Tools to protect decks, fruit trees, young plants and grass

Carpenter bees: You can keep your deck and enjoy their pollinating powers

Bill in Indian Head writes: “Do you have any tips on deterring wood-boring bees? They’re doing a number on my wood-frame front porch and are elusive when I try to spray them or swat them down with a broom.”

Carpenter bees don’t sting and are hugely effective pollinators, so please stop trying to kill them. Instead, pick up some blocks of untreated pine, cedar or other soft wood. Drill 1-inch to 2-inch deep starter holes into them with a 5/8-inch drill bit and then hang these “nesting boxes” in nearby areas facing south or east.

Then staple some screening over the holes they’ve made on your porch in the middle of the first sunny day after that—when they’ll be out pollinating—and they should simply move into your intentional blocks of wood.

Long-term, carpenter bee control

Bill in Indian Head can also do some-long protection against the wood-boring bees that are “doing a number” on his wood-frame front porch.

Carpenter bees can be temporarily repelled by using almond oil as a kind of alternative wood stain on the areas they’re attacking. You’ll find affordable almond oil for sale at places that carry massage therapy supplies. I found gallon-sized jugs online at prices ranging from $20 to $40, a fraction of the cost of almond oil marketed for cooking.

(Note: “Sweet almond oil” is just another way of saying almond oil. And one site noted that almond oil has a long history with wood, as it was used to finish musical instruments centuries ago.)

Long term, the best way to prevent carpenter bees from nesting in your decking is to paint or stain the surface. (Yes, we know you bought cedar or redwood knowing that it wouldn’t need painting. Sorry, but these soft woods make very attractive nurseries for the otherwise incredibly beneficial carpenter bee.)

Be sure to plug up any new holes, knots or big cracks that appear in the wood promptly; the bees will quickly begin to excavate unpainted areas.

And no matter what, be sure to hang those nesting blocks in nearby trees to give the bees—which, once again, are great pollinators and don’t sting—another place to live.

Newly-planted fruit trees? Beware the bug-eyed cicada

As reported earlier this week by ‘TOP ace reporter Kristi King, “The Bug Guy”—aka University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp—has issued a cicada alert for our area.

Now, this was not supposed to be a season where entomologists expected one of the large periodic broods to emerge, but the noisy insects are out in large numbers anyway; numbers far greater than seen in the yearly emergence of regular old annual cicadas.

Extremely noisy and creepy-looking (both in their bug-eyed adult form and their weird left-behind embryonic shells), the vast numbers of cicadas in an emergence like this will provide an abundance of food for birds and other wildlife. They are not garden pests—with one big exception.

They can be a problem when large numbers of the females lay their eggs inside the branches of young trees and shrubs—especially fruit trees. So if you have new plantings (less than three years old) of any kind – but especially cherries, peaches, pears or apples – cover them with a spun fabric row cover like the popular Reemay brand or spray them with a clay-based insect and disease repellant like Surround.

Oh, and insects are the hot new food trend, right? Check out this recipe and tell me it doesn’t look delectable. (I haven’t personally tasted cicadas, but can assure you that deep-fried crickets are delicious!)

Will Montgomery county have the safest lawns in the nation?

Tick, tick, tick.

Unless a judge overturns a 2015 decision by the Montgomery County Council, local homeowners will be forbidden to use chemical herbicides beginning in 2018. As quoted on ‘TOP earlier this week, “the right of a homeowner to maintain a weed-free lawn does not supersede the right of adjacent neighbors to be kept free of harm,” said Councilmember George Leventhal at the time of the vote.

Ah, but the basic arguments here are all false because chemical herbicides are worse than unnecessary, they do a terrible job of controlling weeds. (Although they are excellent at killing lawns and landscape plants.) You will never win a weed war by fighting the enemy head-on, toe-to-toe.

The only real way to achieve a weed-free lawn is cultural, not chemical:

  • Never cut a cool-season grass like fescue or bluegrass lower than 3 inches,
  • Always cut with a sharp blade,
  • Return the pulverized clippings to the turf,
  • Water deeply and infrequently…

…and your grass will out-compete those weeds.

Relax watering rules for new plants in hot times

These past few sweltering days sure have been intense, haven’t they? Luckily, more normal temps are ahead, but this is still a good time to review the rules—and exceptions to the rules—of good watering.

Whether it’s a lawn, garden or established plantings, the ideal way to water is to apply 1 inch of water once a week in one long session, ending just as the sun strikes the area. Don’t water in the heat of the day, in the evening, or if we have received an inch or more of rain during the previous five or six days.

But there are exceptions. Early heat waves, like the one that just retreated, can be really stressful for young, new plants because their roots and water reserves are small. It is perfectly acceptable to let a hose drip at the base of things like newly planted tomatoes, trees, or shrubs for a solid hour every other day during heat waves until the heat recedes.

But that’s a long drip; not a tsunami or cheap tease.

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