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Uncovering a couple of hidden gems in the landscape arsenal I am often asked, what can I do besides fertilizing my plants/trees to help them? There could be 100 things you could do that would qualify as helping the tree or plant, but I’ll take two of them and zero in on them here. I will target these two because they aren’t well known among most homeowners. Endo Mycorrhizae – When we plant a tree or shrub, we like to put in a teaspoon of granular Endo Mycorrhizae at the bottom of the hole right where the bottom of the root ball will come into full contact with it. Root system with Endo Mycorrhizae colony. Endo Mycorrhizae or EM, is a natural fungi that has a beneficial relationship with plant roots. Once introduced, the fungi will attach themselves to the roots of your tree/shrub. They then begin to colonize, or multiply and even spread out into the surrounding soil. These strands of EM effectively become part of the root system and enable the plant to absorb more nutrients, as much as by 10 to 1,000 times depending on the plant. The result is a more efficient intake of both food and water. There are two different types of mycorrhizae, one being Endo and the other being Ecto. Approximately 80 percent of the plant species on the planet benefit from Endo Mycorrhizae. The benefits of EM include, reducing stress, reduces water needs, reduces transplant shock, increases plant yields, increase plant hardiness, promotes rooting and nutrient uptake. EM can also be used on your lawn. It is best to aerate the lawn just prior to application so that the product will reach the root level faster. For existing trees, you can create a small hole using a metal pole into the root ball area and drop either a granular or liquid version of the EM into it. You want to create direct contact between the fungi and the roots. Like anything else, follow the directions on the product label. Plants grown with Azomite added to soil as opposed to the ones grown without it. Another product I like to use during planting is Azomite. Azomite is in most cases derived from volcanic ash and its value is the fact that it contains somewhere between 60 and 70 trace minerals and micronutrients. So I simply mix Azomite into our planting mix during planting. The roots will go get the goodies soon after. To apply to existing landscape plants and trees, simply sprinkle the powder over the root ball area and either do this before a rain or prepare to water it in as soon as you apply. Azomite is unique in that it contains some rare minerals that are not found in other products, such as silica. Use in your garden and lawn will help revive soils that poor performing and use in your vegetable garden will help increase plant yields. It also boosts pest resistance, plant immunity, and vitality. Both products above are sold at numerous outlets under several different brands. Avoid the Azomite created from rock dust. Its not the same. Use the stuff made from volcanic ash. Both products are pet safe and are completely natural. I would be neglect to not give you another important tip on planting and transplanting. Its so important that I’m hesitant to perform a transplant without it. That is the product “SuperThrive.” Its sold in some nurseries and franchise box stores and is relatively easy to get. The product is a combination of plant hormones and root stimulants that more or less save the day for a transplanted tree or shrub. I don’t often recommend specific products but I have to give props to this one. Its label has more text than a phonebook but you’ll gladly overlook that with the results it provides. I also use SuperThrive in a lighter dose for my vegetables once they’ve become established. A truly great product but you will certainly want to follow the directions because too much of this stuff is not a good thing. Spring is on the horizon! Spring is drawing near with the arrival of March. March is traditionally a very windy month and begins the season of thunderstorms while at the same time being capable of producing a parting winter blast at any time. The window for preparing for spring/summer is drawing to a close. Hopefully, you’ve rid your property of the fallen leaves and have put down your pre emergent/topdressing already. With the recent rains, you’ll see an emergence of some weeds in the lawn and in the strangest of places (concrete cracks, river rock beds, etc). This does not mean your pre emergent did not work. Pre emergent has a cumulative effect, meaning the more faithful you are to doing this year after year, the better it works because you’re adding to product that is still in the soil each time. I used to have a neighbor who didn’t care for his lawn very well. His front lawn was full of weeds and bordered up to my side yard. Yet, you could literally see the property line by seeing where the weeds were and were not. My side was clean, his side was nasty. Pre emergent did that. There are a number of short topics that need to be mentioned this month, so I’ll get right to it. The first mow You will be mowing your lawn for the first time this month. You want that first mow to be very short. Not a scalp, but short. This will clear away most of the winter thatch (brown/dead grass blades) and allows the sunlight to hit the top of the soil surface, effectively warming it up faster and causing your turf to emerge from dormancy faster. Again, I encourage you to NOT bag your clippings and instead, mulch those clippings back into the soil/turf. Bird Houses, baths, feeders Its time right now to get your bird houses back out into the landscape. Make sure you have cleaned out any nesting material left in them from the previous season. Mother birds looking for a good nest will look at a birdhouse with an existing nest and think it’s occupied and move on. So remove that nest and leave it clean. Try to make sure its roof is relatively water proof but you want some ventilation on the sides. It can get hot in there later in the season. Likewise, set your bird baths back up. We had removed or flipped the bowls during the winter to avoid damage from ice. You can also put out your feeders for the early arrivals. However, do NOT put out the Hummingbird feeders until April 1 or its clear the last freeze has passed. A freeze will kill them. Spring flowers, lawn fertilization Many of you will wake up one day this month and it will be 80 degrees outside. You will be tempted, as you look out at that lawn and landscape, to jump out there and start fertilizing the lawn and planting those spring flowers. Just don’t. This is Texas, where it can be 80 one day and 30-something the next during spring. Spring flowers will not tolerate freezing temperatures. So rather than make the investment twice, just be patient and wait until April 1 to begin. Likewise, I advise you NOT to apply fertilizer or weed/feed products to your lawns until April 1. We’re not concerned with how warm the days are in March, but how cool the nights still are. When temperatures at night are in the 50s, most turf simply will not grow so fertilizing it under those conditions is a waste of money and could cause your turf to go into stress (which leads to other problems). By April 1 we will have seen our last cold blast, so thats a safe date to begin your spring flower planting and lawn fertilization. No trimming of Oaks through June! Just a reminder for those of you who have Oaks on your property . . . do not trim them between March and June because that is the active time for Oak Wilt and leaving wounds on the tree will make it vulnerable to transmission of Oak Wilt. Fertilize those beds! If you have not done so already, go ahead and apply a time-release granular fertilizer to your beds. Use a mild product with no more than a 10-6-4 ratio or close. Spread throughout the beds and avoid letting the product have contact with the plant stems/trunks. Find the Root Flare! This is a pet peeve of mine . . already this season I’ve discovered several cases where mulch has been piled up against the trunk of a tree, covering up the root flare. In one case, it went six inches up the trunk. This is a recipe for disaster for a tree. It is much the same as someone putting their hands around your throat, cutting off anything going above. The root flare is where the trunk ends and the roots begin. Mulch and dirt fall against the trunk via strong storms and hard rain, pets and animals digging, or simply applied that way by your landscape company. If it is the latter, correct the situation by removing the mulch from the root flare and leave the root flare exposed at all times. Then let them know of the mistake. I will take any questions now that any of you might have. Fire away! (Mark’s column each month is sponsored by Stagecoach Trailers, Inc., of Naples, Texas. Find them at www.stagecoachtrailers.com)