Newsletter – 4th quarter 2014

SongBird News

Dear Customer,

Greetings and Merry Christmas

I hope that you are well, and that you will be able to relax a bit during the holidays. If you’re visiting with family, I hope cherished memories will be made.
As for us, we’re having a lot of our family over on Christmas day. I’ll spend the prior day or so working on tasks, some given by my wife, to prepare for everyone’s visit. This is good, as otherwise some of the tasks would likely be postponed until a future get together, at the earliest. My primary task is to minimize my wife’s stress level, as she prepares quite a spread, and stresses in the process. And pray that our kids cheerfully do their part, either stemming from a realization of how blessed we are, or out of fear – either will do.
My dad and brother are coming – something that in my earlier years may have reared up a complex in me. For both keep everything in their homes working in perfect order. No wall needs painting, no weather stripping needs replacing, and so forth. A visit to their homes inevitably includes seeing the improvements made since the prior visit. And while all of this is great, it doesn’t, necessarily, help me in looking all that handy. And so came that complex from my youth. I just don’t have the craftsman skill set that they have. But I have acquired some age, and with it a loss of complex, and an increased appreciation for time with family!
Incidentally, this is my second quarterly newsletter in nine months. I hope that you benefit from it.

Beware of planting ‘Knock Out’ Roses

Like many of the diseases that arrive here from other parts of the world and subsequently threaten human health, alien plant pathogens are the cause of significant concern in the landscapes and forests.
One that many homeowners will become familiar with is “Rose Rosette”, a virus that’s frequently found on roses – particularly the popular ‘Knock Out’ Rose. The virus first appears on just a stem or two, manifesting in narrow than normal leaves and a proliferation of shoots and thorns on infected stem. It then spreads to other stems and because infected tissue doesn’t conduct photosynthesis, plant decline follows.

Multiple shoots, excessive thorniness and narrow leaves are common indicators of Rose Rosette Disease (picture taken from “Rose-Rosette Virus – an emerging problem” by Dr. Jean Williams Woodward, UGA Plant Pathologist)

Foliage width is typically narrowed significantly.IMG_20141226_170752336

According to plant pathologist at UGA, Rose Rosette could lead to near complete loss of ‘Knock Out’ roses in our landscapes. Partly because it is spread by a microscopic mite, called an eriophyid mite, that is itself tough to control.
Regarding control, first be careful not to introduce newly obtained plants without first verifying that they are in good health. If you have a rose, already in your landscape, on which you notice abnormal growth as described above, prune the affected stems off at ground level – being certain to disinfect pruners between cuts. If disease is already in multiple stems, it’s probably best to simply remove the respective plant to reduce likelihood of spread to others.
There are some miticides that aid in control of the eriophyid mite mentioned, but not all of them will work. And beware, for based upon what’s being reported, control measures may at best postpone decline, regardless of measure used. It’s suspected that ‘Knock Out’ roses may eventually have a life cycle of only five years in the landscape.

To lime or not to lime?

This past fall, we left behind a recommendation that testing soil acidity be approved (cost is $35) so that any needed adjustment to soil acidity could be determined. Improper soil acidity may lead to nutrient deficiencies, and sometimes to increased disease incidence. So if you didn’t notice the recommendation referenced above, or you just forgot to respond, please consider doing so as maintaining proper pH is important.

