Life Outside the City Limits
- Uncommon Evergreens
- No Small Matter - Landscape as Habitat
- Asking More of Landscapes and Gardens
- Fire Prevention Around Your Home
- Protecting Your Groundwater Quality
- Post Christmas Greens
- Managing Ice and Snow Around Your Home
- Climate Is What We Get
- Animal Care Is Your Responsibility
- Farm Beginnings Program Starts January 9th
- 5th Annual Innovative Youth Corn Challenge
This article is about uncommon evergreen trees for eastern Nebraska. That’s a bit of a misnomer, however, since in reality almost all evergreens in this area are unusual. The only evergreen actually native to the region is the eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). And even it was fairly uncommon at the time of Nebraska’s settlement. There were no pines or firs or spruce. The closest native evergreens other than cedar were the ponderosa pines of Custer County or the white pines of northeastern Iowa.
Eastern Nebraska was part of the central prairie region where trees, especially evergreens, just couldn’t compete against climatic extremes and fairly regular prairie fires. But the region was eventually settled and, over the last 15 decades, people have been planting a wide variety of evergreen trees on their farms and in their communities. Fast forward to today and there are now millions of evergreen trees growing in the area. This includes some fairly common types such as ponderosa pine, Scotch pine, Austrian pine, white pine, Colorado spruce, Norway spruce and white fir. And of course, without the threat of prairie fire, the native redcedar has exploded in population just about anywhere birds are able to deposit its seeds, including in both grasslands and woodlands.
For a variety of reasons, some of our more common evergreens have struggled mightily in recent years. Diseases, including pine wilt, have killed millions of Scotch and Austrian pines. And recent severe droughts and high temperatures have combined to kill many other species that are native to cooler latitudes or elevations such as white pine, Norway spruce and Colorado spruce. In reality our Great Plains climate, combined with certain diseases and insects, makes it hard for many evergreens to thrive here and the likelihood of even higher future temperatures isn’t going to help. But it’s also true that at least 50 different species of evergreens can be found growing in our region, including a wide variety of pine, fir, spruce, juniper/cedar, arborvitae, falsecypress and yew.
For those looking to plant evergreens it would be wise to consider planting some of the more uncommon species to help give diversity to our windbreaks and community forests. Here are just a few to consider:
- Bosnian Pine is an attractively dark green pine that is compact and somewhat slow-growing but which has proven adaptable to a variety of sites and conditions. It tolerates slightly wetter soils than other pines. It will grow up to 40 feet high and 25 feet wide, but will take a long time to get there.
- Domingo Pine is a hybrid between American and Mexican white pine species, thus giving it more heat and drought tolerance than other white pines. It is new to our area but worth a look and will likely grow 50-60 feet high and up to 30 feet wide.
- Korean Pine is a soft-needled pine with a large edible nut. It is relatively new to the region but some specimens are at least 30-40 years old and have reached nearly 50 feet high.
- Limber Pine (in photo) is a Rocky Mountain species of higher elevations, but some native stands occur at lower elevations on the western High Plains. It is extremely drought-tolerant and should be sited only on well-drained soils. It is relatively slow-growing and can reach up to 50 feet high and 30 feet wide.
- Southwestern White Pine is a cousin of limber pine native to the southwestern United States. It shows greater tolerance to heat and drought and thus may be better adapted to a hotter and drier future in this area. It will grow 50-60 feet high and 30 feet wide.
- Meyer Spruce has a distinctive bluish color and is similar in appearance and growth habit to Colorado spruce. It is considered to be more tolerant of wetter soils than other spruces, but is still best sited on well-drained soils. It will eventually grow up to 70 feet high and 30 feet wide.
The Nebraska Forest Service strives to enrich lives by protecting, restoring and utilizing Nebraska's tree and forest resources.
What we do in our home landscapes matters. Not just to us and to our neighbors but to a much larger, though largely invisible, community. More than 95 percent of the land in the United States has been developed for agriculture, cities, suburbs and other development. Because of that, wildlife and pollinators are more dependent than ever on the choices we make in our backyards.
Thankfully, many of the choices we make for our own pleasure are as beneficial to other organisms as they are to us. We want plants with more than one ornamental quality and more than one season of interest. We want a variety of plants, heights, textures and colors. We want birds and butterflies in our yard. We want shelter from heat, cold and wind for our homes. And we want pollinators for our vegetables and fruit trees since more than 30 percent of what we eat is the direct result of pollination. All of these things, even though they may be primarily an aesthetic choice for us, are crucial to wildlife as well.
