Monday, January 31, 2011

Organics - Early On

When I look out and see the buds on my bald cypress beginning to swell, I realize spring is right around the corner. The temperatures have been so cold that 55 degrees is the new 70 degrees. When the temperature hits 55 degrees, I see people with shorts and tee shirts out working in their yard. Over the weekend, I saw some people pruning, some cleaning out flower beds, some people planting new plants, and a few were out there raking. Even though I did not witness any Crepe Murder, I’m sure the crime was taking place.

When I see those buds on my bald cypress swelling, I think of one thing – ORGANICS!

Cotton Burr Compost, Flower Bed Amendment, Nature’s Blend, composted chicken manure, composted cow manure and / or SeaHume are great products to use now on your ornamental plants. For best results spread over the whole bed; however, you can spread the products around individual plants. If you plan to do individual plants, be sure to cover where the roots are and out a little past where you think they are. Also remember to keep compost or mulch off the trunk of trees and shrubs.

Organic products feed the soil as microorganisms break the organics down into a usable form to the plants. When the soil is cold, these microorganisms are inactive. As the temperatures warm up, the microorganisms begin to break down the organic material and make the nutrients available to the plant. The plant is beginning to grow and put on new leaves as the temperature warms up, so like magic there is food available to the plant right when it needs it most. The forest with its leaves, twigs, limbs, and microorganism population is fertilized in this manner.

Cotton Burr Compost, Flower Bed Amendment, Nature’s Blend, composted chicken manure, and composted cow manure are all composted to the point that they do not tie up nitrogen. Some organics can actually steal nutrients away from the plants while they decompose fully. Wood chips, fresh raked leaves, or grass clippings are best put into a compost pile until you are unable to tell what they were originally, and they are fully composted.

SeaHume is a combination of cold water kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum) and humates.

The seaweed is full of sixty major and minor nutrients, amino acids, carbohydrates and natural occurring plant growth promoting substances (bio stimulants) that increase plant vigor, quality and yield. Humates increase the availability of nutrients in the soil, increase root growth, keeps nutrients in area that roots can reach (high CEC), make the soil more friable and many other benefits that will be discussed in a later article.

Control summer annual weeds before they emerge with preemergent herbicides. Also try not to prune azaleas now or you will be removing their flower buds and their spring flowers. Judging from the pile by the street and the very sad look the azaleas had around the house, someone did not realize this situation.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Crepe Myrtle Pruning

The question about pruning Crepe Myrtles and other plants seem to top the list of questions for this week. The time is now for getting in your soil test, so you can amend the soil by spring time. Do you have any disease prone plants (roses, etc.) that could benefit from a little sanitation? What is the population of moles in the Lowcountry? What is the population of moles in your yard?

Crepe Myrtles are the most abused tree in the landscape. Since they bloom on new growth, someone “topped” them a while back and notice the flush of new growth and the prolific blooms. These heavy blooms are supported by wimpy 18 – 24 sprouts that just developed that growing season. When it rains, the bloom catches water and becomes even heavier. The bloom will hang down and eventually the wimpy new growth supporting the bloom will split off tree leaving an open wound for insects and disease.

Instead of “topping” the tree to increase blooms, a good fertility program will accomplish the same thing without ruining the beautiful natural branch structure of the tree. A soil test and program can guide you to the right fertilizer for your tree. Have you ever seen a Crepe Myrtle in the winter when the leaves are gone, and sense the tree’s embarrassment, like a dog with the cone on its head? A tree that has been “topped” is standing there naked of any foliage with these big nasty swollen knobs at the end of the branch. The tree should have a natural, tapered end to the branch.

The correct pruning for a Crape Myrtle involves removing dead limbs and crossing limbs. Opening up the center some for sunlight penetration and air movement is always a good idea to help prevent disease. Sometimes Crepe Myrtles, being a multi-trunk tree, can have too many canes growing from the ground, and one of these needs to be removed. Removing these canes is best done while the tree is very young; however, you can prune these canes out once the tree is older.

There is a very rare occasion that a landscape designer orders that a tree should be topped. Under certain circumstances usually involving safety concerns or visibility concerns a designer will recommend keeping the tree at a certain height. When I worked on Hilton Head, we had a safety situation by a guard gate that required us to “top” the Crepe Myrtles; however, we did not “top” the other Crape Myrtles in the project. Some businesses want their sign to be seen, and Citadel Mall is practicing pollarding, a type of severe pruning that the Crepe Myrtle can tolerate.

Now days, Crepe Myrtles are available in all different sizes from 3 feet to 30 feet, so planting the right one to fit the scale of your landscape is crucial. Much of this “topping” can be avoided with the proper plant selection and proper fertility. Whoever is planting the tree (or any plant) should look at its mature height and plant the right plant for the space.

