Issue 7December, 2011
Links to Articles
A Sprig of Holly
Stress on Interior Plants?
Bird-Friendly Decorations
Q&A - Advisory Board

Garden Tip


Landscaping plans
December is a good month to start thinking about landscape improvements for next season. Look through books and magazines for ideas. If your plans are elaborate, make an appointment with a landscape professional. Many landscape designers are less rushed this time of year.
 Water Facts!
1. If all the world's water were fit into a gallon jug, the fresh water available for us to use would equal about one tablespoon.

2.  Most of the world's people must walk at least 3 hours to fetch water.

3. 6,800 gallons of water is required to grow a day's food for a family of four.

Helpful Links

Garden Tip



When you have finished your last mowing of the year, make sure that your mower is properly stored. Run it until it is out of fuel.  Old gas can turn into varnish, and severely damage the engine.  Be sure to sharpen the blade to get your lawnmower ready for next spring. 

Water Quiz!

Test your water trivia knowledge!  The first person  to respond with the correct answer will receive a TYN rain gauge to track the rainfall in your gardens!! 


What were the first water pipes made from in the U.S.?

email answers to :

The correct answer and winner of this months Water Quiz will be featured in next month's newsletter.

Garden Tip




Poinsettias are the favored flowering holiday plant. While red is still the traditional color, pinks,whites, variegated, salmon and yellow varieties abound. Plant sizes vary from standard four-to six-inch pots, to miniatures to tree forms and even hanging baskets. Regardless of the size or variety, poinsettias like bright light and even moisture.  With plenty of light, they can keep their colored bracts for many months.
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Welcome to the December TYN newsletter!  In the spirit of the season, this month we bring you a delightful series of holiday articles. Lyn Bales, with his wonderful wit, provides functional and fun insights into the festive holly plant. Beth Babbit sheds light on how to keep our indoor plants healthy throughout the winter season.  She also provides some very practical tips for those who will be putting up a Christmas tree.  We set Katie Walberg, our TYN AmeriCorps member, to the task of coming up with wildlife-friendly holiday activities and she simply outdid herself, providing us with the how-to's of creating tasty outdoor ornaments for birds and other wildlife.  These are activities that would be wonderful for a children's holiday party or for a family gathering.  Lastly, in our ongoing series to introduce you to our TYN Advisory Board members, we provide you with an interview with Michael Hunt who has the daunting task of managing Metro Nashville's stormwater program.  Enjoy!
Happy holidays,
Your TYN State Management Team

Stephen Lyn BalesA sprig of holly for the holidays and the birds

By Stephen Lyn Bales


Is there anything more festive this time of the year than a sprig of American holly (Ilex opaca) loaded with bright red berries? The colorful trees are also practical.


I recall watching a pileated woodpecker lumber about a holly eating the berries. The scene was somewhat comical because it was far too large for many of the small branches to support it. The awkward bird was dangling like a piñata chock-full of gummy bears.


Although woodpeckers are primarily insectivores, when the pickings are meager, they will eat soft mast -- berries of various kinds. They are not the only birds that eat holly berries. Bluebirds, robins, sparrows, mockingbirds, thrashers and cedar waxwings all eat berries to augment their diet and fatten up for the cold weather ahead.


Holly has long been associated with the holidays. In the Old Country the holly tree was once called the "holy tree." The word holiday itself is apparently an Old English 14th century derivative of the term "holy day," a day of religious festival.


The use of evergreen as decoration indoors can be traced back to the early Romans and probably predates even that. It was believed that hanging vibrant sprigs inside gave the woodland spirits a place of refuge away from inclement weather. In early times folks wanted to keep the protective spirits happy, because no one likes an unhappy forest nymph.

American holly

Ilex opaca

Our forefathers and foremothers must have been pleasantly thrilled to find a species of holly, the American Holly, that so resembled their familiar European Holly. The two are closely related, although the Old World variety has more brilliant green leaves and redder fruit.
The father-of-our-country himself, George Washington, was as captivated with hollies as Thomas Jefferson was with pecan trees. (This gives us a glimpse into Washington's formal nature and Jefferson's practical one.)Holly has an aloof, prickly sort of personality; its formal. It's not the kind of tree you would take to a dance or cuddle up with on a cold winter's night; for that you would want a nice hemlock. You treat hollies with respect. Our first president planted many of the sculpted-leaf trees at his Mount Vernon estate in the 1780s, some are still standing.

