mulch-2Normally, I first like to regale you with some advice each week, then outline the weekend GardenLine appearance.

This week, I'm reversing the order because the appearance details could be considered "advice" on its own. It's time once again to get mulch for just $10 per cubic yard at Living Earth. This Saturday, you can get the deal on shredded hardwood mulch at all 12 Living Earth locations, including the new one on the south side of Interstate 10 in Katy, about two miles west of Pin Oak Road. That's where we will be doing a GardenLine appearance, and we'll also have plenty of free stuff to give away, like Lemmonhead shirts and various fertilizers.

Each time we work with Living Earth on this deal, the first question I usually get is, "Is there a limit?" I usually say no, because I know most gardeners don't own dump trucks. As long as you're willing to make multiple trips with your truck or trailer, you can get as many loads as you want until they close. (Most of the locations knock off for the day at 1 p.m.)

I don't know of anyone who has actually challenged them with the dump truck angle - I'm pretty confident the typical haul for most people will be about 10 cubic yards. To put that in perspective, most pickup trucks can carry just under two cubic yards. And most trailers can carry up to five. So, a limit would be meaningless, but you DO have to mention my name or GardenLine to get the special price.

mulch-1And just how good is this deal? Well, one cubic yard is roughly 27 cubic feet. The average bag of mulch contains 2-3 cubic feet. So, you'll get the equivalent of 9-12 bags of mulch for only 10 bucks. (These are rough numbers ... no math critics, please.) If you need more than 20 bags of mulch, and you get two cubic yards for $20 this Saturday, you'll save around 40 smackers! You can usually get 3-4 bags of mulch for $10-$12 at this time of year, and you would need 20 bags or more to equal two cubic yards. So, it's not just a good deal, it's a GREAT DEAL! But it's for one day only!!

So, why should you choose the Katy West location and grab the deal between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.? Because I'll be there with the KTRH promotions staff, and that means lots of goodies to give away just for coming by our tent. And, yes, there will be free food! Living Earth is famous for their homemade sausage on a stick, served along with free soft drinks and chips.

What About Mulch & Fleas???

More than a few times this spring, I've been asked on the radio show and in emails about mulch and fleas. Since this could be a really bad year for fleas and ticks, many wonder if they should use mulch at all right now. Can fleas and ticks live in mulch? The answer is yes ... but only temporarily. Fleas and ticks are blood-sucking pests that need hosts to live. So while they have been known to survive in trees, shrubs and mulch, if there's no handy animal to suck blood from, they won't last long.

Can fleas and ticks be present in a mulch or compost pile? That answer is NO! Remember the myths that arose following Hurricane Katrina, and how rubber-mulch manufacturers lied about termites being found here in mulch brought in from Louisiana? No insect, termite, flea or tick can live in a typical bulk mulch or compost pile, where internal temperatures can reach 160 degrees.

If there's a flea and tick problem in a mulched bed, it's not from the mulch provider. It's because an animal has been hanging out in the area. A dog, cat, rodent, squirrel, raccoon, possum, etc., etc., etc. You can control such outbreaks. And you can perform some preventative measures as well.

Let's start with prevention. If you don't have any pets, and you're convinced no animals are calling your mulched beds home, put out any cedar granules or cedar oils to prevent them from entering the area. Cedarcide granules have long been a well-known natural insect repellant. It's not an all-natural, organic insecticide — it's simply an organic insect repellant. If you're not striving for organic gardening practices, apply almost any insecticide (such as bifenthrin) to keep these pests at bay.

fleas1Now, what if your pets are hosts for the fleas and ticks? First, it's important to remember that there are no magic bullets for flea control. There simply is not just one amazing, organic or synthetic product to use and be done with fleas forever. Any product that claims to be the singular answer in flea control is a scam. Even the most trustworthy "manic organics" I've known for years all recommend a myriad of control methods, not just one. But years ago, I learned the proven three-step flea-elimination program below and I have used myself with great success.

Randy's Proven Three-Step Flea-Elimination Program

fleas-21. TREAT THE PET - Whether you use expensive prescriptions from a veterinarian like Sentinel (which, by the way, prevents heart worms, too) or nape-of-the-neck treatments such as Frontline or Advantage, you have to treat the animal on a regular basis. Part of this step also includes bathing the animal as frequently as possible. Vacuuming a pet's fur is probably the most organic way to treat, when you get right down to it. I've recommended diatomaceous earth (D.E.) in the past, but veterinarian friends of mine usually warn against using it too much because it can dry out the animal's skin rather quickly.

2. TREAT THEIR LAIRS - That means treat areas of the yard where they hang out or nap with synthetic or organic insect controls. "Manic organics" will burst an aneurysm at the mention of a chemical control where pets hang out, but safety labels on many insecticides like bifenthrin (one of the best all-around flea and tick insecticides) note that they're perfectly safe for the average pet as long as the animal is not eating the granules or treated grass. Nevertheless, aside from cedar as a deterrent, there are very few "organic" insect killers out there. If a lair is used by a mostly indoor dog or cat, it can be treated with the next step.

nylar3. TREAT INSIDE - Even if your dog or cat is mostly an outside animal, you still have to keep an eye on inside carpet and furniture where they like to hang out. The best way known to treat inside is to vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. The more you vacuum, the more insects and eggs are sucked away. Treating carpet with D.E. before vacuuming is not a bad idea either. There are also insect-growth regulators designed for inside use that are odorless and will not stain anything. Nylar (RIGHT) may be the most well-known among them, but they all prevent fleas from procreating.

Pros and Cons of other Flea- and Tick-Control Methods

Beneficial Nematodes - Usually, in this part of the state, they are very expensive and they simply have no proven track record. Since they need a moist, friable soil to do their thing, in my opinion, people with improperly raised beds waste their money applying them to clay soils. Those with organically enriched soils probably don't have insect problems because they have a healthy garden. An irony in the use of nematodes is that they need a food source to maintain their viability. So, if you eliminate fleas and their larvae, there is no food source, and the nematodes wither away.

Garlic Powder - I have the recipe for a garlic treatment you can add to a dog's food. If the animal gets hot as it plays, however, the pet may smell like a garlic. But the recipe does work.

Herbal Powders - You can try pennyroyal, rosemary, lavender, thyme, etc., but be very careful because some animals are naturally repelled by these powders, Apply them to the wrong dog or cat, and you could drive them crazy. Think about it! Plus the jury is out on them since there is really no empirical research proving their effectiveness.

Orange Oil - Good to spray under decks, for example, as a natural insecticide. As a pet owner myself, I would be very leery of using it on the pet itself. There are a bunch of home remedies out there that recommend the product, but I worry that the acidic nature of it might produce adverse skin reactions.