May 2014

Life Outside the City Limits

Testing Private Drinking Water
By Sharon Skipton, Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of private wellheadRural residents often wonder what's in their drinking water or if their water is safe. 

All water from natural sources contains dissolved substances. The substances in water can result from either natural processes or human activities. At low concentrations, many do not cause known harmful effects and may be beneficial. Research shows some substances may be harmful when present at high enough concentrations.

The only way to know if the water you use for drinking and cooking contains potentially harmful substances at levels high enough to be of concern is to have the water tested. Analytical testing can determine what substances are present and their concentration levels.

Testing a private water supply in Nebraska is not required by federal or state regulations. Regulatory exceptions occur where state licensing may be required for a specific activity. Local regulations may be more stringent than those issued by the state.

There is no single test to determine the safety of drinking water. Many substances can present a health risk if present in sufficient concentrations. These include biological contaminants such as bacteria or viruses; inorganic chemicals such as lead or nitrate; and organic chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fuel and solvents. Other substances, while not a health risk, can make water less desirable for domestic use. These are referred to as nuisance contaminants and include calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. It would be costly, and in most cases unnecessary, to test private water supplies for the nearly 100 contaminants for which public water supplies are required to test.

Users of private drinking water wells must decide which contaminants to test for and must order tests accordingly. A water testing laboratory only tests for specifically requested contaminant analysis. Reports will indicate if the contaminant is present in the water and at what concentration. Information will not be provided on contaminants for which analysis was not specifically requested.

Generally, private water supplies should be tested annually for bacteria and nitrate contamination. Coliform bacteria is most likely to be found during periods of wet weather when the soil is warm. Runoff and excess soil moisture carry contaminants into shallow groundwater sources or through well defects. To assess the year-round safety of drinking water, test for bacteria in the late spring or early summer during wet weather.  The best location to collect a water sample is at the tap used most frequently for drinking and cooking. Take care when sampling for bacterial contaminants. Do not touch the inside of the bottle or lid when taking the sample. Most laboratories recommend removing the aerator from an interior faucet before collecting a bacteria water sample, and some recommend disinfecting the faucet with heat or chlorine before collection. Follow directions carefully or solicit the services of a professional.

Testing for bacteria and nitrate does not guarantee the water is safe, as other contaminants could be present. Aquifers, which supply groundwater, are vulnerable to many types of contamination. Contaminants can enter aquifers and groundwater from septic systems, landfills, fertilizer and pesticide use, sewage, animal waste, fuel storage tanks, and many other sources. Even distant contamination can negatively impact a water supply given time, as groundwater moves slowly. In addition, some contaminants are introduced to groundwater from naturally occurring sources such as the rock and minerals that make up the aquifer. Test for substances when specific contamination is suspected. This might be the result of a spill, backflow, use of product in close proximity to the well or other such event. If any contaminant is detected in a nearby private or public well, private water users in close proximity should consider testing their water supply for the contaminant. The information below may be helpful in determining what analysis to request for private drinking water.

Summary of home water quality problems and possible cause. (not a complete list)


Possible Source To Test For

Hard water, staining, deposits or degradation of household plumbing

White scaly deposits in pipes or appliances; soap scum in sinks and bathtubs

Calcium and magnesium (water hardness)

Green stains on fixtures, blue-green tint to water


Reddish-brown stains on sinks, porcelain fixtures, or laundry


Brownish-blackish stains on fixtures and laundry; affects the flavor and color of food and water

Manganese Iron bacteria

Reddish-brown slime; brownish-black slime

Manganese bacteria


Soda taste, slippery feel

Total dissolved solids that are alkaline

Salty or brackish water; blackening and pitting of stainless steel sinks and kitchen utensils

Total dissolved solids, chloride, sodium, sulfate


† Gasoline or oil smell

Volatile organic chemicals

Rotten egg odor

Dissolved hydrogen sulfide (difficult to test for),
sulfate-reducing bacteria

† Septic, musty or earthy

Coliform bacteria, iron bacteria, manganese bacteria,
sulfur bacteria


Water appears clear when first drawn; turns reddish-brown during cooking/heating, or water is discolored when drawn


Other occurrence or event without observable indicators in the water

 †  Arsenic suspected or detected in the aquifer


 †  Uranium suspected or detected in the aquifer


 †  High fluoride suspected or detected in the aquifer


 †  Heavy fertilization in close proximity to the water source or well


 †  Animal manure in close proximity to the water source or well

Nitrate and bacteria

 †  Use, storage, or mixing of herbicide, insecticide, rodenticide, or fungicide in close proximity to the water source or well

Herbicide, insecticide, rodenticide,
or fungicide identified

 †  Dry-cleaning operation, private dump, junkyard, landfill, manufacturing facility, or gas station in close proximity to the water source or well

Volatile organic chemicals
and heavy metals

 †  Possible incomplete sewage treatment due to failing septic system in close proximity to the water source or well

Nitrate and bacteria

 †  Contaminant detected in nearby private or public well

Contaminant identified

 †  Household contains lead or brass plumbing


 †  Recurring gastrointestinal illness of residents or visitors

Coliform bacteria

†  If water testing for these chemicals returns a positive reading above levels enforced by the EPA for public water supplies, additional action should be pursued to assure a safe private drinking water supply. Actions to consider may include obtaining an alternate water supply, connecting to a public or rural water supply, using appropriate treatment to remove or reduce the contaminant, using bottled water for cooking and drinking, or other options. Each situation should be thoroughly investigated and informed decisions should be made.


Many Nebraska laboratories offer testing services including water analyses. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services approves laboratories to test drinking water samples. Not all laboratories are approved to test for all drinking water contaminants. Rather, approval must be obtained for each specific contaminant. To receive approval for a contaminant, a laboratory must use approved testing methods and equipment. Approval provides some assurance that the laboratory has the capability to perform water quality analysis within an acceptable range of accuracy and will provide reliable results. It does not guarantee a specific water sample analysis has been or will be performed accurately. Non-approved laboratories may use the same equipment and procedures as approved laboratories and may provide accurate analysis, but there is no independent information about the laboratory's ability to obtain reliable results.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services can provide information on request regarding all laboratories located and approved in Nebraska, and can provide information on the specific contaminants for which each is approved. They can be reached at 402 471-8407.

