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WaterSaver newsletter
Monday, January 23, 2012 Back to Issue Archive
Purple Martins Majesty
By Brad Wier
Martins once nested in tree cavities, but they've long since come to prefer the housing options provided by humans.

If the long-term outlook suggests another bad year for local landscapes, chances are we could be deep in drought restrictions. But an open area in the yard can make a perfect turn radius for cascading swallows: this could be the year to grow purple martins instead!

Martins once nested in tree cavities, but they've long since come to prefer the housing options provided by humans. All over North America, a corps of dedicated landlords and volunteers will soon be busy preparing housing for the arrival of spring martins.

Most purple martins return after Valentine's Day and don't nest until much later, so don't rush to open up your houses early. As successful martin landlords already know, establishing a colony requires more than just a box on a pole.

  • Location matters (pdf). Martins prefer housing in wide open spaces, yet adjacent to human activity.
  • Regular maintenance before and during the nesting season is key. Plan on lowering the boxes every five to seven days to address issues as they occur.
  • Discourage house sparrows and starlings from building their nests in your martin houses by not feeding them nearby. Proper martin houses may include baffles, starling-resistant entries and other features, but sparrow nests must be removed by hand.

Existing colonies always need volunteers to keep records. Watch for purple martin workshops as the season gets underway for a chance to interact with real martins (and their busy landlords).

image Join the Conversation

Are you preparing for the arrival of purple martins? Share your plans with us on Facebook.

Brad Wier is a conservation consultant for San Antonio Water System.

Last Digit
of Street
0 or 1 Monday
2 or 3 Tuesday
4 or 5 Wednesday
6 or 7 Thursday
8 or 9 Friday
No watering on weekends with a sprinkler, soaker hose or irrigation system. Areas without a street address, such as medians and neighborhood entryways, water on Wednesday.
Watering with a sprinkler or irrigation system is allowed once a week before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m. on your assigned day, as determined by your address.
Friday, May 23, 2014
0 in. Bermuda (Full Sun)
0 in. Buffalo (Full Sun)
0 in. St. Augustine (Full Sun)
0 in. St. Augustine (Shade)
0 in. Zoysia (Full Sun)
0 in. Zoysia (Shade)
Rain benefits continue this week with established plants. No water necessary. Hand water newly planted plants. Donna Fossum, SAWS Conservation Planner.

Ask A Garden Geek
When can I prune perennials and shrubs?
When the sun is shining everyone wants to get outdoors, but right now is not a good time to prune back your perennials. Early pruning may encourage new growth that is susceptible to late freezes. Birds and animals also depend on the food and cover they provide. Pruning is done in late February at the earliest.
E-mail your question to

Good Gardening Tip
Sticky Hands?
Clean 'Em Up!
Ever pruned evergreens and came out of the experience with sap-covered hands and tools? Those ubiquitous hand sanitizers are the perfect clean-up solution! The alcohol in them breaks down the gooey sap, leaving your hands and pruners squeaky clean.
Wildlife Watch
Back from Brazil
A few hardy purple martins have already arrived, fluttering about long-established nesting sites around San Antonio. Some martin landlords are cleaning out their boxes to prepare for these burbling swallows, but proper nest-building won't begin until spring. Since martins feed exclusively on insects (especially dragonflies), January can be a hard time to find a meal!
Event Calendar
Vegetable Garden
Starting Feb. 18 9 a.m. - Noon
San Antonio
Botanical Garden
555 Funston Place
Children ages 8 to 13 will learn about and grow different seeds, herbs, vegetables, and ornamental annual flowers. Program is every Saturday through June 2. Click here (pdf) for information and application. Deadline to apply is Feb. 9.
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