Poisoned bird seed and trust

Over the years I’ve said some nice things about Scotts Miracle-gro products, such as one of their potting soils, and some not so nice things, such as with their Round-up resistant Kentucky bluegrass. I’ve never thought of them as a particularly good or particularly bad company, just a company trying to do the best it could while being reasonably honest about what it was doing (You could argue that they tried to pull something fancy with the Round-up resistant Kentucky bluegrass, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were just exploiting an obvious governments loophole – not exactly good, but hey, it’s a dog eat dog world out there).

But then the news broke that they had applied insecticides illegally to their wild bird food products, falsified pesticide regulation documents, distributed pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels and distributed unregistered pesticides.  If you haven’t seen the article yet you need to look here.


Anyone who has read much of what I write knows that I try to tell the truth about products to the best of my ability, to do this I rely on a lot of different sources of information, including information provided by the company itself.  I trust that, for the most part, companies try to do what they say they’re doing (or not doing) in terms of letting us know what’s in their products.  At the least I assume that they follow the government’s rules and regulations.

This is a serious breach of my trust.

How am I supposed to deliver the facts about Scotts Miracle-Gro products when I can’t trust them to do what they say they’re doing?

I mean really?  How can I talk about their products again?  I have no idea what’s in there.

I’m trying to think of something pithy to say next – but I’ve got nothing.  I’m deeply disturbed that this could happen, and, at least for the time being, I just can’t, in good conscience, trust this company or its products.   Sure, the company is saying all the right things now, but that’s not enough.

Here’s a thought – maybe they could publicly state that they’re not going to release the Round-up resistant Kentucky bluegrass – you know – to prove that they really are serious about avoiding doing things that might disturb the environment.  And then actually do it.  Yes – that would be a good start.

The Wrong Message

Every once in awhile I’ll see a new garden product that really speaks to me.  Something that promises spectacular results on some garden problem that I’ve had to deal with before and attacks it in a novel way.  Then I’ll read the advertising materials for the product and be let down before even trying it.  Such is the case for a new product called Liquid Ladybug (which, by the way, is one of the niftiest product names that I’ve ever seen — so there’s a win for the company!).

According to the manufacturer Liquid Ladybug is a spray-on product which kills spidermites, evaporates quickly from the plant, and which has organic plant oils as its main active ingredient.

So far so good — and even believable.  Plant oils can kill spider mites.  Of course simply wiping the plant with a cotton swab soaked in isopropyl alcohol can do that too — or you could easily make up a soapy spray to spray on the plant which can do the same thing.  Still, the claims don’t seem too bad so far.

Here’s the part that I have a problem with — you can, and are all but encouraged to, spray this stuff with no protection (like gloves).  See the website here .  Is this a bright thing to advertise?  Many plant oils don’t agree with eyes, mucous membranes, or beneficial insects, and let’s not even get started with allergies!  In my opinion this is reckless, foolish advertising.  Pesticides, organic or not, need to be respected.  Without that respect we inadvertantly put ourselves into bad situations. Another problem with this products is that it is likely to kill any predatory mites or other soft bodied beneficial insects just as readily as it kills bad mites.

And check out the price of this stuff!

My advice, skip this product and use insecticidal soap, or, if you’re anxious to try something new, try a beneficial insect such as the big eyed bug or minute pirate bug.

Sugar and Spice and Misnomers

At a lively hobnob with friends and colleagues, the discussion ranged from critique of the Virginia Tech offensive line to the logic/mystery behind commercial carbon offsets.  Someone mentioned Domino Sugar’s efforts in that direction. Apparently their product has been certified “carbon free” by a business carbon offsets program that they pay a fee to. This led to hoots and snorts as to their selection of terminology since it involves a molecule (sucrose) that is 27% carbon.

From the fascinating thus time-eating www.exploratorium.edu. Serously, don’t click the image unless you’ve got an hour to burn.

I’d forgotten all about it until I saw a post (on ESPN.com of all places) that also brought it up.  The product in question:

Now I can appreciate that the point of this branding/certification is not to advertise a dearth of carbon; rather their good intentions,  as it is Carbonfree, not carbon free.  But the marketing staff perhaps need to be reminded that in addition to the inorganic carbon gases that are of major concern, carbon is a part of all organic life…and essential to both sweet tea and the suffering of Biochem students everywhere.

Vote early and often!

In my last post I announced that we would be conducting the first landscape transplant experiment designed by social media.  We have about 100 ‘Bloodgood’ plane trees in 25 gallon containers that are leftover from a recent nursery trial.  The trees will be planted at our Hort station and receive minimal care after planting beyond an initial watering and a kiss for luck.  I asked for some suggestions for potential treatments and got some good suggestions.  Unfortunately, one thing I forgot to point out is that I have essentially no budget for this project. So trying to determine whether or not roots are mycorrhizal, or bringing in B&B trees for comparison, are beyond our capabilities at this juncture.

We did have some interest in determining the effects of manipulating rootballs for container-grown trees.  These trees have been in pots for 2 years and I absolutely guarantee they are pot bound.  Definitely a good opportunity to look at shaving or teasing rootballs.

