Zionsville Times Sentinel

June 19, 2013

Akers answers your gardening questions

By Doug Akers
For the Times Sentinel

Zionsville — TERMITES FROM MULCH?  

Can you get termites from mulch? A properly spread mulch layer (2-4 inches) does not stay moist enough for a termite colony to survive in. Termites need moisture to survive, and a thin mulch layer tends to dry out too quickly for the colony to survive. If you do find termites or carpenter ants in the mulch, they most likely came from an infestation that was already on your property, either from a nearby tree or an already-infested home.

It’s not very likely for disease or insect pests to spread from the mulch to your plants. Any borers in the wood will quickly die as the chips dry out. Likewise, most disease agents won’t survive long in dead wood; they need live tissue to infect.

GROWING SWEET POTATOES (Ipomoea batatas)

Sweet potato plants have been available in local garden centers. We had a huge crop of sweet potatoes last summer from one hill. Sweet potatoes love heat; they can be planted anytime in June and still produce a crop before frost. Sweet potatoes can be harvested beginning in late summer, and harvest should be completed shortly after frost. Cold soil temperatures reduce the storage life of the sweet potato, and rot organisms can quickly move from frosted vines to the roots. Dig carefully to avoid damaging the tuberous roots.

After harvest, we dry our sweet potatoes for a few hours outdoors during nice weather, then store them in the house at room temperature. They keep for months and months. They could also be put in long-term storage at cooler temperatures of 55F or above.  

Most varieties available are orange-fleshed (‘Centennial,’ ‘Georgia Jet,’ and the nontrailing ‘Vardaman’) but white-fleshed varieties might still be found. As a houseplant or school project, a sweet potato will grow an abundance of fine roots, leaves and vines from a tuberous root suspended in water. They can also be stored through spring to grow a crop of slips for next year’s garden.

See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.