Habitat is defined as “a combination of food, water, shelter and space arranged to meet the needs of wildlife.” Even the smallest yard can attract butterflies, birds, beneficial insects and smaller animals. Larger plants like trees and shrubs are the backbone of any landscape design, and they provide much-needed shelter and food for wildlife. Tall native grasses also are important for both shelter and food.
Small choices, like planting a native tree rather than a non-native, can dramatically increase its usefulness to wildlife. A native dogwood, for example, provides food to a hundred or more native moths and butterflies than a dogwood from China.
Here are some plant and landscape recommendations for a wildlife-friendly yard:
- Let plants go to seed. Seeds are an important late winter food source for many animals.
- A yard thoroughly cleaned of debris through mowing, raking and cutting back perennials offers little in the way of shelter or sustenance.
- An amazing range of wildlife overwinters in leaf litter—birds, butterflies, moths, frogs, toads, spiders and other insects, etc. Many birds prefer habitat that is on or near the ground.
- There is no better natural cover than evergreens for birds and other wildlife, and they’re especially helpful around feeders. If there aren’t any evergreens nearby, even potted evergreens can provide some shelter.
- Insects are the primary food source for many birds, so include plants that feed beneficial insects and you’ll attract birds as well.
- One of the main reasons for feeding birds is so that you can enjoy watching them. If you move bird feeders and birdbaths closer to the house, you will be able to watch them without disturbing them.
- Running water can be heard from a considerable distance and can draw in even migrating birds for a visit.
- If birds are flying into windows, reflections can be minimized by using netting or screening over windows or hanging streamers where birds will veer away from them. (Pulling drapes closed actually increases outside reflections, besides taking away the pleasure of bird-watching.)
Find more on attracting wildlife at:
- Living with Wildlife - Acreage Owners Guide, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County
- Conservation, Nebraska Wildlife Federation
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://arboretum.unl.edu.
By Kelly Feehan, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
Asking more of the landscape. This is the title of a New York Times article written by Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. In the article, Tallamy is quoted as saying “In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators and manage water.”
This is a growing trend. With good design, selection of the right plants, and best management practices used, our gardens and landscapes can be both pretty and provide many ecosystem services. Not that they haven’t in the past, but there is room for improvement.
Plants have always supported life. The growing trend is to select plants that increase biodiversity, especially an increase in native plants and beneficial animals, insects, and microorganisms; without introducing invasive species.
The old trend has been to find a likeable plant and overplant it. This creates a monoculture that eventually ends up being destroyed by a pest. Examples include American elm with Dutch elm disease, Scotch pine with pine wilt, and now ash trees with emerald ash borer.
Buck the old trend of planting what everyone else plants. Follow the new trend and plant something different. Make sure it is the right plant for the location. Ask about plants that are native, heat and drought tolerant, and that have few pest problems.
Landscapes for Pollinators
Due in part to loss of habitat, important pollinators are decreasing. To increase habitat for pollinators, the trend is to turn backyards into pollinator havens. Along with selecting plants that attract and support pollinators, we also need to use pesticides wisely.
Before using pesticides, make sure the use is economically and environmentally justified. A few holes in plant leaves or a few brown spots in the lawn probably does not justify a pesticide application. Dr. Tallamy comments in his article that when he sees caterpillars in his trees, or holes in tree leaves, he thinks of this as evidence he is feeding his friends.
Trees are carbon sinks. According to Tallamy, a large sugar maple sequesters 450 pounds of carbon a year; a white oak, 513 pounds. Trees also manage stormwater by intercepting rain drops so more can soak into soil and less runs off.
Just at a time when large trees may be needed more than ever, there is an unfortunate trend to plant shorter trees or to not plant trees at all. Buck this trend and plant a tall tree or two this spring or fall. If there is no room in your landscape, donate a tree to a school or local park.
Some examples to plant in include white oak, bur oak, Ginkgo, Kentucky coffeetree, hybrid elms, American sycamore, and Norway maple. And if you think you won’t live long enough to enjoy such a tree, take pride in planting for the future.
The trend for landscapes and gardens to be waterwise has been around for some time. A waterwise landscape conserves water but it also protects water quality by slowing and soaking in rainwater.
Expand on this trend by selecting plants that, once established, require little irrigation. Also, stop overwatering plants. Only irrigate when the soil is dry. The University of Florida conducted research that showed established plants do fine with 20 to 40 percent less irrigation. In most cases, plants would not only do fine, they would be healthier.
In the landscape, help manage rainwater by redirecting downspouts onto planted areas or by installing a rain garden. This will reduce the amount of runoff from a property. Runoff that can carry pollution to our rivers, lakes and streams.
By John Wilson, Nebraska Extension Educator - Crops & Integrated Pest Management
Recent snows reduced the likelihood of fire for a while, but the snow didn’t last too long. While I don’t think many will miss the snow, you do need to consider that this increases a risk that is easy to overlook. When dry plants and plant material are not covered by snow or moistened by rain, you need to be aware of potential fire hazards around your home.
These risks include dry tops of ornamental grasses left over winter, dead trees killed by pine wilt, dry tree leaves that accumulate along the foundation or under bushes and more. These could create fuel for a carelessly discarded cigarette or other ignition source.
Ornamental grasses, especially native grasses, are great landscape plants. They hold soil, help conserve water, provide shelter and food for wildlife, and tolerate weather extremes. Continue to use ornamental grasses in the landscape, but be aware the dried tops burn easily.
I usually recommend leaving the tops of ornamental grasses over winter and waiting to cut them back in early spring. While the tops are dead, the foliage and flowering plumes add color and motion to the otherwise bleak winter landscape.
But keep in mind that the dry tops of ornamental grasses are highly flammable and a fire hazard when dry, especially in dry periods like we frequently experience over winter. If an ornamental grass is in a location where it is a potential fire hazard, consider removing the foliage now to reduce the risk. Around our home, I cut back the tops of ornamental grasses planted near the foundation while leaving those that are 20 feet or more from the house or garage.
Dead Pine Trees
Pine trees that have died from pine wilt contain extremely dry plant material that is combustible. While you may not have to worry about lightning strikes at this time of year, it is wise to keep this potential fire risk in mind... plus your home looks a lot better with these dead trees removed.
When a pine trees dies from the pine wilt disease after October 1, it is recommended the tree be cut down and burned, buried or chipped by April 1. This is to stop the pine sawyer beetle from emerging, which normally starts in May, and carrying the disease-causing nematodes to other pine trees. However, if a dead pine is located near a house or garage, consider removing the tree as soon as possible to reduce the fire risk.
If you are going to burn to discard the disease-infested wood, keep in mind the dry conditions you may experience and take precautions to reduce the risk of a fire getting out of control. If you need to burn, it is best to do so when there are a couple inches of snow on the ground. Also remember, you need to get a burn permit from your local fire department before burning. Consider chipping the wood to use as mulch or burying it as alternatives to burning.
Just as ornamental grasses should continue to be used in landscapes, evergreens are still a good choice, too. Do not plant Scotch pine trees as these are highly susceptible to pine wilt. Fir, spruce, or other species of pines are good alternatives where an evergreen is needed in the landscape.
Finally, do not allow leaves to blow in and accumulate around your home. A little rain or snow should slow down this problem. But when the snow melts, rake up and dispose of or compost leaves that blew in. This may seem like a never-ending project. I’ve done this several times around our house, but I noticed recent winds blew in more dead leaves. So I guess I know what one project on my “to do” list will be!
For more information on fire prevention around your home, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.
By Sharon Skipton, Nebraska Extension Educator - Water Quality
Most U.S. groundwater is safe for human use. However, contamination can and does happen. There is much that informed well owners can do to minimize the potential for contamination to enter their water supply. Here are five strategies for doing so:
- Maintain your well. Regular well maintenance includes, but is not limited to:
- Checking the visible parts of your well system monthly for signs of wear and tear or damage.
- Getting a periodic water well system inspection by a qualified water well professional.
- Locating any abandoned wells on your land; have a water well system professional properly decommission it.
- Test your water annually for bacteria, nitrate, and anything of local concern.
- Water testing is a diagnostic tool that can detect new contamination, possibly leading to groundwater protection remedies.
- Proper water well system construction.
- When building or modifying a well system, use a qualified water well system professional who can build your system to any applicable codes and best practices.
- Use good well owner property use practices.
- Keep animals away from the wellhead.
- Don't mix or use pesticides, fertilizers, degreasers, fuels, and other pollutants near the well.
- Never dispose of wastes in dry or abandoned wells.
- Have a qualified septic system service provider pump and inspect your septic system.
- Avoid disposing of hazardous substances in your septic system.
- Be careful around the yard to avoid damaging the wellhead.
- Protecting groundwater after a natural disaster.
- After a natural disaster such as a flood, tornado, earthquake or hurricane that impacts your well, use a qualified water well system professional to assess your system and perform repairs and maintenance.
Post-disaster well cleaning may include removal of debris from the well, cleaning individual system components, and disinfection.
