Garden Detective: Slime mold is harmless but preventable

Pink slime mold growing on mulch in reader Pink slime mold growing on mulch in reader Nick Mazzaferro's Stony Brook garden. Photo Credit: Handout, 2013

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print ...

DEAR JESSICA: I am finding these throughout my garden, especially in shady areas. They are pretty bright pink, and I have no idea what they are. -- Nick Mazzaferro, Stony Brook

DEAR NICK: That pink, lumpy stuff is a type of slime mold, Lycogala epidendrum, which thrives during hot, moist weather on dead, yet nutritious, organic matter like fallen trees and mulch. It goes by the nicknames "wolf milk slime" and "pink toothpaste slime" because when the blobs are punctured, a pink slime resembling toothpaste squirts out.

It's harmless and will go away on its own, but if you want to eliminate it, just turn over the mulch or scoop up the blobs, bag them and toss them in the trash.

DEAR JESSICA: I'm having a problem with bees. Not the ordinary kind, but some that have made a hole in the tiny herb patch in my patio. They come and go, in and out of the hole. Do you know what kind they are and, please, how do I get rid of them? I'd appreciate any information you can give me. I don't really want to harm them. -- Deirdre Bergey, Coram

DEAR DEIRDRE: What you're describing sound like ground-nesting bees, which prefer to take up residence in areas with inadequate soil coverage, typically in bare patches in the lawn. It makes sense, then, that they'd want to move into the patches between your herb plants. Although they can be a nuisance, I want to point out that they are beneficial and serve an important function as pollinators. It's possible, however, that they're actually ground-nesting yellow jackets, which are more aggressive than bees. Either way, I can understand your desire to get them out of your garden. The only way to encourage them to move elsewhere would be to add a ground-covering plant that blankets all the soil in the bed. Dense cover, however, would compete with your herbs for nutrients and water.

There are pesticide sprays available, but I don't recommend using them around edibles. Better to wait until dark and flood the bees' holes with water from a garden hose.

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DEAR JESSICA: The town cut down a locust tree at the front edge of my property that was half dead and creating a nuisance under telephone/electrical wires and over the sidewalk. The stump, which can't be ground because it's in a precarious position, sends up unending shoots, but worse, the roots seem to be sending up shoots hundreds of feet away. This tree always did but is doing so much more now. Is there any way to control this? How long can I expect it to continue? -- Mary Racsko, Great Neck

DEAR MARY: It sounds like your tree was a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), which can be invasive, as you're noticing. Honey locusts generally have better manners.

When black locusts are cut down, they go into automatic propagation mode in a desperate attempt to reproduce and preserve their species. The town has tried to eliminate the tree, but it's not going down without a fight. Still, you have a few options.

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Continually mowing over the sprouts will weaken the roots by depleting their starch reserves until, eventually, they don't have enough energy to send up more shoots. This could take a few years but should be quite effective in the long run. You can speed the process by hand digging the sprouts and roots as they appear, although you'll likely need an ax and muscle power to do so effectively.

You also can treat the shoots with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup (take care not to allow overspray to contact surrounding plants), but you'll have to repeat this as new sprouts continue to grow from the stump over the next few years.

If the tree was cut down within the past year, you can target the source of the shoots by re-cutting the top surface of the stump and applying a triclopyr herbicide to the freshly cut surface. Good luck!

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The Great LI Tomato Challenge

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Vincent Profera may not have the biggest tomatoes, but he certainly has the most unusual planting spot: The Wantagh resident is growing a crop in the inch-wide gap between two pieces of concrete in his yard. I love that he's even managed to squeeze a stake in there. Profera, 85, reports the plant is 4 feet tall and producing fruit.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS. This year's contest will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Newsday headquarters (235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville). Bring your heaviest ripe tomato to the event, and I'll weigh it and crown the 2013 Tomato King or Queen. In the meantime, send a photo of yourself with your tomato plants, along with details about your growing strategy, to jessica.damiano@newsday.com.

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