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Dr. Rick - Selecting Plants At The End Of The Season

If you've lived in the country and have taken care of chickens, you'll know what I mean when I talk about 'Pecking order". In other words, it's the biggest, meanest chicken in the flock that gets to peck for seeds first. After he is full or distracted then the second biggest chicken gets to eat and on down the line.

Well plants have a bit of a pecking order in terms of which parts get the lion's share of the food first and second and so forth. It's interesting to know this if you are purchasing plants this time of year especially if they have been sitting out since spring. Some of the plants look pretty beat up (and are often put on sale or given away) but if you know what to look for, you can get great plants at great prices.

Understand that by this time of year, the top parts of the plant may look really ragged. It may have stopped blooming, stopped producing new shoots and stems. Those are typically the parts at the top of the heap. In other words, they get the lion's share of the stored food in the plant. Just because there are no flowers or new shoots however, doesn't mean the plant isn't a good buy. So, look a little closer.

Look at the roots. As the roots go, so goes the rest of the plant. The first thing to look for is white root tips. If there are plenty, the plant is still actively growing. Second look for roots arising from where the stem and roots meet or the interface. If you see new roots there, the plant has lots of stored energy. Third, look at the bottom of the pot and see if there is any root distortion. If the roots are not seriously circling at the bottom, you're OK and finally, look at what we call stem taper. If the stems are thick where they meet the main trunk and taper as they extend out, there is still quite a bit of stored energy in the plant.

Don't be afraid to pop the plant out of the container and look closely at what's going on below the surface. And remember about the chickens. The flowers and new shoots may have stopped, those plant parts that are at the top of the heap but if the roots are still healthy, don't be afraid to buy.

Preserving Herbs with Jenny Watson

To make sure we have herbs year round Jenny shares some tips from the past. Put a rubber band around the stems and hang them upside down. Make a tent with a paper bag, take those herbs with the rubber band holding them together and put them in the paper bag. Cinch the bag and hang it in a warm, dry location.

Chives - Mince them to the desired size, put them in a zip lock bag,
then freeze.

Sweet Annie - make into a wreath. When it drys it stays in the form you
shaped, a wreath for example. It will stay green and it keeps its' fragrance. Grind Oatmeal and put it into a sachet. It's great in your bath.

Vinegar - put herbs in with oil and vinegar and other spices. Put this
in a warm location and let stand for a while. It will make a great
dressing, saut, etc.

Azalea Lace Bug

In late summer insects can become visible. If your Azaleas are losing
their leaves or if the leaves are losing their color, check the back of
the leaf. If you see black dots, it may very well be the Azalea Lace
Bug. Spray with Insecticides, the key is through coverage, particularly
on the bottom side of the leaf. It is best to treat in the spring, make
a note now to remember next spring.

Dr. Rick takes on the Argentine Ant.

What does a cup of coffee and one of our most pestiferous pests have in common. Well, a little over 100 years ago, on a coffee shipment coming from South America, Argentina to be exact. Argentine ants arrived in New Orleans. Since then, they have spread throughout the Southeast and even into S. California and Hawaii.

Southerners will recognize these critters as the overwhelmingly numerous 1/8" long typically found trailing up a tree or into your kitchen on well-organized trails looking for food and water. Especially with the drought we are experiencing in so many areas of the south, these ants are coming inside looking for moisture and food. The reason you see them climbing up a tree is to shepard aphids and mealy bugs to obtain the sweet honeydew the aphids exude out their backs.

The main food of Argentine ants is sugar. Inside your house, they'll feed on any sugary substance from left over syrup to cookie crumbs next to the frig.

The habits of the Argentine ant coupled with the fact that they have no natural enemies, make them one of the most pestiferous and most difficult to control ants in the US. A single colony can consist of hundreds of thousands of individuals.

One of the most common nesting sites of Argentine ants is in mulch commonly used in gardens and landscapes. Mulch is the unsung hero in the southern garden serving a variety of purposes and acting as a home for termites, cockroaches, millipedes, pill bugs and ANTS especially the Argentine Ant. In fact, their favorite mulch is pine straw. It tends to provide moisture and the space between the needles creates a perfect habitat for ant to build their nests.

Unfortunately, one of the LEAST effective ways to kill Argentine ants is pesticide spray. They only last about a month or so and they also kill all the beneficial insects. Also, rain, sunlight and the fact that they don't penetrate deep enough to do much good. Did you know that over 90% of all insects are harmless and there really isn't a need to kill them?

It is not unusual for these ants to enter your house, especially during times of hot dry weather. If they enter your house, the best way to control them is with a product you can get at the drug store; Boric acid. Mix this with a little grape or apple jelly and place a dab on a square of cardboard at strategic places around the house. Now if you see some ants at the mixture, leave them alone. They will eat the jelly/boric acid bait and take it back to the mound. This ant will feed it to other ants and the boric acid will slowly kill the other members of the mound.

There are some non-chemical practices that can be performed to make your landscape much less hospitable and to discourage them from entering your house as well.

Thoroughly rinse all empty containers before putting them in the trash or recycling bin. Don't let garbage sit out for long periods of time. Keep all vegetation (limbs and branches) from touching the outside wall of your home. Branches in contact with the outside walls allow ants easy, direct access to your home. Keep mulch away from your house.Avoid over watering mulched areas, and try to keep mulched areas as aerated and dry, as possible to exclude mulch as primary nest sites for Argentine ants. Keep mulch no deeper than 3" deep. Control honeydew-producing insects on ornamental plants and, especially trees such as crepe myrtles.

That's about it. Unfortunately, there is no one solution to rid your home and garden of these pestiferous insects. Try some of these suggestions and stay at it and eventually you'll get them under control.

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GardenSMART Featured Article

By Monrovia Nursery Company
Photographs by Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

Monrovia has put together a list of their top 10 flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs that can bring life and cheer to you garden ASAP. For an interesting article, click here .

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