Preparing for spring tenants.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
A purple martin house. (Kit Doyle)

Putting together a purple martin house will help you survive the bleak winter months

As I write this column, the weather is balmy and warm. It is hard to believe that this is the last of November. Of course as they always say in the region, if you don't like the weather just wait a few days and it will change.

I'm sure that when this column is published it will feel a little more like winter than it does today. Of course winter brings with it cold temperatures, snow, sleet and all of the things that keep us indoors during the bleak days of January and February.

If you get bored during those cold winter days and nights, I have a suggestion that might get you into the spirit of spring and keep you busy at the same time. Put together a purple martin house.

I always consider the advent of purple martins the beginning of spring. The scouts usually appear within the first two weeks of March. These harbingers look for a place to set up house, romance the ladies and start a family.

Experienced purple martin landlords have their houses ready to put up at the end of February or during the first few days of March. The houses have to be up and ready for habitation if you want a family of purple martins to stay in your landscape.

If you plan to be a new purple martin landlord, don't wait until the last few days of February to purchase and then to put together a purple martin house. Although it's not hard to put the house together, if you are under the gun, you might get frustrated trying to beat the appearance of the scouts. Therefore, I suggest that you purchase a purple martin house sometime during December. You might even hint to your significant other that this is something you would like to see under the Christmas tree.

There are all kinds of purple martin houses on the market, but I have a few suggestions that might make your selection a little easier.

First, purchase a house that is made out of shiny metal or painted a pale green. It will hold up longer and will keep the martins cooler during our hot summers.

Get a house system that allows you to move the house up and down on the pole easily. This will make your house clean up a lot easier in the fall. In the spring, it will also allow you to bring the house down to remove pesky sparrow nests without disturbing the new martin family.

Make sure the house you purchase has front door panels that open up without having to take the whole house apart. This allows for easy clean out of each apartment.

It would be best to have a house that allows you to change out the front door panels so that you can change door openings. For example, most houses come with round openings. Sometimes landlords will find that starlings want to move into the apartment. You can discourage starlings by changing the door opening to one that is egg or half-moon shaped.

Finally, get a house that allows you to put subfloors in each apartment. These floors reduce problems with bird mites, spiderlike organisms that can devastate a martin brood.

If you get a house kit, you can spend those long winter evenings enjoying the challenge of putting your martin house together. You can also eliminate those wintertime blues because you will be thinking of all those purple martin families that will be living in your landscape.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to<I>;

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