The quality and safety of water provided by private wells in Nebraska is not regulated by federal or state statutes.  Water test results provide valuable information. Results can be compared to the guidelines for public drinking water supplies, and informed decisions can be made.



Leaves are on the trees, grass is turning green, and we're all gearing up for summer! Do you want to have a longer growing season and perhaps earn extra income by raising produce out of its normal season? Do you know how to tie one of the best knots for securing a horse? What would you do if your car hit a power pole? Read on and find out!

A high tunnel can lengthen your growing season by allowing you to plant early, or extend it in the fall, according to Vaughn Hammond, University of Nebraska Extension.

Howard Cormier, Louisiana State University Extension, tells how to tie a slip knot. This is an important skill for anyone who handles a horse.

Would you know what to do if you struck a power line with your vehicle or acreage equipment? Watch this video from Saskatoon Public Power- it could save your life!



Responsible Pesticide Use
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of pesticide applicationWould you take an antibiotic just in case you might become sick? Most likely the answer is no. Do you apply or pay to have pesticides applied to your landscape just in case you might have a pest problem? Hopefully the answer is also no.

A few examples where pesticides tend to be applied where they may not be needed include,

  • some weed and feed products for lawns,
  • insecticides for white grubs, and
  • fungicides applied at the wrong time of year or for diseases that are not harmful to a plant's overall vigor. 

Most people know the overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistant germ strains. The same happens with disease, insect, and weed pests. If one control method is overused, pests can develop resistance.

For this reason, pesticides should only be applied when there is an economically damaging pest population; or a pest known to cause economic damage caused damage the previous season.

Pesticides should not be applied just in case there MIGHT be a problem.

Avoid using pesticides, or agreeing to pay for pesticide applications, unless there is a good reason for doing so. Pesticides are costly and the irresponsible use of pesticides is harmful to the environment, kills beneficial insects such as important pollinators, and leads to pest resistance.

Use pesticides wisely this growing season by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach.


  1. The first IPM step is to positively identify the cause of a plant problem prior to using any control method. Not all plant problems are caused by a disease or insect.

    If brown spots in a lawn are due to an inefficient irrigation system, applying an insecticide just in case the cause might be white grubs is an irresponsible pesticide use. It is a waste of money, can lead to resistance in white grubs, and it will not solve the problem.
  2. After identifying the true cause of a plant problem, determine what the level of damage could be. Many plant pests cause only aesthetic injury such as caterpillars chewing holes in leaves or foliar diseases causing a few brown spots on tree leaves.

    Often the damage that occurs is minor; similar to you and I having the 24 hour flu. We might not feel or look great, but we survive just fine without medicine. The same is true of many plant diseases and insects. There are numerous pests for which pesticide applications are not necessary.
  3. If it is determined control is needed, consider a combination of methods. For example, for dandelions in lawns, use mechanical control (hand-digging) in spring and summer. If dandelions are present in late August, dig again or spot treat with a herbicide (pesticide control) at that time. And don't overlook cultural practices that help turfgrass better compete with weeds.

    Avoid using a weed and feed product for dandelions. Many of these products are sold in spring. Herbicides applied to broad leaf weeds in spring are not as effective as those applied during late summer. And when applying weed and feed products, much herbicide is applied where there are no weeds. Spot treating individual weeds is a more responsible and effective use of a pesticide.
  4. Finally, if it is determined the pest will cause economic or unacceptable damage and a pesticide is selected as a management option, select a pesticide that will be effective and most important, apply it at the time when it will reduce damage.

    For example, when working in yards this spring, white grubs will be found. People often apply an insecticide for grubs at this time. However, insecticides applied in April or even May for grubs do not have much effect on the generation of grubs that could cause damage. And finding white grubs in spring does not mean the lawn will be damaged by grubs later that summer. Insecticides for white grubs only need to be applied, typically in mid to late June, if there was a damaging population the previous summer.

Use pesticides responsibly. Follow an IPM approach to help reduce pest resistance and to prevent killing beneficial insects, especially important pollinators like bees, moths, beetles and butterflies.


Biosecurity During Horse Events
By Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Horse Specialist

As we move into spring and summer, the horse world becomes very active with large, organized trail rides, horse shows, sales, parades, and other events where horses congregate.  Some horse owners may recall past concerns with horse related diseases such as EHV-1, Strangles, and Equine Infectious Anemeia (EIA).  A few years ago, one show in Utah, from which horses returned to multiple states, illustrated very well how rapidly horses travel and can spread disease. Thus all involved with these events need to remember good biosecurity practices.

Following are biosecurity measures to implement when horses are congregated at events:
  • Minimize nose-to-nose contact between horses.  Do not allow another horse to sniff your horse's nose "to get acquainted."
  • Do not share equipment for use with other people's horses.  Alternatively, if any equipment is loaned, keep it away from your horses until it is cleaned with a detergent, rinsed, and properly disinfected.
  • Do not use common water troughs.  Bring your own water and feed buckets.
  • Avoid common-use areas such as tack stalls used to groom and tack multiple horses.  If these common areas must be used, use cross ties instead on tying horses to a post, wall, or other nose-to-nose contact area.
  • Halters, lead shanks, and face grooming towels should be used on one animal only and not shared between animals.
  • Wash your hands or use a 62% ethyl alcohol hand gel before and after handling or riding other people's horses.
  • Early detection of disease is paramount, especially contagious infectious diseases.  Take a horse's temperature twice daily (morning and night) during the event and for two weeks after return to the stable.
  • Quarantine horses when they return to the barn or training facility after an event.
  • Clean and disinfect horse trailers before they're used by other horses.

