Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Capturing Field Mice in the Home

Usually I try not to turn the heat on in the house until November 1.  Didn't quite make it this year due to that one cold snap in Mid-October.  Warmth is something most mammals seek out during the winter and we humans are not the only creatures seeking a dry warm place to hang out during the next few months.  Now is the season when the "field mice" and other rodents come into structures to get in out of the cold.  What prompted me to write about rodents coming in from the cold was a situation one of the interns at the Pine Mountain Settlement School told me about at the fall color weekend.  Evidently they had a wood rat that came inside the house and was keeping them up at all hours of the night.  They tried everything it seems to capture this little critter, even though I think wood rats or pack rats as they are sometimes called, are quite cute with their "mickey mouse ears, cute pointy nose, and loveable nature." They were at their wits end as they had tried everything under the sun to capture and kill this little rodent. When I asked about the trapping they told me they were unsuccessful and it had sprung the trap several times and had escaped with the bait.  Being the good Extension Wildlife Specialist, I then explained an alternative trapping approach and instead of using a single trap, use two traps.  Instead of placing the trap parallel to the wall, place the two traps side by side, perpendicular to the wall because you then get three chances to capture it compared to a single change with one trap.  They then baited the trap and used a snickers bar (heck that would have worked for me and a whole lot of other people who have a sweet tooth) for bait.  The next morning at breakfast there was excitement in the air; the perpetrator had been captured and disposed of.  Yes it tripped the first trap but got caught with the second trap and the problem was solved.  So if you are averse to putting out poison bait for those pesky rodents this time of the year, go out and get some snap traps and place them two by two, perpendicular to the wall and let the rodent capturing festival begin in earnest.
The correct method for using snap traps to capture small rodents.  Place them perpendicular to the wall in pairs.  Bait can be anything they like such as peanut butter and oatmeal, candy with nuts, but probably not cheese.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Plant of the Week: Fragrant Ladies' Tresses Orchid

Most people are fascinated by orchids because they are often showy, have complicated life histories, and are not that common in nature.  While most of the native orchids can't survive in the garden setting, this particular species is fairly easy to grow.  The fragrant ladies' tresses orchid (Spiranthese cernua var. odorata) 'Chadds Ford' was introduced into the nursery trade in 1973 and gets its name from the vanilla smelling flowers (odorata) and Spiranthese which derives from the Greek words denoting spiral and flower (spiral flowers around the stalk).  This particular species has been tissue cultured for years and is widely available in the nursery trade.  It naturally occurs throughout much of the eastern United States although in Kentucky the variety odorata is very rare.  This is a great garden plant because it really has no disease or insect problems and flowers late in the growing season, just finishing up its flowering period now.  It likes partial shade and grows best when receiving morning sun and afternoon shade although it will grow in full shade.  It definitely likes rich, organic soil and it can be grown in a rain garden or other situations where the soil is moist but not water logged. The plants typically grow from 1 to 2' tall and can have a spread of about 12" and given enough time, it will form a nice cluster. This is a species that should be carefully placed in the garden because it does not like to be moved once it is established.  However, once fully established these stems work very well in cut flower arrangements and their pure white flowers can even be used in wedding bouquets and arrangements.  If you are putting this with a group of species that like moist to wet conditions, cardinal flower and great blue lobelia make great companion plants.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Requirements for the Control of Roosting Blackbirds, Starlings, and Crows Using Pyrotechnics

Courtesy University Missouri Extension

As fall wanes and winter approaches the sounds of hundreds to thousands of blackbirds roosting in residential trees and along tree lined boulevards will increase.  In the old days, cities, counties, or other entities that were willing to pay for USDA Wildlife Services to control these roosts with avicides, could count on excellent control and dispersal of the birds.  USDA no longer offers this service as the chemical they used, DRC 1339, is no longer available and with recent budget cuts, they simply do not have the budget or personnel any longer to assist with these activities.  Adding to this dilemma, one other chemical, a scare agent called Avitrol, is no longer available and Starlicide Complete is labeled for agricultural use in this state.  What are municipalities and home owners going to do to disperse these birds?  The first and most obvious solution, and a starting point, is to trim up to 30% of the tree canopy branches that the birds are roosting in making sure to "open" the canopy up so the birds cannot congregate closely.  The next step, depending on the tree or trees, would be to use bird netting placed over the canopy and for very large trees this is difficult to do but it is possible if they birds have been using the trees for an extended period of time.  Finally, what we have recommended for years has been to use a combination of bird distress tape calls and pyrotechnics (bird bangers and screamers).  There is now a wrinkle in using this method to disperse the birds and that wrinkle is that the ATF, which has regulatory authority over the use of explosive devices, has determined that Explosive Pest Control Devices (EPCDs in their lingo or bird bangers) require the user to obtain a permit.  This permit costs $100 and you must reapply every 3 years.  In the application you will be required to fill out a 4 page  application form, be fingerprinted, include a 2 x 2 photograph, and include a check, money order, or credit card.  There are then very strict requirements for storage and record keeping.  Fortunately, not all pyrotechnics were included and one group, the bird screamer, which emits a siren like sound as it travels (but without the explosion at the end) does not require a permit to use.  The new protocol for dispersing these roosts is to go out at dusk as the birds begin congregating around the roost trees and play the bird distress tape CD (available for cost from the UK Department of Agricultural Communications) and shoot the screamers into the birds.  Continuing doing this until the birds settle in for the night and then shoot into the tree for a few minutes.  You will need to repeat this procedure for three to five evenings (as a minimum) until the birds leave that roosting area and settle into a new area. For those interested in learning more about nuisance wildlife control, a webinar will be held on November 29.  More information about this can be obtained at http://www.ca.uky.edu/forestryextension/fallwebinars.php

