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Christmas bonus not welcomed

Q:  There were ticks on our Christmas tree. Now they are in our house. We bought a Fraser fir in late November. In early January, my wife noticed several insects on this tree. After 14 hours of finding and killing ticks on and around the tree, we wrapped the tree in sheets and plastic wrap, sealed it with packing tape and now plan to apply an insect bomb to kill the remaining ticks on the tree before disposing of the tree. We have no pets, we do not walk in the woods, and we have never had a tick in the house or seen one outside. We killed 67 ticks that were approximately 3mm in length. What do you suggest to get rid of them? G.L., San Antonio

A:  Insect bombs usually are highly toxic chemical pesticides. I recommend hiring a pest control company to spray one of the essential-oil insecticides, such as Essentria. They smell great, work well and aren't toxic to humans.

Q:  I am experimenting with using ferrous sulfate as a nontoxic method of staining concrete. Since it is used as a soil amendment, I don't think it will adversely affect the surrounding greenery. I have an idea that it also may be used to stain the mulch in flower beds and under the trees. Would this be a bad idea?
R.G., Dallas

A:  Ferrous sulfate, also called iron sulfate and copperas, is not a product that I would ever use as a soil amendment because of its harshness, and it might contain dangerous heavy metals. Use it for your concrete, but try to get as little of it in the soil as possible. Better products might be the Kemiko line of dyes and stains. They are designed specifically for staining concrete floors and other concrete applications.

Q:I want to plant smoke trees, Mexican oak, buckeye and coneflowers now. Where can I find them? Many nurseries have reduced their stock. 
R.L., Joshua

A:  You can check with any independent retail nursery in the Dallas area by calling and asking about availability, such as Rohde's Nursery in Garland, Walton's Garden Center in Dallas and the Greenery in Waxahachie. If a nursery does not have the plants you want in stock, the manager may be able to order the trees for you from regional wholesale growers.

Q: Last year, one of the large trees in the field fell over, and they decided to burn it to get rid of it. My aunt told me that when the tree was burned down to the ground, they mixed some of the ashes into their garden soil. They had a great garden and grew a lot. If I collect a lot of limbs and burned them in my grill, would it be safe to mix the ash into my garden? C.C., Hurst

A:  I put ashes in my compost pile and mix them with the carbon products of fall leaves, spent plants and scraps from the kitchen. Only those gardeners with acidic, sandy soil should use the ashes directly on the soil.  Ashes are a concentration of mineral salts and a valuable source of potash. They contain from 1 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 to make soil more alkaline. Apply about 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet.

They can be used in any soil if first mixed with organic matter and composted. Avoid using wood ashes around blueberries or other acid-loving plants, and don't use heavily - even in alkaline soils. Only wood ashes, and not coal ashes, should be used in the soil or compost. Wood ashes are also an effective tool in controlling slugs when dusted on problem areas.

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