These precautions do involve more work, more time, and more awareness.  However, it will help reduce the risk of horses being exposed to multiple viral and bacterial diseases while on the road. More information on biosecurity for horses.


An Introduction to Hops
By Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of female hops conesIntroduction
Hops are becoming a potential crop that many people are talking about.  The hop plant, Humulus lupulus, is a herbaceous, perennial plant that dies back to the ground every year.  Each year new stems form.  These stems are commonly referred to as vines or bines.  Hops are very aggressive, vertical growers and can grow as much as 30 feet in a single year depending upon the variety and need to be trellised.  Hops can be very long lived with crowns surviving up to 25 years but in a production situation the crowns may need to be replaced 10-15 years to maintain maximum production.  The area that hops are grown in is referred to as a "hopyard".

Interest in hops production has been fueled by home beer brewers and the craft beer industry.  The portion of the hops plant that is of value is the female flower buds or "cones".  The cones contain resins and essential oils and are collectively known as lupulins.  It is these lupulins that contribute to the distinctive flavors of beer.  Hops are dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants.  The highest quality cones come from female plants that have not been fertilized and thus the cones contain no seeds.  It is important to keep all male plants out of the hopyard to reduce or eliminate the production of seeds which are of no value to the brewer.

Hops thrive in well drained, loam-type soils high in organic matter with moderate nitrogen levels and a pH of 6-6.5.  Excessive nitrogen results in increased vegetative growth and reduced cone development.  Site development needs to begin the year prior to planting.  This allows for the control of weed populations that can be very detrimental to the establishment of the newly planted hopyard.  The trellis system should also be put in place in order for the plants to begin their aggressive upward growth as soon as they begin to emerge the first year. 

Hops can be purchased as potted plants or rhizomes, which is the most effective way to ensure that you plant only female plants.  Growth the first year consists of root establishment and a minimal amount bine growth.  The plants energies are focused toward the development of strong roots and crown which gives way to strong bine development in the succeeding years.  The first year's bine growth may be limited to a few stems that may reach 6 foot in length but it is important that this growth be directed upward on the trellis system immediately.  The bines will grow upwards taking advantage of any vertical opportunity including weeds.  The bines attach themselves by growing clockwise around an object with the assistance of strong trichomes or hairs that act like velcro as the bines grow upwards.

Water is essential to good establishment, bine growth and cone production.  Early in the hopyards establishment it is important to water frequently and deep to insure that the newly developing roots have plenty of access to water.  Once established, early season frequent watering is needed to get strong plant growth.  Once cone development has taken place the water needs of the plant are reduces so watering frequency can be reduced.  It is very important that as little leaf wetting as possible takes place during irrigation due to foliar disease issues.  Drip irrigation is the preferred application method combined with mulch.  Drip irrigation applies the water directly to the soil surface while the mulch acts as a barrier to both water loss and weeds.  If a sprinkler is used it is important to do so as early in the day as possible so the leave are dry going into the evening.

Disease and Insects
Several foliar diseases can be very harmful to hops.  The most serious of these are powdery and downy mildew and verticillium wilt.  All three of these diseases if left unchecked can result in total loss of the crop.  The best defense against these diseases is to choose disease resistant varieties and keep moisture off the leaves as much as possible.
Aphids and spider mites are the predominate insect pests.  Frequent scouting in the hopyard is essential for successful control of these insects.  Identifying populations early and monitoring those populations will allow for timely pesticide applications.

Climbing cutworms early in the season can also be a problem.  This is not generally a yearly problem but during problem years the damage can be great.  The cutworms will chew off the newly forming bines at night showing no symptoms other than the cut-off bine.  Japanese beetles can also be a serious pest in areas that the beetles have moved into.  Look for the beetle on the growing tips of the plants where they congregate to feed in the warm sun.

Image of hops trellisTrellising
The most common means of trellising hops is on a high trellis system.  Productivity is greatly enhanced when the bines are allowed to grow vertically as much as is practical.  Tall trellises are generally 15-20 foot tall.  Attention to trellising is very important because that is what supports your plants.  Keep in mind that a strong, well designed structure is needed.  Take into consideration that each plant may weigh up to 35 pounds or more and will need to withstand winds up to 60 mph. 

The trellis consists of posts set 3-4 foot into the ground, high tensile wire running between posts  and earth anchors to stabilize the endpost.  Posts need to be placed every 30 ft. to 60 ft.  String is ran from the crown of the plant to the top wire of the trellis for the bines to climb on.  Currently, research is taking place to develop shorter varieties that require less trellis needs and reduced labor inputs.

For smaller plantings the teepee method of trellising is often used.  This system uses a single tall post  with several strings attached to the top that run to the crowns which are planted around the pole several feet away from the pole resulting in a teepee or maypole configuration.

Harvest depends on the specific variety but most harvest occurs from mid-August through September.  Harvest depends on several factors including moisture level of the cones themselves.  The goal is to pick the cones when the lupulins are the most aromatic and the cones are starting to dry.  Judging the readiness of the cone is a learned process rather that a set time for harvest.  Cones set lower on the plant will tend to be ready earlier than upper cones.  Location within the hopyard may also play a role in the ripening of the cone.  Harvest may be incremental in that you might harvest different parts of the plant or locations in the hopyard at different times.

One note of caution; you may want to consider starting with a few plants to learn how hops grow before establishing a larger planting.  This will give you an opportunity to not only learn how to grow the plants but explore the market for your product.  Hops are a niche crop that has a specific end user so marketing and demand for the product may be prime considerations prior to establishing larger plantings.


Healthy Trees - Avoiding Common Problems at Planting is Half the Battle
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of how to manage stem girdling rootsMore than ever before, tree experts know that half the battle in long-term tree success is addressing potential problems before the tree is in the ground. What problems, you ask? Isn't the tree I bought in perfect condition to be planted? Maybe. But increasingly the horticulture industry recognizes that production methods we use to grow trees in containers or in the field can cause problems for trees down the road.

