GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Mow briars for best shot at eradication

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dear Neil: How can I eliminate this vine? It has thorns on it above and below ground, and it has an extensive root system that is difficult to remove.

The wild vine is called smilax briar. Normally I would suggest using a broadleafed weedkiller spray to control any type of non-grassy weed like this. However, in this one case, sprays aren’t of much value. The plant has massive root systems and tubers and very little leaf surface to absorb the herbicide. Plus, the leaves are quite glossy, and sprays tend to run off. So I have always used a very different approach, always with good results.

I mow established thickets of it down with a tractor and heavy-duty mower. That eliminates probably 98 percent of it, as it tends to set the plants back so badly that they don’t try to regrow. I dig those few that do regrow by hand with a sharpshooter spade. Our little rural acreage was 80 percent smilax when we bought the property. I hired a neighbor to cut it, and I spent a year digging out the rest, a few plants at a time. It takes only 30 seconds per plant to dig and eliminate them.

Dear Neil: What would have caused the damage to the live oak tree in the attached photo? What should I do about it?

I don’t know, but I’m willing to give it a try. Of course, I see ball moss and lichens growing on the bark. Both are epiphytes (non-parasitic). I also see rows of holes that a woodpecker has punched into the bark (also non-threatening). But the messy area in the middle looks like it has a couple of large holes going into the wood of the branch, and that normally points to some type of borers.

Live oaks are rarely bothered by borers unless there are other problems going on. Because this case looks like a fairly aggressive insect has been at work, my very best advice would be to have a certified arborist look at your plant.

Dear Neil: I grew all three of these pepper plants (see attached photos) from the same pepper fruit, yet look at how different they look now. What is causing the curled leaves, and what can I do about it?

This looks like the damage of chili thrips. They are a comparatively new insect pest to us, and we’re still learning about their damage and our best control measures. I rarely provide links to websites here, but this time I need to do so. This University of Florida page will give you all of the details, wcmess.com/insects. And here is more useful information from Texas A&M: wcmess.com/thrips.

Dear Neil: How can we get rid of cane in our backyard? Birds are roosting in the plants, and it’s a mess.

Cane is a coarse-textured grass that looks like it would be much more difficult to eliminate than bamboo, but that’s not the case. I would suggest applying a glyphosate-only weedkiller (no other active ingredient) to its vigorously growing blades. If it’s too tall to spray at this point, cut it to the ground and spray the regrowth. At some point, you should have enough of it killed that you can go after the roots that remain with a heavy-duty, rear-tine rototiller.

Dear Neil: I have a friend whose wall is covered with fig ivy. Some of the plants produce leaves that are double the size of other plants on the same wall. Cutting out the stems with the large leaves has left big holes in the vine on the wall. What is the solution?

I believe you’ll find that the larger leaves are the “adult” leaves. Many species of vines start out with juvenile foliage when the plants are young or when the vine has begun to ascend a vertical surface. You’ll certainly see it with English ivy. Its juvenile foliage is the typical triangular shape that we all know, but after it has grown up walls or tree trunks, the leaves that develop are rounded and completely different looking. All of which is to say, the entire wall will eventually have these larger leaves.

Dear Neil: Please help me with squash vine borers. You mentioned it several months ago, but I didn’t need the information at that point.

Once your squash plants have cropped up with squash vine borers in their stems, there is little you can do to extricate them. The better means of dealing with them is to practice good garden sanitation from the outset, including dusting the crowns of the younger plants with Sevin dust.

Dear Neil: I know that most insecticides will control bagworms on junipers and other evergreens, and I know that this is the time of year when I should be spraying, but I’m wondering if there is a particular time of the day that is better for spraying than others?

I am not familiar with any variation in the results of spraying bagworms in morning or evening. Both should work just fine. For others, early to mid-June are typically the prime times to be watching for bagworms, and Bacillus thuringiensis biological worm spray is a great control.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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