There are a couple of other items that I am curious about.

One is crown reduction thinning.  In forest nurseries trees are often top-pruned to reduce shoot-root ratio and increase transplant success.  Obviously we would’t top landscape sized trees, but can selective pruning to reduce the ratio of crown area to root area reduce water stress and increase survival?

Along these lines, there is a lot of marketing of plant growth retardants to reduce transplanting stress.  The most common is probably paclabutrazole – sold under various trade names including Cambistat http://www.treecaredirect.com/Cambistat-Tree-Growth-Regulator-p/3101.htm  Does it work?

I’ve also been curious about hydrogels.  I’ve long been a skeptic but have had several arborists tell me they’ve used them successfully – of course they didn’t leave an untreated control.

Then, of course, there’s Bioplex.  http://www.bio-plex.com/pdfs/Bio-Plex2009Catalogue.pdf It might be easier to list what isn’t in Bioplex than what it contains. I suspect whatever effect it has is largely related to small amount of nutrients it contains.

Lastly, I still adhere to the notion that fertilizing trees at planting is not necessarily the source of all evil in the world and may even be a good thing.  Here I get a chance to provide myself wrong and apply a dose of Osmocote in the planting hole.

OK that’s the background – time to vote.  The link below should take you to a Survey Monkey survey.  You can vote for more than one item, but please vote for no more than three.



Amazing water slices!

Here it’s already Wednesday and no GP postings!  My excuse is that I had a seminar to give yesterday before catching a late night flight to Pullman.  Bert (who should have posted Monday) must still be lost in a mai-tai fog somewhere in Hawaii.  Or maybe he’s looking for Holly, who’s been AWOL for a week.  They’re supposedly at the ASHS meetings.  Right.

I’m kind of liking the idea of finding fun new products for the busy gardener.  Much to my delight, after Goggling the phrase “best new garden product of 2011” I was introduced to amazing water slices.  Here’s the text of the announcement/sales information:


“A pack of four amazing water slices – so simple to use, they can retain enough water to keep your plants happy for up to 3 weeks.

“Simply soak each slice in water for 3 hours. Use inside or underneath pot plants, hanging baskets, flower pouches, etc.

“Use in layers, too: one slice=one week’s watering. So three slices will give up to 3 weeks watering.

“Cut to shape – one slice can fit two smaller pot plants.

“An extremely efficient and water-saving product – highly recommended.”

And here’s what a “water slice” looks like:

It’s a sponge.

They said to write about it, so I will…

Please tell me – am I crazy?  Or just not the gardening trend-setter that I should be?  Should I be spending $10 on this? Check out this excerpt from Garden Cuttings Newsletter, with the note “Please feel free to use this information in your stories and columns”:

“Instead of sending dried leaves and other yard waste to the landfill, compost it! DeComp-9 Organic Compost Booster speeds up the composting process with patented microorganisms that quickly break down leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste. When added to compost, the microorganisms in all-natural DeComp-9 will grow on organic material, feed on decaying and dead plant matter and convert this waste to nutrient-rich compost that helps build stronger and healthier plants. Just mix DeComp-9 with water according to the product label and apply on compost piles. Each 20-gram package of DeComp-9 makes 10 gallons of solution – enough to treat 27 cubic feet of compost material. DeComp-9 is available for about $10.”


Does colored glass help root cuttings?

I get a lot of questions about a lot of different products and practices.  New topics send me to the scientific data bases and that’s where I went for today’s posting.  One of my garden writing colleagues asked me about colored glass rooters – glass containers in different colors that can be filled with water and a plant cutting.  The conventional internet wisdom, according to my colleague, is that green and blue glass rooters are the best.

The first mention I could find of such a practice is from an 1801 publication called The Cottage Gardener.  In it, we’re informed that for rooting cuttings “such coloured glass is useless; it has no influence over the production of roots.” Nevertheless, 200 years later web postings like “I have found that cuttings placed in colored blue or green glass root faster than clear glass” are taken as solid evidence that blue or green glass containers are best for rooting cuttings.

There is science behind different colors of light and rooting, but it’s a little more complicated.  Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light best, so plants whose leaves are exposed to red and blue light grow well and tend to produce a healthy flush of roots.  On the other hand, plants whose roots are exposed to blue light have decreased root growth compared to those under white light conditions.  In this case, the photoreceptor called cryptochrome might be responsible for inhibition, as it is a blue light absorber.  Similarly, plant roots exposed to green light do not grow as well as those exposed to white light.

In my opinion, this is another example of aesthetics trumping science.  Of course colored glass rooters are more attractive that plain old glass jars.  And that’s a perfectly valid reason to use them as part of one’s home decor.  But it’s not science, nor is it necessarily the best way to encourage rooting.

What seems to be most important in rooting cuttings in water is to use indirect lighting (north-facing windows in the northern hemisphere, for example) so that the water doesn’t get too hot.  And keep in mind that not all species root well from cuttings.