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Problem & Solution
January/February 2016

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Problem: Hi, I enjoy reading Texas Gardener and find it very informative. However, I couldn’t find anything on your website regarding neonicotinoids. Recently I bought a dwarf yaupon holly from Home Depot and discovered that it was treated with neonicotinoids, which the label stated is a pesticide. I wasn’t too happy, since I prefer organic gardening, and returned the plant. Is this a new trend to treat plants with neonicotinoids? Is this something to be concerned about?

Bridget Marshall

Solution: Neonicotinoids are a class of synthetic insecticides similar to nicotine. They are broad-spectrum insecticides that are known to kill honeybees and other beneficial insects in addition to the pests they are intended to control. The use of neonicotinoids is nothing new; it has been going on for a while. Yes, we should all be concerned because the misuse of this kind of chemical could adversely affect our food supply and quality of life. You should be able to find plenty of dwarf yaupon hollies that have not been treated with any toxic chemicals. Instead of the big box stores, check with your local garden center or nursery. If they don’t have what you are looking for, they can order it for you.

Organic Pest Control
Problem: I have two plots in a community garden. The land is part of an old baseball field.

Last fall we were overcome with harlequin bugs. I’m not talking 10-20 but hundreds within a couple of weeks. I finally gave up on recommended treatments and just pulled everything up.

This spring stink bugs affected the tomatoes and vine borers destroyed all zucchini and squash.

Best spring crops were green beans and okra. Last fall success crop was the beet.

Is there anything I can treat the soil with in advance of planting? Do harlequin bugs, squash bugs, vine borers lay eggs in the soil?

I try to be organic, if possible, but I also have learned sometimes I need a stronger defense.

Thanks for your help!

JoAnn Wiggins

Solution: You should rotate your crops and remove the debris from your garden after each season. Insects and disease organisms will remain in the soil or on plant material. By rotating your crops you are “moving” your crops to a relatively clean area because different types of vegetables (such as corn and tomatoes) have their own unique set of pests. We do not recommend using any kind of insecticide to treat the soil prior to planting because you would be destroying beneficial insects in the process of killing the bad guys. In addition to rotation and good sanitation, scout for eggs of pests like squash bugs and destroy them before they hatch. If you do have an outbreak like you did this past year, use an organic insecticide that contains Spinosad according to label directions.

Fungus Among Us
Problem: I found a group of mushroom-like stuff growing around my lemongrass. Is it still safe to eat the lemongrass?


Jane Liang

Solution: There are lots of fungi popping up with all the wet weather we have had. So if there is a fungus growing on or in your lemongrass, we wouldn’t eat the lemongrass that touches or is very near the fungus. Many mushrooms/fungi are poisonous, so unless you can identify the fungus, it makes sense to play it safe. The one in your photograph looks like several in our reference book that are inedible.