College of Wooster, Lavender Trails team on a mulch experiment


ORRVILLE Jim Duxbury crouched down next to one of nearly 1,600 lavender plants in a diamond pattern of seemingly endless rows. The lavender expert explained how to properly enjoy a nose full of the mint family plant.

He put his hands on either side of the plant and shook it.

“You don’t want to get stung by bees,” Duxbury said before rubbing the flowery tops between his hands. “And then you smell.”

But for the co-owner of the Nestling Lavender Trails, there’s one pest that’s often hidden in a substance that looks like frothy saliva: spittlebug.

Spittlebugs hide in white tufts of cottony moss on this fall sage plant.

Hidden Gem:Lavender Trails: an unexpected beauty hidden in Orrville

While these creatures don’t do much damage, they are unsightly additions to lavender picking, Duxbury said.

So he and his friend from College of Wooster decided to look for a solution in the form of plastic mulch.

Their experiment aims to determine the effectiveness of different colors of plastic mulch in keeping the soil warm and in deterring spittlebugs.

Despite being at the start of the scientific method, the pair are confident that the results will not only help Lavender Trails, but other professional and casual green thumbs as well.

The experiment: Which plastic mulches warm the soil the best? and what are the effects on spittlebugs?

Jim Duxbury, owner of Lavender Trails, and his team only research and remove weeds.  Each tarp color matches the color of the mulch.

After Carlo Moreno and Duxbury met last year, they formed a quick friendship that quickly turned to science.

Duxbury is a science teacher at Orrville High School and a geologist at heart with a keen interest in soil. His main concern is to keep his lavender plants alive during the winter.

To keep them warm, he covers them with a tarp that loggers use to protect timber in transit, he said.

“We went and took them out of their trash, with their permission of course, and then we cut them into squares for the plants,” Duxbury said.

Moreno holds a doctorate. and assistant professor of environmental science at the College of Wooster, specializing in insects.

He knew the spittlebugs were a nuisance to Duxbury and wanted to learn how to best get rid of them.

“So I researched which plastic mulches were best for heating the soil, and as an entomologist, I was trying to understand what the side effects of mulches were on insects,” Moreno said.

He decided not to use organic wood mulches because their ability to capture and hold moisture would harm lavender plants, which like dry, warm soils.

Wood mulch could also transmit potentially fatal diseases to lavender, he said.

Duxbury created a section at Lavender Fields for an additional 120 lavender plants for Moreno and his research assistants. Once planted, he covered them with plastic mulch

Moreno measures each plant’s growth, soil temperature, and each plant’s ability to convert sunlight into food.

Based on other experiments, Moreno expects lighter colors to reflect the sun better, thus removing any bugs, while darker colors will retain heat better, keeping the soil warmer.

“At this point, we are at the very beginning of the experiment and have only collected one set of data,” said Moreno.

Moreno and his research assistants will return to Lavender Fields twice in July and again in August to complete the data collection process.

Love lavender and learn

Carlo Moreno, assistant professor of environmental science at the College of Wooster, and Jim Duxbury, owner of Lavender Trails in Orrville, have teamed up to see how plastic mulches impact soil, plants and insects.

When Duxbury created Lavender Trails three years ago, he found a brownfield site full of concrete and rebar 20 feet tall in places.

After cleaning it, he realized that the ground was full of cement, gravel and limestone – perfect for lavender.

Today, three years later, only a few concrete slabs cross the grass. Customers can pick lavender to take home, learn about bees and various plants, and how to grow mint varieties.

With the addition of Moreno’s experience, Duxbury feels he is one step closer to achieving his educational goal.

“I want people to learn something while they’re here and having fun,” Duxbury said.

Lavender Trails opened on June 25 and remains open until July 25, or until the lavender runs out, he said.

Vendor Sundays will be July 11-18. Each day will feature food trucks, music and other vendors.

Contact Bryce by email at [email protected]

On Twitter: @Bryce_Buyakie

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