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Past Questions and Answers | June 2011

Question #1

Question:  I have beautiful peonies but have trouble with ants on them. Any suggestions?

  Nancy Phillips, Franklin, Virginia


ANSWER:   Try the Texas Two Step Method of getting rid of them. Get a hand cranked fertilizer spreader and a bag of ant bait. Walk back and forth across your lawn cranking the hand spreader and spreading the ant bait. This spreads it at a high enough rate to kill the ants but not so high that it kills other creatures. Naturally, you want to keep pets and children from eating it.

Ants forage 20-30 feet from the nest, so you do not actually have to spread the bait in the flower bed as long as you put it along the parameter. The ants take the bait back to the nest and it kills the queen. As the workers die off, no new ones are born and in about six weeks the nest disappears.

Sometimes, a nest is in an area that really causes a problem, such as right by the mailbox, in some electrical wiring, or where a child gets into it and gets bitten. A drench product which is mixed, then poured on the nest and watered in, will kill the ants quickly. It is not practical to use the drench on every nest in a yard, especially if there are a lot of mounds. Further, drenches are more toxic than bait so their use should be limited to necessity.

Be sure to follow the label directions for any ant killer or other pesticide you use. Remember, the label is the law.

Question #2

Question:  I have a number of apple trees, which produce a good tasting apple, but I have a problem with coddling moths. I found a home remedy on your website which looks interesting. A couple questions: when is the best time to put it in the tree, and how long is it effective? Does it need to be replaced periodically? Thanks for any guidance on this.

  Larry Ryan, Beaver Falls, PA


ANSWER:   Codling moths can be hard to control. The best attack is to use Integrated Pest Control and use a multi-method approach. The first is to check your fruit weekly from the time they are 1/2 inch long and immediately remove any you find with holes in them. You should also pick up any that fall. These fruit should be destroyed to kill the larvae inside them before they can mature and lay more eggs.

The traps in the article you mentioned should be hung when the apples are 1/2 inch long. Each week when you check your apples, empty the traps and replace the fluid.

There is a good article on the control of codling moths, including organic methods, on the University of California Extension website. It discusses what sprays the organic gardener might use to control this pest and when to use them.

Question #3

Question:  Is dog urine run off a danger to veggie garden?

  Andre Hawkins, Baltimore, MD


ANSWER:   The short answer is yes, it is a danger. Dog urine can harbor E.coli and salmonella and certain vegetables, especially leafy greens and fruits that touch the ground can absorb that into them and give it to you. Most animals can transmit such problems. For example, the outbreak of illness in people eating spinach was caused by feral hogs tracking cow manure from a dairy to the fields, where the spinach was splashed with it during irrigation. The spinach then absorbed the E. coli and everyone who ate it got sick.

Question #4

Question:  Magnolia Tree- I have buds on my magnolia, but the blooms are not a full flower. Just a petal of the flower blooms. Also, many of the leaves on the tree have fallen to the ground. How can I treat this tree to get full and plentiful blooms?

  Barbara Moschella, Bluffton, SC


ANSWER:   Magnolias shed their leaves in the spring, not the fall, so that is why you are seeing leaves on the ground now. Seed cones come off in September. Magnolias can be very majestic but very messy trees to have in the landscape.

They also require acidic or neutral soil. Magnolias may grow for a number of years in alkaline soil then when the roots hit the compact substrate, the tree begins to decline. The literature does not specifically mention flowers that do not open as part of that decline, however, it could be. If you take a sample to the county extension agent, he or she may be able to diagnosis the problem more exactly.

Question #5

Question:  When should you eat of fruit from a tree or a plant that you just planted? i just planted a lowquat tree and was told not to eat the fruit for 5 five years is this true ?

  Billy Bagwell, Homosassa, FL


ANSWER:   Yes and no. Transplanting a tree stresses it a great deal. It needs to put as much of its energy as possible into growing roots and recovering from being transplanted. If it produces fruit, that is an energy drain. So the first five years, you should pinch off the fruit as soon as you can see it by where the blossom is in the spring. That allows the tree to concentrate on growing roots and a strong canopy to support more fruit in the future. In addition, some trees, such as peaches, can have such large fruit that it breaks the young branch off. This severely damages the tree, which may not survive. Once the tree is old enough to manage growing fruit, be sure to thin them to the recommended spacing so the fruit grows big and does not stress the branches with their weight.

Question #6

Question:  When starting a container garden how many of each plant should you start with? Most of my containers are 12" diameter. If I plant a "thriller, filler and spiller" how many should I start with in order to give space to grow?

  Danielle Mrolan, Chesterville, Ohio


ANSWER:   Your grown plant should be about twice the height of the container at a maximum. That way there is enough room for the roots in the container. One of these centerpiece, or thriller, plants, is enough for this size container. A couple of fillers on either side of the thriller and a spiller in front and one in back would round out the pot. Any more and you will have space issues. The filler and spiller need to be plants that do not get very large so that they will not over compete with the thriller or each other for nutrients. You will have to fertilize them regularly so they have everything they need. Most people use a liquid fertilizer that is balanced, such as a 10-10-10, for houseplants. Follow the directions on the label and make sure it says you can use it on the plants you are growing.