English holly

Ilex aquifolium


Musically, hollies also play a part in Christmas. If sometime during the holidays you find yourself at a piano singing carols, take a good look at the black keys. The fine grained wood of holly is often used because it's hard and takes the black stain readily.


At any rate; it's time to deck the halls. And while you are at it, give the birds a gift. Plant a holly!


- By Stephen Lyn Bales, 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


Beth BabbittHoliday stress on

interior plants?

by Beth Babbit




We humans are not the only ones that feel the stress of the holidays.

You may find that by the time the Christmas season rolls around that your indoor plants are looking a bit peeked. Typically it is one or more of three factors that are contributing to their sad state - light exposure, surrounding temperature, and relative humidity (moisture). First off, if any one of these dramatically changes (e.g., turning on the heat, moving a plant into a different location), it can stress the plant. And just like us, if a plant gets stressed, it is more prone to sickness, becoming susceptible to diseases and pests. Let's now take a closer look at these factors to discuss adjustments you may need to make to perk up your plants and keep them happy throughout the rest of the winter.


Light: If your plants are looking pale, you may need to move them to a location where there is more light; however, avoid placing them in direct sunlight, especially in southern windows. Leaf scorch is often found on foliage closest to window glass. Another tip is to not place your plants in a brighter location than they were in during the rest of the year.


Temperature: Now that it has gotten colder outside, we want to keep the inside warm and cozy. Keeping your plants away from heating vents and drafty spaces will reduce plant problems caused by temperature variations.


Relative Humidity: Heating systems tend to circulate dry air throughout the house. Houseplants need a certain amount of moisture in the air to respire properly. There are several ways to keep air moisture levels up around plants. You can place the plant in an "evaporation pan" made out of a tray or baking pan with rocks or stones. Put the pot on top of the stones and pour water into the pan, making sure the water level stays below the pot. Keep in mind that this water is for the air around the plants not for the roots and that if the plants sit in water, root rot may occur. Another option is to hand mist plants with a spray bottle. Cleaning foliage with water and a soft cloth can also help. This takes dirt off of the stomata (leaf pores) to open them up and allow for optimal breathing.


Another important winter-time consideration for keeping an indoor plant healthy is the amount of water it receives. Because indoor plants usually receive less light, the process that creates energy for the plant to grow (i.e., photosynthesis) slows down and thus less water is needed. To determine if you need to water your plant, put your finger into the soil to gauge its water content. If the soil is really wet, you do not need to water it. In fact, for indoor plants, you want the soil to be a little on the dry side. Also, keep in mind that an overwatered plant looks very similar to an under-watered one with wilted leaves, faded leaf colors and little or no growth.


Lastly 'tis the season for a few additional pointers regarding the care of your holiday tree:

  • Remove about ½ inch disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting it in the stand and avoid getting the cut surface dirty. This will allow for better uptake of water. Drilling a hole in the trunk base does NOT improve water uptake.
  • Place your tree in water as soon as you get it home. If you need to store it for several days before putting it in the house, keep the tree in a cool area and place the trunk in a bucket of water.
  • Keep displayed trees away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.
  • Use of lights that produce low heat and will reduce drying of the tree.
  • Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set. Do not overload electrical circuits.
  • Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.
  • Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is dry, remove it from the house.
  • Contact your municipal solid waste program to find out if your community has a Christmas tree recycling program.

Source: National Christmas Tree Association

 Festive outdoor ornaments that keep winter birds fat and happy!


By Katie Walberg 


This month at TYN we decided to get a little crafty for the holiday season.   It's always fun to decorate the Christmas tree and adorn our indoor living spaces with colorful reminders of the season, but what about our outdoor spaces and for that matter outdoor wildlife? As the temperature drops and seasonal plants die back it becomes more and more difficult for our outdoor critters to survive.   In particular, our feathered friends need to maintain a fatty diet in order to withstand the cold of winter and sustain their energy to avoid predators.  Plus, the benefits of having a variety of birds visiting your yard throughout the year are birds propagate seeds from your native plantings, they cut down on pesky bugs during the spring and summer, and during winter months they add color and vitality to what can be at times a bleak landscape.  So with this in mind, let's fatten up some birds for the winter and make festive decorations that are as attractive as they are functional!  It's fun for the whole family!

