Garden Q&A: Moldy soil hardly unusual
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Question: We moved into our home in the fall of 2010. There was black fabric covering the ground with soil and mulch on top. We removed the fabric and found a white mold covering the ground, so we removed most of the soil that was moldy.
In 2011, we planted perennials and annuals and for the past two seasons many of the leaves have had holes but we don't see any insects on them. I sprayed a bug spray but it didn't seem to help much.
Could the vegetable peels I've been burying be causing the problem? Could the mold be causing the problem? Is there a spray I could use that would not harm the butterflies and hummingbirds?
Answer: Wow. You have a lot going on in your yard. Hopefully, I'll be able to provide you with some answers.
Let's start with the mold you discovered growing on the soil. This is not at all unusual. When gardeners use black landscape fabric or plastic mulches, it blocks the light from the soil, prevents air circulation and creates a very dark, damp place — the perfect conditions for growing mold and fungi. The white substance you found was probably nothing more than fungal hyphae probing the soil for organic matter to decompose. Soil molds and fungi are as much a part of the garden's ecosystem as plants, birds and insects and, in general, they are nothing to worry about. Simply removing the fabric and exposing the area to light and air is usually enough to eliminate them. You would not have had to discard the soil, and I doubt that the previous presence of fungi has anything to do with your chewed foliage.
Secondly, burying your vegetable peels is a fine idea. In fact, I just addressed this very topic in my March 2 column. You can access the article online at www.triblive.com to read more about the practice and its benefits. Again, I doubt the buried veggie scraps have anything to do with your current problem.
And lastly, know that spotting some holes in leaves is generally not a cause for alarm. There will always be insects in the garden, and we should never aim to completely eliminate them. Only when the damage becomes intolerable do we need to take action, and it is only rarely that a pest insect will actually kill a plant. (It is not in their best interest, after all, to kill their food source.)
If you do find the damage intolerable, your first step is to always, always, always determine exactly who the culprit is before applying any product. This means carefully examining the entire plant (including the leaf undersides) both during the day and at night, as many common pests are nocturnal feeders. If you still don't see any insects, take a damaged leaf in a sealed plastic baggie to a good, local garden center or to the Penn State Extension Service office for a proper identification of the pest. Only then can you know the appropriate way to attack your problem.
In your case, I suspect that slugs may be at least part of the problem. I see in your picture that your garden is shaded by the woods and that you have a lot of hostas. Hostas are notorious for being a favorite food source for slugs. And because slugs feed only at night, it makes sense that you haven't seen them. Plus, as mollusks not insects, they are completely unaffected by bug sprays of any sort.
This season, check for slugs at night and be on the lookout for the slime trails they leave behind. If you discover they are in fact the culprit, you can help control them by using slug baits with iron phosphate as the active ingredient. Avoid baits with other active ingredients as they may be toxic to dogs, cats, kids and other wildlife.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to email@example.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Crosby lifts Penguins over Capitals in last game of road trip
- Stage volunteer dies following collapse at Pine-Richland High School
- ACC Tournament manages to deliver an inherent history lesson
- Marcellus shale driller Noble Energy Inc. sinks roots into Pittsburgh
- Penguins notebook: Heralded Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov debuts with Capitals
- Top pitching prospect Taillon’s time with Pirates must wait a bit
- Hempfield couple charged in thefts
- Fear of building collapse closes Tarentum road
- Obama hams it up for health care on Funny or Die