TX Organic Research Center



Butterflies? Enjoy them. Gardenias? Nourish them.
November 10, 2006
By Howard Garrett

QUESTION: My yard is overwhelmed with thousands of butterflies. Also, I have fed and watered my gardenias, but they are spindly and have few leaves and small blooms. What am I doing wrong? J.R., Grandview

ANSWER: What a wonderful problem, to be overwhelmed by butterflies! Add compost and an organic fertilizer  to your gardenia beds and make sure the plants are getting plenty of sunlight. They do not like heavy shade.

QUESTION: I've got a leggy raspberry bush, and I think I can easily cut it back for next year's berry crop. After I prune it, I'll have lots of sturdy stem cuttings. How difficult is it to root raspberry cuttings? Do I just stick them in water, or should I pot them or plant them in the garden? Can I leave them outside for the winter? E.B., Fort Worth

ANSWER: Raspberry plants can and should be cut back. Like blackberries, raspberries bear on second-year growth. Summer-bearing raspberries should be cut back during the summer after they have stopped producing fruit. Fall-bearing varieties should be pruned during the spring. Cuttings are easy to propagate from roots or stems. In cold climates, the cuttings grow best when planted in pots and kept in cold frames or a greenhouse. In warm climates, they should be planted in organic potting soil or prepared beds.

QUESTION: I have read that garlic spray repels ticks. Is this true? We recently moved to Florida from the Dallas area and are experiencing a tremendous problem with ticks. J.L., Land O' Lakes, FL

ANSWER: Garlic spray will repel many insects including ticks. Garlic-pepper tea works better, and plant-oil products are even more effective.

Is there a homemade spray solution for a lemon tree disease that includes cooking oil and biodegradable detergent? R.L., Fort Worth

ANSWER: I suppose those ingredients would help with disease control, but I have a better recommendation. For fungal diseases, spray garlic tea or cornmeal tea. For bacterial and viral diseases, spray 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. It also will control mosaic virus.

QUESTION: I was wondering about using molasses in the soil to control nut grass. You mentioned that it can be bad for some plants. Is using molasses a good idea? If not, what else can I do to get rid of nut grass?  E.A., Dallas

ANSWER: Applying dry molasses at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet three or four times per year should help control nut grass (also called nut sedge) without hurting good plants. The life in the soil will improve, too.

QUESTION: Thanks to your Web site, I have identified destructive flatworms, or land planarians. Now that I know what is invading our neighborhood, how do I get rid of them without destroying the earthworms that they prey on?  J.G., San Marcos

ANSWER: That's a tough question because most organic pest controls that kill bugs will hurt earthworms, too.  All you can do is stimulate biological activity in the soil by using high-quality compost and dry molasses.  When you find flatworms, spray them with a strong orange oil mix (4 ounces of orange oil per gallon of water or stronger). Cutting up flatworms is a mistake because every piece will grow into another worm.


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