Questions and Answers- Ticks, Miscanthus, and Fertilizer

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Spring is exciting for landscapers, gardeners, and farmers. Mother nature is waking up from her winter nap, giving us a display of blooming daffodils, pear trees, redbud trees, and dogwoods. Although less showy than flowers, pastures, hay fields, and small grain fields are starting to reach toward the sky as their leaves lengthen and turn a deep rich green color.

Spring growth and beauty always generate questions from landscapers, gardeners, and farmers. I thought I would share some of the questions we have received at the Caldwell Extension Center this week.

Question: How do I determine when and what rate (how much) to plant Miscanthus sinensis seeds?

Miscanthus, or Japanese silver grass as it is sometimes called, is an ornamental grass sold in the nursery and landscape trade. It is a warm season grass that turns brown in the fall and greens up when the weather warms in the spring.

Miscanthus sinensis without a cultivar or variety name is the wild type or the unimproved specie. The wild type of Miscanthus can be grown from seed.

_Miscanthus_sinensis_ has a distinctive look. Recognizing it is the first step in controlling this potentially invasive plant.

_Miscanthus_sinensis_ has a distinctive look. Recognizing it is the first step in controlling this potentially invasive plant.

Although the wild type of Miscanthus sinensis is not recommended, there are improved varieties that have been developed. Essentially these improved varieties have been crossed so their seeds are sterile. To use a livestock example, breeding a horse and a donkey results in a mule. The mule is similar to the parents, but it is not able to reproduce; it is sterile. To carry the analogy a step further, the mule is superior to its parents as far as its ability to work as a draft animal. In the same way, Miscanthus crosses are not only being used in the nursery industry, they are also being used as a potential feedstock for the cellulosic ethanol industry. This plant is currently in biomass trials in North Carolina at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, NC and at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station in Oxford, NC.

Question: Does fertilizer go bad? Not really. If fertilizer is kept dry, it will last a life time. Our typical fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, is in the mineral form, and moisture is the major enemy. Just keep it dry. Fertilizers made from blood meal, bone meal, and other organic sources should be stored so moisture and pests to not degrade the product. Mice, rats, possums, cats, and beetles all find these types of fertilizers attractive.

Question: What is this bug (see picture)? When I looked at this creature with a hand lens, I realized it was a tick. However, I did not know exactly what species of tick I was looking at. For an identification of the tick I sent pictures to the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic at NC State University.

This lone star tick nymph is 1/16 of an inch, but it can still be a big problem for people. Protect yourself from ticks when outdoors by tucking your pants into your socks and using insect repellent on the lower part of your leg.

This lone star tick nymph is 1/16 of an inch, but it can still be a big problem for people. Protect yourself from ticks when outdoors by tucking your pants into your socks and using insect repellent on the lower part of your leg.

The report came back from the lab the next day with a positive identification. This creature is a Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) nymph. This is a fairly common tick in North Carolina and Caldwell County. These ticks only live outdoors; they do not survive indoors. Thus, the client who brought it in the office picked up the tick while outside.

We recommend protecting yourself from ticks when outdoors. Wear long pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Treat the lower portion of your pants leg with DEET containing insect repellent. However, this recommendation of tucking your pants into your socks will likely repel people as well.