Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bold Bunny Leaves Beady Evidence

Q. We have an animal using our patio as their bathroom.  The exterminator thinks it’s squirrels or rabbits but wasn’t much help as to what to do.  In the four years that we’ve lived in the house, this is the first time we’ve had this problem and while we do have squirrels running along the fence and through the yard on occasion, we have never seen a rabbit.  About a month ago, the problem started and it’s almost daily.  That’s when we turned off the sprinklers and we picked all the oranges off the two trees, growing in pots on the patio.

Do you have any ideas or is there someone at the Arboretum with that can offer advice.  Critter Ridder and Repels All work for a night and I haven’t found anything useful reading internet sites or from calling L.A. Animal Control.  

I’ve attached two pictures.  One is the mess left on the patio and the other is bark at the base of a pluot tree in the backyard.  Is it possible an animal is eating the bark?

Creature's scat. 

Bark that has possibly been attacked by creature that left above scat. 
A. Looks like a definite lagomorph –my guess is cottontail rabbit. You do not see them during the day here in the San Gabriel Valley as they like to operate just after nightfall. This drought has caused them to act a bit more boldly in their nightly forays for food and travel further than they usually would. 

Instead of 'Critter Ridder' (which is mostly hot and black pepper extract) and 'Repels All' (rotten eggs, dried blood and garlic oil) I would try a combination of fox urine (available online or at garden centers) and/or a motion activated scarecrow (remember to move this around every several days).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mares Eat Oats and DoesEat Oats and Little Fungi Eat Ivy

I have very tall hedge of ivy serving as the fence between my neighbor and me, a bit higher than my one-story Spanish house.  The ivy was probably planted in the 1920's.

A large section, about 4-5 wide, and about 8 feet tall,  has died.  The rest of the hedge looks healthy.  I have to continually keep it from invading the flower beds around my house.

Any idea what causes the ivy to die back?  I planted bougainvillea in the hopes that it will cover the dead branches. Not sure if the ivy will recover first or the blight will spread to rest of the ivy hedge.


Hi Ann,
There are three common ivy diseases: stem rot -caused by the fungus, Rhizoctonia solani; anthracnose -caused by the fungus Colletotrechum omnivorum, and bacterial leaf spot which is caused by a Xanthomas bacteria.
However, the bottom line to remember is that all three of these diseases are associated with too much water in the soil or on the leaves.
This means that your the first thing you have to do is cut your watering frequency to once once or twice a week (which you should be doing anyway if you live anywhere in Southern California during this drought) and make sure you are watering in th early morning hours only so that water doesn't have a chance to stand on the leaves and make a perfect incubator for the above mentioned leaf spotting organisms. 
You might also want to spray the entire area in the early summer with a copper fungicide. This will help cut down the amount of spores that are available to re-infect your ivy. Remember to re-apply it after it rains. 

Cheers,   Frank

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ground Cover Strawberries Failing to Thrive

Last summer we planted the native strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, from flats in two large parkways under large magnolia trees.  They were well mulched and are on a drip system.  Meanwhile they are not thriving.  They are hardly growing and as we understand from various literature these plants should be fast growing.  What could be the problem?
Thank you for the help.


Hi Carol,

Strawberries require light, more than they are able to receive under shady magnolia trees. Also, drip is a terrible way to water ground covers of any type. In order to thrive ground covers need to be irrigated in such a manner that the entire area that you want them to cover is watered. For ground cover under Magnolias (I'm assuming you are taking about the evergreen magnolia), I would suggest Liriope spicata, also known as 'lily turf'. These grassy, mounded plants grow to 12 to 18 inches tall and have shallow root systems that do not have to compete with the magnolias thirsty network of roots. Once they are established you should only have to water them once or twice a week.

Cheers,   Frank

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where Can the Children Play?


I live on a quarter acre and would like to fill some areas with what I have heard is drought resistant turf that requires less water but provides a play space for children.  

What companies make drought resistant grass like they use in Phoenix?  

Where do I buy this product in San Fernando Valley?  

I am a pediatrician and the obesity crisis and motor development in children is also a challenge in this generation.  


Hi Frances,

After doing a little research I found out that a Bermuda grass variety called 'Midiron' is the most popular water saving grass for the Phoenix area. You can plant Bermuda in the San Fernando valley but you should be aware that because it gets fairly cold here compared to Phoenix that Bermuda grass lawn can take on a straw-like appearance from November through April when it goes dormant because of the cold. You can overcome this problem by over-seeding the grass with red fescue or you can spray the straw colored lawn with turf colorant (mostly harmless -just make sure you get a water or latex based type and not one that contains polyethylene glycol -the active ingredient in anti-freeze).

I would look at the following grasses (links provided for information and do not constitute a recommendation of the companies providing them):

A blend of California native and  U.S. native fescues developed for California. This preforms a little better in shadier areas or half sun in the San Fernando Valley and might be best mixed in with the others below for sunny areas.

Has a long establishment period and cannot be played on in the wintertime unless it is over-seeded with Red Fescue or Perennial Rye.

Great looking lawn that requires no more than once a week at the most watering, however playing sports on it could be a nightmare of skinned knees and twisted ankles as the texture of the thing is defined by the woody basal clumps it can develop. 

This can save maybe half the water of a traditional lawn and you can mow it and play sports on it (occasionally). It does tend to get lumpy when planted by itself. 

Besides what is mentioned above, Bermuda grass makes an excellent sports surface and requires half the water of lawns like dwarf tall fescue. Local sod growers will have varieties that perform better here in Southern California. 

A new introduction by Valley Sod Farm, this is like the traditional dwarf tall fescues like 'Marathon' except that it doesn't require as much water, about half of that of traditional fescues, and is does not get as lumpy as dwarf tall fescue lawns tend to get. 

Also, the UC schools are busily researching better alternatives to the traditional turf lawns. For more information on this quest go here.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Possible Light at the End of the Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer Tunnel?

Dr. Akif Eskalen pointing to  PSHB attacking a tree at the Arboretum.  
The two different unknown species of Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (s),  that until now have had free reign tunneling into and destroying such California native trees as Sycamore, Box Elder and Red Willow, may be seeing leaner days ahead now that a new parasitic wasp that appears to attack them and keep their numbers under control has been discovered. You can read more about it here.
In the meantime (it can take up to two years for the parasite to be tested, bred and released) if you have a Sycamore tree that you want to save from the beetle then spraying a contact insecticide mixed with a bark penetrant every 6-8 weeks on the bark of the trunk and larger branches may be the only way to save it. The treatment (which should be done by professionals with a bucket truck), is expensive, but I've seen it keep the infestation levels down on trees that, if lost, could drop the price of the properties containing them by 10's of thousands of dollars.