Bag the worm problem to save tree

Question: I have fire ants in my compost. I thought I got rid of them when I put nematodes in the compost in the spring, but they have returned with a vengeance.

C.B., Dallas

Answer: Add a bag of dry molasses, and the ants will no longer be a problem.

Question: I have some 8-foot-tall bald cypress trees that I planted two years ago. They were doing great until I came back from a short trip. Now they have little bags hanging all over the limbs.

H.F., Tioga

Answer: Check the tree to see whether it is planted too deeply, has girdling roots or isn't getting enough moisture.

Drench the root zone with compost tea or Garrett Juice (see RESOURCES to request a recipe).

If bag worms are attacking, the tree is sick. Unless you fix the problem, they will return. All you can do after the insects have attached bags is to remove them by hand. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) products or plant oils will kill the worms while they are feeding.

Question: I planted a 20-gallon, container-grown bur oak four days ago. The tree had become heat-stressed while in the pot. I planted the tree per your instructions. The tree's leaves had turned yellow by the time of planting, and it has since dropped all but about five to 10 of its leaves.

I have asked the homeowner to let a hose trickle on the tree's root zone overnight every three to five days as needed. However, he is watering every day with his sprinkler system and then trickling the tree overnight every three days. The soil was very wet around the tree today, and I have again suggested that the tree needs to dry out some between waterings.

Do you think that under these conditions the tree will flush back out (under the bark on the limbs it is clearly green)? If so, how long should it take?

If it doesn't flush back out soon, how long should I wait before replacing the tree? At present, it has about 10 green leaves.

J.C., Austin

Answer: You are both watering the tree to death. Trees die more often from overwatering than underwatering.

A tree planted properly rarely needs more water than the rest of the landscaping is receiving until prolonged droughts occur. Have the owner cut back on the water but drench the root zone one time with Garrett Juice. It sounds as if this tree was in trouble before it was planted, so the jury's still out. If the tree hasn't improved by fall, it probably should be replaced.

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