Perhaps the only positive result of the recent storms in our area is that the huge piles of debris gifted us by Mother Nature can be made into mulch and used by homeowners.
Today’s garden column is in a Q&A format and, serendipitously, the first question concerns mulch.
A: I know that plants benefit from having mulch spread around them, but is there such a thing as too much mulch?
Q: Yes. The Duchess of Windsor said that “one can never be too rich or too thin.” Perhaps so, but one can definitely have too much mulch. Don’t go overboard when applying mulch to any tree, shrub, vine, perennial or annual. What is a good amount? Spread two to four inches around plant material, keeping mulch away from the base. Accumulations of mulch can inhibit plant growth because of compaction; it can take a long time for water to move through the mulch. Deep layers of mulch also provide perfect hiding places for snakes, rats, mice and other unwelcome critters. While you’re at it, keep mulch away from the base of your house and any wood structures such as decks.
Q: Mole Crickets have caused problems in my Centipede lawn. Any suggestions for how to get rid of them?
Dorothy S., Hilton Head
A: Mole crickets can also be a problem in St. Augustine lawns. Eliminating these crickets is often the only recourse. The insects are attracted to lawns that have an abundance of thatch — a thick, spongy mat of runners and grass clippings on the soil surface. Excessive water or fertilizer can also create problems. Mole crickets find this to be a suitable habitat and will eventually overwinter within deep burrows which are created by their extensive digging. Once the soil warms up in spring, they will work their way up to the surface to feed on grass, usually at night. My friend Henry Jimenez suggested that I de-thatch my lawn when I had a problem with mole crickets, and the treatment really helped. Chemical insecticides, such as Imidacloprid (Bayer Advanced, Merit) are normally applied to kill the small nymph stage of the insect. Use sprays, granules or baits; read the label carefully and follow directions exactly.
Q: What are some plants that I can put around my mailbox that will provide color during the winter? The site is sunny and irrigated.
Shirley B., Hilton Head
A: Consider planting pansies around the edge and snapdragons close to the post. One classic combination is purple pansies with yellow snapdragons. For a noticeable display, figure on buying one dozen snaps and 18-24 pansies. Increase the number of plants according to how much of a wow factor you want to create. Remember that more than three colors in total can be a visual distraction. Plant your choices close together. Keep them going until April/May, and then you can replace them with Pentas and “sun” Coleus in complementary colors.
Q: My wife and I have a couple of ficus trees that we bought last winter and then moved outside for the summer. They tripled in size, and we want to bring them back in before winter comes because we know they won’t survive otherwise. However, there is now no place in the house to put these large plants. We’re pleased with how well they’ve grown and really hate to lose them. Because I use the garage as a workshop, it is heated. Will they be okay in there?
Joe M, Hilton Head
A: Over-winter inside? Sure, if you can satisfy their needs. Temps that are comfortable for your work in the garage should be adequate for the plants during the day and can be reduced at night to the lower 60s. Place them where drafts will not be an issue and provide humidity. The plants need light, either natural or artificial, about 14 hours a day. Treat with insecticide before bringing them inside and reduce watering. Expect leaf drop to occur because of the relocation. Move them back outside when the night temperatures are reliably above 60 degrees.
My next column will focus on fall planting — the best time of the year to make changes in your garden.
Frank Edgerton is a Hilton Head Island resident, garden consultant and plantsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.