If you live in Mt. Pleasant, learn the local ordinances because they have laws about the proper pruning of Crepe Myrtles.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moles go on forever

Moles are such a hot topic in this cold winter, I figured I needed to expand on some other crucial points in dealing with the dreaded varmint.

Since I did not ask his permission to use his name, I will just call him the “Coke man”. The “Coke man” saw me one day and said, “Billy, watch out with that Mole Patrol. I killed a popular mole and ten moles came to his funeral!”

If a mole dies, moles will take over the tunnel system and territory of another mole. The three pronged approach works to deter this re-infestation (kill the mole, manage its food source, and repel curious intruders). Any of you Lowcountry dwellers that have ever swam in pluff mud know how hard it must be for the mole to tunnel through compacted soil, so if some other mole can do the hard work, why not move in to their habitat? If you just kill the mole, a new one will move in in about three to eight weeks.

As when you go fishing, hunting, or (for the ladies) shopping, you do not catch, kill, or buy something every time you cast, hunt, or go into a store. Baiting or trapping moles takes persistence. You may have to bait more than one time to be successful. Here are a few comments from people that were successful:

“Recommended Mole Patrol – Great stuff! Kills moles. Found 3 dead moles above ground just days after treatment.” Rick Clark

“Mole Patrol – Awesome, I had 40-50 tunnels in the yard. In 7-10 days, all moles were gone!” Mike Lamm

“The other product that works great is Mole Patrol. Once I got the knack of getting the product in the right tunnels without collapsing them, and touching the product. It really kills the moles. I will go about 7-8 weeks without seeing a single mole track and when they pop up, I bait again and there are no more tracks for another 7-8 weeks. I don’t like the way moles can tear up your yard in a single day. The Mole Patrol does not keep them out but sure makes their stay very short.” Robert Felts, Studio Cielo (sounds like Robert needs to try that three pronged approach to keep them out)

With baits as with any product following the label is crucial. I got a call from a customer one time that was putting way too much bait in the tunnel, and she was having poor results. She was really mad at these moles! Just like fishing, you do not want a huge piece of cut mullet to try to catch a small bream. We adjusted her rate down and she got great results. In her words, “Mole Patrol-if you know how to apply it, it will work perfect. I sold a lot of this product to my customers and they were very happy with the results.”Barbara Loza, B & L Landscaping.

And the mooollles go on forever… Gregg Allman. Just kidding!

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Moles, Moles, Moles, and more Moles where is the miracle cure? With the vast array of pest control products and other situations we deal with, it amazes me that the mole (a dirt dwelling mammal) is the Lowcountry’s number one pest in the yard according to the calls we get and the questions we get in the stores.

Termites eat millions of dollars of structures a year. Cockroaches are nasty and cause problems for asthma sufferers. Rats, mice and squirrels eat wires in homes causing fires, and tear up duct work and insulation increasing your power bill. Gnats, mosquitoes and fire ants are biting and or sucking the blood out of you sometimes resulting in death and still do not raise the questions that the mole does.

The mole stays underground most of the time, destroying the beauty of your lawn and beds with tunnels – that’s it. We work hard to get a nice yard and they destroy it – Game on! Moles are definitely a big problem for this area.

Since moles are a mammal, they are a little harder to control than insects or other things that bother us in the yard. With insects you can use products that affect insects and do not affect mammals. With moles you have to be careful not to harm other mammals in your yard like children and pets.

Trapping moles is one option. Some people are very good with traps and are highly successful at catching moles; however, most people are not as skilled. Having traps in your yard might also attract the curiosity of other mammals (children and pets) that you do not want to injure. If you trap moles, you still want to control your mole cricket and grub population that could damage your turf.

We have heard many success stories with the Rodent Smoke Bombs. The bombs involve lighting a fuse and smoke, everyone’s dream way to get revenge on these rascals. At first I thought this was more of a “manly man” (Bubba) activity; however, we have had quite a few sophisticated looking females boasting their triumph over the mole. Limit their use to outdoors and please be careful. With the Rodent Smoke Bombs you do not have to be as skilled; however, you will still want to manage the insects in your soil that damage turf (mole crickets and grubs).

I still recommend a 3 prong approach when controlling moles for the less adventurous. These 3 steps are:

  1. Kill the mole
  2. Manage its food source
  3. Repel other moles from your yard

Moles tunnel through your yard looking for food. They usually have several main runs through your yard as well as secondary tunnels. The secondary tunnels are where they collect their food and once they have a gone down a secondary tunnel they will not return to that tunnel. In order to kill a mole with bait or a trap, you must be able to locate the main tunnel.

The best way to locate the main runs is to take a stick and poke holes in the tunnels in your yard. Next, mark where you made these holes. The next morning come and check to see if the holes are plugged, then you know you have a main tunnel. The mole will only plug holes on the main tunnel. That evening, open up one of the holes that the mole plugged the night before and place bait 5 feet on either side of the hole that you reopened. When the mole comes back to re-plug the hole it will have to walk right over the bait. These baits are very tasty to the mole, so the mole will usually eat the bait and die.

