Q: I enjoy sprucing up my front porch with potted plants, but have begun a war with my local squirrel population. They are digging in my pots, damaging my plant roots and creating utter destruction on my porch. I’ve tried putting bamboo skewers in the pots and sprinkling cayenne on top of the soil, but I must be dealing with ninja squirrels — they’re digging around the skewers and pushing the cayenne to the side. Any idea what I can do to outsmart these villains?

A: Don’t you just hate it when they wear those little black robes and obi belts? Ninja squirrels! Any yard with trees has squirrels and even the ones without obi belts are difficult to control. You already have tried two of the commonly suggested controls: using hot powders such as cayenne or mechanical obstructions such as your bamboo skewers. One suggestion is to apply the hot powder in a very thick (1-inch) layer on the soil rather than just a sprinkling, cover with thick mulch and add more powder on top of the mulch.

A bit more challenging but also more effective is to cut hardware cloth to fit tightly into your container, using the smallest cut-outs that still allow for placing plants through the cloth. Make cut-outs by cutting an “X” where the plant will be installed, pull up the four corners to open the planting hole, then push the four pieces back snugly around the plant base. Hardware cloth is actually a tough wire and cutting will require wire cutters. Wear heavy gloves when handling it. Tedious, to be sure, but these are, as you say, Ninjas! Install cloth and plants, and then cover cloth with mulch.

Another trick is to place an attractant, such as wildlife peanut butter balls, in a camouflaged spot far away from your porch to draw the squirrels, and put some pots there for them to dig in to bury their winter grub. After all, even a ninja’s gotta eat!  

Q: What is the fuzzy gray mold growing on so many of our trees and shrubs in Midtown? It appears to be everywhere!
(Photo/ Courtesy ACES) Lichens may be an indicator host trees are stressed, but do not cause harm to the tree itself.

(Photo/ Courtesy ACES) Lichens may be an indicator host trees are stressed, but do not cause harm to the tree itself.

A: These are lichens (pronounced LIKE-enz). Our regional horticultural agent at the Alabama Extension Office, Ellen Huckabay, tells me there is no need for a chemical “cure,” because the good news is that lichens do not actually kill plants or trees. They do, however, attach to the woody limbs and bark of stressed trees and plants. Old plants, plants suffering from drought or disease, insects, plants not getting the correct balance of nutrients all can be in a stressed condition and therefore vulnerable to lichens. When the plants fail, however, the cause is the stressor, not the lichens that have opportunistically attached. Enter the address below into your browser to read a good article published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System about lichens: www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0857/ANR-0857.pdf.

Email us your questions at CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com or call (toll free) 1-877-252-4769, the Master Gardener Helpline, answered by Mobile and Baldwin county Master Gardener volunteers.