What's the Problem?
The two most common production-related tree problems are stem girdling roots (SGR) and planting depth. These problems can kill a tree but they do it slowly, sometimes over the course of many years. Stem girdling roots, in particular, are often a slow killer, due to the time needed for roots to grow in diameter and begin compressing the trunk.

Both problems, unfortunately, are very common and are serious contributors to general decline in tree health. Affected trees grow slowly and are often stunted. Trees that are planted too deeply often take several years to become firm in the ground, if they ever do. Affected trees are much more susceptible to secondary stressors, like drought or pest problems, and are often attacked by insect borers. Affected trees are killed by these secondary problems much more easily due to their lack of vigor. During 2012's severe drought, many trees with root problems died and the die off continued into 2013.

Stem Girdling Roots
What is a stem-girdling root? Roots grow together, or graft themselves, when one root grows up against another root, IF 1) the roots are both from the same tree, or 2) between two separate trees of the same species. But, if a root grows up against or around the tree's trunk, the trunk and the root do not grow together. In this situation the root begins to compress or constrict the trunk where they touch.

How do tree production methods contribute to stem girdling roots? Most trees, whether grown from seed or cuttings, are started in pots. Roots of young trees grow quickly and if they stay too long in a small pot it's a recipe for trouble. When a root touches the side of a smooth plastic pot, it turns aside and begins to circle around the outside of the rootball. Often trees are "bumped up" from smaller pots to larger ones several times during their early years, and you have to investigate very closely to find stem girdling roots that developed when trees were young.

Believe it or not, for this reason pot technology is a major concern for tree growers with the goal of eliminating the problems caused by stem girdling roots.

Tree Planting Depth
Planting depth was not commonly recognized as a major health problem for trees until the last 20-25 years. But foresters now know that if a tree's root system is buried too deeply in the soil, overall root growth is reduced and tree health, for the rest of that tree's life, is compromised. Poor root growth can be due to several factors, including:

  1. lower oxygen penetration into deeper soil layers (tree roots must pull oxygen from the soil to grow properly),
  2. not enough moisture in deeper soil layers, or
  3. roots remain too wet in poorly drained soil.

How do tree production methods contribute to planting depth problems? When young tree whips are planted mechanically in fields, they often need to be placed deep in the soil for them to stand upright. So trees often start off too deep in the field. When they are dug and potted or balled for sale, gardeners don't realize that excess soil must be removed from the top of the root ball. Likewise, sometimes trees grown in pots are placed too deep in the soil, and if gardeners don't remove the excess the tree is doomed to planting depth problems once it's in the ground.

Ideally, when planted, the tree's first major root should be right at the soil surface.

Addressing SGR and Planting Depth Problems
A good place to start is NOT buying trees in containers with a heavy mass of circling roots.  If the outside of the root ball is completely matted with roots, look for another plant.

Look for trees grown in grow bags, RootMaker® pots, or other containers designed to minimize circling roots.

Consider choosing small trees, 2-inch trunk diameter or less; they are easier to handle and it's much easier to address stem girdling root problems in small trees. They also recover more quickly from transplanting than large trees, and typically catch up, then outgrow the larger tree due to increased vigor.

If You Plant the Tree Yourself
Start by digging a wide planting hole. It doesn't need to be very deep, but should be at least 2 feet wider than your expectation of the tree's root system. Putting extra effort into digging a wide planting hole now will definitely pay off in the future. Don't use any soil amendment in the planting hole or backfill - no compost, bagged garden soil, peat moss, or fertilizer. Create a mound in the center of the planting hole, marking the tree's location.

Next, remove the tree from its container.  It's best to work with dormant trees, although this technique will work with leafed-out trees if you are very careful to keep the roots moist at all times.

Gently wash the root ball to completely remove all soil. Once the roots are exposed, carefully spread them out and prune away any that circle the trunk. Again, make absolutely sure the roots stay moist until the tree is planted.

Set the tree on top of the soil mound in the planting hole and spread the roots out. Don't bend the roots to make them fit. Either dig the planting hole wider to accommodate long roots, or make a clean cut to shorten the root to fit the hole. Add backfill soil in layers, and use water to help settle soil around the roots. Make sure the tree's first major root is just beneath the soil surface.

Stake the tree to hold it steady until the root system is established. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of wood chip mulch in a circle 3-4 feet from the tree's trunk to conserve soil moisture.

If You Hire Someone to Plant
Before purchasing ask about the nursery's planting techniques and explain how you would like the tree planted. You may need to pay more for extra time spent on planting, but rest assured it will pay off in a healthier tree. Plan to be present when the nursery comes to plant your tree and make sure they follow your instructions.

The installers should begin by making sure excess soil atop the root ball is removed, on both container and balled & burlap (B&B) plants. Fold back the burlap on B&B trees and remove soil from the top of the ball until the first major root is found. This will determine the depth of the planting hole. The rootball should also be examined for girdling roots and they should be pruned out.

After the plant is set at the proper level in the planting hole and sufficient backfill is placed in the hole to prevent any movement of the ball, cut and remove all twine, strapping, burlap and wire basket.

Continue to add backfill soil and use water to settle soil around the roots. Once the planting hole has been completely filled, apply a 2-3 inch layer of wood chip mulch in a circle 3-4 feet from the tree's trunk. Stake the tree is necessary to provide stability and provide a final deep watering.

Maintaining New Trees
Good care for newly planted trees is also critical for the tree's success. For complete instructions on post-planting care, refer to Nebraska Forest Service's publication, "Care of Newly Planted Trees."


Better Together - Good Plant Combinations
By Rachel Anderson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Image of Perennial PlantingFor a healthy landscape, it is often a good idea to imitate nature. In the natural world, a plant does not exist in a vacuum. It grows as part of a population that shifts and renews itself in a never-ending search for ecological balance. Luckily for the gardener, interweaving different plants together makes for some stunning combinations. 

