Tennessee Yards and Neighborhoods


New England Aster

        New England Aster 


September, 2011

In This Issue:
Welcome to TYN!
Fall is for Planting
My Successess & Failures
Is Backyard Nesting Over?
Rain Garden Plants


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 Gardening Tip #1


Start working on a fall landscape plan for planting trees and shrubs. Planting should wait until October and November, but now is a good time to start shopping around, especially for spring bulb gardens since nurseries will be well supplied.

Fauna and Flora Spotlight

  American Goldfinch  Carduelis tristis

American Goldfinch


American Goldfinches are a common year round resident in Tennessee. They forage in flocks during the winter and frequently visit bird feeders. 

Seeds, especially of composite flowers like dandelions, sunflowers, and thistle comprise most of their diet. They eat very few insects.


The male American Goldfinch from March through October is bright lemon-yellow with a strongly contrasting black forehead, wings and tail. The female is an olive-yellow with a blackish tail and wings. During the non-breeding season (October-March), the male molts it feathers to more closely resemble the olive-yellow female except in the face and on the shoulder where a brighter yellow coloration is retained.



 Gardening Tip #2


Divide, transplant and label perennials.  As these plants die back in the fall, it is a great time to divide older plants.  Complete divisions by mid October to allow the roots time to establish themselves before winter.  Be sure to keep newly divided plants watered.  


 Newsletter Glossary





Noun: The process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants.  





 Gardening Tip #3


If you have grown tender bulbs this summer such as  caladium, dahlia, or gladiolus this is the month to dig them and put them into storage for next year's use.  

 Stay Tuned!


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 Gardening Tip #4


De-thatch and core aerate existing lawns to promote root growth and improve fertilizer absorption and seed germination.


Lime lawns if a soil test indicates it necessary.  Perk up your lawns with nitrogen fertilizers.  Remember to always sweep up any fertiliizer that fall on hard surfaces and that can be picked up by stormwater.


Introduce new, improved varieties of fescue or a tall fescue blend. Do your seeding by mid-October and you can fertilize as late as  mid-November.



We welcome you to the September issue of the TYN newsletter!  This month we turn our thoughts to fall and the gardening tasks that come with this glorious time of year.  With one of those being to start planning for our spring home landscape, David Vandergriff, Knox Co. Extension Agent, shares tips with us on what we can do to get a jump on our yard for its next growing season.   With another fall task being to plant, we feature several wonderful native plants that can work in a rain garden or, for that matter, in any other sunny spot in your yard.  And for those of us who are looking to make changes to our home landscape in the coming year, Master Gardener, Joy Stewart, provides us with inspiration while sharing valuable gardening insights that she has gleaned from transitioning her turf-laden lawn to a diversity of microhabitats.  Lastly, to demonstrate that not all species view the fall as a time to wind down, Lynn Bales, introduces us to an intriguing bird that continues to stay in a "family way."  


Happy landscaping!


RA headshot

Ruth Anne







Fall is for Planting and More

David Vandergriff

 Knox County Extension Agent

You've probably heard it for years -- Fall is for Planting -- it's been a marketing campaign for a long time and for good reason. Fall is a great time to plant!   With cooler temperatures, it is a time when more energy starts going into the root system and less into top growth.   With lower evapotranspiration rates, fall is also a less stressful time for a newly installed plant.  By planting during this season, the plant has time to become more established before the the following summer stresses.


Besides putting those new plants in our landscape, what are some of the other really important tasks for the fall?

  • Topping the list is evaluation and planning -- what has done well; what has not; and is the right plant in the right place. Thinking these things through before you are tempted by the great selection of new plants showing up at your favorite greenhouse or garden center will keep you from making purchases you later regret.  
  • Fall clean-up is next on the list. Good sanitation in the landscape greatly reduces the inoculum for your pest problems next season. Remember dead wood can be removed anytime and picking off insects such as bagworms will really help you next season. 
  • What about soil testing? If you haven't tSoil Sampleaken a soil test in the last two or three years or if your last soil test recommended a treatment such as lowering or raising your pH, fall is a great time to get this done so you have things in order for next growing season. 
  • Have you checked your mulch? Use your TYN ruler to see if you have the recommended 2 to 3 inches depth. Resist the temptation to add too much by adding more to give it that "fresh look" if it is at the right depth already. Instead, fluff it up with a rake bringing less weathered mulch to the surface. This will help you to avoid the mulch crusting which can repel water and cause your plants to suffer from moisture stress. Also, make sure your mulch is not touching the trunks of your trees and other woody plants, keeping in mind that mulch piled up on them is sure trouble.

So enjoy the great fall weather in your garden and take care of the necessary tasks; you will be glad you did next season!


