Q: I need information on the empress or royal paulownia tree. It is supposed to flower and grow 10 to 12 feet a year. People can order them online. Do you know anything about this tree? Will it survive in Texas? D.A., Dallas
A: Paulownia tomentosa is a fast-growing exotic tree, native to China and Korea, that has dramatic purple flowers. Yet another name for it is princess tree. The seed pods were brought to the United States from China as packing material during the 1800s and rapidly took root and spread. The negatives are that it doesn’t have a long life and has become an invasive species in some parts of the world.
Q: I was wondering how much diatomaceous earth to put on my cats to help control fleas. Where and how should I use it? And could it cause skin irritation? A.M., Dallas
A: Used directly on the body, DE is very drying. It should seldom if ever be used that way. The better use for DE is to add it to the pet’s food at a rate of 2 percent of the volume of food.
Be sure to use only natural diatomaceous earth. Never use DE that contains any other ingredient, especially pesticides. Products that contain pyrethrum and PBO (piperonyl butoxide) are in the same category as toxic synthetic pesticides and should not be used.
Swimming pool DE is also unacceptable for any use except the swimming pool filter. It differs from the natural material because it has a very high level of crystalline silica dioxide and is dangerous to breathe in the dry form. Muenster Natural dog and cat foods are the only products on the market that contain the proper kind of DE at the proper level. The health benefits are many. Healthy animals have less trouble with fleas and other pests. However, if flea control is the primary aim, using orange oil products in the house and beneficial nematodes outdoors are effective approaches Not only do nematodes control fleas better than chemicals, they also help control grub worms, fire ants, termites, thrips and other pests that spend time in the soil. Nematodes also are less expensive and give longer control.
Q: The pecan trees around my house have small branches that were broken off during a recent hailstorm. The same thing happened to a Texas ash, a Chinese pistache and my live oaks. All the leaves are gone, and there are large chunks of bark stripped off, sometimes nearly three-fourths of the way around the branch. Also, my Afghan pine wind break, which is 20 feet tall, has lost 90 percent of its needles. Will this do terminal damage to my trees? How should I start the healing process? I have been using your organic methods for about five years and do not know what to do with everything stripped so badly. S.L., Abilene
A: I normally recommend treating physical injury to tree trunks and limbs with my Tree Trunk Goop, which is an equal mix of compost, soft rock phosphate and natural diatomaceous earth mixed with water. In this case, there are too many wounds to treat, so just spray the entire tree with my Garrett Juice formula, but add an extra ounce of molasses to each gallon of mix. Adding “cornmeal juice” also will be beneficial. If you haven’t already, treat the entire root zone with my Sick Tree Treatment. The formulas for all of these mixtures are on www.dirtdoctor.com.
Q: I’ve seen what looks like Indian paintbrush growing among bluebonnets and regular orange Indian paintbrush, but it is light pink to red to crimson or hot pink. I looked at these plants up close, and they look a little different and feel soft. The stem seems to be square. There are a lot of them on Interstate 35E between Hillsboro and Waxahachie. What are they? P.N., Dallas
A: This plant grows in much of Texas, and it’s probably the perennial form of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja purpurea). You’ll see it in a wide range of colors, and it tends to be showier than the annual form.