In the garden, prairie plants especially benefit from companions. When planted alone, these beauties can get floppy. This is because many of them evolved with so much competition that they did not need the "stay upright" gene, so to speak. These plants rely on each other to hold them up, so bringing this principle into the garden comes in handy. There is no need to fear goldenrod or pitcher sage when they are intermixed with a "prop" plant like switchgrass. Additionally, some plants (like beardtongue and larkspur), may not have the substance to hold their own visually year-round and are more attractive among grasses and other plants. 

When selecting plants to use together, the ideal combination is one in which the plants make each other look better all year long. This may seem hard to do, since many plants make a fantastic pairing in bloom or in autumn but might look disheveled the rest of the year. The secret cure-all solution to this issue is simple: put a grass in there. Grasses (and grass-like plants) provide the texture and structure necessary to polish off any combo. And if the area in question is shaded, no problem-many types of sedge thrive in part shade, and grassy plants like fern and liriope would work well, too. 

Try out these pairings for landscape combinations that span the seasons. And remember that letting these plants reseed is a good thing, not only because it will eliminate bare spots and choke out weeds, but because a self-perpetuating population is much more sustainable in the long run and serves as prime habitat for wildlife. 

For sunny areas with dry to average soil:

  • Butterfly milkweed, sideoats grama, leadplant, purple poppy mallow and torch lily create a beautiful mix of summer oranges and violets
  • Sand lovegrass, pale purple coneflower, hummingbird mint, sage and Autumn Joy sedum offer winter texture and color
  • Little bluestem, rattlesnake master, gayfeather, yarrow and dwarf false blue indigo provide color and winter seedpods
  • In western Nebraska, consider pairing prairie zinnia, prairie dropseed, rabbitbrush, pineleaf penstemon and blue flax for year-long textural contrast and bold, long-lasting blooms

For sunny areas with average to moist soil:

  • Goldenrod, switchgrass, pitcher sage, balloonflower and aromatic or New England aster have great autumn color
  • Pasqueflower, shortbeak sedge, dwarf spiderwort, prairie smoke and junegrass green-up and bloom in early spring

For sun to part sun with wet soil:

  • Mountain mint, fox sedge, daylily, beebalm and Riddell's goldenrod make for bold summer color

For shade to part shade with moist soil:

  • Sweet woodruff, wild ginger, variegated solomon's seal, wild columbine and woodland phlox create attractive spring groundcovers

For dry shade to part shade:

  • Oak sedge, bloody cranesbill, yellow corydalis, foam flower and epimedium offer beautiful summer color and texture

Woody combinations:

  • Prairie Gold quaking aspen and Gro-Low sumac provide excellent fall color in sunny areas
  • Black Hills spruce and Isanti redtwig dogwood create winter interest
  • Apache plume and curl-leaf mountain mahogany have strong textural contrast and can withstand dry conditions (good choices for western Nebraska)
  • Serviceberry, arum and plumbago for spring and fall "wow" in shade
  • Deam's viburnum and blue flag in wet areas for spring blooms, summer texture, fall color and winter berries

Thanks to Greg Simmons and Kim Todd of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Todd Faller of Faller Landscape & Nursery and Amy Seiler and Christina Hoyt of the Nebraska Forest Service for their time and ideas.  For photos of plant combinations:

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


Western Woody Wonders
Amy Seiler and Doak Nickerson, Nebraska Forest Service

Image of Nebraska State Champion Rocky Mountain maple tree.When you think of Nebraska, specifically western Nebraska, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is rolling hills covered in prairie. The second thought might be fields of corn, wheat, sugar beets or beans. Large trees are about the last thing we expect in a part of the state known for extremes of temperature, drought, fire and wind.

Though the eastern half of the state can boast higher numbers of trees, western Nebraska has some very notable trees. It's amazing some tree species are even growing in the western part of the state, let alone thriving. In fact, some of them are challenging eastern species for Nebraska Champion Tree status.

Rolling shortgrass prairie, interspersed with periodic cottonwoods, or pine or cedar windbreaks, dominates much of the northern Panhandle. Rarely visible from highways are the dramatic and wondrously unique trees growing in many of its communities, rural cemeteries and farmsteads.  Hidden well off the beaten path are some amazing "western woody wonders."

White Pine
Tucked off Highway 2 near Hyannis, on a ranch in the middle of the sandhills, sits one of Nebraska's grandest and most beautiful white pines. The almost perfectly-formed tree rises 92 feet above the ground with a canopy spread of 35 feet. It grows on a homestead with underground springs that provide a moist but not saturated soil environment. Nestled at the base of grass-covered sand dunes, ponderosa pine and spruce surround it and protect this sensitive pine from strong winds. It's truly a wondrous tree for western Nebraska.

Douglas Fir
The town of Rushville, on Highway 20 in the northern Panhandle, is home to several towering Douglas fir. Some of them are in the rural cemetery, but the most amazing specimen is in a residential area. A giant on the prairie, it stands nearly 90 feet high with a trunk diameter of more than 30 inches.  Its trunk has nails, staples and other oddities embedded into it but it continues to grow despite minimal care.

Colorado Blue Spruce
Continuing down Highway 20 into the community of Chadron, you'll find the largest Colorado blue spruce in the state. This majestic conifer towers 80 feet above the administration building, greeting visitors as they enter the campus of Chadron State College.

Concolor Fir
The small community of Crawford, also on Highway 20, is home to one of the most outstanding concolor firs in the state. It thrives in an unusual location-a dry, minimally maintained cemetery just north of town-completely defying recommendations on how to site this species. Typically in the west we site firs in areas with cool, moist soil and protection from wind. But this fir appears perfectly happy among junipers and buffalograss in a hot, dry, very exposed environment. Even with a co-dominant leader, it stands a stately 45 feet high with a spread of 25 feet.

