Issue 6November, 2011
In This Issue
A Crop of Contradictions
Fall Composting
Invasive Honeysuckle
Garden Tip #1
Prune back Rose of Sharon, Hydrangeas, and other late season blooming trees and shrubs. It's also a good time to transplant or plant trees, shrubs and fruit crops. Be sure to mulch newly installed plants with a three to four inch layer of mulch. 

Fauna & Flora



Indian Grass Close up
Jennifer Anderson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Indian Grass

Sorghastrum nutans 


This Tennessee native grass has an eye-catching fall deep orange to purple color! It grows to a height of 3 to 5 feet with broad blue-green blades and has large, plume-like, soft, golden-brown seed heads.  Indian grass is a mainstay in tallgrass prairies and makes a great addition to a wildflower meadow or as a backdrop in a corner lot garden. It prefers full sun and dry to medium dry soil and provides great winter interest, attracting birds and other wildlife. The plumes also make a great dried flower.


Garden Tip #2
Cut Chrysanthemum stems and other perennials four to five inches from the soil once they have begun to die back, but leave ornamental grasses to provide winter interest until spring. 

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Garden Tip #3
Cold season annuals such as calendulas, Iceland poppies, primroses, pansies and violas, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage and kale, can still be planted, but the earlier in the month the better.  Look for perennials such as oriental poppies and coral bells to plant as well. 

What are Invasive Plants?

An invasive plant has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its natural range.  A naturally aggressive plant may be especially invasive when it is introduced to a new habitat.  An invasive species that colonizes a new area may gain an ecological edge since the insects, diseases, and foraging animals that naturally keep its growth in check in its native range are not present in its new habitat.

-U.S. National Arboretum 


See a list of invasive plants in TN at:


Garden Tip #4
Keep heavy layers of leaves raked from the lawn. They should be composted.  Alternatively, you can just mow over a light layer of leaves, turning them to a mulch which adds important nutrients back to the lawn. 



Welcome to the November Tennessee Yards & Neighborhoods newsletter.  Reflecting on fall, I often think of its richness - the deep hues of gold, orange and red, the aromas of fires and pumpkin pie and the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves.  That same sense of richness came over me as I read the articles this month - the wealth of information packed into them; the generosity of these authors for their contributions to TYN; and the bounties and resilience of nature.  


This month we begin with Joy Stewart providing fascinating facts on lawns and alternatives to them that can enhance our backyard habitat.  Julie Berbiglia, who is new to the TYN newsletter and is a TN Master Gardener and Metro Nashville Stormwater Educator, provides guidance on how to recycle our fall leaves and other yard and kitchen wastes via composting.  Lyn Bales then takes us around the world and back, providing us insights into the extraordinarily invasive plant we are seeing, all too often now, on the Tennessee landscape -- bush honeysuckle.


On behalf of the TYN State Management Team, we hope you enjoy this month's newsletter and welcome your feedback!


Ruth Anne  



A Crop of Contradictions

Joy Stewart

Master Gardener


On what crop do we spend $6.2 billion a year to grow on 25 million acres of land and then throw away when we harvest it?[1]


The answer to this peculiar question is grass for our lawns.  Granted, in reality, we grow this crop for its appearance, not for harvest.  Nonetheless, our American love affair with lawns has a variety of cultural and environmental contradictions built into it.


There is nothing like the clean, even greenery of a freshly

mowed lawn.  It nicely accents our house, and it feels good to step back and survey it when the mowing is done.  Grass is even known to affect people's moods by creating a feeling of serenity.  It blends our yard with other neatly mowed lawns on the block, and we join our neighbors in criticizing anyone in the neighborhood who lets their lawn go weedy and unmowed.  We want our lawns green, weed-free and closely mowed.


Our fascination with lawns has a long history, perhaps even buried a bit in our genetic make-up.  Primitive man had a better chance of survival in short grass where he could see potential predators.  The first lawns were created around castles of aristocrats in 17th century Europe.  Lawns let the neighbors know that the landowner was so wealthy that he could use the land as a playground, not a place to grow food.  In the mid-1800s, the masses began to imitate the English upper crust, and books and articles on lawns began to appear.  Lawns took a big jump forward with the invention of the push lawn mower in 1830 and another big jump forward after World War II with the appearance of chemicals and gas-powered lawn mowers.  Thus, we entered the mega-business and mass marketing of large immaculate swaths of green grass. [2,3] 


The numbers behind this love affair are a bit staggering.  One-third of all water used from public sources is for landscaping, mostly lawns. [4]  Lawns use 10 times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farming. [5]  Each year, we spend $5.25 billion on fertilizer and apply 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides. [6] Add to this list the environmental impact of 44 million gas-powered lawnmowers using 580 million gallons of gasoline per year.  One hour of driving a gas-powered lawnmower equals driving a car 45 miles, according to the EPA. [7]

Joy Fron Yard Native Planting
An example of creating functional lawn areas in your yard.
Photo provided by Joy Stewart


Concern for the environ-ment has brought into question whether we really need "wall-to-wall" grass.  Lawns can be very functional, but we need to ask ourselves where lawn is most needed in our yards.  Lawn provides an excellent area for outdoor recreation and a place for children and adults to play games.  It is also excellent at surrounding and highlighting the entrance to our homes.


