Jan 2012

Life Outside the City Limits

January collage of images

New Years "Green Garden" Resolutions
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Educator

Image of rain gardenHappy New Year and here's wishing you lots of green plants and beautiful blossoms for 2012. It is time to make those New Year resolutions so here are a few for gardeners to consider for the lawn and landscape.

A common New Year resolution is to be green or environmentally friendly. Recycling has long been a green resolution. Now there's something new to recycle and that is rain water. Capturing and reusing rain water is rainwater harvesting. The benefits are water conservation, reducing the volume of run-off water from a property, and decreasing pollutants such as fertilizer in surface water which rain water can collect when flowing across surfaces.

Rain recycling can be done with rain barrels, cisterns, rain gardens or bioswales. Rain gardens are not water gardens, ponds or bogs. They are landscaped beds that are usually dry, except for 24 to 48 hours after a rainfall.

To learn more about designing and installing a rain garden, there are three Extension publications on rain gardens. They can be found on the UNL publications website www.ianrpubs.unl.edu. or from your local UNL Extension office. Make a resolution to read more about rain gardens this winter.

If you're planning to plant a tree or shrub this spring, make a resolution to plant something different. When selecting plants for permanent plantings; such as trees and shrubs, select a plant that is not commonly grown in your neighborhood or even in your town. We refer to this as planting for diversity.

We do have a tendency to find a few good plants and overplant them. The main issue of overplanting one type of plant is it can allow insect or disease pests of this one plant to build up and possibly kill a large percentage of that plant species. Examples are Dutch elm disease killing American elms some years ago and now pine wilt killing many Scotch pine.

Along with decreasing pest problems, planting for diversity adds to property values, increases biological diversity, and enhances community and residential green spaces. To explore different trees or shrubs to plant, ask for ideas at your local garden center, visit an Arboretum, or call you local UNL-Extension office.

Another good "green" garden resolution is to pay more attention to soil, and to taking steps to improve lawn and garden soils. A healthy soil goes a long ways to growing healthy plants with fewer stress and pest problems. This can lead to reduced pesticide use, water conservation, and much more.

One of the best ways to improve soils is to increase organic matter content. Compost, well rotted manure, and peat moss are examples of organic matter. Organic matter contains important plant nutrients, but mainly helps to improve soil structure and soil moisture retention.

Ideally, organic matter is incorporated into soils during fall; however, if a well rotted organic matter such as compost is used, it's okay to incorporate it in spring just before planting. Make one of your New Year garden resolutions to be improving lawn and garden soils this spring; and spend a little time this winter finding a good source of organic matter so you can incorporate it into soil this spring or next fall.



Happy New Year! We hope you've had a chance to begin following those New Year's resolutions you've made. Watching for signs of wildlife, composting, thinking of the soils on your land, and photography may be some to add to your list.

Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension, tells of signs you may see indicating types of wildlife on your property, including damage and management techniques.


Composting is a great way to handle some food and yard wastes, according to Sarah Browning, UNL Extension.


Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Extension, shares information on soils from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.


Finally, Jan Hygnstrom shows ten subjects for photography while exploring and working on your land. Take your camera when you venture outdoors - just in case.

January Gardening?
By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

Image of tree with rabbit protectionIn January, there's not much to do with your veggie garden, trees, shrubs, roses, houseplants or lawn, right? Au Contraire'. Wrong. If I had a game show buzzer now, it would be going off. There are many steps to keeping a sustainable landscape healthy, even in the dead of winter. Specifically:

  • Install PVC drain tile or hardware cloth to discourage rabbit and mouse damage to young trees and shrubs. Thin barked woody plants, especially newly planted ones, are susceptible.
  • Check pots of bulbs which are being forced to bloom in your refrigerator or attached garage. Look for signs of growth. If you see any, shout "Hooray!" and move them to a sunny windowsill. Growth from the bulb should be about a half inch to an inch long when you move them.
  • Pinch houseplants saved from the 2011 flower garden such as coleus and geranium. Without frequent pinching, they'll grow long and spindly. If you want, dip the removed portions in rooting hormone and stick them in a mix of vermiculite and Canadian peat moss. In a few weeks, roots should form. By Spring, several new plants can be produced.
  • Avoid walking on the lawn when grass blades are frozen. Frequently trod paths will show up as damaged spots in the spring. Try to think of alternatives to crossing the sod, such as temporarily moving bird feeders closer to your patio. In the Spring or Summer, consider installing stepping stones to lessen the crushing effects on the lawn as you traverse over it in future winters


