Questions have boiled out like fire ants these past few weeks. Everywhere I’ve turned, these are the things people have been asking. Odds are quite good that one or more might even have passed your lips in recent days. Take a look.
“What is this obnoxious little weed? It looks like moss when it’s growing, then all of a sudden, tiny lavender-white flowers erupt all over the place. How can I get rid of it?”
This is roadside aster. It’s been a bit later than usual this year, perhaps because it turned so warm and dry in September, but it’s making up for lost time. The tufts of tiny stems and little green leaves are covered with little daisylike flowers. Soon, however, the flowers will go to seed and the plants will die, leaving stiff, ugly stubble the rest of the winter.
This is a weed of neglect. You’ll see it where you can’t get water to the grass roots and where you seldom apply enough fertilizer. Honestly, it’s better to ramp up your maintenance of the lawn than it is to start applying broadleafed weedkillers (containing 2,4-D) to kill it in the summer and early fall before it starts blooming. Your lawngrass will crowd it out.
“What is attacking my St. Augustine lawn? I had trouble with it all summer, and now this seems to be worse than ever.”
This is a fungal disease known as brown patch. People are forever getting it confused with chinch bugs that hit in the summer only. Brown patch doesn’t show up until it turns cool in late September and October. You can always tell if your St. Augustine has brown patch by pulling on yellowed or browned blades. If brown patch is involved, they’ll be rotted where they attach to the runners.
It weakens the grass, but it doesn’t kill it. Local independent nurseries have products that will control it. National chain stores seem to have had more limited selections of turf fungicides. Look for one labeled for control of the patch fungal diseases.
“Why are so many little branches falling out of my pecan and elm trees? They look like they’ve been cut off.”
This is the work of twig girdlers. Basically they do no harm to the trees, and there is little you can do to prevent or control them. The adult female beetle lays her eggs in the far end of the twig, then uses her very sharp mouthparts to score the small branch around and around. It dies, falls to the ground and provides a home to the developing larvae. Your only means of limiting the population is to gather and destroy the fallen twigs right away. Sprays are totally ineffective.
“Is it just my imagination, or are there a lot more asps this year than normal?”
I’ve had more questions about them than usual. That’s the way insects operate. You’ll have a population explosion one year, then you won’t see them for several years in a row. Asps are also called puss caterpillars, and they are one of several types of caterpillars that inflict painful stings through bristles in their “fur.” Do not handle caterpillars, especially those with which you are unfamiliar. Teach your children about the risks as well.
“Is it too late to apply ‘winterizer’ fertilizer?”
Probably so. In fact, that term is pretty much just a marketing ploy anyway. You really want to use the same fertilizer in spring, summer and fall. First feeding of our lawns and landscape plants would be in late March or early April. Last feeding would be in late September or very early October. Plants that are growing actively now, however, such as ryegrass and fescue, as well as cool-season annual flowers, are the exception. They do need to be fed over the fall and winter.
“Are there any special secrets in getting plants ready to come indoors for the winter?”
Yes. Start by deciding which plants you intend to save and which can easily and inexpensively be replaced come next spring. Cut back on the fertilizer you apply to plants that will be coming indoors. Unless you have very bright lighting inside your house, you don’t want to encourage a lot of rampant growth. Look closely for signs of insects, and if necessary treat the plants while they’re still outdoors. Trim and reshape them as needed.
In most cases, save repotting until springtime. If an early cold spell comes through, you may want to move the plants into protection for a night or two, then put them back out for a few days or weeks longer. Often we have several more weeks of balmy weather. Your goal should be to have them indoors no longer than is absolutely necessary.
“Can I mulch my tree leaves into the lawn, or do I need to bag them?”
For the biggest part of the leaf drop — those couple of weeks when your trees shed most of their leaves — I would suggest running the leaves through the mower and bagging them. Put them into the compost or use them as a loose and fluffy mulch beneath your shrubs or over your perennials (assuming you don’t have weed seeds in the clippings). Otherwise you can mulch them into the grass. Just don’t send them to the landfill. They’re a valuable source of organic matter.