Lawn is a poor planting for other important functions.  Grubs and sod webworms, two common critters attracted to lawns, are a sad contrast to the diversity of bees, butterflies and birds that are attracted by native wildflowers and grasses.  Our steady replacement of natural habitat with sterile lawn composed of alien grasses is a big part of why we are losing our birds and butterflies.  We have had nearly a 50 percent reduction in population size for many of our bird species in the last 50 years. [8] Habitat loss is the number one cause of decline in butterfly species.  In the U.S. we have 23 butterfly species designated as threatened or endangered, and even our beloved monarch butterfly appears to be sliding into a long-term decline. [9,10] 

Lawn is also poor at controlling stormwater runoff.   Lawns absorb between zero and two inches of rain per hour.  A native planting of wildflowers and grasses can absorb up to seven and one-half inches per hour, four times the maximum capacity of a lawn.  Undergrowth in a mature forest can absorb up to 21 inches of rain per hour, 11 times the maximum capacity of lawn.  Leaves slow the speed and impact of rain drops, and the deep root systems help rainwater penetrate the soil. [11]


Prairie Moon Yard
This yard has no problem absorbing rain water and provides a great place to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings and wildlife. 
 Photo Courtesy of Prairie Moon Nursery


There are numerous alternatives to lawn that will reduce our use of water, chemicals, and mowing.  These include big planting beds of low-water use plants, areas of native plantings including woodland and wildflower meadows, mulching, groundcovers, and using paths of gravel, mulch or permeable pavers.  Native plants are an especially good alternative.  They are naturally adapted to Tennessee soil and climate, do not need fertilizer, are pest resistant, and need minimal watering.  For example, if you have a large shade tree in your yard, replace the lawn beneath the tree with native understory trees and shrubs and stop mowing and raking leaves.  In the fall, let the leaves fertilize and enrich the plantings underneath.  

Joy's Back Yard Native Planting [WI]
Imagine strolling through wildflower meadows in your back yard. Extra privacy, less mowing, and great for the environment!
Photo provided by Joy Stewart


When we think about possible changes to our yard, it challenges our addiction to lawns and may make us a little nervous, wondering what our neighbors might think.  On the positive side, making your yard more nature-friendly and biologically diverse can be an exciting learning process.  It challenges us to redefine beauty in our yards.  It is an opportunity to experiment and express our creativity.  It can make a great family activity and provide a chance for our children to learn more about nature.  In addition, it saves money and work, reducing the amount of mowing and maintenance.  These changes are a win-win proposition for both the homeowner and the environment.



1."Frequently Asked Questions." Ask the Expert. The Lawn Institute. 

2."History of the American Lawn." By Cameron Donaldson. The Limpkin. Newsletter of the Space Coast Audubon Society of Brevard County, Florida. 

3."The history of the lawn mower from inventor to today." the.lawn.mower.

4."Advanced Concepts in Water Smart Landscape Design." Cory Tanner. Clemson University Extension. Household Water Use. Averages per day, source American Water Works Association Research Foundation.

5. Bill Chameides. "Statically Speaking: Lawns by the Numbers". The Green Grok. Duke University; Nicholas School of the Environment. July 25, 2008. 

6."Green Landscaping: Greenacres." Environmental Protection Agency.

7.Ron Barnett. "Gas lawn mowers don't cut it." USA Today. 4/28/2010.

8.Douglas Tallamy. Bringing Nature Home. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2007.

9.Heather Millar. "Restoring Rare Beauties." National Wildlife Federation News and Magazine. June 1, 2008.

10."Monarch Butterfly Populations Tumbling". Discovery News. April 5, 2011

11.Data from Luna Bharati, "Infiltration Studies Along Vegetated Riparian Buffer Zones." Iowa State University MA Thesis. From presentation "Naturally Engineered Landscaped Solutions for Water Quality and Stormwater Management" Tennessee Department of Agriculture; Water Resources.


Julie Berbiglia

Don't Let Your

Leaves Go to Waste ! 

Julie Berbiglia

This time of year we are especially concerned with leaves and

Wheelbarrel of Leaves
Save those Leaves!

yard debris in our streams and creeks. Leaves and brush in the waterways can cause flooding problems for your downstream neighbors. The nutrients from the leaves can also cause an overgrowth of algae, which in turn deplete the oxygen levels in the water, harming fish and other aquatic life. Did you know your leaves are a wonderful, free resource that can be put to use improving your soil? Turn your leaves into valuable soil amendment by following these basic composting instructions:



  1. Collect leaves and corral them with a simple fence made from chicken wire and four metal fence posts.
  2. Forget about the leaves throughout the winter.
  3. On pretty days, when you want a little exercise, go out and stir the leave pile with a hoe.
  4. Next spring, dig down through the pile until you find the "garden gold" - composted leaves that look like dark mulch.

