Editor’s note: Kelly R. Jackson takes questions called into his phone recently at the Christian County Extension Office and answers them in the column.

Question. How do I know if the fresh-cut Christmas tree I’m buying will last the season?

Answer. At neighborhood tree lots or home stores, begin by looking for trees with a rich green color. Feel the tree’s needles, they should be bendable. If they are easily snapped, the tree is too dry and may not last long indoors.

Lift the tree a few inches and drop it on the ground. It is natural for inside needles to fall out but the outside needles should stay in place. Remember that trees sold on lots may have been cut weeks earlier. It is best to buy trees early or those kept in shade.

When selecting trees at a tree farm check the trunk for straightness and make sure the base of the tree is 6 to 8 inches long so it will fit into your tree stand. It is natural for healthy trees to drop needles this time of year even while they are in the field.

Most farms have equipment that shakes the tree to remove all loose needles — it is also fun to watch. You may want to cover your tree with a tarp to keep the wind from drying out the needles on the drive home.

Whether you get your tree at a lot or a farm, all trees should be re-cut once you get home and placed immediately into water as the sap of the tree can create a seal that prevents the uptake of water in only a few minutes.

Q. I’m considering planting native grasses on part of my property to attract songbirds. What steps do I need to do?

A. Grasses are an attractive feature to any landscape. They add texture, contrast, color and year-round interest. They are very diverse, available in a variety of sizes and colors and as a group, tolerant of practically every soil type and moisture level.

When you combine the right types in a large enough area they also become something else — a home to many types of songbirds. Research from Iowa State University, showed that planted grass strips attracted 19 different species of songbirds including song sparrows, red-wing blackbirds and sedge wrens. The wider the strip of grasses, the more diversity and number of species were found. Birds also preferred sites with tall vegetation and some residual standing dead vegetation.

Establishing and maintaining a native grass planting or meadow, even if it’s only a strip 20 to 50 feet wide is not the same as establishing a lawn. Soil preparation and existing weed problems must be addressed before establishment. Specific instructions can be found on our blog page (christiancountyhorticulture.wordpress.com).

Next, a successful grass meadow needs both cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses as well as a variety of forbs like legumes, sunflowers and coneflower to create a more natural balanced environment. Some warm season grasses to consider include Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switchgrass. Cool-season grasses could include Reed Canarygrass, Timothy and Wheatgrass.

Q. How do I keep starlings from roosting in my trees at night?

A. The most effective method in deterring winter roosting is scare tactics. Repellents and toxic baits are of relatively little use because the birds are coming to the site to roost, not eat. Pyrotechnics (fireworks), firearms, gas-operated exploders, alarms and banging on pots and pans have been used in dispersing these roosts.

To be successful, scare tactics should begin when the birds show up in the evening and persist for five or six consecutive days, or until the birds no longer return. Scaring operations should conclude at dark.

Kelly R. Jackson is the Christian County Extension Agent for horticulture. He can be reached at 270-886-6328 or visit Christian County Horticulture online at www.christiancountyextension.com.

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