Question #7

Question:  There is a bitter flower that can be planted in a garden to keep the deer and rabbits out. Please tell me what it is.

  Doris Edge, Columbus, Indiana


ANSWER:   There is no plant that will keep the deer and rabbits out. They may avoid a plant with a bitter taste, but they will still come eat the other plants. Rabbits can be kept out with a four foot welded wire fence around the garden. If the garden is small, a 7 foot welded wire fence will keep most deer out. While they can jump over it, they do not like to land in small enclosed spaces. It is hard for them to get out. If fencing isn.t practical, there are sprinklers with motion detectors that will come on when a deer comes near and spray the deer with water that have seen some success. If moved around frequently, so the deer do not learn to go around them, the sudden spray of water startles the deer and it leaves.

Question #8

Question:  My geraniums have leaves turning brown. Some leaves have the rims turning brown. What is the cause? I have not put them out yet.

  Carrol B. Simmons, Elkins, WV


ANSWER:   Geraniums are vulnerable to Botrytis cinerea, a fungal infection that turns the leaves brown. If there are just a few brown leaves, or leaves with brown spots on them, pick them off and place them in the trash. If there are a lot of leaves effected, or the stalk has brown spots, it is best to trash the whole plant. Do not use the pot again until the soil is put in the trash and the pot sterilized with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Do not reuse the soil or compost the plant or you will spread the disease. This disease sits in the soil waiting for favorable conditions -- wet, humid days, to grow. The best prevention is to never reuse potting soil and to sterilize pots between uses.

Question #9

Question:  I am starting a new garden this year and an very new at this. I started the seeds indoors with great success. They started growing and than out of nowhere most of them wilted and a lot of them died. Most of my peppers (Jalapeno, Scotch Bonnets, etc.) are still going strong but all of the Watermelon, Pumpkin, Butternut squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers, and Tomatoes have fallen over. I have planted them all with the same type of soil and organic aged manure. Please help me figure out what happened.

  Thomas Walls, Colorado Springs, Colorado.


ANSWER:   Your seeds have been a victim of damping off. This is a group of fungal infections that infect the plant from the roots up. As soon as the stem is infected above where the soil supports the plant, it keels over.

Prevention of this disease is the only way to go. Sterilize your seed trays with a mixture of one part bleach and nine parts water each time before you use them. Use pasteurized soil mix to make sure you do not introduce the fungi that way. Finally, water enough to keep things moist, but do not let things get squishy wet.

Question #10

Question:  Why do my frost proof gardenias after blooming turn yellowish then brown?

  Gicela Deleon, Houston, TX


ANSWER:   If you are speaking of your blooms, the heat is to blame. Gardenias like temperatures around 68-74 degrees during the day, and around 60 at night. When it gets too much hotter, they drop their blooms prematurely. Blooms loose a lot of moisture and the plant cannot drink in enough through its roots to compensate when it is hot. To save itself, it will drop blooms, then leaves. While watering more often will help, there is a limit to the amount of water the plant can take up, even if the water is present in the soil. Too squishy a soil invites fungal diseases. So you will have to keep the soil moist but not squishy in order to help things.

Question #11

Question:  I have a small vegetable garden with dark rich soil which does quite well. I have been composting for a couple of years now and adding the compost to my garden. What i'm concerned about is the fact that I don't see see many earth worms when I'm turning my soil in the spring or fall. Should I be concerned about this and what can I do to increase my worm population?

  Bob Zientarski, Skokie, Il


ANSWER:   Worms primarily rise to the surface of the soil at night, when it is cool and moist. So not seeing any during the day is not necessarily a problem. However, you can purchase worms called red wigglers that are sold to improve soil fertility and compost piles. Introducing creatures into an ecosystem where they are not already a native species is fraught with hazard, however. If your garden is doing well, the best practice would be to continue incorporating three inches of compost each year and to till to a depth of six inches to incorporate the compost into the soil. Then you will attract the worms native to your area in larger numbers.

Question #12

Question:  I have a ( clusia rosea nana) dwarf pitch apple in a container. Should I treat this plant like a succulent when watering and what type of fertilizer should be used. First time growing this plant.

  Tim Christopher, Ft. Lauderdale, FL


ANSWER:   Dwarf pitch apples have medium water requirements when in a pot. They are considered evergreens, not succulents. Keep the soil moist but not squishy. A balanced fertilizer for houseplants is fine. They prefer full sun or at least partial sun and do not do well at temperatures below 40 degrees.

Question #13

Question:  I purchased a couple of apple trees last summer and missed pruning them in the spring, can I prune them now? I am a novice pruner and will use your instructions online to do it.

  Steve MacMillan, Spruce Grove, Alberta


ANSWER:   Pruning is done when the sap is down in the tree and it is dormant. If you miss the correct time to prune, you can do more damage now than skipping a year will do. Of course, if a tree limb endangers pedestrians or buildings, you will have to cut it regardless of the time of year, but otherwise just be sure to prune them next winter.

Question #14

Question:  When growing red cabbage do you tie up the leafs?

  Staci, Chanute, Kansas


ANSWER:   Red cabbage is a head cabbage just like green cabbage. As such, there is no need to tie up the leaves. The cabbage will naturally grow in a head.

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