Rocky Mountain Maple
Farther down Highway 20 is the tiny community of Harrison, home of the world-famous Coffey Burger and, more important to tree-lovers, home to the State Champion Rocky Mountain maple. Towering ponderosa pines stand guard around it for protection (or maybe adoration).

Ponderosa Pine
Though the State Champion ponderosa pine is currently in the eastern part of the state, the hunt is on to find a challenger and return the honor out west where it rightly belongs.  Many worthy contenders can be found in the forests of the Pine Ridge and potentially in the Wildcat Hills near Gering.  These beautiful forests are home to trees that may not have the scale and stature of ponderosa pines in the eastern part of the state but the gnarly, wind-whipped, fire-scarred character of these centuries-old trees deserves recognition.

Whether they occur naturally or were planted by hand, there are some outstanding trees in western Nebraska. It's always a nice surprise when a tree species thrives in unlikely circumstances and proves us wrong. That is precisely the case with some of our "western woody wonders."

The Nebraska Forest Service strives to enrich lives by protecting, restoring and utilizing Nebraska's tree and forest resources.


Pruning Cane Growing Shrubs
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of cane-type shrub needing pruningAs with most things in life, there's a right way to prune shrubs and a wrong way.  Read on and you'll learn which techniques work well, which ones make it worse, and how to know the difference.

Step by Step

Timing: Bloom date should be the guide.  If the shrub blooms in spring, prune it after it blooms.  If it blooms in summer or fall (or doesn't bloom much at all), prune it in early spring to mid-spring.

Tools Needed: Scissors-action hand pruners, loppers, curved pruning saw.

These techniques work for most ornamental shrubs.

Spring Bloomers - Forsythia, Lilac, Viburnum, Dogwood, Flowering Quince, Deutzia, Pearlbush, Witchhazel, Japanese Kerria, Flowering Almond

Summer/Fall Bloomers  (and non-bloomers) - Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, Winged Euonymous (burning bush), Barberry, Allspice/Spicebush, Cotoneaster, Hydrangea, Privet, Honeysuckle, Shrub Rose, Spirea, Weigela

Don't Prune this Way - Muhgo Pine, Holly, Rhododendron, Boxwood, Yew, Juniper, Oregon Hollygrape

Maintenance Pruning - the goal is to give a decent looking shrub a little shape and grooming.

Step 1.  Visualize the target: A third of the stems.
Step 2.  Remove a third of the oldest stems at ground level, then step back and look it over.
Step 3.  Remove any broken or diseased stems, then step back and look it over.
Step 4.  Remove any aberrant or wild growing stems, then step back and look it over.
Step 5.  Consider light shaping in mid-summer.  By the 4th of July, the shrub will be in good health.

Rejuvenation Pruning - the goal is to turn an overgrown, neglected specimen into a landscape asset.

Step 1.  In early to mid-spring, remove all stems at ground level.  This may sound drastic, but by the 4th of July, several young, vigorous stems will be about knee high.  By the end of the season, the shrub will be about half re-grown.
Step 2.  In the spring of the next year, select the strongest canes to remain, and clip off the weak sisters.

Pruning Faux Pas
Shearing off the ends of the branches with a hedge clippers is usually a mistake.  At best, it is a temporary, 3-4 week solution.  Worst of all, this procedure leaves all the oldest wood in the shrub, which is less vigorous and most susceptible to insect and disease problems.  As well, because the top of the plants shade the bottom, the shrub develops into a "V" shape over time, with a wide top and a narrow, open bottom.


Winter Impacts Varied Across Nebraska - Assessing Winter Cold Injury to Grape Buds
By Paul Read, UNL Extension Viticulture Specialist

Image of grapevineBased upon observations in eastern Nebraska vineyards, it is apparent that Mother Nature didn't treat all vineyards equally.  The University of Nebraska Viticulture Program's research vineyards near Nemaha, Peru and Nebraska City have exhibited minimal damage to primary buds, trunks and cordons.  Vineyards in and near Lincoln also experienced only a small amount of damage.  Damage estimates vary with cultivar, with the most sensitive (e.g., vinifera, Chardonel, Traminette, Chambourcin, Lemburger, Vignoles) often showing slight to moderate injury, while more hardy cultivars (Frontenac, Marquette, Saint Croix) showed no damage whatsoever.

Ed Swanson (Cuthills Vineyards) reported that his vineyards were damaged significantly by the cold temperature events that were observed in his plantings near Pierce, with many of his new seedlings hurt first by the cold and then "pruned" by rabbits all the way to the ground.  In addition his mainstay plantings of Lacrosse and Petite Amie suffered serious injury as well. He did indicate that some of his more advanced selections came through quite well, which is reason for optimism.  Ed further noted that his Temparia which was growing near Frontenac Gris and La Crescent - both of which were noticeably damaged - but the Temparia escaped unscathed.

As you can see from the notes that follow from Max Hoffman (Schillingbridge Winery and Microbrewery) and Jim Shaw (Soaring Wings Vineyard), in addition to Ed Swanson's comments and our UNL observations, it was a truly variable fall and winter season.  As plants resume growth following bud break, an initial assessment can be made.  When flowering occurs (capfall), vine survival can be further evaluated, but if serious trunk or cordon damage occurred there will be vascular injury that will evidence itself when the vines are growing vigorously.  In the summer the result will be collapse of shoots when the weather gets hot and stressful, so the full extent of the past seasons' damage will only be seen as the growing season progresses.  Let's hope for good recovery for those vineyards that experienced damage and be cautiously optimistic for a good crop for the 2014 vintage for all Nebraska vineyards.

Schilling Bridge Vineyard News, Max Hoffman
At the Schilling Bridge vineyard we had low temps of -6 in early December, -12 in both January and February, and -8 in early March.  Bud damage is insignificant on Lacrosse, DeChaunac, Traminette, Edelweiss, Aurore, and Baco Noir.  Twenty to thirty percent primary damage on Seyval and about fifty percent primary damage on Chambourcin.  Most secondary buds are alive on the Chambourcin.  Most buds on the few Vinifera vines we have are dead with the exception of some live secondary buds on Riesling.  I will have a better handle on these at budbreak.

