Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Leave a comment

Victory Against Voles


Voles look more like a mouse than a mole.

We have been lucky this winter, but how long will our luck hold out?  No, I am not referring to the amount of snow we have received or the warm winter temperatures we’ve had.  Even in a winter like this, wildlife damage can be present in the landscape.  Find out about a common villain, what they do and how can keep your landscape from becoming lunch.  Continue reading


Leave a comment

Eeek… A Mouse in the House


Photo from Lancaster County Extension-

Holidays will be here soon and that means house guests might be coming.  Take a few steps now to make sure your ‘guests’ are the ones you want at your house, not the furry, unwelcome kind. Continue reading

Leave a comment

The War Against Voles

The first rule of war is to know thy enemy. It may seem a little drastic to think about waging war again furry little critters, but once you have actually dealt with them then you understand. Find out about a common landscape villain, what they do, and how can keep your landscape from becoming their lunch. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Is Your Christmas Tree for the Birds?


Add a fruit garland to help feed the birds and get double duty out of you old tree. Photo by M. Frogge.

Live Christmas trees add an unmistakable ambiance to the holidays. Now that the holidays are over, the time has come to let your tree perform a different task. Get good use out of your live Christmas tree for a while longer by using it for other tasks like feeding the birds. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Raskly Rabbits and Lil’ Stinkers

This year’s temperatures so far have been a rollercoaster.  In a matter of a week we went from higher than average temperatures to subzero temperatures.  That type of temperature fluctuation is not only hard on us; it is also hard on our landscapes.  Take advantage of the warm weather while its here and be on the lookout for a few potential problems in the landscape.  Remember that gardeners aren’t the only ones that are ready for spring.

While the snow was on the ground, pesky critters were at work.  Rabbits have been hard at work munching on your landscape plants during the winter.  Rabbits will feed on pencil sized branches and will leave a clean 45 degree angle cut.  They can also strip the bark from around the base of trees and shrubs as high as 3 feet tall.  Cottontails may be cute, but if there is heavy enough feeding, they can cause some serious damage.  Fencing the plants that are the most commonly munched by rabbits will keep them from becoming lunch.  Be sure to bury the fence at least 1 foot in the ground and have it stand at least 2 feet tall.

Voles are a little harder to spot in the winter.  Voles are small creatures that look like a short-tailed mouse.  They make runways between the turf and the snow cover that are about 1-2 inches wide.  Once the snow is melted it looks like a tiny maze of runways zigzagging between plant material.  In the areas of the runways, the turf will be nipped off close to the crown of the plant.  Normally, the turf will repair itself in the spring and the damage isn’t permanent.  If the feeding is excessive, the turf can be over seeded in those areas.  Voles can also eat away at the green inner bark of trees and shrubs just like rabbits.  If the feeding damage is great enough, it can kill young trees and shrubs.  If severe damage is noticed, allow the wound to remain open to the elements and breathe.  Avoid covering the damaged areas with tree wraps or wound dressings and paints.  Voles also steal bulbs from the ground and eat them.  If your prized tulip doesn’t come up this spring, blame the voles.

What’s black with white stripes and is a stinker?  You guessed it, the skunk.  The well-known smell is enough to warn any passerby of its presence.  Skunks are active from dusk until dawn and feed on a wide range of insects.  Skunks can cause damage to turf while digging for their next meal.  Since they don’t feed on landscape plants, why do you need to know about skunks now?  We are in the prime mating season of the skunk.  Males will travel up to 5 miles in search of females, many times over our lovely highways.  Females will have a litter of 4-6 pups which are with mom until the fall.

Some critters have been busy this winter munching and snacking.  Check your landscape plants to see if there is any damage left behind from these critters and try to steer clear of our little smelly friends, the mating season will soon be over.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

Leave a comment

Live Christmas Trees are for the Birds

bluesprucecjlgLive Christmas trees add an unmistakable ambiance to the holidays.  Now that the holidays are over, the time has come to let your tree perform a different task.  Get good use out of your live Christmas tree for a while longer.  Feeding birds has become a very popular pastime that can be done year round.  There are three things to remember for bird feeding success: location, providing the correct feed and feeder for the bird you want to attract, and maintaining a constant availability.

There are a few steps you should take with your Christmas tree before you stick it outdoors for the birds.  Remove all decorations, lights, and try to remove as much of the tinsel, if not all, if possible.  The best location for the tree once outdoors is on the south or east side of the house.  This will provide shelter from the harsh north and west winter winds.  Be sure the tree is secure in its new location by setting the stump in the ground or bucket of damp sand and by attaching the top with twine to nearby buildings or trees.

Christmas trees can create a wonderful backyard habitat.  The tree can provide shelter for the birds by protecting them from the wind and predators.  It can also act as a feed station. For a fun winter project, make your own bird feeders.  Popcorn, cranberry, and raisin strings are not only festive, but they also help to feed the birds.  Popcorn will attract cardinals and finches, while cranberries and raisins attract cedar waxwings and any overwintering robins.  Apples, oranges, leftover bread, and pine cones covered with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed also make great feeders.

The saying that works with real estate also works for bird feeders– location, location, location.  Most birds prefer to feed when they are protected from the strong winds and where they can have areas with protective cover and perching sites.  Trees and shrubs nearby offer excellent perching sites while evergreens provide great cover for birds to hide.

