K-State Research and Extension News
January 08, 2009
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Briefly . . .
1)   K-State Specialist Offers Tips to Tackle Credit Card Debt
2)   Landscape Answers: Plants Can Need Water in Winter
3)   Weather Wonders: Climatologist Explains ‘Sun Dogs’ Phenomenon
4)   Midwinter Best Time to Judge Landscape

 K-State Specialist Offers Tips to Tackle Credit Card Debt

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Working to retire debt can put more money in your pocket to help build an emergency fund, add to savings and retirement accounts, and pay for occasional extras such as a vacation or home improvement, a Kansas State University specialist said.

With the average U.S. household now carrying $8,000 – or more – in credit card debt, making even the minimum payment each month can leave over-extended card holders feeling strapped and short on cash to cover necessities, said Carol Young, K-State Research and Extension financial management specialist.

Her tips to reduce – and eliminate – credit card debt include:          

* Put the credit card(s) away at home. If carrying a credit card, you’ll be tempted to use it.

* Review current debt, balance due, the interest rate on each account, and minimum monthly payment.

* Contact the card company and try to negotiate a lower interest rate to make monthly payments cover more of the amount due. Or, if carrying more debt on multiple cards (or from multiple sources) than you can handle, consult a reputable debt management specialist to determine a payment plan designed for you to pay off the loan. (In Kansas, check http://www.debtadvice.org/takethefirststep/locator.cfm to find the locations of nearby organizations that are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.)

Paying with a credit card can be convenient, but charging more that can be reasonably paid off at the end of the month often is troublesome, Young said.            

While some who have previously over-extended themselves when using credit cards find it easier to manage post-credit card spending with a debit card, others will want to hang on to one or two credit cards for travel or ordering online.

“Think before spending and weigh needs versus wants,” Young said. More financial management tips are available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites: www.oznet.ksu.edu and www.oznet.ksu.edu/financialmangement/.


2)  Landscape Answers: Plants Can Need Water in Winter

Q:  I’ve noticed that many of my evergreen shrubs – mostly junipers and boxwoods – are starting to look off-color, sort of brownish or light green. Should I be worried?

A:  An off-cast color can be an evergreen plant’s response to cold temperatures and chilling winds. The effect is common during heartland winters, but it tends to be mild and not very long-lasting. We don’t see actual foliage loss or twig dieback except during unusually cold weather.

But, off-color also can result from dry conditions. Evergreens provide the most obvious clues of winter drought in the landscape because they retain their leaves year-round. In turn, they use and lose more water during winter than the deciduous plants do.

Although evergreens are at greatest risk during cold-weather dry spells, other plants that are likely to suffer from a wintertime moisture shortage include new lawns established the previous fall and any trees or shrubs that are five or fewer years of age.

Fortunately, you can water landscape plants any time the air temperature is above freezing and the soil isn’t so frozen that moisture can’t soak in. A deep soaking is best, which can easily take several hours. If the temperature drops below freezing after that, however, no plants will be harmed.

Just be sure that your water carrying system is detached from its source, drained and stored again for winter when you’re through. You won’t need to water again until a long-bladed screwdriver or metal rod, pushed into the ground, stops before it reaches 4 to 6 inches deep. That kind of rod only stops when it reaches thirsty, thirsty soil.

                                                  -- Source: Dennis Patton, horticulturist, K-State Research and Extension


3)  Weather Wonders: Climatologist Explains ‘Sun Dogs’ Phenomenon

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Just as the sun is rising or setting on a hazy day, watchers can sometimes see an unusual, strange-looking phenomenon.

“The sun will appear to have had pups: smaller reddish-orange spots that are nestled up close on either side,” said climatologist Mary Knapp. “Called sun dogs, these bright spots can’t show up on clear or cloud-covered days. They need just the right kind and amount of haze - which is why being able to see them is a fairly rare occurrence.”

Sun dogs are just sunlight, reflected off ice crystals in the atmosphere, said Knapp, who as the state climatologist for Kansas oversees the Kansas Weather Data Library, based at Kansas State University.

“They’re not that different from a ring around the sun or moon,” Knapp said. “If you’re lucky, though, you may get to see sun dogs’ most unique forms -- a pillar or even a cross.

“As you can imagine, early humans thought those forms looked a bit scary.”

More information about Kansas weather is available on the Kansas Weather Data Library Web site: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/wdl. Knapp’s audio reports are available on the K-State Research and Extension/ Kansas Radio Network Web site at http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/radio/ (click on “Weather Wonders” and scroll).


4)  Midwinter is Best Time to Judge Landscape

EMPORIA, Kan. – Midwinter can be important to the home landscape because it allows time for gardeners and other yard fans to come to grips with what’s working, what’s not and what’s still needed.       

“You can spend hours, pouring over the beautiful pictures in seed catalogs and magazines. What gardeners never seem to realize, though, is that local nursery and garden center personnel are going to have a lot more time now for individualized assistance. The off-season is a real opportunity,” said Amy Jordan, Kansas State University Research and Extension horticulturist.

Without the growing season’s unrelenting chores, gardeners also have time to assess what’s been going on in their yard. Jordan listed the following as typical questions gardeners could consider now:

* Do one or more areas need a windbreak? Would snowdrift patterns provide a clue?

* Are trees and shrubs blocking sunlight in a good way? Are they overgrown and reducing your effective growing area for other plants? Does their shade lower your summertime home-cooling bills? Does your landscape still have “hot spots”? Are evergreens blocking the view of winter’s welcome light?

* Do the “bones” of your landscape look as good now as they do when leaf-covered?

* Does your growing-season mix of plant height, texture, shape, color, and placement, attract positive attention or look sort of boring?

* Have you been too “ambitious” to maintain gardening as enjoyable? If so, should you consider incorporating more low-input (“green”) plants? Should you expand the yard’s hardscape? Could you buy an irrigation system that applies just the water that’s needed, while also requiring less oversight? Should you specialize in disease- and insect-resistant varieties? How about just mulching enough to halt weeds?

* Are you tree-vulnerable because your neighborhood has no diversity, so a single severe pest could deforest the entire area? Is it time to look for at least one tree that no one else on the block has?

* How soon should you place catalog orders, to ensure you don’t get substitutions this year?



K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Elaine Edwards
K-State Research & Extension News

Contributing writers: Mary Lou Peter-Blecha, Nancy Peterson and Kathleen Ward