Great deals on trees and squirrel birth control

Peter from Reston, Va. sent Mike McGrath this photo of the damage to the mulch beds around his trees and shrubs. (Courtesy Peter Stancampiano)
Weekend is last chance to sow lawn seeds

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 4:45 pm

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Great deals on trees for those in the District

Live inside the District and need to replace a storm-damaged tree, or just want to add a healthy well-behaved specimen to your landscape? Well, D.C. residents have a great, money-saving resource in Casey Trees, a non-profit group dedicated to greening the District of Columbia.

Casey’s “Tree Rebate Program” offers rebates of $50 to $100 per tree to homeowners who plant approved trees on residential property inside the District.

But I think the company’s “River Smart Home Shade Tree Program” is even better, enabling D.C. homeowners to have their sites evaluated and appropriate shade trees planted by Casey Trees for just $50 a tree. That’s right — the company will help you pick the right tree and they’ll plant it for you.

And even if you live outside the District, Casey Trees is still a great resource for proper tree selection (choosing the wrong tree can cost you thousands in the long run), planting and care (no more volcano mounds of mulch).

Woodsman – un-mulch that tree

A few weeks back, we told Peter in Reston that the hole-digging in his mulched beds might be the work of voles, cats, skunks or Evil Squirrels.

Well, Peter later sent me some pictures that showed the “beds” he was talking about: giant mounds of cheap wood mulch covering vast areas (and a photo of a poor little tree with the same crappy mulch piled a foot high around its trunk). He added, “Could whatever is doing the digging have anything to do with the ‘slimy mold’ I’ve had in the beds ever since the mulch was put down?”

No, Peter. That cheap mulch is the cause of your “slimy mold.” Slime molds, artillery fungus, stinkhorns and other forms of nuisance fungus love to grow in cheap wood trash. The digging is probably being caused by mice, rats or voles seeking shelter in those giant heaps.

First: Please clear the mulch away from the bark of that poor tree before you kill it. And then get rid of those big piles before your vermin problems get any worse. If you feel you must keep some of the mulch, make sure it’s no deeper than two inches in any area, and don’t let it actually touch any plants or trees.

A P.S. From Peter: “Thanks for your answer! This is the first year we applied “volcano” type mulch around our trees. Not really our intention, but we hired one of those “stop by the house” landscapers to put down the mulch. The wife liked the mounds around the trees, even though I didn’t think it was a good idea. Not sure now what to do with all that mulch, but I will certainly be moving it away from the trunks and lessening the depth. Will also be looking into switching to a compost mulch next spring. Thanks again. Oh, and we won’t buy any more door-to-door landscaping!”

Sewer service tore up my lawn: Too late to replant?

Mark in Bethesda writes: “I took your advice and over-seeded earlier this year, which resulted in a pretty good looking lawn, despite my soil mostly being cheap backfill. But WSSC had to do some work in the neighborhood, which required digging up a portion of my lawn. Now the lawn has some bare spots and I’m wondering what, if anything, I can do at this point on the calendar. Should I drop some more LeafGro, seed and fertilizer? Or would that be a waste of money and effort? The grass is a turf type tall fescue blend.”

Well, Mark, fescues make great low maintenance lawns, but they don’t spread to fill in bare spots, like bluegrass does. So, yes, spread some LeafGro compost and new seed ASAP. No fertilizer. And pray we get some nice warm weather over the next few weeks. If the new seed gets enough warmth to germinate, it should do fine.

Want some insurance? After seeding, cover the area with a floating row cover and tightly secure the corners. Sold in rolls under brand names like “Reemay,” these spun polyester blankets allow the passage of air and water while they trap a little heat underneath. They just might provide the few extra degrees you need for success. (don’t use plastic — that would cook the seed on a sunny day.)

Water is the best pesticide for houseplants

Peter in Bethesda writes: “Every spring we take our houseplants outdoors. But when we bring them back inside in the fall we find a lot of very small white insects on some leaves and a fine spider-like-web on others (particularly our indoor citrus plants). We heard somewhere to spray the plants with dilute dishwashing soap prior to bringing them into the house. Is this the right way to treat the problem?”

No, Peter. Homemade insecticidal soaps have a bad habit of acting more like herbicides. What you need is plain water, but very sharp streams of plain water. University studies have shown that sharp streams of water are actually more effective at getting rid of houseplant pests than commercial insecticides. Just be sure to really blast the leaves. A gentle spray won’t do it.

Oh, and give the plants a daily misting over the winter. That will keep the spider mites what spun those little webs at bay.

Clemson strikes back in the battle with evil squirrels

To misquote the great Mark Twain, “Everybody talks about squirrels but nobody ever does anything about them.” Until now that is. Tired of having their campus terrorized by Evil Tree Rats, researchers at Clemson University have come up with an answer: Squirrel Birth Control.

Greg Yarrow, chairman of the university’s Division of Natural Resources, explained that the “Bulb-Thieving, Bark-Chewing Long-Tailed Servants of Satan” have cost the campus over $1 million in lost horticulture. So researchers are fighting back with special feeding stations containing sunflower seeds laced with a squirrel-specific contraceptive that they hope will lower the population of these arboreal assassins.

Read the full, heart-warming story here.

Oh, and a special tip of the Garden Plot hat to Gentleman Jim Farley for alerting us to this vital news story.

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