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Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2016

Q. We found some creosote in a can under an old house we inherited and the can got knocked over on our walkway leaking about a cup or so of the liquid. Hard to believe that such a small amount of creosote would do so much damage-30 foot stain on the sidewalk and dirt migration around the sidewalk down to 4-5 inches in the soil. We tried some of the easy fixes that did nothing. We removed dirt and it helped a little. We were going to replace the walkway sooner or later so sooner it was! Despite all this the smell remains. Any fix on that? Besides removing the obvious dirt is there a mix we can use to cover/neutralize the smell? Thanks. We'd like to fix it before putting down the new walkway next week.  R. L.

A.  Creosote is a nasty chemical - that's why we don't recommend the use of railroad ties. Use a heavy application of zeolite for the smell and then apply my entire detox program to neutralize the chemical. Here’s the program from our website. First, stop the contamination if it continues in any way. Second, apply fine textured humates or activated charcoal. Fine textured zeolite can be mixed with the carbon products or applied separately. The next step is to spray and drench the problem area with Garrett Juice plus orange oil or D-Limonene at 2 ounces per gallon of mix. The carbon products (humates and charcoal) will tie up the contaminants; Garrett Juice and orange oil stimulate the microbes to feed on and breakdown the toxic molecules. Liquid molasses is in the Garrett Juice mix but adding additional molasses to the Garrett Juice mixture will help speed up the decontamination process. Adding a beneficial microbe product will speed up the process even more.

Q. I have always heard to put ground eggshells in your soil, but I couldn't find it in your archive. I just boiled some and powdered them in a coffee grinder. What do you think? Thanks.  J. H. Tacoma, WA
A.  Nothing wrong with doing that but the nutrients in the eggshells are very slowly available. Calcium is the main nutrient. Roughly there’s
Calcium - 900. mg. 90%, Magnesium - 24.0. mg. 6%, Phosphorus - 8.4. mg. 1%, Potassium - 8.0. mg. 0%,  Sodium - 9.0. mg. 0%. The finer the eggshells are ground, the quicker the nutrients are available to plants. Using the eggshells in the compost pile might be a better way to go.

Q. While I see the benefits of lava sand, it is impossible to apply with a spreader. Can you please suggest the easiest way to spread it in my yard?  J. D. Dallas, TX
A.  Put it in a small container, shovel or scoop and fling it - or toss out by hand. That's what I do. American Rio is the new lava sand product on the market here that has strong plant growth benefits.

Q.  Where’s the best place to get high quality compost in north Texas? A. S. Denton, TX
A.  We have no superiorly high-quality compost in north Texas (that I know of) but this company's earthworm castings product is excellent and will improve any not-so-great product that you use.

Q.  In 2014 there was an on-line article about a new St. Augustine hybrid grass produced by the TX A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas that required less water and had increased drought, disease, insect, shade and cold tolerance. DALSA 0605 was to have been commercially available in 2015. The article also mentioned "Floratram", a successful St. Augustine grass collaboratively developed by TX A&M University and the University of Florida. I have never heard anything more about either since. Are these grasses available for residential use and if so, do you know where I can purchase some of the sod?  J. J. Irving, TX
A.  Sorry - I haven't heard anything about the DALSA grass. Floratam might not be cold tolerant here. Palmetto St. Augustine seems to be the best choice at this time.

Q.  I have been told that you should raise your mowing height to allow the grass to get taller/thicker to insulate it more and allow for better water retention in the ground. However, I recently read that Bermuda does better by mowing it low even in the summer since it is more like a vine. By keeping it cut short, the Bermuda actually grows thicker and not as "wiry". Will you provide your thoughts on this matter?  A. B. 
A.  Most grasses do fare better when mowed higher, but Bermudagrass does respond well to low mowing. Bermudagrasses are mowed at varying heights on golf courses for example. When a kid in East Texas, I played some golf courses that actually had common Bermuda on the greens. Of course, now there are dwarf hybrids that are much better for that use. Bottom line is that mowing height of Bermuda is an aesthetic choice.

Q.  The black steel lawn edging is very nice but would be very expensive if I want it to go around all of my shrub beds. And then I would still have to use a weed wacker or clippers to keep the grass along the steel edging in check. I'm hoping that with a "trench" of about 4"-5" made with the step edger I can avoid edging. Info from This Old House says that grass roots will "air die" and not cross the trench into the shrub beds. I wonder if this is true and also wonder if the step edging would only have to be done once or twice a year. Thanks again for the terrific advice you give to all home gardeners.  J. J. Irving, TX
A.  The trench would be fine but definitely not less trouble to maintain. Edging will still have to be done and the line will tend to move around over time. Grass roots might "air die" up north with the cool season grasses but not here. Steel is the most economical long term and the easiest to maintain.

Q.  Here are  pictures of one of our chinquapin oak trees outside of Palestine, in the post oak savannah region of the state. This tree has developed a white-ish fungus or mold on the top of the leaves. Otherwise, the tree appears healthy, vigorous and fully leafed.  What is it and what should I do for it?  B. W. Palestine, TX
A.  This condition is similar to the live oak blister that is rampant on live oaks this year. The weather conditions were perfect for this to happen because of the huge amount of rain followed by extreme heat. Make sure the flares are dramatically exposed but not much more is recommended. If you add cornmeal juice, hydrogen peroxide or Serenade to a Garrett Juice spraying, it will help the fungus clear up faster.

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