A few seasonal tips

1. Allow warm season grasses (Bermuda, centipede, zoysia) to overwinter at a high cut height. A 2 – 3 inch height works well. Doing so will reduce sunlight that reaches the soil, resulting in reduced risk of weed germination. Also, the additional turf “canopy” cushions pre-emergent herbicide barriers from damaging foot traffic, hard rains, and other forces.
2. If your lawn was installed as recently as late summer, consider watering prior to nights in which temperatures fall into the teens, as moist soil conserves heat better than dry soil. This can be tricky, for you don’t want to have frozen soil water if afterward the sun is expected to shine and temperatures are expected to rise, for if frozen plants can’t utilize it.
3. With leaves having fell, and with cold temperatures expected, now is a great time to install pine straw or some form of mulch. Doing so will provide insulation for root systems, conserve moisture, and minimize weeds. If using pine straw, note that not all pine straws are the same. Both “Slash pine” and “Loblolly pine” are common, but slash will generally hold color longer. If you can find “Longleaf pine”, it has a better color and it last the longest – but it’s often hard to find. And try your best to not use “Short Needle pine”, as it simply doesn’t look as good and doesn’t hold color all that well.
4. The dormant season is a good time for heavy pruning of most landscape plants. However be aware that pruning spring flowering plants will result in a loss of blooms.

In closing

Just in case you didn’t see it, we recently mailed out a “prepay offer” for services scheduled for 2015. The offer consists of 5% off of scheduled services if prepaid by January 5th. If you’re interested but didn’t get the letter, just let me know.
As always, thank you for your business and we look forward to servicing your landscape in the days ahead!

ISA Certified Arborist No. SO-1892A


Fall armyworms fatten up on Georgia lawns

Displaying IMG_20140826_132707898.jpg

Fall armyworms are abundant in Georgia this year, and are causing significant damage in some cases.  Pictured above is an outbreak of armyworms feeding on a Bermuda lawn, consuming the fleshy green blades.

Armyworms favor Bermuda and fescue, but will feed on other lawn types as well.  Damage to established, self perpetuating grasses like Bermuda is usually cosmetic, and turf eventually recovers.  However, new lawns and fescue lawns can be permanently damaged.

Appearing late summer, armyworms typically persist for 3-4 weeks before they pupate in the ground, later to emerge as moths.  The larvae stage (caterpillar stage) is the damaging stage, and can be difficult to detect by untrained eye.

I’ve witnessed a swarm of ants wipe out a population, and attacks by wasps as well.  There are other natural predators too.  However, treatment is often required in order to minimize damage.  Keep in mind that other species, including birds, feed on the juicy armyworms, and therefore may be impacted by treatment.  If treatment is decided upon, use low label rate of selected control product as doing so may reduce impact on other species, and is typically sufficient in controlling armyworms.

If your lawn has already been consumed by armyworms, don’t fret too much, as lawns typically recover within 3-4 weeks.

Voles in lawns

If you’ve ever encountered what appeared to be “miniature trails” within your lawn, you may have stumbled upon the territory of a vole.
Voles are small native mammals, weighing 1-2.5 ounces, which feed on grasses, small trees, and shrubs. Though they typically make their home in the wild, they sometimes establish within lawns and ornamental landscapes.
The picture below is that of a zoysia lawn that I was recently on, and it shows paths that were created by “meadow voles”. The damage to the lawn is insignificant, as damaged areas will regenerate.

2014-02-02 12.32.06

Vole trails are typically not as clear as those pictured, which is why I couldn’t resist taking the photo.
On occasion, the damage that voles can impart on shrubs when feeding can be significant. However, their numbers are typically kept in check by predators, keeping damage levels low.

