Fertilizer isn't the problem; it's the wrong grass


QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts about using alfalfa meal as an organic fertilizer? I have tried to use only corn gluten meal and pellets and dried molasses for the past year or so, but my Bermuda grass lawn looks pretty weak. The area under my red oak tree is almost bare, while the other side (in direct sunlight) is in relatively good shape. Weeds continue to be a problem. I have an in-ground sprinkler system and use it several times a week. N.G., Denison

ANSWER: The problem you have is that Bermuda won't grow in shade. Try St.Augustine, ground covers such as Persian ivy or ophiopogon, mulch or the Turffalo variety of buffalo grass, which is bred to grow in shade.

QUESTION: What's a safe way to clean fence stain off of plants? My husband got it all over the plants while working on the fence. K.B., Flower Mound

ANSWER: All I can suggest is to spray the plants every few days with Garrett Juice (see Resources to obtain recipe), to which you've added a tablespoon of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap (

www.drbronner.com). I can't guarantee this will work, but it has more chance than anything else I know of.


My red oak tree has a problem. The leaves seem to be losing pigment and are turning brown. I see no evidence of bugs, but there are holes in some leaves. K.D., Bowie

ANSWER: Use my Sick Tree Treatment, starting with removal of excess soil from the root flare and the top of the root ball.

QUESTION: I've heard that live oaks shouldn't be pruned some months because of the possibility of oak wilt disease being transmitted through the pruning cut. When should I avoid pruning? J.R., Brownwood

ANSWER: I prune year-round if it is needed, but spring is the time to avoid if possible. During the summer, there is little risk.

QUESTION:  A worm that carries a brown bark cocoon has destroyed two huge shrubs in my yard. What are these worms? How can I kill them? They are working on other shrubs near the ones they killed. S.B., Kemp

ANSWER: Although this is an odd time for bagworms to be active, that's probably what you have. To control them, release trichogramma wasps and spray the worms with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) products while they are feeding.   After the worms attach their bags and are hanging from plants, the only way to kill them is to remove each bag by hand and then smash it and the worm inside. You can compost the squashed bags.

QUESTION: How much corn gluten meal and molasses should I use to eradicate grass burs in a newly planted field of Tifton Bermuda grass? I have about two acres fenced off from the horses where we are trying to establish the grass. We have fertilized, but not organically. It appears the grass burs are taking over. I'm hoping you have a formula that would work. C.K., Somerset

ANSWER: Apply corn gluten meal and dry molasses now. Unfortunately, little can be done about the grass burs that already are growing.  Improving the soil and then applying the same products early next spring will prevent another crop of burs.

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