Fire ants attacking, fungus growing

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 31, 2012

SALISBURY — It’s the end of August and the weather has been rather pleasant, allowing many people to work outdoors. Many have questions concerning their lawns and gardens. Below are a few questions gleaned from phone inquiries, walk-in traffic and emails.
Q: I got stung by fire ants today. What can I do to control them?
A: The best way to control fire ants is with baits, which are very effective, but control is not immediate. Workers carry the toxic bait (often corn meal with an insecticide) to the queen eventually killing her and the entire colony. Don’t disturb the mound; sprinkle the bait around the outside, not on top of the mound. If fire ant mounds pose an immediate hazard to people, especially children, drench with a lawn insecticide. It will offer a quick kill, but may not kill the queen. For more complete information, go online to
Q: I have a fungus growing on my elm tree (submitted picture). What is this and what can I do to prevent?
A: Wood decaying fungi, often fruiting, enters the tree through trunk, branches or even root injuries. The fungi become established in the vascular system of the tree and initiates decomposition of the heartwood. The mushrooms are actually the fruiting bodies. Death may be a matter of a few months or many years depending on the tree species and type of fungus.
Q: My dogwoods have a few blooms now. Is this common for dogwoods to bloom this late in the season? My tree has never bloomed in August.
A: Stress is usually the culprit causing plants including dogwoods, mimosa and viburnum to bloom out of season. Hot weather, followed by cool weather or rainy weather often confuses the plants’ biological clock (flowering hormones, etc.). The plants will most likely bloom again in the spring; how much of the plants’ stored energy was consumed will determine the profusion of blossoms.
Q: When is a good time for me to divide and transplant liriope?
A: This fall is an excellent time to dig and divide your liriope. Dig the plant and take an old ax or knife and divide the plant, leaving 3-4 bibs per clump, and reset the plant. The tops can be clipped back to facilitate planting. Water plants thoroughly and apply a complete fertilizer in the spring to acclimate the ground cover.

Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.