dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the tag “Master Gardener”

Ants-in-the-Pants Not a Fun Game

Yesterday while removing spring/summer blooming plants in a raised bed, I found a little more than dying plants. Recent rains encouraged fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) to look for higher ground. Raised bed = water-free home. Think of a beach house on stilts. Part of the mound fell from the root ball of a plant onto the leg of my jeans. Passersbyers witnessed moves that haven’t come from my body in quite some time when  I was
stung several times. I still can’t figure out how those demons got skin contact. Soon after the fiery sensation (thus, the common name),  itchy red bumps emerged, morphing overnight into nasty looking bumps that made my right leg look more like a 14-year-old boy’s face.

These boogers have been a southern gardener – and nature lover – problem for several decades now, hitching a ride into the U.S. on ships or even plants imported from their native South America. This invasion does have its upside, though. “Fire ants voraciously consume populations of fleas, ticks, termites, cockroaches, chinch bugs, mosquito eggs and larva, scorpions, etc.” says Galveston County Master Gardener Trish McDaniel in a publication called “Beneficials In the Landscape” from Texas A&M University. “(The) culinary creed for fire ants could be: if it will stay still for a bit, then it’s dinner!”

As far as full-grown humans and livestock, this appetite fire ants have for the things we hate most is good news. Not so much for little ones, though. A fawn born near a fire ant mound can spell disaster if momma doe doesn’t get her baby away quickly enough. So too with a calf or kitten.


Organic pest control is always best to use near children or pets.

There are a number of organic methods for ridding yourself, albeit temporarily, of fire ants. (A great website for this information is from Urban Harvest.) One free way is to pour boiling water on the mound’s freeway. Do this several times over a two-hour period for the best results, as some of the ants could be too far down in the earth to be killed with the 1st pour. As they BRING OUT THEIR DEAD (you Monte Python fans know the line), hit the mound again.

When I found the mound – or they found me – yesterday, I took a little different approach. With a school nearby and me nearby (I’m a clutz and can’t blame McDonald’s if I get scalded), I sprinkled a bit of instant grits around the area.


For a cheap & easy fire ant bait, you can KISS MY GRITS!

The ants will take it down deep into the mound where it will absorb liquid and they’ll blow up like they’re on steroids and eventually implode. Or explode. The point is, they’ll no longer bite.

So sorry to disappoint, but I’ll not be doing the ants-in-the-pants dance for a bit. Unless DANCING WITH THE STARS calls. Then could I borrow a mound from you? That’s basically the only way to get my groove on these days, I’m afraid.


GARDEN DESIGN: Drawing Your Plan

Got a great view? Play it up. A not-so-great view? Put a mirror up instead!

Now that you have a BASIC LANDSCAPE LAYOUT graphed out from last time, you should know where permanent features and plants will be staying.  Time to make final decisions on what goes where for your new do/redo.

HIT: if you know the why, where, and what, PICKING PLANTS should be fun instead of overwhelming

1)  Think about the why of it to determine the where.  Clients tell me they want their summer kitchen in gazebo at the back of the property…..WHY?  Schlepping out to the back forty every time you want burgers isn’t practical. Locate things so they are the most convenient and work for you, not you for them.

2) Pick the right tool for the task.  Is the view from the guy behind you’s 2nd story gameroom YOUR family room?  Shade trees at the fence may seem the best solution, but how long it will take them to grow?  A pergola covered with fast-growing evergreen vines above the windows may be just right to block the view.  Make notes on your decisions.

3) Will it work?  Lay out your proposed new beds, patios, etc. not only on paper, but in your landscape.  Use a water hose, strings, or spray paint to mark things out and live with your new design for a few weeks, if possible.  Bed edges shouldn’t look like a drunk guy designed it – even if he DID.  Lawn areas need to be trial-run to ensure the mower will make the curves okay, too.  How about watering?  Can you get a wheel barrow to an area easily?  Think about maintenance as well as use.

Make your plan simple and easy to read.

Move all this onto a clean piece of graph paper that will be your final plan. Note existing materials and the new stuff, including sizes of items – including plants’ names, or at least sizes and types (15′ TREE vs. 3′ EVERGREEN SHRUB) –  even if you don’t know WHICH plants yet. To make wise plant choices, start by showing your plan to your local independent nurseryman. If you have a plant list or photos, those should go, too. (Remember, you taped those samples to the edge of your bubble diagram a few weeks ago?)  Contact your county extension office and Master Gardener groups. They’ll have lists of appropriate plant materials for your area and often give free classes. (By FREE I mean your tax dollars already paid for them!) I’m also a fan of native plant societies found in most states. They’re a great resource, with online plant lists and often with free classes and plant sales. Garden clubs, the Herb Society, community colleges, and many other groups offer free or inexpensive horticultural education classes, too.  And libraries and independent bookstores often have books and magazines featuring plants perfect for your area.

The best way to get a beautiful landscape? PLAN for it!

Okay, don’t get frustrated.  I’ve spent the last 20+ years doing this, so don’t expect to become an expert overnight.  You don’t have to know it all; you just have to know where to get help. And one of the spots you can get it is HERE.  Just send me a note and I’ll try to direct you down the right path.  Or even help you create the right one!

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