Barn Owls for Gopher Control
– Bob and Elizabeth Wieser,
A: I would like nothing more than to unreservedly affirm your experience. In fact, at one time I would have agreed with the efficacy of this plant in controlling gophers. However, an occurrence this spring has led me to believe otherwise.
I witnessed a large Swiss chard plant detached from its roots by what could only have been a gopher (a telltale mound was right there) despite the growth of several large gopher purge plants within a foot or two of the chard. Also, I recently interviewed a commercial pest control expert who told me that gophers have been known to chew through the stems of gopher purge itself! Nevertheless, there seems to be quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to back up your claim, and gopher purge is still sold in nurseries – generally in the herb section – where it is promoted as a tried-and-true antidote to burrowing bucktoothed rodents.
There is an effective, nontoxic method for biological control of gophers: acquisition of an exotic pet. According to Organic Gardening, you should consider “gopher and king snakes, skunks and particularly barn owls. A pair of breeding barn owls can eat from three to six gophers every few nights.”
Q: We have a crimson bottlebrush that does well, but the ground under and around it is shaded a good part of the day. We want to plant sun or shade azaleas in this area – but will they grow?
– Nancy Tice,
A: Having done most of my gardening in the San Fernando Valley, I have not, as yet, been able to differentiate between sun and shade azaleas in terms of their performance. In our hot Valley, both need at least half a day of shade – or a full day of sun filtered through tall trees – to prosper. Excessive shade, though, will decrease azaleas’ bloom, and bottlebrushes, being small trees with arching branches, can create deep shade. Keep the
bottlebrush thinned out to where a modicum of light can filter down to the azaleas below.
Actually, azaleas and bottlebrushes have something in common: Both favor an acidic soil pH. When bottlebrushes are grown in alkaline soil, they develop iron deficiency symptoms: New leaves are yellow with green veins. When azaleas are grown in alkaline soil, their leaves turn yellow or crispy brown before they succumb to Phytophthora root rot and die.
When it comes to azaleas, soil preparation is critical. Hashimoto Brothers of Arleta, who specialize in azalea production, recommend that azaleas be planted in large holes filled exclusively with moist peat moss. If you can dig in lots of peat moss under your bottlebrush, both it and your azaleas should benefit.