Question. We have bunches of mushrooms growing in our yard. How did they start to grow, and is there any control?
Reply. Folklore suggests that the mushrooms that appear in the lawns are where the devil used to churn his butter or the fairies danced at night. In fact, the growth of fungi took several months and began with the spores getting into places rich in organic matter. Often this is where the tree once grew, and the decaying roots serve as a medium for the growth of fungi. Mushrooms are most common during the rainy season, when there is enough moisture to float white-brown (and sometimes colored) fruiting bodies arising from underground stems and root-like parts. Unless you’re an expert, it’s best to consider all mushrooms poisonous to family members and pets. There is no reliable chemical control. If you are concerned that they may be eaten, it is best to remove them as they develop and throw them away with the trash.
This sensitive plant is also known as Mimosa, which is the genus of its scientific name. (Contributed by Tom McCubbin)
IN. We were offered a fern-like groundcover with clusters of pink flowers for our yard. Is it good, and where does it grow best?
A. Take this offer if you have a sunny site that needs colorful, low-growing plants. This native ground cover you see in your emailed photo is a sensitive plant, also known as mimosa, which is the genus of its scientific name. The leaves are small and numerous on short stems. They are sensitive to touch and curl up when disturbed. Use the sensitive plant as a perennial creeping groundcover to enjoy green leaves and fluffy flower clusters in spring and fall. Drought tolerant but grows well in moist soils. If necessary, it can sometimes be mowed when it is not in bloom.
IN. Our Mexican petunia plants have a white coating on the leaves that does not rub off. I applied insecticides, but they do not give control. Do plants need to be removed?
A. Many gardeners have reported white patches on the leaves of the Mexican petunia, also known by the scientific name Ruellia. Some suggest it’s powdery mildew, a fungus, while others, like you, think it could be insect damage. In fact, this white, fibrous species is caused by very small eriophyid mites. The mites are so small that they can only be seen with special magnification. Leaf hairs are affected by mites and cause the formation of white growths. To control the mites, you can use garden oil, which can be found at local garden centers. Follow label directions carefully as use at high temperatures can be toxic to plant parts. Some growers cut off a few affected parts of the plant and then start spraying as needed.
IN. Our garden is ready. What can we do to prepare the ground for planting in August or September?
A. It is time to remove all dead and withering crops, weeds and other debris. Plow the soil as needed to maintain weed control, as these unwanted growths thrive during the summer rainy season. Use this time to improve sandy and freshly harvested soils with organic matter. Add compost, peat moss, composted manure and similar materials. Dig them into the soil. It usually takes an inch or more of either or a combination of these to improve sandy soils. Gardeners can also use this time to check the acidity of the soil. If necessary, adjust the pH of the soil as recommended by the test. Soil acidity tests can be done at garden centers and at the University of Florida’s local extension office. Summer is also the time when nematodes can be baked by covering the soil with clear plastic.
The Plant Doctor: Ordinary herbicides don’t work on artillery weeds
IN. Two years ago I planted a persimmon tree from a container that was loaded with fruit. Last year and this year there are no fruits. What did I do wrong?
A. Don’t beat yourself up because this tree needs a few extra years to get back into production. This is normal for a young tree that has probably been grafted a little by the time it was planted. An overcrowded root system from a container often promotes fruiting until the tree is planted in the ground, at which point it begins to grow but skips fruiting for several years. Encourage this early growth by feeding persimmons once in March and once in July for the first three years in your soil, and then stop feeding them. After this fertilizer, applied to nearby bushes and turf, is usually also sufficient to feed the persimmon. Keep the soil moist during dry periods and your tree will bear fruit well in another year or two.
IN. While I was mowing, a lot of moths flew out of the lawn, and they are also near the wall and the flowering bush. What is the best way to get rid of turf moths?
A. Butterfly nets and fly swatters are the best way to control the adult stage of the turfworm butterfly. You most likely find them a nuisance, and maybe a threat, but butterflies do not harm your plants. They lay eggs that can lead to webs that feed only on grass. One curiosity is that they like crabgrass the most, so it can be considered a slight advantage. Many eggs and larvae never reach the feeding stage due to the presence of beneficial insects in your lawn. Control can be applied if you notice feeding worms that only come out at night. Since few gardeners rarely see spider worm caterpillars, feeding is usually detected by chewed blades of grass. Most gardeners say their lawn is cut closer than usual. Nearly all lawn insecticides sold at garden centers provide turfworm control. These often include natural products sold as dipel and spinosad that contain insecticides. Follow the label of the product you choose to control the feeding steps.
Tom McCubbin is an honorary city horticulturist of the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Write to him: Florida Today News, PO Box 2833, Orlando, FL. 32802. Email: [email protected].