Soaring Wings Vineyard News, Jim Shaw
Temperatures in our vineyard fell in the fall of 2013 from highs in the 60s F to lows of -2 F in 6 days. Surprisingly this caused not only extensive bud damage, but also significant trunk and cordon damage.

Initial field tests taking random samples of buds show the following results:

  • Syrah: (Was protected by dual insulation blankets) Bud survival less than 5%. Extensive cordon loss (>60%). No crop expected.
  • Chambourcin: Primary bud losses about 90%. Trunk and cordon losses unknown. Little to no crop expected.
  • Traminette: Primary bud losses 40%. No noticed trunk or cordon losses. Expect a 50% crop.
  • Brianna: Primary bud losses about 25%. No noticed trunk or cordon losses. Expect a 75% crop.
  • Edelweiss: Only larger buds survived. Those on smaller spurs suffered nearly 100% losses. Significant smaller diameter cordon damage. Expect 40% crop.
  • DeChaunac: There was about a 75% loss of primaries, but it still produces a crop on secondaries. Significant trunk and cordon damage. Expect a 40% crop and less production for next two years.
  • LaCrosse: There was a 50% loss of primaries, but like the DeChaunac significant trunk and cordon losses. Many were split. Expect a 35% crop and less production for next two years.
  • Vignoles: Almost every plant suffered from the loss of a cordon, trunk, or both. Bud survival was around 50%, but with the damages to the trunks and cordons production is questionable. Expect a 25% crop.
  • Frontenac. The only bright spot. 95% primary bud survival with no significant trunk or cordon damage noted. Expect a normal crop.

Last year's harvest was a bumper crop. This year's looks to be our worst since starting wine making operations 11 years ago. Suspect the extensive trunk and cordon damage was due to sap freezing in them with the extreme initial drop in temperatures. Have only seen this type of damage from late spring freezes, so this one is unusual.

Each spring grape growers must assess potential winter bud damage that has occured to their plants in the last several months.  Below are resources to help growers assess plant health and manage winter-damaged vines.

Assessing Winter Cold Injury to Grape Buds, Cornell University
Includes photos of live vs. dead buds, information on how many extra buds to leave when pruning, and links to videos that explain how to evaluate bud damage.

Evaluating Bud Injury and Adjusting Pruning, Cornell University
Blog post with instructions for assessing damage and managing damaged vines.

Cold Injury in Grapevines,
Includes photos of damaged buds and trunks, as well as links to other good resources.

Evaluating Grape Bud Damage Prior to Winter Pruning, Colorado State University
This document has photos of the same bud as a series of cuts is being made.  This will help you learn what's too shallow, what's just right, and what's too deep.

Ohio Grape-Wine Electronic Newsletter, Special Issue 17 January 2014, Ohio State University
Contains information on how to assess for bud damage, how to adjust pruning, and links to other resources.  Also includes the article "Pruning Grapevines after Winter Injury" that Dr. Imed Dami wrote for "Wines and Vines" trade magazine a few years ago.


Musk Thistle Management
By Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Superintendent

Image of musk thistle seedlingNow is a great time to scout your property and treat this pesky weed before it takes over. If you didn't get your musk thistle treated last fall you still have time to get it done this spring. If you had a patch of musk thistle last year, and didn't get them controlled, I guarantee you will have more this year.  Because of its aggressive nature, musk thistle is a noxious weed in Nebraska and every landowner is required by State Law to control it on their property. 

Musk thistle, classified as a biennial, is already springing up in the rosette stage.  Rosettes range in size from quite small (a few inches) to three feet in diameter.  They hug the ground and can be difficult to see until they're under foot.  The larger rosettes are usually the seedlings that germinated last fall and over-wintered as a rosette.  As a biennial, this second year growth will produce flowers and seeds during this season.  As the seeds germinate, the process begins again.  Musk thistle reproduces only by seed; however a single musk thistle plant can produce thousands of seeds, which can lie dormant in the soil for years.  Mature plants that are chopped and left in the field may have enough energy to produce viable seed, so proper disposal of the seed head is important.

Large infestations of musk thistle may require herbicide control. Musk thistle plants are quite easy to control with herbicides when treated in the rosette stage of growth.  Herbicides should be applied in the spring before the flower stalks begin to form and elongate.  Repeated applications may be necessary to eliminate the musk thistle infestation.  The UNL Extension Guide for Weed Management, EC130, has products recommended for the control of musk thistle.  Always read and follow the label of every product you use, as the label is the law.

Contact Information
We need everyone's help, so if you would like more information on thistles or would like to report an infestation contact the Lancaster County Weed Control Office.  Email or phone 402-441-7817.


Scours - What are They?
By Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Educator; Dr. Dee Griffin, Feedlot Production Management Veterinarian and Professor; and Dr. Richard Randle, UNL Professor of Veterinary Medicine

Image of scouring calfThe temperatures are warming up, we have gotten a little bit of rain, the grass is starting to grow, and your newborn baby animals may be susceptible to scours, or diarrhea. Diarrhea disrupts the normal absorption of fluids, nutrients, and chemical electrolytes such as sodium and potassium from the intestines, resulting in the animal becoming very dehydrated and metabolically imbalanced. Loss of essential body fluids and electrolytes leads to acid build up (acidosis) which may contribute to diarrhea and possibly death.

Scours can be caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa, nutritional imbalances, or a combination of any of those. When scours occurs, it is important to immediately identify which type of disease you are dealing with so that a treatment plan can be made with your veterinarian. Scours can occur at any time of the year, not just during the birthing season, but newborn babies up to a month of age are the most susceptible. Diligent observation, appropriate nutrition, environmental awareness, proper sanitation, and care of the newborn animal are things that should be taken into consideration to decrease the incidence of scours with your animals.