The cookie ornament

Cookie ornaments are great for decorating outdoor trees and shrubs.  They are easy to make but can be a little on the messy side. However, messy just means more fun!  What you will need for this project is:



  • Stale or toasted bread (works better than fresh bread)
  • Cookie cutters of a variety of shapes and sizes (the larger the better)
  • Cotton string (better for the birds if they use it in their nests)
  • Melted peanut butter (easier to spread)
  • Toppings for the cookie ornament can include:
    • Black oil sunflower seeds (a bird favorite!)
    • Striped sunflower seeds
    • Peanuts
    • Cranberries
    • Apple slices

Take your toasted or stale bread slices and use the cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes and sizes.  Don't be afraid to get creative!   After you have created a bunch of bread shapes lightly coat one side of the "cookie" with a thin layer of peanut butter. This will help the seeds and fruits stick to the ornament.  Now for the really fun part!  Decorate your ornament with a variety of seeds, nuts and fruits.  You can create patterns, shapes or you can cover the whole ornament with one treat!  If you would like to decorate both sides, wait until you have decorated the first side then flip the ornament over onto a non-stick cookie pan to start the other side. This will alleviate some mess and broken ornaments (I learned the hard way). Once you have finished, poke a hole in the top and thread a little cotton string through to make a loop and viola!  You have a bird friendly festive outdoor ornament.

Tip: If your ornaments feel a little flimsy put them in the freezer for a day.

Popcorn and cranberry garland 

This is a great project to do on a cold winter day when you want to curl up indoors.  Plus, the popped popcorn makes the house smell great!  What you will need for this project:

  • Plain popped popcorn (no salt or other flavorings)
  • Fresh cranberries (They work really well for stringing but you could also use dried or frozen.)
  • Large craft needle
  • Cotton string

Thread your needle and start stringing the popcorn and cranberries.  You can alternate the fruit and popcorn to create fun patterns, and you can make really long strings that will wrap around outdoor trees.  Feel free to add peanuts in the shell, dried apple slices or other dried fruits to enhance your garland.  This makes for an extremely easy and beautiful natural outdoor decoration, and the birds will love you for it! 

Tip: If you leave the popcorn out for a bit and let it get stale it's really easy to string.

Orange hanging feeder

I thought this was a cute idea from "Unplug your Kids."  

The orange's color attracts the birds and looks really great hanging on winter trees or evergreens. What you will need for this project:

  • One orange halved with the fruit cleaned out
  • A variety of seeds, nuts and berries
  • Cotton string
  • Craft needle

After you have cleaned out the orange halves (and had a nice little winter snack), take your craft needle and poke three holes about a ¼" from the top edge of the orange on either side to thread your string through.  Thread a piece of string through each hole to create a hanging basket. 

Make sure the strings are around the same length or your basket will likely tip.  Fill the basket with a variety of nuts, seeds and berries for your feathery friends to snack on.  Hang it up and you're ready to start watching for the birds.  What is nice about this ornament is smaller birds can perch on the edge of the orange and easily eat a winter snack.  Also, you can be creative with how you decorate the hanging basket.  I tried stringing some cranberries along the outer edge like a mini-garland on one and stitched the top edge on the other to give a more finished look.  Either way, the birds will love it and it will look great hanging in your trees with the garland and cookie ornaments!



 What is the best treat for birds in the winter?

Black oil sunflower seeds: Higher oil content than the striped sunflower seeds with thinner shells. A great all-season bird food.  Option:  Offer sunflower hearts or chips to avoid a buildup of shells that can damage grass in the spring. 

Peanuts, peanut butter (unsalted):  A high calorie, fat-rich nut that appeals to many backyard birds.  The nuts don't freeze so they are a great winter snack for birds.  Peanuts can be used shelled or whole.

Suet:  A popular food for feeding birds, particularly in the winter, because the fat used to create the cakes is a highly concentrated form of energy essential to maintain body heat.  The fat in commerical suet is actually  from around the kidneys of cattle and sheep.  (source: about.com)

Other Tips for Outdoor garden ornaments

Do you have peanut allergies?  Suet is a great substitute for the above projects.