Three baits that we regularly hear good results about are Mole Patrol, TomCat and Talpirid. I prefer Mole Patrol because it is one third the price and has 6 times the amount of bait placement as Talpirid. Stay away from poison peanuts. Moles do not eat peanuts, they eat insects and worms.

Controlling the food source is the next most important factor in managing moles on your property. Depending on which doctor you believe, the mole eats 85-125% of its body weight everyday. In human terms a 100 lb. person would eat 85-125 lbs of food per day. That is a lot of food! Using a product like Lebanon Insect Control or Aloft on a regular basis will do a good job in managing the mole’s food source. Monitor your insect populations with a soap solution to determine how often you need to apply insecticides. Use two ounces of lemon dish detergent in a five gallon bucket of water and pour slowly over your soil in the areas where you think you might have insects and see what comes to the surface. Some products get tied up in the thatch to kill surface insects so be sure to get a product for sub-surface insects.

Castrol products (Mole Repellent, Holy Moly) and other repellents (Mole Stopper) work good as perimeter treatments to keep moles from re-infesting your property. Be sure there are not any moles on your property before you put out this barrier or you will trap them inside your landscape. Make a 10-20 foot band treatment around the perimeter of your property. Reapply these repellents as the label recommends.

If you yard is free of moles right now, you can skip #1 and just manage their food source and repel them at the perimeter of your property. Be sure your yard is free of moles before you skip #1 in this process. If you take away the mole’s food source and he is in your yard already, he will really tear up your yard looking for food!

As it gets cooler, it is the time to kill them. Try to take away their food source, and try to repel them from your property and you should have good luck against the moles. Beware moles usually get more active as the temperature cools.

If the three prong approach sounds too involved, get your “Bic on a stick” lighter and smoke’m.

Always Read, Understand, and Follow the product label.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Custom Programs / Soil Tests

Judging from the response in the stores about custom programs, this week’s article about how to take a soil test might be of some help. I like to compare a soil test for a gardener to a blood test for a doctor. When I have a physical, my doctor has me take a blood test about two weeks in advance. She (I have a lady doctor) has time to look at the results and make recommendations based on the results by the time I get there for my appointment.

If the blood lab mailed me the results directly or I picked the results up from the lab, I’m sure I would not be able to tell if my good cholesterol was high enough and my bad cholesterol was low enough. What is the ratio of these two numbers? Are my thyroid, liver, and gizzard working properly? Am I getting enough vitamin A, B, C and D? Are they in the right ratio? What is my blood sugar? I end up paying the blood lab over 500.00 for the lab fees and the doctor her fee for her interruption of the results, which usually goes something like this - eat like a vegetarian only in very small portions and exercise like an Olympic athlete.

The custom program is similar to the doctor’s visit. When most people look at soil test results from the lab, they comment on the soil pH. They never comment on the buffer pH, which is more important in determining lime recommendations. In all my years of working with soil tests, I have never heard a customer comment about calcium to magnesium ratios, or it looks like I need 5 pounds of ProMag 36 per thousand square feet to get the 1.8 pounds of magnesium I’m lacking.


Turf grass areas

Proper interpretation of soil test results depends upon collecting a representative sample of the soil. Soil samples can be taken at any time of the year. Samples are most easily collected using a PVC pipe, garden trowel or spade.

¨ Each soil sample should be a composite of subsamples collected from randomly selected spots within the chosen area.

¨ Soil Sample should be 3 inches deep straight down. These samples should be equal parts of the first 3 inches of soil. Avoid pie shaped samples that have more of the 1st inch of soil and less of the 2nd and 3rd inches.

¨ Take 5-10 subsamples for relatively small areas (less than 1000 square feet) in home lawns.

¨ Collect the subsamples in a clean plastic pail, mix the soil thoroughly, and put about one cup of this mixture in a sample bag.

¨ Remove grass, thatch and debris from sample.

¨ One sample per lawn should be good unless you have different types of soil or grass.

Landscape Beds

¨ Soil Sample should be 6 inches deep.

¨ Repeat the steps above.

¨ Please remember to record the location of your samples

(Rose bed, flower bed, shrub bed etc…)

Test results include

¨ pH, Buffer pH (when needed), Available Phosphorus, Exchangeable Potassium, Calcium Magnesium, Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) and Percent Base Saturation

With recommendations for:

Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash, Magnesium and Lime - based on plant type and use

¨ Sodium can be tested for an additional charge. Very important in Lowcountry. We see a lot of high sodium yards in areas that you would not expect sodium to be an issue. Many wells around here also have high sodium (salt) in the water they put out.

¨ Other tests are available. These are our most common two.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.