My Successes and Failures in Growing Native Plants



Joy Stewart

Master Gardener



"Gardening is not for those who require the predictable."  Anonymous


This is one of my favorite quotes, and there is nothing like sitting down to list my successes and failures to drive home the truth in this bit of gardening wisdom.


After almost 18 years of growing native plants and creating extensive native plantings to replace lawn, I would like to pass along some dos and don'ts based on my experience.  At the same time, everyone's experience will likely be a little different so I hope you can adapt these bits of advice to suit your own needs.


What Doesn't Work


It is very easy to select my top three errors. This list is based on my experience since moving to northeast Tennessee in late summer 2006. My husband and I have been working for the past four years to convert about a one-half acre of mowed lawn to Tennessee native woodland and wildflower meadow.


A Superficial Site Assessment


It is easy to look out a window during a rain storm or to casually walk your property and think you understand the conditions in your yard. When it comes to stormwater runoff, there is no substitute for going out in a heavy rainstorm and thoroughly walking your property to see exactly where water is flowing or standing. Failure to do so can mean projects do not go as planned, and you will need to make after-the-fact corrections. For example, I placed a 600 sq. ft. rain garden at a great site for rainwater intake, but I failed to notice that it was located on a downhill slope from the houses above me. In a heavy rain, I had lots of water collecting in the rain garden inside the berm but I also had lots of water collecting outside the berm trying to get in.


A good site assessment also includes a close-up inspection of soil moisture and lighting. Failure to do so can mean plant failure. I set aside a large section of the front yard for shrubs and trees, but I did not go out during a rain storm and discover that the lawn hid the fact that standing water accumulated quickly in part of the site. We had to dig up a young tree one year later due to water stress and drag it across the front yard to a new drier location.


Failure to Understand Variation in Plants


If you have lived in more than one part of the U.S., don't assume that a plant species that did well at your old location will perform in the same way at your new location. If the plant species is an important component of your plantings, get to know how it performs in Tennessee before you use it.


In Wisconsin, I had relied on Virginia wild rye as the basic grass of my woodland planting. It was sturdy, green, very drought tolerant, and had beautiful seed heads. At my new home in Tennessee, I installed a large woodland area about 140 by 50 feet, and I promptly planted a large quantity of Virginia wild rye. To my dismay, I discovered that in Tennessee, Virginia wild rye is top heavy, very prone to wind-fall in a wind storm, and turns dry, brown by mid-summer.   It is impossible to eliminate now that it has been established in such a large area, and dealing with it has been a struggle. My goal has been to try to totally remove it from the most wind-prone area and to greatly increase plant diversity in the other areas.


Native Plants in a Traditional Garden Style


This problem is an easy mistake to make. We are so used to having gardens of different styles-rock gardens, bulb gardens, lily beds, etc.-that it is easy to slip into this planting mentality without even realizing it. When I started planning my various native plantings, I prepared specific plant lists for each of the three wildflower meadows that I wanted to install. Each meadow had specific and unique characteristics. For example, I wanted my butterfly meadow to have only plants that got no more than 3 feet tall. This design technique may work with non-native ornamentals, but it certainly doesn't work with native plants. Seeds of native plants have evolved an amazing capacity to travel long distances, and it is part of the plants' ability to survive and quickly cover bare ground.   In less than a year, I was pulling uninvited 4-5 feet native species from my butterfly meadow and wondering how in the world seed could travel that quickly from the rain garden on the other side of the yard.


If you want to insist on stylistically different beds on the same property, you need to be prepared to work to maintain them. Or, at a minimum, select plant species that will still be acceptable to you if they migrate to other planting beds in your yard.



What Works


Successes are always more fun to describe, and fortunately they are also part of the unpredictability of gardening.  Here are my favorite successes.


Neat Edges


When it comes right down to it, gardening with native plants in a natural style does look more uncultivated, and our society has a fixation with the manicured look of a mowed lawn or formal garden. I have had people look at photographs of my rain garden, and the first question they ask is whether my neighbors object. My beds may be colorful and weed-free, but they don't fit our stereotype of the cultivated yard. Part of the solution is promoting changes in people's attitudes, but part is also finding ways to make your beds look good.   One of the best ways is neat edges on straight or curved lines. Find a way to make the edges of your bed clean and even.


I use several different techniques. One is to line the edge of the bed with 6 to 12 inches wide pieces of river rock and add an outer strip about 12-14 inches wide of crushed rock. Place these materials over a layer of weed-barrier landscape fabric. The crushed rock makes a great mowing strip and gives a nice clean line. Another alternative is wood chip mulch. Mulch the outer edge of the bed to a width of about 16-18 inches and use the mulch to keep lawn grass from encroaching into the plant bed and to keep native plants from encroaching into the lawn. Realistically, you will need to use a non-selective herbicide 3-4 times per year along this mulch strip to keep it plant and grass free, but a minimal amount of herbicide will go a long way. Then once a year clean up the edge with a shovel in those spots where you have lost your clean line.