  • Virus - Depending on the environment and the virus, a virus can survive in an environment for varying periods of time. Viruses cause diarrhea by entering the body via the mouth. Once inside the animal, the virus attaches itself to healthy cells and reprograms a healthy cell to either die or alter its function. A young animal can start to show symptoms within three days. Common types of viral scours are rotavirus and coronavirus both of which destroy cells lining the small intestine resulting in diarrhea and dehydration. BVD (Bovine Virus Diarrhea) is another cattle virus that can cause diarrhea, but is not typically associated with calf diarrhea.

    Young animals are particularly susceptible to viral diseases.  Adult and older juvenile animals can be asymptomatic carriers of a virus. This means they can pass viral agents to other animals without showing any signs of illness themselves.

    Antibiotics do not work against viruses. There are vaccines, that when given to the dam, provide antibodies through the colostrum (first milk) to the baby animal.
  • Bacteria - are single-celled, microscopic organisms that can reproduce on their own. Like a virus, they can survive in the environment, as well as enter and infect a host. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. It is important to keep in mind that since bacteria are living organisms, they are adaptable and can produce strains resistant to antibiotics. Common causes of bacterial scours in young animals include: Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Clostridium perfringes (enterotoxemia).

    Salmonella infection in a herd can come from contact with other livestock, birds, cats, rodents, the water supply, or human carriers. Salmonella produces a potent toxin which can be very devastating and cause a high morbidity and mortality rate, requiring environmental management and intense therapy for the animal.  Salmonella rapidly develops resistance to antibiotics; it should be treated carefully and with a veterinarian's guidance.  Some of the symptoms include diarrhea, blood and fibrin in the feces, extreme depression, and elevated temperature.  Salmonella infection in baby animals is typically fatal.  Most importantly, Salmonella can cause life threating disease in humans.  Therefore, isolate the clinically affected animal away other animals, be extremely clean in your personal hygiene when working with affected animals, and keep others, especially children away from calves infected with Salmonella.

    E. coli is the most common cause of bacterial scours.  E. coli K99 bacteria attaches itself to the epithelial lining of intestines, ultimately resulting in voluminous diarrhea. Another type of E. coli is attaching and effacing E. coli, which attaches to the cell, resulting in cell death and changes the function of the intestine so that it cannot properly absorb fluid or properly digest nutrients. Intestinal linings generally have tremendous healing capacity, but if the damage is severe there could be lifetime problems for the animal.

    Clostridium perfringes infections are also known as enterotoxemia. Enterotoxemia is fatal and is caused by toxins released by various types of Clostridium perfringes. This disease has a sudden onset; animals will become listless, strain or kick at their abdomen, and display uneasiness. This usually follows a change in weather, a change in the dam's feed, or a change in management practices that disrupt the nursing cycle for a longer than a normal period of time. The hungry baby may then consume a large amount of milk, creating an environment in the gut conducive to growth and production of toxins by Clostridial organisms.
  • Protozoa are a type of living parasite that adhere to or invade the lining of the intestine, eventually rupturing the epithelial cells. Protozoa can be the cause of diarrhea in young animals, including Cryptosporidia and Coccida.  The oocysts (eggs) of these protozoa can survive for months in the environment, even in pastures/pens that have been vacant. Animals are infected when they consume contaminated feed or water, graze contaminated pasture, or lick a dirty hair coat.  Again, older animals may be carriers without showing signs.  Cryptosporidiosis is of particular concern because there is no effective treatment available and it is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted to humans causing severe diarrhea.

Stress and nutrition
Stress and nutritional excess can also cause scours. Anything that may disrupt the normal nursing pattern - moving to a different pen/pasture, vaccination, castration, even storms and extreme weather changes may cause enough stress to disrupt the nursing pattern. These scours will generally clear up in a few days, or once the stressor is removed. Nutritional scours can often be identified by white fecal matter, which is undigested milk that has passed through the system.

Two important things you need to know about scours; 1) it is critical to get high quality colostrum into the animal as soon as possible after birth.  Dams that have had their immune systems properly prepared prior to giving birth will have high quality colostrum.  The birthing environment should provide a quiet environment and attention must be paid to letting or assisting bonding between the dam and baby. 2) An equally important preventative measure is to protect the baby from fecal-oral contamination during the first few weeks of life.  The best reference you can study in this regard is the UNL-Sandhills Calving System (

Treatment options: oral fluids are the most important life-saving treatment you can provide.  Any number of oral electrolyte preparations can be found from your veterinarian and animal health stores.  Visit with your veterinarian about treatment options and methods for delivering oral electrolytes.   While antibiotics are the first thing on everyone's mind, generally, antibiotics have little, if any effect, on the outcome.  Keeping the scouring animal hydrated and its electrolytes balanced is far more likely to save the animal's life than an antibiotic.  Because managing disease in very young animals requires intense attention to details it is important for you to visit with your veterinarian.

As a reminder, scours are considered to be a zoonotic disease, which means it is transferable from animal to human. If you are working with or treating animals with scours, you should wear disposable gloves and/or wash your hands and clothing thoroughly. Do not wear dirty or contaminated shoes into the house. Wash and sanitize equipment that has come in contact with the sick animals, their bedding, or pen/pastures. Do not put dirty hands in your mouth or near your face, do not touch or hold small children, or pets. If you or a family member gets sick with diarrhea or abdominal cramping, let your doctor know you may have been exposed to livestock with scours so a quick and accurate diagnosis can be made.

Adams, T. (2014). Scours can be caused by virus, bacteria or more. Farm & Ranch Guide.
Adams. T. (2014). When scours leaves the barn and enters the home. Farm and Ranch Guide.
White, G. (n.d.). Calf scours: Causes, prevention, and treatment. Prepared for the Great Plains Beef Cattle Handbook. Texas A&M University Cooperative Extension Service.