Criteria for Wise Plant Selection
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Educator
Image of North Wind panicum
'Northwind' Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum,  is the 2012 Great Plants for the Great Plains ornamental grass selection.  For more information about this and other great Nebraska plant selections, visit Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

Visions of sugar plums have been replaced by visions of new plants, at least in the minds of gardeners. Garden catalogs are clogging mail boxes and pictures of new plants are clogging garden websites.

With all of the enticing pictures, and so many plants to choose from, it is easy to overbuy or select the wrong plant for the planting site; just like with holiday gifts and doings.

While it would be nice to try one of everything, plant choices usually need to be narrowed due to limitations of planting space and pocketbooks. Be choosy when buying plants. By doing so, gardeners are more likely to select the right plant for the location and be satisfied with the end result.

Before selecting plants, know the growing conditions of the site and the function a plant needs to fill. When a new plant attracts attention, it can be given a second assessment to be sure it is the right plant for hard earned dollars.

When it comes to deciding which, of all the lovely plants we are tempted to buy, to add to gardens and landscapes here are some questions to first ask.

The most important question is if the plant is adapted to the growing conditions of the site. No matter how lovely a plant is, it can quickly become a problem or disappointment if not planted where its growing needs are met.

Plants adapted to the growing site are more aesthetic and less stressed; hence usually need fewer inputs of water, pruning, and fertilizer and have fewer pest problems requiring pesticide applications.

When planting in beds, be sure all of the plants in a bed have similar growing requirements. Choose not only plants with the same light needs, but the same soil and water requirements too.

Aesthetically, select plants that complement one another. All plants in a bed should not be coarse textured, i.e. purple leaves or large leaves. As a contrast to coarse texture, select plants with fine textures such as small leaves or dainty blossoms. Avoid having one of everything, but do mix up the form and size of plants.

The second most important question is will the plant fulfill the needed garden or landscape function. Is it tall enough to provide shade or the right size to block an unsightly view? Is it dense enough to provide privacy? Will it bloom at the time of year needed? Does the color of the blossom fit the color scheme of the garden?
Consider the downsides of a plant. Could it become too large for the location and frequent pruning will be needed to keep it in bounds? Is the plant ornamental all season or for only a short time during the year?

Once it finishes blooming, will the foliage remain ornamental or decline? Does the plant have any serious disease or insect problems, messy fruit, nuisance thorns? Is any part of the plant poisonous?

By narrowing the list of plants to choose from and selecting plants adapted to the sites growing conditions; whose mature size fits the site; whose foliage is attractive all season; and whose ornamental characteristics the grower likes; then the plant is more likely to be an asset and not a problem.


Low Stress Livestock Handling For People and Livestock
By Steve Tonn, UNL Extension Educator

Image of goatsHandling livestock can sometimes be stressful for both people and the animals. A lot depends on our attitude, methods, and our understanding of how an animal behaves. Trying to load a balky horse into a trailer, gathering or herding animals in a pasture, or trying to pen or catch animals for treatment can all be stressful situations and even unsafe at times for all involved. But to reduce this stress on the owner and livestock try using low stress livestock handling methods.

The best way to handle livestock is to work in harmony with their natural behavior. Livestock see the world differently than we do. Because they are prey animals, their eyes are shaped differently and are located on the sides of their heads. Livestock have excellent peripheral vision. They have excellent distant vision, though they may have difficulty judging distances. Livestock also have blind spots where they can't see. A blind spot for horses and cattle is directly behind them. That is why it is extremely important not to approach a horse or cattle from the rear without the animal knowing you are there. They may kick out in a defensive or protective manner and injure the unsuspecting person.