The article above is from the National Ground Water Association’s web site www.wellowner.org. For information on the groundwater that supplies your private drinking water well, see the Nebraska Extension NebGuide “Private Drinking Water Wells: Water Sources”.
By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
You may have experienced the post-Christmas blues, but what about the “greens”? The central theme is finding the most suitable location and usage for the greenery that you may have incorporated into the holiday experience – the tree, door swags, centerpieces and outdoor containers.
Because of its large, 6 to 10 ft. size, a used Christmas tree can be moved outdoors for songbird shelter. Placed about 10 to 15 feet away from the bird feeder and/or bath, juncos, chickadees, finches and even cardinals can find respite and protection from bully birds between the branches.
Evergreen branches that were displayed as holiday decorations indoors can be used again in the garden. Wreaths and other branches make excellent mulch for protecting newly planted ornamentals. Using them is rather easy; they can simply be laid over the perennials and groundcovers in layers in a mound-like fashion. Doing so will help these plants experience less extreme temperature extremes in the winter months ahead, increasing the chances for survival.
Keeping the tree and greenery pieces whole is one approach, while cutting them into smaller pieces is another. Sometimes called “merry mulch”, small pieces of evergreen branches are of great benefit for paths in the garden or filling up rose collars.
After a winter of outdoor usage for birds and plants, recycling these materials in spring can add one more benefit by incorporating them into a compost pile. They may take a season or so to break down, however, they make a great addition in balancing fresh green materials such as grass clippings and refrigerator wastes added as the year progresses. If composting them isn’t feasible, another option is to strap the tree to your car and tote it to a Christmas tree recycling site. Here's where you can fine the nearest tree collection site in Omaha and Lincoln.
By Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture
With winter in full swing, it is a common practice to use deicers on our sidewalks and driveways to prevent falling on ice. With deicing agents, we need to be careful to not harm our plants when we use them and make good choices on what we use.
Choose Deicers Wisely
Deicers can cause damage to our concrete sidewalks and to our plants growing beside them. Many deicing agents contain salt substances, such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Because of the salt content found in these products, it can cause severe damage to our plants if too much is piled on them too often. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage are desiccation (drying out), include stunting, dieback, and leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical.
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.
Sand is a Good Alternative
If you are very concerned with the effect the deicers have on your plants, you can use alternate products for melting the ice. 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. It is also less damaging to the environment that some of the other choices, but runoff of this product can degrade water quality in the surface water. You can also choose to use sand on your concrete, which will cause no damage to the plants in your landscap. Sand will not melt ice, but it will give you traction to walk on the sidewalk. Sand and gravel will not cause any harm to your plants and minimal damage to the environment but it will have to be swept away after the snow and ice melts.
Prevent Physical Damage from Snow and Ice to Landscape Plants
Another related topic is that of the snow and ice resting on your tree branches and on top of your shrubs. A light accumulation of ice or snow will cause no long term damage to plants, so it's best to allow it to melt off naturally.
Very heavy snow or ice loads, however, can damage plants. Tree branches may break or develop internal cracks, which cannot be seen from the outside, but result in the branches never fully recovering to their normal position. Shrubs may be deformed by the weight of snow or ice pulling the branches. In the case of heavy snow loads, you can use a broom to very gently remove it. But remember that branches are more brittle under very cold conditions; don't do more damage as you try to remove the snow.
Removing heavy ice accumulation is very difficult and highly likely to cause further plant damage. Even though it's hard, allow the ice to melt off naturally.
By Paul Hay, Nebraska Extension Educator - Crops
Weather is what we get. A sure sign of Climate Change occurred in October when Brian and Keith Berns of Bladen, Nebraska were honored by the White House for their work with cover crops. Keith and Brian farm and operate Green Cover Seeds.
Is our climate changing? The answer is yes, ninety-eight percent of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing and is affected by human activity. What we need to remember is that both sides of the issue can and do use this data to Gerrymander models to fit their desired outcome. When it comes to the projected outcome of any particular climate model simulation, it would be difficult to get more than fifty percent of the same scientists to agree on any particular outcome.
In the past 25 years average weather data in Southeast Nebraska has shown:
- a slight increase in average temperature, and increase in night time temperature,
- more frost free days (both spring and fall),
- warmer winters,
- slightly increased precipitation,
- increase in frequency of intense weather events,
- a slight increase in humidity,
- and a slight in the ratio of high to low temperatures.
I asked myself at a recent University of Nebraska Extension workshop on climate, “Concerning climate changes, what should have we done in horticulture to address the issue?” The list I made reflects potential changes made for lots of reasons. What I am saying is, they are changes which help us cope with the small climate changes of the last twenty-five years and the potential changes large or small in the next twenty-five.