BASIC INSTRUCTIONS: (requires a little bit of work)

  1. Find an area of your yard that gets at least five hours of sunlight per day for best results. (You can compost in the shade; it takes a bit longer.).
  2. Make or purchase a composting bin to place in your chosen area. A wire ring of chicken wire works just fine, as does a simple pile.
  3. Find a container with a tight-sealing lid to store your kitchen waste.
  4. Fill the container with your kitchen waste.
  5. Accumulate a large pile of brown leaves to put in your composting bin.
  6. Moisten the leaves to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
  7. Periodically, stir the contents of your kitchen-waste container into the pile of leaves.
  8. After about one month to 6-weeks, check the bottom of the pile to look for finished compost-- it will look like mulch and smell like "fresh, good soil . Use it to mulch around plants and to mix with garden soil.

What Can I Put In My Compost?

Lady Composting


Just about any kitchen or yard waste can go into your backyard compost. Dry leaves, shredded newspaper and soiled napkins can also be mixed into the bin. Always cover food waste with

leaves, weeds, or paper to avoid attracting bugs.








-coffee grounds

-egg shells


-nut shells

-paper filters



-stale bread

-tea bags









-pine needles






-paper towel


-pet hair

-real wood



-shredded, dry leaves



Do NOT Compost




-dairy products

-diseased/insect infested plants



-mature weeds (with seeds)



-pet wastes

-whole egg


Julie is the education specialist at Nashville Metro Water Services and co-wrote "The Dirt on Composting- A Simple Guide to Composting Food and Yard Waste in Your Back Yard"



Stephen Lyn BalesInvasive Amur honeysuckle, a habitat destroyer! 

by Stephen Lyn Bales


If this begins like a foreign travelogue, there's a reason. Plants are not as "planted" as you might think.

The Amur River Valley is a curved, wide basin in northeastern Asia. North of the valley lie the East Siberian Uplands, a rugged wilderness with many mountains rising over 10,000 feet. South of the valley are the Chinese Khingan Mountain Ranges. The Amur River itself is over 2,000 miles long and serves as a political border, separating China from Russia.

It's a desolate area, largely inaccessible with few people and fewer towns. (Siberia's Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensksk are two of the largest.) At 50 degrees North Latitude the Amur River is frozen seven to nine months a year. Water that does flow to the ocean empties into the Tatar Strait west of Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk.

If these names sound foreign and faraway; they are. They're on the opposite side of the world almost as removed from the Volunteer State as you can possibly get and remain on Mother Earth. You might think we have little in common with the remote region, but there is a shrub in the honeysuckle family that is found in both places.

Amur Honeysuckle with flowers
Armur Honeysuckle in bloom

Sometime in the past 400 years the bushy shrub was collected in Asia as an ornamental and passed along from gardener to gardener to gardener until it made the jump to our country, our state. Here the shrub has a longer growing season, so it thrives. (Tennessee is roughly 35 degrees North Latitude, much more hospitable.) Here it can reach heights of ten to fifteen feet and grows well in the sun or shade. Being from Siberia, it's also surprisingly drought tolerate.

Amur honeysuckle, also known as bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), is a highly invasive species in the Southern Appalachians. It has spread to become a dominant understory plant. An invasive, non-native species lacks natural controls to subdue its spread. There's no check and balance, no law and order, no caped superhero to eradicate it.  Where it establishes a colony, few native plants and wildflowers can grow. (Oddly, in Japan it's listed as an endangered species.)

Amur Honeysuckle with berries
Also known as bush honeysuckle this invasive plant spreads quickly, stifling native habitats.

Amur honeysuckle is out there, slowly spreading like kudzu. This time of the year its small fruits borne in pairs glisten bright crimson like "Cinnamon Red-Hots." Birds eat the berries and poop out the seeds. (Forgive them, they know not what they do.) One plant can become hundreds. Consequently, this foreign shrub should never be encouraged; it can turn a natural diverse habitat into a lawless monoculture.

If you have it on your property chop it down. Now!

  • Bush honeysuckle is an invasive plant that should never be encouraged.
  • Birds eat the bright red berries and spread the seeds.
  • Plant native berry-producing hollies, dogwoods and viburnums instead.

Stephen Lyn Bales is a senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center and author of Natural Histories and Ghost Birds by UT Press. Visit his nature blog: http://stephenlynbales.blogspot.com 



Upcoming Events

Tennessee Friendly Home Landscaping Workshop 

Saturday, November 12th  9 am-3 pm


We invite you to a workshop that will introduce you to a healthier way of landscaping!



UT Agriculture Campus, Center for Renewable Carbon Bldg., 2506 Jacob Drive, Knoxville, TN 37919


Cost & Registration:

$35 per person or $50 per couple, Advanced registration required

Lunch provided

To register call: Knox Co. Extension at (865) 215-2340


For more information visit:

Tennessee Yards & Neighborhoods Event Calendar


See Ya' Next Month!
  Thanks so much for reading!

Check back with us next month for details on our new projects and more tips on achieving a healthy home landscape.

Until then, follow us on Facebook!


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Contact Info

Ruth Anne Hanahan and Dr. Andrea Ludwig

TYN Statewide Co-Directors

Tennessee Water Resources Research Center

University of Tennessee

311 Conference Center

Knoxville, TN 37996