If your bed isn't too large and the line is straight, you can use landscape timbers. Prepare the ground so that it is level enough that the ends of the timbers meet evenly. Drill holes in the timbers and pound in rebar to firmly anchor the landscape timber to the ground.


Simplified Seed Application


Most articles on planting native seed specify that the soil be tilled in advance, and sometimes there is even a warning not to apply seed over dead sod. But if you have hard clay soil and you are working on a slope, which describes many yards in Tennessee and particularly our yard, the thought of turning over the soil brings up dire images of large chunks of hard clay eroding downhill in a rainstorm. Tilling or plowing was just not an option.


I decided to try what Mother Nature does--drop seed on the surface. I assumed that most seed has been designed by nature to work its way down into the soil over time, and I further assumed that dead sod (sprayed with herbicide in advance of planting) would help hold the seed in place until it got started. I preferred to test these assumptions before I would try to till up hard clay. After having done three wildflower meadows, I can say that this technique works quite well. You do have to use about 25-50% more seed because the germination rate is lower, but that is a small price to pay.


Use of Annuals in the Seed Mix


Last year I tried for the first time adding annual seeds to my seed mix for a new wildflower meadow. I figured that annuals could act as a nurse crop to give the perennials some protection while they are getting started, and that they would give me some instant color in the first year when things are otherwise pretty slow. This effort succeeded beyond my expectations and produced some breath-taking color. I tried to use species that are native to Tennessee, and there are some nice ones. I used Indian Blanket or Firewheel, Drummond Phlox, Dwarf Red Plains Coreopsis, and Lemon Mint, plus Scarlet Sage which occurs close by but probably is not a Tennessee native.


I assumed that the annuals would re-seed and while they would not be dominant in the following year, they would be present. This is the second year of my experiment, and I am a little surprised to see that the annuals, while still present, are fairly sparse. So if you want annuals as an on-going feature in your plantings, it appears that seed needs to be added each spring provided there is still space for them.


Beautiful Plantings


When I am looking at lawn made up of a mix of grass and weeds and thinking about how I am going to plant the area, it is hard to imagine how much that site is going to change. Beginning work on my projects almost feels like an act of faith. But in a relatively short time, you can turn a mediocre lawn into either a colorful meadow filled with wild flowers or the beginnings of a shady woodland of trees and shrubs. Sometimes I look at before-and-after pictures of our plantings and am amazed at the change, and I am even more amazed that the work my husband and I did has produced that change.






Is Backyard Nesting Over? 


Lyn Bales

Stephen Lynn Bales

Senior Naturalist 


Now that summer is winding down and the maples will soon be changing into their autumnal reds and golds, you might think that all the backyard birds have finished nesting. 


 True, the cardinals, wrens, chickadees, robins and woodpeckers have all completed their parental responsibilities. Most have even started molting into their winter plumage.  But there's one species of backyard bird still in the "family way."


Bales Doves

Mourning doves get their name by the mournful "ooah-woo-woo-woo" sung by the male throughout the breeding season. It's a song they sing long and loud for many months.  According to Charles Nicholson, author of Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Tennessee, they have one the longest breeding periods of any North American bird. Courtship often begins on warm January days and eggs can be laid as late as December.


Between the two benchmarks of our solar year, a pair of doves can produce as many as six clutches usually having only two eggs each. If you've ever raised a family, you know that's a lot of work, a lot of work times six.


These doves are able to accomplish such productivity by quickly building small nests, often reusing old nests, constant incubation by either the male or female and rapid development of the young. Incubation only takes about 14 days and the nestlings are old enough to fly away in about the same amount of time -- one month, start to finish.


Mourning doves are monogamous and may even mate for life. The female constructs the nest while the male fetches the materials. They usually build their simple nurseries - mere stick platforms - six to fifty feet above the ground in the forks of vertical limbs of deciduous trees; but not always. A pair of doves can claim a hanging basket on a front porch (whether this year's fuchsia is still in it or not) or a ledge under a roofline or eave.



  • Mourning doves are ground feeders. A handful of seeds    tossed on your back deck or patio will keep them busy for hours. 
  • Leave at least one hanging basket filled with dirt but no plants hanging under your roof's eaves
  • Mourning doves are the one species that actually eat milo seed, often used in mixes as filler


Lynn Bales is a senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center and

 author of "Natural Histories and Ghost Birds" by UT Press.

To learn more visit Stephen's nature blog


A Peak into Rain Garden Plants 


Last month we introduced the concept of rain gardens -- a landscape feature that is designed to collect and absorb rain water and reduce polluted runoff.  Now let's look at the opportunities and the challenges they can provide the gardener.  


