Rainwater Collection System

The rainwater collection system is comprised of one, 250-gallon tank, two 350-gallon tanks, one 1100-gallon tank, and three rain barrel collection stations. The tanks are all connected and drain downhill. Each tank can be opened and closed depending on how the water collection progresses. The whole system can be drained if necessary. Each of the tanks has a filter and is easy to clean.

A well pump powers three faucets that can be used on the front, side, and back areas of the yard. The whole system is connected to the sprinkler system and can adequately water all areas if tanks are full. The sprinkler system uses pop-up heads. There are five zones.

Hopefully in the future a drip system can be installed and more efficient use of the water will be made.

A great deal of water can be collected at the rain barrel stations by using the extra trash cans to catch the overflow from the rain barrel. I use a sump pump to empty these quickly and water with the hose. It is pretty efficient and much easier than using buckets. All the rain barrels were
acquired from Karen Alexander. When not in use, trashcans are stored so it does not look so messy.

This system is a work in progress. I hope to paint all the tanks and PVC pipe and use a wood lattice fencing to cover the highest tank in the back yard. I have planted vines to help cover the tanks. None of this system is visible from the street and all tanks are located in the back area of the lot.

If you interested in this, you are more than welcome to come and see it.

This is a picture, taken in January of 2008, shows the first tanks that were put in and the connections to the downspouts.

Here are two 350-gallon tanks that are located right across the chain link fence in the back of the house. They are connected to two downspouts on the corners of this part of the house.

This is the highest tank that holds approximately 250 gallons of water. It is connected to one of the downspouts. This tank drains to a larger tank when it is open or it can be closed to collect water when the other tanks are full.

This is the biggest tank that the other higher tank drains to. It holds 1100 gallons. I call her the Big Girl!! It is also located in the back yard.

To give an overview of the system, I have the rain barrels, trashcans, and the 350-gallon tank in the back yard and they drain down hill to the Big Girl!

Here is a photo of the rain barrel on the patio with overflow going to the trashcans (Give me a break- I think the trashcans give it an attractive but nice quirky look!). Usually these fill up after a single day’s rain. I have 3 stations like the one shown.

This is another one of the rain barrel stations on the front side of the house. None of these can be seen from the street.

This is the well pump that delivers water to the three faucets and the five-zone sprinkler system.

Birdscaping in the Home Garden

- By Steve Pettis
Turning one’s yard into a suitable habitat for birds requires designing landscapes that provide birds with their five essential needs: food, shelter, water, cover, and nesting sites. Birdscaping is a term used to describe the act of creating suitable habitat for avian species through landscaping. By planning landscape designs with birds in mind, gardeners can provide birds with the things they need to survive and birds can provide  gardeners with hours of enjoyment.

Planning a landscape that is suitable for birds is easy. Start by sketching the existing landscape. Make note of all structures, plantings, and topographical features. Make notes on your drawing of the plants to leave, to remove, or add keeping in mind that birds like edges such as forest and planting borders. Choose areas to plant trees and shrubs that birds can utilize. Mix in plantings of annuals and perennials that flower throughout the season. These plants will attract insects that birds may feed on. Try to leave standing dead trees, if possible, to provide habitat for birds such as woodpeckers.

After making plant choices that provide food, shelter, and cover for birds, artificial features should be considered. Water sources such as birdbaths, fountains, and ponds may be added to landscapes to attract birds. The features should be in the open away from any place cats and other predators can hide. Rocks and water plants add a to water feature’s attractiveness to birds as well as keeping the water fresh. Man made birdhouses can be installed. These should be placed in sheltered spots near a shrub or tree. Finally, birdfeeders can be added. All bird feeders should be placed in the open near some sort of cover. Baffles and guards should be placed on mounting poles of both birdfeeders and houses to prevent predation.

Attracting birds to one’s yard by birdscaping can be rewarding. Birds are not only beautiful and fun to watch, but also provide control of adult insects, grubs, and caterpillars. By improving suburban and urban landscapes, people can help replace bird habitat that has been reduced or destroyed by development.

Trees and Shrubs for Birds
Plant type
Birds attracted
Oak Tree Excellent nesting Blue jays, sparrows, acorn woodpeckers
Pine Tree Excellent nesting Robins, purple finches, mourning doves, warblers, sparrows
Holly Large shrub Shelter Towhees, thrashers, mockingbirds
Elderberry Large shrub Summer fruit Warblers, grosbeaks, goldfinches
Dogwood Small tree Nesting, late summer fruit Bell’s vireos, summer tanagers
American Beautyberry Shrub Late summer fruit Many birds
Native roses Shrub Nesting, cover Many birds
Eastern Red Cedar Tree Nesting, winter fruit Sparrows, robins, mockingbirds, many others
Winterberry Dec. Holly Small shrub Late winter fruit Robins, blackbirds, cedar waxwings


Feeders for Birds
Squirrel-proof feeders Spinners, flippers, trapdoors prevent pesky squirrels from robbing feeders
Platform feeders Feeds many birds at once
Tube feeders Plastic tube with staggered holes
Hummingbird feeders Glass feeders filled with sugar water (1 part sugar, 4 parts water; no red dye needed; boil and cool before use)
Suet feeders Wire suspended suet cake. Birds often hang upside down to feed.
Thistle feeders Narrow tube feeders
Peanut feeders Attracts woodpeckers
Window feeders Suction cups attach feeder to window

Get Your Soil Tested During The Dormant Season

One of the most important needs of plants is good soil for them to grow in. A soil test from the University of Georgia is the most accurate and effective way to assess the nutrient status and the relative acidity of the soil (pH). Applying fertilizer without a test can lead to applying too much or too little lime and fertilizer needed for optimum plant growth.

