feedings of small amounts of fertilizer rather than infrequent, large doses. I also like to use a little fish emulsion.

 Location and Temperature: Tomatoes do best when the daytime temperatures average approximately 75. Most tomatoes varieties need night temperatures of 55 for growth and fruit setting. Six to eight hours of sunshine is a must.

Container gardening does have one major advantage over garden plants. If you use a fresh soil mix then you may not experience some of the soil diseases which can be a major headache in the garden. Happy tomato gardening!

tomato02.jpg
Courtesy gardenersnet.com

Gardening In Almadale Farms
 
I have often been asked how I am able to grow gourmet tomatoes in the soil of Almadale Farms. The transformation wasn’t easy. A little history if I may...here’s my story.
 
I had lived in Memphis at the same address for 32 years. I had a 20'x 30' garden....situated next to a 6' x 6' x 4' compost bin...in which I grew various vegetables including multiple varieties of tomatoes. I also had the following fruit trees—pear(2), pecan(3), apples (4), plum(2), nectarine(1), English walnut(1), filbert(2), Chinese chestnut(1), crab apple(2), pomegranate (3) and a grape arbor. I also had a very large purple martin colony.

However, we had been thinking about a move for some time and Collierville seemed to be an ideal destination. Almadale Farms was chosen in 1997—specifically 1866 Winsley Way because of its relative smallness compared with our Memphis lot and more importantly the absence of any backyard trees or vegetation. There was never any doubt that my back yard would have to be acceptable to purple martins and appropriate for a shade free garden. Then the work began—and it wasn’t easy.

Upon arrival, I immediately started transforming some of the worst gray clay soil I had ever seen into a productive, organic garden. I marked off an area 20' x 30' and began the laborious procedure of digging and tilling the soil. I actually had to use a pick in digging portions of the garden. I first added approximately 40 big sacks of pea hulls—courtesy of Russell’s Farm Supply, a large amount of catfish meal, cottonseed meal, the contents of my Memphis compost bin, alfalfa pellets, crushed leaves and some Osmocote before planting. Even the first year’s vegetables tasted much better than store bought produce.

Each subsequent year I have ritualistically added more organic material including several bags of hair which is rich in protein. In the third year, a major additive was 7 yds.of leaf mold which I strongly recommend to everyone for all types of gardening. I have routinely followed the same procedure each year and have added crushed oyster shells, rock phosphate, catfish and alfalfa pellets to the “menu.” I use sugar and crushed oyster shells to combat nematodes.

My garden never would have been possible without my trusty Troybilt tiller which has served me well since 1982. Other garden tools which I find very helpful are the Dutch hoe and other specialty tools which I have accumulated over the years.

Additionally I use the wide row, raise bed techniques successfully. With the exception of some lime, a small amount of Osmocote and Roundup—primarily for perimeter weeds, I use absolutely no chemicals. As a result I now have a rich organic garden alive with beneficial insects and earthworms. Unlike chemical fertilizers, organic additives build the soil. My garden is very conveniently located near bird feeders whose visitors are helpful in controlling insects.

I consider my garden a work in progress. Intensive gardening requires committed attention and is a never ending labor of love. I do have one complaint...a rascally rabbit has taken up residence in my backyard shrubbery and has developed a taste for broccoli. I have stopped growing broccoli but that’s all right...just as long as that rabbit does not take a liking to my tomatoes.

A Purple Martin Calendar for Almadale Farms
 
Since people have asked me about arrival and other dates for purple martins, preparing a more detailed martin calendar seems quite appropriate. I especially hope that the 12–14 Almadale Farm homeowners who have been adopted by purple martins will find this information useful.
 
The following dates are based on my 20 years of recordkeeping and are approximations—since the dates of the referenced events may vary slightly.

baby-martins.jpg
Courtesy Joe Dillenger

March 15—Arrival Dates. The first arrivals will be mature birds that usually arrive two weeks ahead of the rest of the flock. It is believed that many older martins will return to the same site. Immature martins will arrive up to a month or so later. For a time the martins will gorge themselves on available insects in order to regain weight and strength lost during their perilous flight from South America.
 
April 15—Nest Building. Serious nest building now commences. Building materials will consist of twigs, dried leaves, grass, mud and other materials. A martin’s nest is very neat, tidy and compact. They are great housekeepers and systematically remove all waste products—especially after the martins arrive.
 
May 15—Egg Laying. Normally a martin will lay one egg daily for 3–5 days. After the laying is complete, incubation of the clutch begins and hatching will occur for all martins at approximately the same time so that they may later migrate south together. June 1—Hatching Occurs. This becomes the busiest time of the year for adult martins are kept very busy searching for high protein insects—especially the dragonfly—to satisfy the voracious appetites of the young martins.
 