Monday, October 17, 2011

Plant of the Week: Aromatic Aster

Aromatic aster (Symphotricum oblongifolium) or fall aster is aptly named because it is a sure sign that fall is almost over and winter is just around the corner.  Only the frost aster (S. pilosum), the small white, weedy aster, appears on the landscape later.  This species is an easy one to identify because it has a more compact form due to its densely branched nature giving it a bushy appearance.  It also has larger flower heads, an inch or more wide, than most asters and anywhere from 20 to 35 bluish to purplish ray flowers in the head.  The disk flowers are typically yellow and turn lavender as the flowers mature. The 2" long leaves get progressively shorter as they ascend up the stems and are linear to oblong in shape, have short hairs, and attach directly to the stem.  Be aware that many of the cultivars or plants in the mainstream nursery industry are actually a hybrid of aromatic and New England aster (S. novae-angliae) and have a tendency to be larger plants with larger, more colorful flowers.  This is an easy to grow plant in full sun and prefers soils that are not rich, rather poor limestone soils, because it does not compete well against more aggressive species.  This species also likes it dry which makes it an excellent rock garden plant. The normal habitat for this species in Kentucky is along limestone cliffs and rock outcroppings and limestone glades.  The plant gets its name from the balsam like fragrance that is omitted when the leaves and flowers are crushed.  This is a great butterfly, bee, and insect attractor and on warm, sunny days the bugs will be all over the flowers as will the caterpillars of the silvery checkerspot.

Friday, October 14, 2011

It must be fall, the snake calls are coming in hot and heavy

Almost annually, without exception, spring and fall are snake season for homeowners.  Spring when they come out of the dens and in the fall when they travel to go back into the dens.  I swear, all snakes are copperheads to the folks that call and all have this paranoia about snakes.  Can't quite figure it out because there are only about 8,000 venomous snake bites a year in the United States and less than 12 deaths from them annually.  For some reason, this year was an excellent year for young milk and rat snakes, which have patterns that superficially appear like copperheads, and these really got people's attention.  In central Kentucky most homeowners should not worry about coming into contact with a venomous snake because the two species, copperhead and rattlesnake, only occur rarely in rugged habitat around the palisades of the Kentucky River.  The two most common snakes found in homeowners yards are the rat snake and garter snake, with the rat snake by far being the most common.  There are a number of different subspecies of the rat snake but the common and black are the most abundant in Kentucky.  These are very beneficial snakes to have around as their primary diet as adults is mice.  Young will eat baby birds, lizards, and an occasional frog. They can live just about anywhere, buildings, rock piles, gardens and are excellent climbers.  Typical size ranges from three to five feet although they can get larger under certain conditions.  When approached or sensing danger, the first response is usually to remain motionless.  However, when provoked, and it seems like humans like to provoke them, they can become aggressive and coil up, shake and vibrate their tails, and even strike. If you pick one up, the snake is likely to release a foul smelling musk.  Rat snakes are egg layers and in good years they can lay two clutches of eggs.  The young hatchlings are aggressive feeders and can double their size rather quickly.  There are no chemicals registered for controlling snakes in buildings or around homes.  The best advice is to remove any habitat, i.e. places where rodents hang out and places where they can hide such as wood piles, downed logs, tin or boards lying on the ground, and un-kept or un-mowed turf and gardens.  You can capture snakes indoors with the use of a glue type trap and there are snake repellents on the market although research shows limited efficacy in most situations.  The bottom line is to try to accept and live with them because they are quite beneficial and won't harm or attack you.  In fact, certain subspecies of rat snakes are quite common in the pet trade and tame easily.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Plant of the Week: Closed or bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii

As the flowering season progresses until the first hard frost, the number of excellent native plants suitable for show in the garden decreases. Oh sure, there are asters, goldenrods, and the native grasses, but few plants that are striking in color.  One of the best late fall plants in flower now is the closed or bottle gentian.  This species grows about 1 to 2' in height and arises from a single taproot, hence it is not prone to spreading because of the lack of an underground runner or rhizome.  It likes calcareous or limestone rich soils and flowers best in full sun to partial shade, with the shade coming at the end of the day.  The key to growing this long-lived perennial is to put it in suitable soil.  Since it is a wetland plant that is associated with prairies, forested wetlands, and fens; it does best in rich, moist soils.  There are some really neat things about this plant in that it has an extremely bitter taste and this means that deer might browse it early, which means you would get multiple flowering stems, but it is generally deer browse resistant.  Another interesting fact is that the primary pollinator is the bumblebee and they are big enough and aggressive enough to open up the end of the flower (or corolla) to pollinate it.  The tiny seeds are usually dispersed by the wind or occasionally water and germination is erratic with high seedling mortality; hence the best route to putting these in the ground is to use plants from a nursery and not seeds.  In addition, since it has one or a few stems arising from the taproot, it will take numerous plants to put on a show in the garden.  Using three probably won't cut it and it will take five or more plants clumped (and probably more) to get a really good show of color.  This would be an excellent choice for a rain garden. Another really positive feature of this plant is that it does not have much of a problem with foliar diseases or chewing insects. This is a more northern species and Kentucky is at the southern edge of its range which goes from Colorado over to the coast and up north into Canada. It is considered rare in Kentucky.  A strikingly similar plant is soapwort gentian, Gentiana saponaria, which also occurs in Kentucky and is infrequent. Most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference unless they actually key out the plants.  Why not try this in the garden to bring out a little blue during this time of the year when we mostly focus on the reds, yellows, and oranges in our trees, shrubs, and bushes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Changing of the Guard: Fall Color and Trees

During the past several weeks we have experienced almost ideal conditions for an outstanding fall color display.  The days have been warm and sunny and the nights have been cool to cold, but not freezing. It is under these conditions that sugars are produced in the leaf (these are important because they trigger the amount of anthocyanin pigments which produce red colors and because the carotenoids produce yellow and gold which remain fairly consistent) and during the night the gradual closing of the veins in the leaf don't allow the sugars to escape or move out of the leaf. So as the chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their green color, begins to slow down production and eventually stops as the length of night time increase, the other pigments show their colors after being masked by the chlorophyll.

Each group or species of tree typically exhibits a different palate of colors:

Oaks turn red, brown, or russet;

Hickories turn drab yellow to bronze;

Green ash turns yellow and white ash turns purplish;

Red maple turns scarlet red, sugar maples turn orange to red, and black maple turns brilliant yellow;

Sassafras turns orange to red;

Sourwood and black gum turn crimson red;

Flowering dogwood turns purplish-red;

and tulip poplar turns yellow.

Some species like the elms, don't turn color much at all and just shrivel up and drop their leaves.

One of the most fascinating things about using trees in the landscape for fall color is that some species, like red maple, are genetic clones and driving along US 60 from Versailles to Frankfort I noticed plantings of red maple and they all looked identical.  They all had a similar looking canopy. All had three primary limbs coming from the trunk and all were pointed in the same direction and had the same shape, and all were turning color, the same color, and the color was turning from the same direction and amount of coloration in the leaves was strikingly similar.  In short, they looked identical and most likely were clones that were selected for their fall color because they were beginning to turn a brilliant crimson red and in a week will be quite strikingly beautiful, especially when dropped against the bright green grass in the horse pasture.

If you are looking for great fall color in your  yard, look at the list of trees above and think about what species you might like to add just for color's sake.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Plant of the Week: Eastern Silvery Aster: Symphyotrichum concolor

This is one of my favorite fall blooming asters, along with the barrens silky aster (S. pratense) because these species are not aggressive in the least like many of our aster species.  Furthermore, they have outstanding fall color with the deep purple ray flowers and yellow disk flowers and wonderful silky, silvery leaves.  They do like different habitats though as the Eastern silvery aster likes dry, sandy, open woodlands (where the soil is mildly acidic) whereas the barrens silky aster likes dry limestone barrens and prairies.  The Eastern silvery aster ranges from New York down to Florida but skips areas in West Virginia and Pennsylvania because of a lack of the dry sandy open woodland habitat it requires. It is listed as endangered in Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts, and historical in Rhode Island.  In Kentucky it is known primarily from the southern Cumberland Plateau area.  This is a relatively short growing aster reaching heights of two to three feet tall and what is really nice is that the 3/4" wide deep purple flower heads line up on the stem and form beautiful delicate purple wands and when used in conjunction with erect, bicolor, or gray goldenrod en masse, wow a stunning display of purple and yellow that will blow your socks off.  All of these species mentioned are short growing and like well-drained soil on the dry side and somewhat acidic although gray goldenrod is more of a limestone species.  Give them lots of sun and do not fertilize them.  What a treat to have this explosion of color in late September and October.  The most reliable source of Eastern Silvery Aster is Niche Gardens based out of North Carolina.