As with any site designated for planting, a primary key to the success of a rain garden is making the proper plant selection based on site conditions (i.e., TYN Principle #1:  Right, Plant, Right Place).  In the case of rain gardens, a very unique set of hydric conditions is created:  at times they're flooded and at other times they're bone-dry.  Obviously, not all plants can tolerate these conditions so care must be taken in their selection.   


First off, we recommend to primarily go native.  Native plants are those that have lived in your region for ages and have adapted to changing local conditions so they generally are the hardiest and can survive under the most variable conditions.  They also are often deep-rooted, which contributes to their ability to obtain water during drier conditions.   


Planting natives is also a reflection of the larger commitment you are making to the well being of your local community when installing a rain garden.  You are collecting stormwater and filtering out pollutants before it enters local water bodies.  You are conserving water by replenishing your ground water stores.  And you are providing a welcoming space for pollinators to propagate local plants utilized by local fauna.   


TYN recently installed a new rain garden demonstration site on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  We made sure to use nothing but native plants to demonstrate their overall hardiness, wildlife benefits, and visual appeal.  Following are several plants we used and a little information about each one.   If you are unsure about a plant, let us know via the TYN Facebook page or e-mail us at tnyards@gmail.com.  We'll call in the plant experts to provide feedback on the plant in question.   We'd also love to hear which plants are working best in your rain garden so we can all continue to learn from one another!


Amsonia tabernaemontana - Bluestar or Dogbane


Blue Star

Bluestar is a plant that we are currently testing in our rain garden to see how it does with periodic inundation. For its first spring season with plenty of heavy rains, it held up well. Bluestar is an attractive plant with clusters of pale, steel blue flowers that bloom in late spring. It likes partial shade, but seems to be faring well in our full-sun garden.  


Aster novae-angliae - New

New England Aster

England Aster  


New England aster is very dependable and easy to grow, with variable purple, pink, lavender, or white ray flowers around a cluster of yellow disk flowers.  It tends to be a tall bushy plant, ranging from 3-5' tall and 3-5' wide.  It is a tough and disease-free plant that prefers full sun.  It's a great butterfly and bee food source in the fall when other plants have ceased blooming.


 Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal FlowerCardinal Flower


Cardinal flower is a favorite of hummingbirds. With its brilliant crimson flowers on two to four-foot stems, this showy plant is a popular one for rain gardens.   Typically, cardinal flower blooms from July through September, performing better in partial to full sun spots. During its first year of establishment, the Cardinal flower's soil needs to be kept moist, but after can take spells of drier conditions.



White Star Sedge

Rhynochospora colorata - White Star Sedge   

This sedge looks like a grass with daisy like flowers; the white petals are long, drooping and pointed.  It has a long flowering period, from June through August.  It grows 1-2 ft tall and likes full to part sun and wet conditions.  It can be fairly aggressive in moist soil.  It is native from Virginia to Texas.



Bee Balm close upMonarda didyma 'Jacob Cline' - Jacob Cline Scarlet Beebalm

This plant was named for the son of Georgia plantsman and garden designer Jean Cline.  It was discovered growing in Georgia and was introduced by Saul Nursery.   It has enormous, intensely red tubular flowers which bloom from June to August.   It needs full sun, as part shade will cause the flowers to decline.  It grows 2-3 feet tall and can spread easily in a favorable site.   It is a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. 



Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' - Henry's Garnet

Virginia SweetspireHenry's Garnet Virginia Sweetspire


Virginia Sweetspire is a mainstay for rain gardens and the 'Henry's Garnet' selection provides particularly showy elongated clusters of white flowers. The foliage consists of bright green oblong leaves that turn a deep red in the fall. This shrub may reach six ft or so, with an equivalent width so you definitely need to allow for adequate spacing. It is also a hardy plant that seems forgiving of poorer soils and likes partial to full sun.


Keep in mind that not all native plants will thrive or even survive under the wide hydric conditions created by a rain garden so it is important to do your homework before making your purchases.  A good first step for finding out more about native plants is to go to the Tennessee Native Plant Society Website .  Also, TVA has a useful Native Plant Database where you can search for plants given a select set of conditions.  Take care when using the rain garden plant lists in rain garden manuals.  We have noticed that sometimes native plants that do not fare well with periodic inundation are included.  And if in doubt, ask!  We are one click away and can put you in touch with the experts.    


See ya' next month! 


Thanks so much for reading!  Check back in with us next month for details on our new projects and more tips on achieving a healthy home landscape! 


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Keep in Touch!


Ruth Anne Hanahan & Dr. Andrea Ludwig

TYN Statewide Co-Directors

 Tennessee Water Resources Research Center

University of Tennessee

311 Conference Center

Knoxville, TN 37996