July 1—Fledging (feathering) should be complete. Flight training begins once the young martins have matured and are encouraged by their parents to take to the air. Adults take the young martins on training flights and teach them how to maneuver, catch and eat insects, drink water and avoid predators—all while in the air.
 
August 1—one of the saddest days of the year for your writer and thousands of other martin adoptees. It is migration time. Martins will gather in staging areas in large groups and prepare for their multiple flights to their winter residences in South America.
Are you interested in purple martins? Give me a call if you want me to help you determine if your residence has a suitable martin site. This should be done by March 1.

skunk.jpg
Courtesy Wikipedia

Night Visitors
 
A late night visitor may soon be paying a visit to you or your neighbors. In my case, I have already received multiple visits from this black and white forager—the skunk. Skunks—referred to as a polecat by my Dad—are common throughout the suburban areas of Shelby County and appear to have taken a particular liking to our area. Their numbers seem to have increased in inhabited areas in recent years—perhaps because human activity and developments have provided them with favorable conditions (food sources and shelter) and above all—discouraged predators such as foxes, bobcats, large dogs and great horned owls. In the Almadale Farms area, skunks have very few enemies except for cars and trucks. I have seen several dead skunks on Houston Levee Road—just south of Almadale Farms

.Skunks, raccoons and armadillos all have the same protein needs that we humans have. That is why they dig holes in lawns in their search for grubs—especially the Japanese beetle grub. Several repellents such as moth balls, fox urine, blood meal and other substances have been used in usually futile attempts to discourage skunks from returning to the scene of the crime. However, if you have grubs in your lawn, the skunk will likely return. If you’re tempted to trap a skunk—forget it—you will regret your rashness and never smell the same.
 
Skunks are born in April and May and may have 2 to 16 young in one litter. However the average litter size is 6-8. Skunks grow rapidly, reach the size of a large house cat, have long bushy tails and have a white streak from their foreheads down the middle of their backs. They walk like women whose shoes are too tight. Skunks are best known for their special scent, have a pair of scent glands near their tails and take special alarm at menaces such as charging dogs and cars within 25 feet. Skunks possess a spray accuracy of 10-12 feet. As a boy I encountered several skunks and received a special “education” on one occasion.
 
If you encounter one, speak softly to it (I’m not kidding) be wary and back away slowly. A skunk hates surprises...especially loud ones. Before spraying, a skunk will stamp its feet—its unique warning! Actually I've been hoping to see one of our spotted visitors from the safety of a second floor window...so far without success. Since I can’t prevent this beautiful animal from foraging in my lawn, I'll just be grateful for their removal of grubs and gladly fill their holes with soil.

A Few Winter Gardening Thoughts
 
If you haven’t done so already, December and January are ideal planting months for almost any plant. Our winters are short, and unless we plant early there will not be time enough for plants to become established before the warm spring days arrive.
 
A key factor is root growth which should be firmly established before leaf growth begins next spring. Continue planting all sorts of shrubs, roses, perennial vines and trees this month. January can be one of the wettest months and you may find the ground too wet to plant.

redbud-in-snow.jpg
Courtesy of Gottagarden.com

Years of experience in gardening have convinced me that improper planting causes more problems than anything else. The main trouble is in failure to dig the hole deep enough and wide enough. There should always be room in the bottom of the hole for several inches of prepared soil, containing liberal amounts of leaf mold or peat moss.
 
December is an especially good month to plant trees in Almadale Farms. Don’t think you must have a very large tree since a smaller tree will likely overtake a larger one. Just for measurement's sake the two beautiful crimson oaks in my front yard were planted in 1997 and were a mere 6 feet tall. I must confess that I have used fertilizer spikes annually since their planting. It takes a larger tree much longer to overcome the shock of transplanting.
In choosing trees, get hardwoods...preferably one of the oak varieties. My two favorite oak varieties are the crimson and willow. Avoid Bradford Pear trees which are grafted, brittle and short-lived.
 
The proper depth of planting is most important. If too shallow, the roots dry out and may be burned by the sun; if too deep, the tree may not survive. If you plant the tree at the same depth it grew in the nursery, it will probably do well.
 
December is also a good time to apply a dormant oil spray which will destroy wintering aphids, scale and other insect pests. This spray is relatively harmless to beneficial insects and the most beneficial spray of the year. Don’t be in a hurry to start pruning; February will be a better time—especially for crapes. Early pruning encourages early growth which may be killed by subsequent freezes. Now—go get a shovel and start digging.