Have no fear of fungi on the compost heap

Garden Q&A

January 11, 1998

There is a thick, gray mold growing in my compost pile. Could this be toxic or a problem in any way?

Not a problem. Many organisms thrive in decomposing organic matter. Some we can see moving around. Many others are microscopic but may produce visible signs of their presence, such as the fungal spores you observe.

These microbes all play a role in the composting process. Each is active at a particular time depending on temperature and moisture and what's available to "eat." Your gray fungus is harmless and will disappear after you turn your pile in the spring.

I am seeing lots of tiny white flecks on my two new euonymus bushes. Nothing is flying around, so I'm wondering if I'm seeing the sign of a disease. Should I be concerned?

Those white specks are the waxy covers of euonymus scale, a very common and serious pest. If untreated, this pest causes leaves to drop and plants to die eventually. Spray your plants thoroughly with a dormant oil in early spring before new growth starts. This will smother the overwintering scales.

You can also spray horticultural oil between May and July to kill these tiny insects that suck sap from leaves during the growing season. Always follow insecticide label directions and precautions.

If your plant is badly infested now, you may want to cut it down to the ground and start over with new shoots in the spring.

Ants are crawling all over our patio and driveway. They have wings and arrived out of the blue in great numbers. An exterminator told us that these ants are usually followed by termites. Is this true?

Field ants and, to a lesser degree, pavement ants have been very active because of the mild weather we've experienced. They cause no structural damage and are not a sign of coming termites. You should not spray the ants you see, or even worry about them.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507 or visit its Web site at http: //www.agnr.umd.edu/hgic.


* Have your soil tested by the University of Maryland's Soil Testing Laboratory (800-342-2507). You'll learn what to do if your soil's pH needs adjusting.

* Remove and discard the egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar from the branches of crab apple and cherry trees. The egg masses resemble black plastic foam.

* Avoid using fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus to melt ice. These fertilizer salts will travel along hard surfaces to storm drains, where they contribute to surface water pollution.

* Look through last year's supply of leftover garden seeds. Do you have enough for your needs in 1998? Keep in mind that last year's seeds may not germinate or grow well if they are stored at high temperatures or in high humidity over the winter.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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