Volume 14, Issue 10 ~ March 9 - March 15, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Let the Buyer Beware

The only consumer-protected horticultural products are fertilizers, pesticides and seeds for vegetables and lawn grasses. Everything else, you buy at your own risk.

States mandate that all fertilizers sold must meet the analysis stamped on the container. Seeds must be tested yearly and percent germination clearly marked on the packages. Most producers of flower seeds identify percent germination, but doing so is not required by law. All pesticides must be appropriately labeled and must carry clearly identified cautionary statements and application rates.

There are no standards for the other horticultural products sold at garden centers and box stores.

Do not believe all that you read about unregulated products. Advertising has a tremendous impact on sales, despite the fact that the product may be useless.

For several years I tested anti-desiccants — including Wilt-Pruf, Vapor Gard, Folicoat and Foliguard — promising to improve winter survival of plants. Not once over the test’s five years did any of these perform better than distilled water.

For several years I tested hydrogells advertised as reducing the water needs of potted plants and hanging baskets; not once was I able to measure any differences. I also tested commercially available soil fungi advertised as stimulating roots. Again saw no benefits.

Cheap Mulch Is a Trojan Horse Coming Our Way

Here’s another Hurricane Katrina problem, and one that could wind up in your yard.

Old trees destroyed by hurricane Katrina are being ground into chips to be buried because many were infested with Formosan termites. These termites are highly destructive and nearly impossible to control once established. With their hearty appetite for cellulose and quick reproduction, Formosan termites can destroy wooden houses in a very short time.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture has banned the exportation of processed ground wood from New Orleans and areas to the south and west because of Formosan termites. Nonetheless, it is likely that some of this ground wood will be shipped north and offered for sale as cheap mulch.

The USDA anticipates that unscrupulous profiteers will obtain, package and ship north some of this ground wood waste to sell as cheap mulch at such locations as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, KMart and similar box stores.

Additionally, raw wood chips do not make good mulch. On the ground, the microorganisms that digest cellulose will rob nutrients from the soil, which is bad for shallow-rooted plants and newly transplanted plants. It is nearly impossible to counter this effect by adding fertilizer because it is too late after the stress symptoms appear.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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