Question: The bottom of my oak tree is black, wet and attracting hornets. What is wrong?

Answer: During periods of hot and dry weather it is not unusual to see trees exhibiting a condition called slime flux or wet wood. The presence of slime flux generally indicates the tree is under stress. I have seen it on newly planted trees but mostly on older trees. It is the result of a bacterial infection within the tree. The combination of bacteria and sugars in the sap results in fermentation. In time, internal pressures build up within the tree and sap emerges from the tree. It usually exits where the trunk has been injured or from pruning wounds. Although it is unsightly, slime flux nor the bacteria kill the tree. However, you should examine the tree closely for those conditions that lead to slime flux. It may be old age, past injuries, root damage and dry weather. As for the hornets, let them enjoy a little fermented beverage every now and then. You may see butterflies, wasps and bees joining them at the bar, too. If their presence is unwelcome, take the garden hose and wash away the flux on a weekly basis until it stops later in the fall.


Question: Our fescue lawn was the envy of the neighborhood in the spring but now is an embarrassment due to brown patches and dead areas. Is there anything I can do now to stop the decline short of watering every day?

Answer: We live in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Due to our location and soils, it is difficult to keep a fescue lawn looking good year round. We are plagued with wide fluctuations of rainfall and temperatures, and poorly drained soils. By nature, cool season grasses such as fescue stop growing when air temperatures reach 90 degrees. The peak growth period for fescue is when the air temperature is from 50-65 degrees in the spring. In addition, fescue roots begin to decline when the soil temperature reaches 78 degrees. The soil in my lawn is 80 degrees in the shade. That is why fescue lawns in light shade look better than those in full sun. Lets not forget turf diseases that further weaken this grass. Warm nighttime air temperatures above 65 degrees coupled with dew or irrigation water enhance the growth of brown patch. This fungal disease causes widespread browning of fescue in the summer. For now, mow your lawn as high as you can and wait and see what bounces back after several inches of rain. In the meantime, be prepared to call a lawn care service to restore your lawn this fall. It appears this may be a banner year of their services.


Question: Is crabgrass from heaven or that other place?

Answer: From what I hear, even ministers wrestle with this question. One minister said this is a question he will pose to the almighty along with the purpose of ticks and mosquitoes. He obviously sees no value in any them whatsoever. I agree with him on ticks. However, the Reverend Norman Whitney extols the virtues of crabgrass. He swears it is a gift from heaven. In Norman’s view, crabgrass is the most perfect of all grasses. Norman has a long list of its virtues including crabgrass' ability to reseed itself every year, cover the ground quickly, stay green all spring and summer, need no watering, require no fertilization, withstand drought and look good when mowed regularly. Norman does have some valid points and has saved a lot of money over the years.


Question: I want to support local agriculture but most foods marketed as ‘local grown’ are not from Alamance County. How can that be?

Answer: The term ‘local grown’ has many definitions depending on the retailer. Some define it as within 200 miles while others use a day's journey from the farm. Sometime I am going to weigh in how we define how food is grown. However, if you truly want to support Alamance County growers, visit a local farmers market. Search the Internet for ‘Alamance County Area Farmers Market-Extension’ for a complete listing. Some will even deliver. Yes, it is an effort to visit local markets because the days and times vary with the season. But most things worthwhile are. If you expect to keep farms in this county, then you have to support them.


Rett Davis is a retired Alamance County Extension Director and Certified Arborist. You can reach him at