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February 2012

QuestionI have a large landscape azalea on the south side of our home that is about 5 1/2 feet tall. It is about 35 years old and blooms beautifully every year. We lost one bush next to this one last year and had to cut it down. We have a bird feeder about 25 feet from the bush . The birds eat and then fly into the azalea and leave their drippings. Is there any way we can protect the azalea other than remove the bird house?


AnswerIf you feed them, they will come! I don’t really see how you can prevent the birds from taking shelter in plants near a bird feeder. If you really think this is an issue, I would suggest moving the feeder to a different part of the yard. You might also avoid certain types of birdseed. Sunflower seeds can have what is called an allelopathic reaction to certain plants—that is why you often don’t see a lot of growth directly under a bird feeder. Allelopathic reactions occur when a plant such as sunflower gives off a substance via its seeds and roots, which can inhibit the growth of other plants. I have never known it to kill an azalea bush.

October 2010

QuestionWe have a twenty-five foot magnolia tree which is 10 years old, in our yard that became a victim of wood borers this spring. All the leaves on the tree started turning brown and now are crispy but a few actually fell off. The tree and especially the borer holes (1/8 to 1/4 inch very shallow holes horizontally across the trunk) that could be seen were sprayed multiple times in the spring - early summer. During the last thirty days or so the tree has produced several new green leaves. The first ones were seen around the base of the tree on new branches and now there are two old lower branch that have sprouted new leaves. The branches further up the tree still seem to be dried up and dead. I was about to cut the tree down last week when I noticed all this new growth and I just noticed that there is more new growth now then last week. Is there any hope that the tree can/will return to its old self in a relatively short period of time and is there anything I could/should be doing such as spraying, trimming or taking off the dead leaves to help the tree? Or should I face reality and go ahead with the execution. I hate to lose the tree and have to wait another ten years for a new one to reach its height.


AnswerIf it is putting on new growth, then there is hope, but it doesn’t sound good. It sounds to me like the tree actually is dead at the top, but there is life in the base. This summer was tough on many plants, but do continue to water. I question whether you actually have borers or woodpeckers. Magnolias can be a favored host tree for woodpeckers. Are the holes in a circle around the tree or in rows up and down? If so, that is birds not borers. Something has stressed the tree, so continue to water and assess how well it starts growing next spring before removing it. If it kicks into high gear next spring it might be worth salvaging, but if it struggles, a new tree might be a better option.

May 2008

QuestionOur vegetable garden consists of two grape-type tomato plants but they are having a problem that hopefully you can resolve. Something is eating a perfectly round hole about 1/4" deep and the same size in diameter but nothing is ever visible on them. I have sprayed once with Advanced Garden (cyflurthrin) to no avail. Obviously even the bugs and worms don't respect the elderly!


AnswerGrape tomatoes don’t have a lot to feed on, so any feeding is doing real damage! Tomato fruit worms can make very defined holes, but you usually find the worm and/or their droppings. Check the stems and leaves around the plants as well. Could birds be coming in to have a taste? Try using bird netting around your plants to discourage them, and see if new damage continues. If it is a caterpillar, then BT or Dipel can work, but it will take a week or so to work. Go out in the evening and see if you can spot anything working on them.

October 2005

QuestionI need your advice! Several years ago my wife and I were in Pennsylvania and purchased two small bushes the locals call fire bushes. They seem to do well in that area and turned a brilliant burning orange/red in the fall. We transplanted these two shrubs in our yard in Conway and they have grown very large. A couple of problems we are having. This time of year they seem to start dropping all of their leaves so very little if any color appears in the fall. The other problem is that these bushes seem to be home to dozens of sparrows. Could the birds be the cause of the leaves dropping due to the birds taking up residence in them and all the defecating that is taking place? I try to make my yard a bird sanctuary by providing many bird feeders and bird baths. I enjoy my yard full of birds which unfortunately seem to be mainly sparrows but would also enjoy seeing these bushes in full fall color as we did in Pennsylvania. Any advice you could provide would be appreciated.


AnswerWe seem to be having a lot of travelers to the New England area these days, all coming back with reports of the spectacular fire bushes—which we call burning bush. Euonymus alatus is the scientific name, and yes they do grow here as well. Fall color is often not as spectacular in the south as it is in the northern states, due to fall weather conditions, and sometimes summer stress. For ideal fall color, the plants prefer cool nights and warm days, ample soil moisture and a shift in the temperatures. Often our fall temperatures are still quite high, and the nights can be almost as warm as our days. I don’t think birds should be causing leaf drop, but do pay attention to watering needs. Don’t overdo it, but don’t let them shut down early because of dry conditions.

August 2006

QuestionThe last couple of years, some kind of annoying woodpecker has been coming to our neighborhood in west Little Rock and hammering holes in the side of our house. Our neighbor is having the same problem, only worse. The birds don't really look like woodpeckers of the Woody Woodpecker variety. They look more like sparrows, assuming I'm looking at the right birds. They seem to do their damage, stay a couple of nights, then move on.


AnswerI sent this question on to our wildlife expert Becky McPeake, and here is her answer: Sounds like you are having a problem with flickers, which are a type of woodpecker. They appear buff or tan and have spots, perhaps like a sparrow. They are a migratory species and are protected by both state and federal wildlife laws. It is illegal to kill or poison them. There are a couple of ways you can "make life miserable" for them, so that they will move elsewhere. You can apply a sticky substance called "Tanglefoot" to locations where they are making holes. When they land on the substance, they don't like getting their feet sticky and will move elsewhere. You can also get a water hose or squirt gun and spray the birds when you hear them. This has to be done repeatedly, and oftentimes they will learn to fly when they hear the door open, etc. You can also install netting or metal barriers where they are damaging your home, or make sounds that frighten them. Using a combination is often best. You mentioned that the birds aren't staying long. But if this should change, keep in mind it is better to start these practices immediately. These birds set up territories in the spring and the longer they stay, the more difficult it becomes to convince them to move elsewhere.

April 2006

QuestionWe have a Bradford pear tree that is ten years old. It is growing beautifully, this year we discovered a series of small round borer type holes around the tree at evenly spaced intervals and rows about 4" apart. The holes are not deep -- barely1/4". We live in a heavily wooded area where pine trees are being attacked and dying of by beetles. Help Please, we don’t want to lose our tree.


AnswerThe problem is not borers but a woodpecker or sapsucker. Insects won't attack with such a distinctive pattern, birds will. The hole can go in a complete circle around the tree, or they can go up and down the tree. They often find a favorite tree and revisit it, having holes covering the surface. Usually it is not a problem, but occasionally they are going after insects in the tree. If the tree is doing fine otherwise, I wouldn’t worry. You can use scare devices or a tree wrap to keep the birds away.


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