Newsletter 1st Quarter 2014

Lawn Care ∙ Tree Care ∙ Invasive Plant Control
1st quarter 2014
SongBird News
Dear Customer,
I hope that you are well! We really appreciate your business and hope that you remain a customer for years to come.
Having been encouraged by folks I’ve known a long time, I’ve decided to publish a quarterly newsletter regarding landscape topics. This is the inaugural edition.
Years ago I published a quarterly newsletter, about two or three times a year. It was nothing fancy, just both sides of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of copy paper – same as here.
I hope you’ll find the newsletter enlightening and worthy of your time.
Plants damaged due to extreme cold
If you have dead tissue that has appeared on landscape ornamentals during the last month or so, it’s likely that the single digit temperatures and extended periods of freezing weather is the cause. Evidence has been most noticeable on plants that are “marginally” cold hardy in this part of the state, including wax myrtle, Indian hawthorn, Asiatic jasmine and gardenia. But there are several others.
Though damage is already widespread and evident at a significant level, cold damage will often not manifest until late spring and summer, as the increased metabolic demands of a given plant are unmet by cold damaged plant tissue. Due to the delay in manifestation, many landscape owners assume that no cold injury has occurred. Remember this if stems decline visually this summer, as it is instinctive to just assume that a fungus or insect problem is the cause.
Often a cold damaged plant will survive, simply needing to rejuvenate tissue. In these cases, dead stems can be pruned away to improve appearance and rid of material which may otherwise harbor pests. Realize however, some stems may not “die” for several weeks as mentioned above.
Before it’s all said and done, I expect the cold will be the cause for significant plant loss, requiring replacement. If you’re faced with this, consider using a species not included on list of invasive plants in Georgia, found at You’ll also find a list of alternatives on the site.
The first mowing
I’m often asked if it’s a good idea to mow Bermuda and zoysia lawns low at the beginning of the growing season. Though it’s by no means essential, doing so can help sunlight reach the base of the grass and thereby encourage a uniform green-up. If this is done, bag or rake up excess clippings.
Lawn Aeration
Over the course of time, soil becomes compacted. As soil compacts, oxygen and water are restricted, leading to a poor root environment for your lawn.
Core Aeration alleviates soil compaction, and increases oxygen and water penetration into the soil. By doing so, a denser and deeper root mass is encouraged – leading to a denser lawn. Also, a well aerated lawn is better able to withstand drought stress and resist disease.
Core aeration is important if striving for the best lawn possible. Just let us know if you’d like more information, or to schedule the service.
Why I named the business “SongBird LandCare”
I’m frequently asked “how did you come up with a name like “SongBird LandCare”?
The “lions share” of the answer is centered upon an issue that I learned of eight years ago and have since become involved with; habitat loss due to the rapid spread of “non-native invasive plants”.
These non-native plants, introduced to an area via landscaping or other means, subsequently “escape” into natural areas and displace the native vegetation, causing economic harm, environmental harm, or even harm to human health. Non-native invasive plants often have perilous effects on the habitat of native songbirds and are a leading cause for the loss of local species populations, as well as species extinction. That’s serious business for songbirds and other wildlife.
Being a nature boy, I wanted to combat the problem. So I got involved with the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council (GA-EPPC), eventually serving as president. At the writing of this, I serve as president of the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council (SE-EPPC), which is an umbrella organization for eight southern states. In addition to leading the organization, I help “spread the message” by speaking to groups and helping organize workshops and conferences.
Due to my particular cadre of education and life experiences, I realized that I could incorporate an invasive plant control service into my business and in so doing, help the native songbird population. And I like songbirds, so “SongBird LandCare” came to be.
In closing
I hope that I shared something useful to you, as that’s my aim. I also created a SongBird LandCare website,, on which I occasionally post a blog. I sometimes hope that no one looks at it because in doing so, they may conclude I went out of business. For I’m not that great at posting fresh material, even though I probably think about it daily. That said, there are some “deep thoughts” material on it, that I think you’ll find interesting and helpful. It’ll also give you some insight regarding my general approach to landscape care. So I hope you’ll take a look when you have the time, and maybe even let me know your opinion of it.
A sincere thanks for being a customer!!

Lime, lawns, and the danger of assumptions!


Assumptions regarding the application of “lime”, a product used to lower soil acidity, often serve as the precursor to disease and other forms of lawn decline.  For it is a common practice of many lawn managers to apply lime annually, just assuming that it is helpful.  Unfortunately, this practice often yields a soil that is too alkaline to maintain healthy turf, and predisposes it to disease.

What’s best from an agronomical standpoint is to analyze the soil pH (measure of acidity), allowing for an informed decision to be made.

What does lime do?

As mentioned above, lime is a material that is applied to lawns for the purpose of reducing soil acidity.  Doing so is sometimes necessary for if soil acidity is too strong, nutrition and health problems follow.  However, a slightly acid condition is favorable to lawn types in Georgia, and if an application of lime causes acidity to become too weak, problems will follow.

