TX Organic Research Center



Dig out poison ivy or get a goat
January 07, 2005
By Howard Garrett

Question: What is the best way to get rid of poison ivy? Cutting it down does not help. Is there something that will kill it permanently?

E.L., Duncanville

Answer: Cutting the vines to the ground now and digging out as much of the plant as possible is Step 1. Next, spray the tender growth as it emerges in the spring. Instead of using toxic broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D, use vinegar-based organic herbicides. Your only other option is to buy or rent some goats. They love to eat poison ivy.

Question: How do you control girdling beetles? I have pecan trees, and the beetles are slowly defoliating the larger branches and stems.

C.M., Dallas

Answer: Twig girdlers are interesting insects. The female lays her eggs on the ends of live branches and cuts the branch off with an action that looks as if a pipe cutter has been used. The cut is very smooth and clean. If the cut is jagged, the damage probably was done by squirrels.

The beetles usually don't do enough damage to warrant spray control. All you would do is kill a bunch of beneficial insects.

If you pick up the branch tips just after they have been cut off and destroy them by composting, the problem should be lessened next year.

Question: I have read that the pre-emergent action of corn gluten meal is short-lived.

How do I know when to apply it so that I kill the weeds as opposed to feeding them?

C.T., Denton

Answer: Corn gluten meal must be applied before weed seeds germinate. This year, because of the cool weather and extra rain, it should have been applied earlier than normal.

Even gardeners who used good timing may not see good weed control this year because of the almost constant rain during the critical period.

I recommend you use a vinegar-based spray on weeds while the turf is dormant.

Question: I have three mature rosemary bushes. They must be moved or cut down.

Should I try to move them now or wait until we have had an extended freeze?

P.M., Sachse

Answer: We are right in the middle of transplant time. Get to work!

Question: I have a large quantity of hardwood ashes from my fireplace. Is this good for use in the vegetable and flower garden, lawn and compost bin?

How much is too much to apply?

A.M., Colleyville

Answer: Fireplace ashes are usable. I put ashes in my compost pile and mix them with carbon products such as leaves, spent plants and kitchen scraps.

Only gardeners with acid, sandy soil should use ashes directly on the soil.

Ashes are a valuable source of potash and generally contain 1 percent to 10 percent potash and 1.5 percent phosphorus.

They can be mixed with other fertilizing materials or side-dressed around growing plants in acid soils at a rate of about 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet of garden area. They can be used in any soil if they are first mixed with organic matter and composted.

Avoid using wood ashes around blueberries or other acid-loving plants, and don't use them heavily even in alkaline soils.

By the way, wood ashes also are effective for controlling slugs. Just dust lightly around plants that are being attacked.

Question: I was told that if you use waste water on a garden, you should not use antibacterial soaps. Is this true?

B.T., Dallas

Answer: I don't use antibacterial soaps for anything. They contain chemicals.

Question: I have a small compost bin that I neglected during the last few months. The compost contains a lot of what appears to be mold. Should I use this or dispose of it?

F.G., Austin

Answer: Just add some dry molasses and fallen leaves to the compost. It will be fine.



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