TX Organic Research Center



Black Mold, Pine Trees, Geckos
August 30, 2002
By Howard Garrett

Q. We have mold in our house. I know there are many molds besides the “bad one”. Do you know of a reputable company to check for mold and/or other toxic problems? – P.Y., Dallas

A. Black mold – “the bad one”, is in the same category as West Nile Virus and trees planted too close to foundations. These are all much smaller problems than the press, government officials and alleged experts have caused the public to believe. The so-called black mold has been around forever. The only differences now are 1) houses are built more air tight, which combined with humidity brings on more of the mold and 2) companies are making big bucks doing fancy treatments of the molds that could just as easily be done with baking soda, orange oil, hydrogen peroxide and improving the air circulation. Some people are more sensitive to molds now due to weakened immune systems.

Q. I have two young Austrian pine trees that are turning brown at the tips of two small branches at the top. The browned needles come loose quite easily. Both trees were planted the following way: the hole only big enough or the ball, wood chip mulch and organic fertilizer in the hole, mixed 50/50 with the native soil. Cut the burlap, and removed the metal staples (nails) and string. Spread the burlap out at the base of the tree. Put about 2” of wood chip mulch around the base. Tried to get the top of the ball even with the yard’s grade. They have thrived, put on good growth, had “candles”, etc. I do NOT use pesticides, etc. in the yard. I read a little about these trees. They are supposed to like dry conditions and were recommended by our local nursery owner. He did warn me that pine trees will always be at risk in western Oklahoma. What can I do for the other, older, pine tree to protect it? – J.F., Fort Sill, OK

A. The main problem is the planting technique. Balancing the moisture in the soil will be difficult at best. The single most important part of proper planting is to dig a very wide, saucer-shaped, rough-sided hole. Then nothing should be in the backfill but the native soil from the hole. Whoever gave the planting advice did you a great disservice. Make sure the top of the actual root ball is at least even with ground grade. My latest planting details recommend the ball be set slightly higher than grade. Apply a light application of cornmeal over the root system. Use just enough to barely coat the soil yellow. Then cover the cornmeal with a shredded mulch. You can create the effect of a wide hole by using a sharp shooter shovel and roughing up the native soil outside the tree hole.

Q. Can you tell me what those little beige/pinkish lizards that I have on my patio/ceiling/walls at night are? They’re not big at all and they disappear when morning comes. They seem to be not hurting anything. My husband says they’re eating bugs and that’s a good thing! We have a ton of them every night and I’m very curious about them and wondered if they had a name. – T.M., Dallas

A. They are geckos and extremely beneficial. Your husband is right.

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