Livestock have a keen sense of hearing and also a good memory. Loud voices and yelling can scare animals more than clanging gates and chains. Animals may not be able to pinpoint where the loud noises are coming from but they are very disturbing to them. All loud noises can frighten animals, even if we understand that the noise should not be an issue. Livestock have long memories. If they are handled roughly in the past they will be more difficult to handle and stress more easily. Try to make animals' first experiences with a new place, piece of equipment or person a favorable one. An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear memory in that animal.

A good livestock handler understands two key principals: flight zone (the "bubble" around an animal that, if invaded, will cause the animal to move away) and the point of balance (the point, usually around the front shoulder, at which pressure in front of that point will cause the animal to stop or back up, and vice versa). When an owner is at the edge of the flight zone and properly balanced, only slight movements are needed to control the animals in a low-stress manner. To make an animal speed up, walk against their direction of travel: to make them slow down, walk with them. As you pass the point of balance, notice how each animal responds to your movement and position. This concept is evident when many times it is easier to lead an animal by the halter if we are walking beside them near the shoulder rather than being ahead of them and trying to pull on the halter to get them to go forward.

A thorough understanding of the behavior of the animals we are working with is the first step towards developing and effective method of handling livestock. A good livestock handler is calm and patient. The golden rule of low-stress handling is slow and quiet resulting in less stress for you and your animals.

Try to use low stress handling methods every time you work with our animals. The idea is to start with low stress handling from birth and throughout the animal's life. It will be good for them and for you too.

There are many excellent resources on low stress livestock handling methods. Web sites, books, DVDs, are readily available and provide good information for using low stress handling methods for domesticated and wild animals. Contact Steve Tonn at 402-426-9455 or email stonn2@unl.edu for additional information or a list of resources.

Sources: Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University; Steve Cote, NRCS; Ryan Reuter and Kent Shankles, Noble Foundation; eXtension Horse, Susan Schoenian, University of Maryland; Ben Barlett and Janice Swanson, Michigan State University; Heather Larson, South Dakota State University, Ashely Griffin, University of Kentucky, Nebraska Farmer, October 2010.


De-Icing Products
By Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension Educator

Image of ice melt productsJanuary tends to be a good time for southeast Nebraska to get many snowstorms, we need to be thinking about what types of deicers we are putting down to avoid falling. Along with trying to not damage our concrete, we also need to be aware of what plants we are shoveling those deicers onto when we clear the sidewalk again to not harm them either.

Deicers can be harmful not only to our concrete but also to our landscapes. Too much salt placed on trees, shrubs, and other perennials can cause severe damage to these plants. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage are dessication (drying out), stunting, dieback, and leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical. There are methods of controlling the injury to our landscape plants as well as minimizing the harm to our concrete sidewalks and driveways.

To avoid damage to the concrete, remove the salt as soon as you can. Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away the snow and ice. As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed, go out and shovel it off of the concrete. When removing the snow, do it in a manner that protects the landscape plants growing in the yard. Do not pile the snow onto trees, shrubs, or flower gardens. If it has to be piled onto your landscape, move the salt onto the grass and try to do it in a manner that makes it more uniform on the grass surface. If too much salt continually gets piled up on the grass in one location, the turf can be harmed.

There are a lot of different deicers on the market today. This includes calcium chloride, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, urea, and calcium magnesium acetate. These materials can be used alone or in combination with another one of these chemicals to increase their efficacy. Calcium chloride tends to work better at lower temperatures. Sodium chloride is inexpensive but is very harmful to plants and concrete. Potassium chloride can be harmful to plants due to the high salt content. Urea is not very harmful to plants, but tends to be less available. Calcium magnesium acetate is a deicer that contains no salt. This is a safe alternative to the regular salts because it does not harm plants or animals and can be used on concrete because it doesn't cause the damage that salt does.

You can also choose to use sand on your concrete which will cause no damage to the plants in your landscape. The problem with sand is that once you put it down, you have to clean it back up because it doesn't just dissolve or get washed into the soil like the deicers do. If you are really concerned with the salt build-up on your plants, you can cover your plants with burlap to avoid injury from salt spray when the roads are being cleared off or when you shovel your driveway.

Another snow related topic is that of the snow and ice resting on your tree branches and on top of your shrubs. The snow can be removed with a broom if you desire to do so. As for the ice, let it melt naturally. Do not try to hit the ice off of the tree branches because this can cause you to break some of the branches which will be more detrimental to the plant. If there is snow on your tree causing it to bend down, it will reform in the spring once the snow melts off of it.