How do you keep other creatures like squirrels and cats out of the bird treats? I looked up a lot of advice for this and figured the best plan is to try to hang the ornaments in a place that they can't reach, or just put out enough ornaments for birds and squirrels to enjoy.  Also, a trick that might work is putting some cayenne pepper in the treats.  Birds can't taste it so it doesn't bother them; most squirrels, raccoons and cats, however, find it a bit too spicy for their liking.  Just make sure not to rub your eyes after handling. Yowzers!

Here is more information on squirrel proofing bird feeders 

Have Fun and Happy Holidays!!

Q&A withTYN Advisory Board Member: 

Michael Hunt


Michael is the Program Manager of the Metro Water Services Stormwater Quality Section.



1.  Tell us a little bit about your background.  How long have you been working for Metro Nashville Stormwater Program Manager and what led you to this field of work?


I began my career as an industrial chemist in the private sector. That helped me better understand the nuances of water quality regulations,

particularly the scientific intent behind them as well as the impacts they

can have on the private sector. It also helps me to better explain the rationale and community benefits of regulatory compliance vs. relying solely on an enforcement hammer to gain compliance. Later, I became an NPDES permit writer for the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control. That experience was extremely valuable in promoting a better understanding of federal and state water quality regulations including NPDES permitting requirements. That work also helped me understand how facilities, prone to discharge pollution, can implement activities to address their potential pollution issues. Then, about 15 years ago, I was hired by Metro Nashville as they were initiating their NPDES stormwater permit compliance program. That was a very interesting time as we - as many cities - had to basically build the program from nothing. Over time, we continue to develop our program into a comprehensive effort aimed at addressing the various sources of urban stormwater runoff pollution.


2. Being the Stormwater Program Manager for the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Southeast, what do you find to be your most daunting challenges as well as your greatest rewards?


The challenges relate mainly to Metro Nashville being one of the larger municipal stormwater permittees in the nation based on a combination of population and land area (Metro Nashville is around 500 square miles in size). There is obviously a lot of land area and ongoing activities to oversee and assess for pollution potential. I see the corresponding rewards relating to when we find significant sources of pollution - sometimes with sources dating decades ago - and facilitate the elimination of those sources. Such improvements create significant benefits to our water resources and community.


3. The term "stormwater" can sometimes be confusing for folks.  Is there any difference between it and rain water? Also, is stormwater treated before entering our waterways?


Stormwater is just another word for rain water. The main thing to keep in mind is that once stormwater accumulates to the point of moving from one location to another, the "stormwater runoff" will pickup and convey various pollutants. Stormwater runoff generally flows to our rivers and streams without any type of treatment. That is why it is important for everyone to consider how to reduce stormwater runoff pollution.


4. Stormwater regulations can be quite confusing. Can you summarize how Tennessee helps to protect the integrity of stormwater across the state, ranging from the larger cities like Nashville to smaller municipalities like Collierville or more rural areas like Roane County? 


Various sites and activities that have an inherit potential to create stormwater pollution must receive a stormwater "permit" from the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control to allow and regulate stormwater runoff. These permits require sites to monitor and reduce the amount of stormwater pollution they discharge. Among those holding stormwater permits are ninety or so municipalities across the state. These "MS4" (municipal separate storm sewer system) permits require municipal governments to implement various programs and practices that help reduce the amount of stormwater pollution being discharged from the cities' MS4 drainage system to the receiving stream or river. Such programs and practices can include anything from taking enforcement action against significant polluters to encouraging residents to utilize stormwater-friendly practices on their property.


5. What would you say is the top misconception held by the public regarding stormwater?


I would say not realizing the cumulative impact that various lawn maintenance activities can have on our streams and rivers. Grass clippings, leaves and landscaping debris placed in ditches or streams, as well as the improper use and application of lawn herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers can significantly impact the water quality of our streams.


6.   If you were to speak to a neighborhood association about stormwater, what primary message would you want each association member to take home and apply? 


Everyone can take steps individually or collectively to reduce stormwater pollution. Whether it be by following use and application directions on lawn chemical labels, being careful to not expose potential pollution sources to stormwater runoff, or knowing the appropriate phone number to call in your community to report stormwater pollution, we all can play a role in reducing the amount of pollution being washed into our rivers and streams when it rains.



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.

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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