An old paradigm

Like many raised in Georgia, I grew up to believe that one can’t apply too much lime to a lawn, for I’d often heard that.  An exception to the “rule” was if you had a centipede lawn, on which one was to never apply lime.  I was convinced of the above to the point that when I later attended college, I silently questioned my college instructors who taught of the need to analyze soil pH prior to making liming decisions.  Surely, I thought, such analyses would only reveal what we all “already know”.

Apparently, many others grew up in an environment that held some similarities as mine, as the belief that respective lime application is always good, is a common one.  The concept is so entrenched, that suggesting that it isn’t true will lead to a loss of credibility, when discussing it with some folks.   This is most common with men about my age or older.  I’ve found women to be less stubborn on the matter.


Years ago while conversing with a competitor that I have much respect for, I learned that his company had adopted a policy of not applying lime unless a soil acidity test was first approved, and the test revealed that the soil was too acidic.  Reason being, most of their tests revealed that lime wouldn’t be beneficial.

Liking the sound of my competitor’s method, I began to do the same.  Sure enough, a low percentage of the tests revealed a need for lime.  In fact, some tests revealed that a lime application would have a negative effect on the lawn.

Brian’s theory and some well established facts

In most portions of Georgia, the native soil is acidic.  This is factual and is common knowledge amongst those of us that have interest in such things.  I believe it to also be the reason for those long standing beliefs that are held mainly by my brethren.

The native “topsoil” is enriched by the nutrient cycling process that occurs as fallen leaves and other plant matter decompose, and in the process, acidification takes place.  However, if that rich topsoil is removed, as it likely has been if the corresponding home or building was constructed sometime during the past 30 years, the environment changes significantly.  Instead of the rich topsoil that tends to maintain acidic conditions, lawns and other landscaping are planted to what was previously “subsoil”, usually solid clay.  Absent of organic matter, the subsoil doesn’t experience the same acidification process.

Secondly, when rain is deficient, the leaching of base nutrients calcium, magnesium and potassium is reduced.  Reduced leaching of these nutrients lowers a soils tendency to acidify.  So during drought years, soil is less likely to increase in acidity.

There are other contributing factors as well.

What are the odds that lime application could cause harm to your lawn?

Over application of lime and the creation of alkaline conditions results in a lawn being unable to obtain adequate nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other nutrients that are needed by the plants.  This condition leads to a lower lawn quality.

Where Bermuda lawns are concerned, over application of lime contributes to the probability of “Spring Dead Spot” disease, which has become very common.  Spring Dead Spot is very costly and difficult to rid of.

Spring Dead Spot discovered during a 2012 lawn inspection Spring Dead Spot discovered on Bermuda lawn in 2012

So as was mentioned in the beginning, assumptions regarding lime can be dangerous!

How do I have soil acidity tested?

If you have a lawn care company, hopefully they are suggesting this to you.  If not, they still should be able to perform the test at your request.

You can also collect a sample and submit it to the UGA Cooperative Extension Service for testing.  A small fee is charged for this service.  They can advise regarding procedure.

Soil acidity may be tested any time during the year, and in my opinion, once every three years will suffice in most situations.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker – tree wells

Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a species of wood pecker that over-winters here in Georgia, creates “wells” along the trunks and limbs of several native trees.  The sapsuckers chisel holes (wells) into the tree, and then makes return trips to lap up sap that oozes from the wells.  They’ll also feed on insects that get trapped in the flowing sap.

Damage to trees is seldom significant and is part of a natural process.


yellow-bellied sapsucker creating "wells" on a hickory (James Solomon, USDA Forest Service,

yellow-bellied sapsucker creating “wells” on a hickory (James Solomon, USDA Forest Service,

sap oozing from wells on red maple in December

sap oozing from wells on red maple in December

view of wells with no oozing

view of wells with no oozing

It’s true, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

By using quality products derived from current technology, and by making timely and properly made applications, one can achieve a healthy and good looking lawn while minimizing the need for “chemicals” to do so.  The key is indeed to do things right and on time!!

