March Madness

March Madness

Rockport Gardening Tips

Written By Richard Snyder

If you’re looking for sports-related entertainment here, I’m sorry to disappoint you. March Madness in the Coastal Bend is all about our love-hate relationship with Live Oak trees –massive mounds of leaves, green pollen coating everything and those icky caterpillars crawling everywhere. Harvey reduced all that for a while, but it is returning.

Thoughts of fleeing to a Caribbean resort for a couple of months come to mind but then reality sets in. I’m sure everyone has developed their own coping mechanism with March Madness but here’s mine.

Oak leaves are slow to break down and make an acceptable mulch for plant beds. I run my lawn mower/catcher over the leaves and dump them into the beds. The excess gets bagged and taken to the Transfer Station (872 Airport Rd, Fulton) for conversion into compost. There is a very modest charge (by weight) for this important service.

The green pollen comes from the catkins (male flowers; the female flowers yield acorns). They form mats on roofs, lawns and on barriers where they can pile up like snow gone wrong. Catkins on the lawn can just be mown into the grass. I use a cordless blower for the roof and other areas. Lastly, when it’s all over, a power washer comes in handy. Be sure to wear mask, eye and hearing protection for all these activities.

Lastly, we have the wooly worms. Here’s the formal introduction to this creature:  Whitemarked tussock moth, Orgyia leucostigma (J.E. Smith). There are other caterpillars, but this is the one usually referred to as the wooly worm. They don’t bite but some people are sensitive to a varying degree to the hairs and, as you can see, it is a hairy critter.

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Control strategies for the caterpillars are two.

  1. First strategy – highly recommended. If the number of caterpillars is tolerable, do nothing and they will be gone in a week or two. Live Oak trees are hardy plants, if a hurricane doesn’t uproot them.
  2. Second strategy – spray with a biological insecticide such as Bt (commercially Thuricide, Bonide) or Spinosad. You should spray as soon as you see the caterpillars. That’s when they are the most susceptible. Always read and follow label directions – it’s the law! Downsides to both sprays are few but significant. Bt is nondiscriminatory so it will kill both butterfly and moth caterpillars. Spinosad will kill bees for 3 hours following spraying. Spray when the wind is low.
    Chemical insecticides such as Sevin and Diazinon are not recommended as we are a coastal area and runoff is highly toxic to fish and aquatic life. Both are listed as toxic to humans and possible human carcinogens by the EPA.

Richard Snyder is a former biology instructor, past President of Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners, and current President of the Aransas County Community Garden


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