QUESTION: “I have spent waaaay too much money applying redwood bark and cocoa hulls to my front and backyard landscape and flower beds only to find that the cool fall weather has caused the bark to mold and mildew, plus the neighborhood cats are using my landscape as their litter box. Is there anyway I can save my investment? Please help!” – Sandy Davis
ANSWER: Cool, damp weather can cause mulch to mold and mildew. I suggest you investigate ways to improve drainage to divert water (whether it’s from rainfall or supplemental watering) so it will move away from the mulched areas as quickly as possible. Turning the top part of the mulch from time to time will help to prevent more moldy areas.
Now, onto the feline problem. There are a few things you can try and all are humane and safe. The first one is to lay down chicken wire on top of the mulched areas. Cats, generally, will not walk or stand on the horizontal wire fencing and of course can't dig so they are likely to move to another yard.
Two other things that will help but must be used consistently to be effective are putting cayenne pepper flakes on the mulch or spraying it with the urine of a known predator of the cat, such as fox or coyote. If you don’t happen to have a fox or coyote handy, you can find bottled urine at hunting stores or army surplus stores. I hope you are able to reverse the problem with your mulch.
QUESTION: “What plants and shrubs are available for landscaping near a house where the soil has a clay loam that holds moisture so much so that many plants roots rot?” -- Carl
ANSWER: “Most plants do not like wet feet. The first thing I would recommend is to loosen the soil. You can use a product such as Prosper Soil Conditioner. It increases friability and resists crusting, allowing water and air to permeate soil. Use this product and then begin to add some soil amendments to your soil to build up the organic matter. Once you have good healthy soil you will be able to grow many types of plants not just the ones that might or might not survive in adverse conditions.
Like cures for hiccups, it seems almost everyone has a “lawn recipe” that they swear by! Recently, I included a recipe from a reader serving with the armed forces overseas. That brought a lot of reader response, and here is a slightly different cocktail from another reader:
COMMENT: “I searched high and low, and found this lawn recipe. It works miracles. In a 32-oz. sprayer, mix one can non-light beer, one 12-oz. can soda (non-diet), 4 oz. Palmolive dish liquid, 4 oz. mouthwash (it has something to do with killing grubs, etc) and 4 oz. ammonia (think nitrogen, and hydrogen).
“I believe that this is the ultra-professional recipe. I always use the Palmolive, as that and the beer seem to be the only constant of all the recipes that I have found. My neighbor fertilized with Scott's Organic within 2 days of me using my wonderful-smelling lawn recipe, and MY lawn sprung out of it's brown coma in 3-4 days, filling in patches previously brown from the neighbors cats. In a week, there were NO brown spots.
“Ammonia can't be beat, especially delivered through the 32-oz. hose sprayer, because of the jolt of nitrogen and hydrogen it gets, especially when applied with the beer and soda for the carbonation. It gets through even heavily thatched lawns. I'm glad to spread the word. Maybe winter will be a little greener for all of us! I'll let you know how my grass holds up in comparison with the neighbors.” – Susan Glenn
Thank you, Susan. I’m sure many of our “turf-challenged” readers will want to try your recipe, or submit recipes of their own. If you want to read the column that started it all, you can find it archived at my Web site www.landsteward.org Look for the column titled, “Grass will go green with this lawn cocktail.”
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org