These management factors are:
- selection of hardier lawn grass and landscape plants,
- increase mowing height on lawns to three inches,
- don’t collect lawn clippings,
- drip irrigation for landscapes,
- proper setting and use of lawn watering systems,
- increase perennial planting,
- increase use of native and/or well adapted plant material for turf and landscape planting,
- strategies to replant trees after Dutch elm and pine tree wilt,
- increase diversity in trees and landscape plantings for private and public areas,
- storm drain pollution,
- properly zone plant materials based on climate,
- properly zone plant materials based on water need.
We don’t want to lose sight of fundamental factors of our climate. While the hardiness zones have been expanded it would do us well to remember that in the Plains, winterkill has more often been about spring kill. Plants warm up in an early March spell and get hammered at ten degrees on April first.
In the future we need to enhance all of these plus new concepts in:
- soil health
- develop a new era of soil conservation techniques and designs to handle intensity,
- address surface water variability,
- continue to find methods of dealing with limited water while maintaining yields,
- new era of fertility that is timely, precise and efficient,
- increase diversity of crops,
- and better integration of fresh local grown produce.
By Monte Stauffer, Nebraska Extension Educator - Livestock
Bringing an animal into your life is an exciting time whether it is a dog, cat, horse, sheep, or calf. Many times it is a life long dream come true. There are many reasons for acquiring animals on your acreage. Reasons vary from needing a pet, an animal to compete in a specific sport, or raising the animal for profit.
As soon as you acquire an animal, the responsibility is yours to provide a plan to care for that animal. Not everyone should have an animal if they don’t take this responsibility seriously.
There are four main reasons that should be considered in caring for animals. A safe healthy environment may be a windbreak in cold wintery conditions for cattle and horses while smaller animals require more protection from cold or hot weather. Fencing and shelters should be strong enough to contain animals and prevent injuries. Fences that allow animals to escape can cause injuries to the animal, people, and property.
Feeding and watering to provide adequate nutrition can be confusing and difficult. Each stage of life requires different nutritional requirements based on age, exercise, or stage of reproduction. Overfeeding can be as unhealthy as underfeeding. Most veterinarians would agree that many horses, dogs, and cats are too obese for their good health. The most important nutrient , water, is often neglected especially in the winter when many water sources are frozen. Animals that switch from lush pastures to dry hay may need more water in the winter than in the summer.
As animals are confined to smaller areas, the chance of internal parasite infestation is increased. Signs of internal parasites includes poor condition, rough hair coat, or possibly death. Dewormers is just one part of parasite control. Other control practices include manure management, avoid overgrazing pastures, and keeping feed and water containers clean.
All animals need vaccinations to stay healthy by being protected from infectious diseases. These diseases may affect the respiratory, digestive, or nervous systems.
If you are new to animal ownership, you should consult with a veterinarian or experienced animal owner to learn how to be a responsible animal owner.
By Connie Fisk, Nebraska Extension Educator - Regional Food Systems
We are now accepting applications for our popular educational program for new and young farmers.
The Farm Beginnings course helps beginning farmers clarify their goals and strengths, establish a strong enterprise plan, and start building their operation. Classes will be held at the Cass County Extension Office in Weeping Water, NE beginning January 9. Farmer-led classroom sessions will be held on Saturdays through April, followed by on-farm tours later in the spring. Participants will engage in a mentorship experience and network with a variety of successful, innovative farmers in the region.
By Brandy VanDeWalle, Nebraska Extension Educator - Crop Production & 4-H
Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Corn Board are offering the fifth Innovative Youth Corn Challenge contest. This contest, open to 4-H members (age 10 & older as of Jan. 1st) or FFA members (in-school members), guides participants through all aspects of corn production, as well as agricultural careers related to corn production.
As a team, youth will be challenged to implement a production practice different than normal to determine if they increased their yield. Economics and sustainability of the practice will also be considered. Yields, cropping history, and production information will be collected in the Corn Yield Challenge management summary.
Cash prizes and plaques will be given to the first, second, and third place teams. First place will receive $1,000, second place will receive $500, and third place will receive $250. Sustainability, crop scouting and “extra mile” awards will also be given, each worth $200.
To participate in 2016, youth must complete and return an entry form by March 15th to the Fillmore County Extension Office in Geneva, NE. Entry forms can be downloaded after January 1st. For more information, contact Brandy VanDeWalle, Aaron Nygren or Amy Timmerman.