TARBORO — Buddy H. (Tarboro) asks: I discovered this unusual substance wrapping the stems on all of my compacta holly when I was pruning them last week.
Answer: We have identified this to be "FELT FUNGUS," Septobasidium — it is brown, soft, leathery, felt-like perennial, lichen-like in appearance and may frequently surround small tree branches. Species of this genus are usually on trees and associate with scale insects. The fungus is superficial on the plant, but parasitizes the insects which are feeding on the plant host. Within the fungal thallus is a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers.
Each chamber contains a single scale insect directly in contact with the tree bark. Tunnels open to the surface. Septobasidium may involve entire colonies of scale insects whereas other genera of felt fungi parasitize single insects.
Insects act as sole agents of fungus dispersal. They also feed on medullary, ray cells in the woody tissues of their host plant. Nutrients are then assimilated from their blood by fungal hyphae. In nature, Septobasidium burtii is obligately associated with scale insects.
Damage to the plant has been attributed to certain species of Septobasidium; however, it is probable that this damage is due to the activity of feeding insects, not direct parasitism of the plant host by the fungus.
If warranted, control may be achieved by pruning affected branches and spraying with a copper fungicide as a preventative.
Debra P. (Tarboro) asks: What is a good way to control grass and weeds around my grapevines?
Answer: Grape Vines are sensitive to weed killers and herbicides but because the grapes are eaten, great care must be taken to ensure safe application of any chemicals. Weed control helps to prevent soil moisture and nutrient loss at the base of the vines. Limiting competition from weeds is more important in drought conditions. Most effective control methods use herbicides along with cultural and mechanical strategies. No one herbicide will control every type of weed so treatments are targeted to the species and often combined in staged applications.