Buy mulch produced in this region

Garden Q&A

March 18, 2006|By JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI | JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An e-mail warned to watch out for New Orleans mulch infested with Formosan termites. What's the scoop? A quarantine prohibits shipping wood debris from the entire hurricane-devastated region to stop spread of these aggressive non-native termites. In a perfect world, none will escape the quarantine. It's doubtful any would survive the chipping process anyway, but an easy precaution for Marylanders is to purchase mulch produced in our region.

Termites occasionally get into bagged mulch that has been sitting around, and this is nothing new. Our local termites sometimes do this. If you open a bag and find termites, simply return the bag or place it in a black plastic garbage bag, fasten and place in hot sun to broil for a week or so. Our local termites need ground moisture to survive, so do not create a mulch environment that attracts them. (They won't live in spread mulch, but like to travel underneath.) Lay only a thin layer of mulch near structures. Keep it 18 inches from a foundation, maintaining a cool dry stretch of soil that is uninviting to termites. Do not fill this band with stones/pebbles, because they like those even better than mulch.

A bigger danger to homeowners is Formosan termite-infested railroad ties sold as landscape timber. Railroad ties are a primary means by which Formosan termites are spread around the United States. Inspect railroad ties carefully before purchase. Some burrowing critter (mole?) decimated my gardens starting last spring. They ate roots off perennials, ate bulbs, even annuals. I see even more of their quarter-sized holes this year! Help! If an animal is eating your plants, you do not have moles but voles. (Moles are strict carnivores, eating grubs, insects and worms and they aerate your soil -- so they are actually somewhat beneficial.) Voles are stout, short-tailed meadow mice. They are very destructive and much more of a menace than moles, who often take the bum rap for them. Voles also strip bark off trees and shrubs, killing them. Voles tunnel in ornamental beds, not in the middle of your lawn.

Control voles by habitat modification and trapping. Keep lawns mowed. Mulch and groundcovers provide them with protective cover, so you may need to thin them out or remove them entirely. Trap voles using snap-type mousetraps placed at the burrow entrance and baited with apple bits or peanut butter sprinkled with oatmeal. For lots of voles, use lots of traps. Right now, they're good and hungry, so it's a great time to get trapping.

Checklist

Potatoes, onion sets, onion seedlings and peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be lightly worked.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, which offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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