Safety of Plastic Drinking Bottles
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of reusable water bottleI was using my Nalgene drinking water bottled during a program, and someone asked about risks associated with similar drinking water containers. He remembered hearing something about them on the news a few years ago.

The issue in the news some time ago was in regard to Bisphenol A (BPA.) BPA is a chemical that was used in production of some reusable water bottles, including some, but not all, Nalgene bottles and some, but not all, infant bottles and sippy-cups. Studies showed that BPA could leach into the water. Heating a container with BPA resulted in a greater exposure to the contaminant.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is a program that helps provide information about potential toxic chemicals. NTP released a brief on BPA in 2009 which resulted in the news coverage this individual was remembering.

There are several levels used to describe NTP's risk assessment of BPA. The five levels from highest to lowest are: serious concern, concern, some concern, minimal concern and negligible concern.

NTP wrote that the level of BPA that could be ingested from typical use of bottles or sippy-cups was of some concern for fetuses, infants, and children. They reported the level of BPA that could be ingested from typical use of reusable water bottles was of negligible concern for most other populations.

Manufacturers reacted quickly to the risk assessment and news coverage by eliminating BPA from drinking water containers. Nalgene drinking water bottles manufactured during the last two years, like the one I had with me, are BPA-free.

In summary, current science suggests there is negligible concern for adults, but some concern for impact on fetuses, infants, and children from typical use of older containers with BPA. Additional research is necessary to definitively answer health risk questions. Newer containers are BPA-free.


Benefits of Beans
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist, and
Carlos A. Urrea, Ph.D. Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
Image of bean soup
Find the recipe for Rosemary Chicken with White Beans, along with other great recipes, at Food.unl.edu

Many have heard the popular tune of 'beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you...,' well you know the rest. Although beans are not a fruit, they may be considered magical because they fit under not one, but two food groups. Within USDA's MyPlate they fit under the vegetable and protein foods group because they are so packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.

When it comes to US dry edible bean production, Nebraska ranks first in production of great northern beans, second in pinto beans, and fourth in all dry edible bean production. Dry bean production is concentrated in western Nebraska, with Scotts Bluff, Box Butte, and Morrill counties accounting for nearly half of production. Check out the following health benefits and tips to eat more beans and how the Nebraska dry bean breeding program is working to develop more durable and healthy varieties of dry beans and chickpeas.

 Bean Benefits & Tips for eating them:

  • Healthy weight. Beans are low in fat and calories and high in dietary fiber and protein. The fiber in beans provides a sense of fullness that helps keep food cravings down. Depending on variety, a half cup of cooked dry beans is only about 120 calories.
  • Chronic disease. Because of their high fiber, low glycemic index, and high nutrient content, beans may help reduce the risk of Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and some cancers.
  • Recommendations. Research shows that eating a half cup of beans several times a week, within a well-balanced diet, has resulted in a reduced risk of heart disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends eating 3 cups of beans per week to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • Minimizing the 'musical fruit' effect. Discard the soaking water when making dry beans from scratch and rinse beans thoroughly before cooking, gradually increase the amount and frequency of beans you eat, try over the counter products with an enzyme that breaks down gas-producing substances, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Dry bean breeding program: The goal is to develop dry bean and chickpea varieties that can be used in Nebraska, the High Plains, and beyond. Breeding is done to find traits that will make plants more durable to heat, drought, diseases, and increase their nutritional value. Breeding for resistance to diseases will allow growers to use fewer pesticides and reduce production costs. Nutritional studies in collaboration with UNL Nutrition and Food Science include looking at the health promoting antioxidants, carbohydrates, and lipids of split and whole pinto and great northern beans and how different growing conditions impact their contents.

Beans are convenient and cost effective. They are available in the dry form in sealed bags and precooked in cans. A can of cooked dry beans can easily be transformed into a dip, main dish, soup, or salad. Check out http://food.unl.edu for more food, nutrition, and health information and http://nebraskadrybean.com/ for more bean information, nutrition, research, and recipes.