Good cultural practices, including proper mowing and aeration, are essential as well.

The pictures below show a virtually weed free lawn treated (on time) by SongBird, and an untreated lawn.

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, applies here.


Letting nature take its course

Pictured is a pretty cool example of how a beneficial fungus efficiently kills a serious pest of oak tree.  The pest is a type of armored scale, and is very difficult and costly to control.  Costly control is due to the protective cover it develops over its body, protecting it from insecticde treatments.  This particular armored scale is commonly called “Obscure Scale”, as it is very small and is well camouflaged – so it is “obscure”.

The orange color that you can see on the pictured oak, is a fungus that feeds upon the scale, and as you can see, is aggressively attacking the armored scale.  By recognizing a beneficial organism when it occurs, and in so doing letting nature takes its course, a more efficient and cost effective means of controlling a pests may be realized.  Also, if beneficial organisms such as the pictured fungus are recognized, a management plan that protects the beneficial can be implemented.

The picture was taken during month of February, a few years back.  So be on the look out for it during next several weeks, and if you find it, make sure that it does a thorough job of killing the scale.


Obscure Scale - parasitised

Parasitised Obscure Scale

Earthies, then and now

No doubt about it, when it comes to opinions regarding the impact that mankind has had on mother earth, there are some extremes.

Most of my life, I’ve been a straight laced buttoned down type that didn’t have much regard for the perspective of “earthy people” whom favored more of a holistic and chemical free society.  Having inherited genetics from good hard headed men that sacrificed much for me, I didn’t spend much of my early adulthood entertaining the thought that with some issues, I might be wrong.  I considered myself of academia, and in those days, academia looked at the “earthies” like I look at a teenager that has to hold his pants up for lack of a fitting belt.  But as time has passed, so did some of my former opinions about those earthy folks and some of what they had to say.  Eventually, I came to believe that the best landscape care includes relying upon natural systems and having an understanding of and appreciation for the web of life.

Fortunately, there are some good landscape care companies that are managed by folks that take this whole issue seriously and do a good job.  Of course, there is plenty of the other type too.  But that’s the way it goes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still rely on the use of “chemicals”, and in coming days intend to make an argument as to why their use is often the most environment friendly approach that’s available.  I’m also going to share some real life examples of how tuning into that web of life, can allow for more economical, more effective, and more sustainable landscape management.  You will not want to miss it.


Straight flight

January 14, 2012

Nowadays, I like to know where a person “stands” when I’m considering their opinion, be it with regards to the environment or anything else.  That way I can watch out for any sneaky attempts to insert their “agenda” in a cleverly disguised way.  I tend to like to talk about elements of the landscape and how they impact the environment.  So to “cut to the chase”, I want to share where I stand on matters pertaining to mother earth.

I’m a “right wing environmentalist”, and as such, tend to alienate most everyone sooner or later.

I believe:

–       in God, and that He created the land, the oceans, plants, animals, light, and all things good

–       that God gave us dominion over living things on earth

–       We have been careless with much of that which we have been given dominion over

–       God had a reason for creating everything that He did, and that all of His creation is important to balance a web of life

–       a species or an environment shouldn’t be considered unimportant, just because we don’t understand its role within the web of life

–       that bigger government is ultimately detrimental to the environment

–       that education, ingenuity, and free enterprise are essential with regards to our environment

Now I guess that for the purpose of understanding my position with regard to the environment, it isn’t necessary to say this, but I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that the only way to reach heaven is to accept the salvation offered through him.  Admittedly, part of the reason that I mention this is because so many times in the past, I’ve been afraid to.  I’m trying to stop being a spiritual wimp.

So there you have it.

By the way, I have no intent of making this a “religious” blog, so this will be the most appropriate time to criticize me for my core beliefs, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading and I hope you return.