To collect the soil, take a minimum of ten samples randomly in the area that requires testing and mix the soil thoroughly in a container, like a bucket. Bring two cups of the soil to the Extension office for testing. You will then place the soil in a small bag, and fill out some information on the side of it. For a fee of $8.00 per sample, the Extension office will mail it to the University of Georgia Soil Testing Laboratory with the results being sent to you in seven to ten days.

Soil tests measure the level of several nutrients of importance to plants: phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and pH. The information on the nutrient levels, the pH, along with the crop to be grown, is used to determine the necessary nutrient requirements. Nitrogen is not routinely a part of the normal soil-testing regimen since nitrogen is quite mobile in the soil and may be leached out before planting. Recommendations given are based on the amount of nitrogen required for the plant growth in a year.

Here are a few basics of soil chemistry for interpreting the test results: The measurement of the acidity of a soil (the pH) is one of the most important factors in determining a soil’s relative fertility. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14 with 1 being the most acidic, 14 being the most  alkaline, and 7 being neutral. Soils with low pH, that is, acidic soils, restrict the availability of many nutrients that are needed in large quantities. It also increases the availability of others nutrients needed in very low quantities leading to toxicities. The preferred pH for our soils in Georgia is  6.0-6.5; however, the average pH is 4.8, which is acidic. The addition of calcium in the form of lime is the preferred way of increasing the pH of the soil. Since changes in the pH take time, applications of lime are best done months ahead of planting. In some cases the soil is too alkaline, above the pH of 7. Adding acidic soil amendments, like pine bark or peat moss, to the soil is one way to reduce the pH. Sulfur and ammonium sulfate can be used, but do so with extreme caution since they can cause harm to plants. Different plants have differing soil pH and nutrient requirements. Most plants grow at a pH between 6.0 and 6.5; however, some plants prefer a more acidic soil since they have higher iron  requirements, such as blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels. They need a soil pH of 4.0 to 5.5.

The soil test report shows available soil nutrients and pH, and recommendations for improving pH and nutrient levels. Lime recommendations are given in pounds per square feet and are self-explanatory. Nutrient recommendations are also given in pounds (lbs) per square feet.

The three numbers on fertilizer bags represent nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) respectively and denote the percentages in the bag of each particular nutrient. For instance 10-10-10, the most common fertilizer has 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorous, and 10% potassium. In other words, it is in a 1:1:1 ratio. The other 70% of the bag is inert ingredients that are used to carry the three nutrients. A forty-pound bag of 10-10-10 has 4 pounds of N, P, and K respectively since 10% of 40 is 4. So, if the soil test report recommends 60 pounds each nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium per acre, one may use 10-10-10, 20-20-20, or any other fertilizer that has a ratio of 1:1:1. If you use 10-10-10, you would need 600 pounds of fertilizer (60 x 10). Divide the 600 pounds of fertilizer by the number of pounds in the bag to find out how many bags of fertilizer you would need.

Soil test results and fertilizer recommendations can make sense if you take the time to analyze them. Sometimes, however a homeowner or a business will have peculiar situation or set of circumstances and will need help wading through the numbers. This is where County Extension agents and personnel can come into the picture and provide help. Feel free to call your local office anytime.

A Bit of Dirt – Winter 2009

The full pdf copy of this edition is available here.


Hello all!
As I write this message to you, I’m looking at my beautiful sugar maple in all its fall glory thinking that the drought has taught me a few good lessons – I have been heavy handed with watering. My sasanquas are stunning and the japonicas are loaded with buds. My flowering trees and rhodies were magnificent this spring. Another lesson is that boxwoods are worth their weight in gold. I should have learned that when I visited George Washington’s Mt Vernon and saw his original boxwood plantings flourishing but it took a drought for me to have my “ah-ha” moment.  Boxwood’s are now my favorite plant to buy. But not all is good, I’m sad that the drought has taken a toll on my ground covers.

I remember my Great-Grandmothers’ Grandmother’s and Mother’s gardens as a child and the joy of spending time in them. Those memories helped determine my goal as president for 2009. For all the children that don’t have grandmothers or mothers that garden, my goal is to implement the Junior Master Gardener program in the Gwinnett County School System to inspire future generations of gardeners. I know a lot of you devote many hours working at schools and I will need your help.

I am confident that 2009 will be a successful year. I encourage everyone to get involved with a project. If you have a special interest and want to chair a project, tell a Board member or me. We have many projects that need volunteers such as our January auction and spring plant sale. Hopefully, the weather pattern will change soon and we can resume our garden tours. And let’s not forget the Extension Office. An organization is only as good as its people.

As your 2009 president, I would like to thank everyone for all your volunteer hours spent making the Gwinnett County Master Gardeners an
exceptional organization. I look forward to representing you and our county in 2009.

Finally, let’s learn the language. Learning the common names of plants is not easy, but sometimes two different plants can have the same name in
different regions. (How many plants are known as “spurge”?) Using scientific names adds authority to your speaking. Whoever said Latin is a dead language has not spent time in horticulture. Make friends with your garden one name at a time. There is a certain rhythm and melody to the botanical names of plants.

Other articles in this issue:
Get Your Soil Tested During The Dormant Season – By Tim Daly
Birdscaping in the Home Garden – By Steve Pettis
Rainwater Collection System – By Renee Beard