The types of feeders and the feed you offer will determine the types of birds that you will have visiting.  Birds tend to be pretty picky with the type of feed and feeder that they prefer.  Goldfinches are easy to attract if you use niger thistle seed in a clear tube-type feeder.  Woodpeckers and nuthatches are fond of suet.  Suet is a combination of animal fat, seeds, and other ingredients that attracts insect eating birds.  It offers a quick source of energy for birds.  Suet feeders are usually a plastic-coated wire cage.  There are a wide variety of feeder types available at most home and garden centers or you can make your own.  Pick a feeder that you enjoy looking at, is easy to fill, fits the type of bird you want to attract, and fits within your price range.

In winter birds rely on you and what you have to offer.  Once you decide to start feeding the birds, it should be done consistently.  Feeding the birds in the winter makes them reliant on you for part of their diet.  Forgetting to feed the birds during a severe cold period or storm could mean that they could starve to death before they find another food source.

When your live Christmas tree has fed all the neighborhood birds be sure to take it to your local recycling areas where it can be made into habitat or useful mulch.  Grand Island had three locations; ACE Hardware at the west end of the parking lot, the north side Skagway south parking lot, and the Conestoga Mall just north of Red Lobster.  Trees can be dropped off at these locations until January 5th and will be chipped into mulch.

Upcoming Programs:

Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Program- Two training sessions will be held at the UNL Extension in Hall County meeting rooms in Grand Island NE.  Session 1: Tuesday evenings, February 11 through March 25, 6:00 to 9:00 PM.  Session 2: March 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, and 28 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Please contact Elizabeth Killinger, 308-385-5088, with any questions about the program.  Registrations are due prior to January 7 with the session you are interested in attending.  More information, updated schedules, and an application can be found at

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Leave a comment

Gone Batty

New UNL Extension Publication about bats

New UNL Extension Publication about bats

What is small, flies at night, eats 25-125 percent of its body weight in insects each night and gives most people the heebie-jeebies?  Bats are more than just scary little critters that want to suck your blood; they are helpful creatures that are worth their weight in insect control

These winged mammals are more misunderstood than scary.  There are about 13 species of bats living in our great state, most are rarely found in or around structures.  Bats are insectivores and only need small needle like teeth to crush the insects they catch in flight.  These nocturnal creatures have good vision, but rely on echolocation, or sonar, to hunt in the dark for their prey.  Man, can they eat!  One little brown bat can eat 600 to 1200 mosquito-sized insects every hour.

Only a few species of bats are common in or around structures.  The big brown bat is the most common across the state.  It has dark brown fur on its back, pale brown fur on its underbelly, and it has exposed black skin on its nose, ears, and wings.  It is about 4-5 inches long from nose to tail and weighs a whopping 1/2 to 1/3 of an ounce.  When its wings are fully extended, they can reach lengths of 12 to 16 inches, making it look much larger in flight.

Bats will leave their own ‘calling cards’ to let you know they are around.  The most common sign that a bat is in the area are their droppings, guano.  Bat droppings will look like it contains specks, which are the exoskeletons and wings of insects.  Droppings are often found on attic or porch floors and under eves and shutters.  A 3/8” hole is all the space a bat needs to get into a structure.  The bat will use these openings every evening to go in and out.  Rub marks or smudges, caused by the oil and dirt in the bats fur, are often found near these opening and can alert you of a bat entrance.

July is the month many homeowners encounter bats.  At this time of the year, young bats move around the structure, but they are not strong enough to forage for insects.  They often find their way into the living quarters of the home or just outside their entrance points into a structure.  Young bats are also more likely to fly inside an open window or door.

There are some steps you can take if a single bat has entered the home.  First, open all exterior door and windows and shut the doors to adjacent rooms.  Leave the lights on and stand motionless next to a wall or in a hallway leading to the room.  Wait patiently for the bat to swoop around the room, find an escape route and fly out on its own.  Try to observe the bat leaving the home so you can be sure it made it out safely.

If the bat is at rest on the wall there are some other steps you can take to remove it.  While wearing a thick pair of leather gloves place a large mouthed container over the bat and slide a stiff piece of cardboard between the container and the wall.  The cardboard will help to secure the bat inside the container, allowing you to either get it tested for rabies or to set it free.  If you set it free, place it up at least 4 feet off the ground so it can gain enough lift to fly away.

Bats are associated with rabies, a disease that can be transmitted to humans. While significant, infection can be easily avoided and should not be used as an excuse to kill bats. Only a very small percentage of bats are associated with rabies. Due to their small teeth, you might not realize you have been bitten.  Nebraska has the recommended protocol for handling potential bat-human exposures. Assume a person was bitten if:

  • He/she awakens to find a bat in the room.
  • A bat is found in the room with someone unable to communicate well (i.e. children, intoxicated or otherwise mentally impaired).
  • The bat made contact with a person.

In these situations, do not release the bat.  Take care not to damage the bat’s head.  Contact local health officials to determine where the bat needs to be sent for rabies testing.  If the bat is not found within a couple of hours, talk to your health professional about needed treatment.

The next time you see a bat, think of all these mosquito-munching, nocturnal creatures do to help keep pesky mosquito populations in check.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: