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Master Gardener Questions and Answers at the Sonora Farmer’s Market

Nina Bynum , Sonora Master Gardener

If you visit the Sonora Certified Farmers Market, you´ve hopefully noticed the Tuolumne County Master Gardener booth. We´re there almost every Saturday and will be through October 21st. One of our goals is to provide education to the public. At the market, we do this by providing free literature on a wide variety of topics. We are also there to answer your gardening questions to the best of our abilities. I worked in our booth recently and here are some of the questions asked.

A golf course groundskeeper asked what could be eating the marigold blossoms he had planted and replanted in a border, while nearby plantings were untouched. There were no signs of insects. This problem was discussed with the gentleman and the other Master Gardener present. From personal experience, though not actually seeing the golf course crime scene, I believe that squirrels are guilty here.

A Twain Harte couple wondered why their dogwoods did not bloom. Their home is on an old apple ranch. There are a variety of reasons why this might happen to dogwoods as well as other plants. Many trees and shrubs are selected for their flowering habit. These might include crape myrtle, dogwood, hydrangea, trumpet vine and wisteria. Sometimes these plants don´t live up to our expectations. Immaturity is often the reason. Dogwoods grown from seeds may take 10 years or more to flower. However, the dogwoods in question here are quite mature. I believe their trees, as well as my own, suffered from the late spring freeze that occurred here. Such a late freeze can kill the buds.

Another problem was presented by a woman who wanted to know if it was possible to get rid of ants without using pesticides. The University of California, whom we represent, has comforting news for people who are assailed by ants, spiders, cockroaches, aphids and other pests. We now know that, very often, we don´t need to resort to spraying pesticides. The University´s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program encourages the use of combined pest control techniques without the use of pesticides. Try sponging ants with a soapy sponge. Plug up ant entryways with caulk or petroleum jelly. Remove infested potted plants and submerge them in water. Fastidiously clean food preparation areas. Ants can be difficult pests to manage. As a last resort, I use bait traps with good results. However, these must be carefully placed away from children and pets.

One of the most often asked questions is about earwigs. Questioners want to know how to get rid of them without the use of chemicals. These evil-appearing pests don´t harm people directly, but cause problems by feeding on flowers and vegetables outdoors in the garden. Earwigs are reddish brown and about ¾ inch long with pincers on the end of the abdomen. According to the University of California, moisture loving earwigs would not normally thrive in California´s arid climate without the moisture and shade provided by our irrigated gardens. Initiate a regular trapping program and insecticide treatments should not be necessary. Probably the most common types of traps are a rolled-up newspaper, corrugated cardboard or bamboo tubes. Place these traps on the soil near plants just before dark and shake accumulated earwigs into a pail of soapy water in the morning. A low-sided tuna or cat food can with ½ inch of oil in the bottom makes an excellent trap. Dump cans and refill with oil. Continue these procedures every day until you are no longer catching earwigs.

And the number one question received is what to do about voles and pocket gophers. You may identify the presence of gophers by the fresh mound of soil that has been pushed out of the burrow. They spend most of their time underground. Voles leave a distinctive mounded trail as they burrow beneath the soil. They may be seen above ground, but most of their time is spent in their burrow system. Trapping and baiting are the most commonly used methods of discouraging these pests. I´ve found that baiting is the quickest means of control. Read bait labels carefully and follow directions to ensure the safety of children and pets.

Remember to visit the Master Gardeners´ booth if you attend the farmers market. See you in the garden.

Nina Bynum has been a Tuolumne County Master Gardener since 1996.