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Past Questions and Answers | October 2014

Question #1

Question:  I have been digging up a grass lawn and have noticed a whitish-gray cast to the soil in some spots. Is this a fungus? If so, is it bad for the plants? Should I throw those clumps of soil in the garbage?

  Mignon Moskowitz, Bishop, California


ANSWER:   This is a fungus, but it is a good fungus that helps feed your lawn. It is safe to use these clumps to replant your grass.

Question #2

Question:  What's the best way to treat brown rot on a plum tree and can it infect my apple tree next to it? Many thanks.

  Sharon Taylor, Coventry, England


ANSWER:   Brown rot infects stone fruit, not apple trees. You need to spray a fungicide on your plum tree specifically for brown rot. Look for one containing one of the following ingredients: fenbuconazole, propiconazole, metconazole, or trifloxystrobin or a fungicide specifically for brown rot. You also need to pick all the fruit that have brown rot off your tree, off the ground, and pull mummified fruit off the tree and place them in the garbage. Do not compost them or you will spread the disease.

Question #3

Question:  I have a young apple tree that looks like a whip can I prune it now?

  Cheryl Miller, St. Mary.s, Ohio


ANSWER:   You need to wait until the tree is dormant before pruning it. The usual time is December or January.

Question #4

Question:  We planted 2 persimmon trees 10 yrs ago and one is large with oval leaves and produces little white flowers in the spring that the bees love. The other tree is much smaller with similar foliage. We thought we bought a male and a female, but obviously with no fruit production something is wrong. I have tried to determine which we have, male or female, but am at a loss. Ant info you may have would be appreciated.

  Karen Nielsen, Myrtle Creek, Oregon


ANSWER:   Sexing persimmon trees is not easy because they can be male, female, contain both male and female blossoms, and can switch sex from year to year. However, to tell a male tree from a female tree, this is what you do: Find groups of three flowers together to identify male blossoms, which have a pink tinge. A persimmon tree with a large percentage of male flowers is male. Identify female flowers as those that grow alone and have an off-white or cream color. A majority of these kinds of flowers on the tree mean the tree is female. Check the tree next year to see if the sex is still the same or if it changes from year to year.

Question #5

Question:  I've had strawberry plants for 7 years. Can you please tell me what I should feed them and when? Thank you!

  Rae Runyon, Bloomfield, New Mexico


ANSWER:   You fertilize them every two weeks starting in the spring when growth begins. Continue until you harvest the last berry. Use a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 and make sure to brush any granular fertilizer off the leaves to prevent fertilizer burn.

Question #6

Question:  My crepe myrtle have aphids (I think wooly Asian aphids) that have infested my trees. I tried spraying when I first noticed them, but I could not get ahead of them. What can I do?

  Judy Waller, Knoxville, TN


ANSWER:   When you spray with a poison, you kill the aphids, but also the beneficial insects that control them. Then the aphids come back and there are no predators, so they overrun the place. Use insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or pesticides containing imidacloprid to kill the aphids without killing the beneficial insects that help keep them in check.

Question #7

Question:  There is a lot of whitefly everywhere so how is he best way to naturally control them?

  Milford Wheeler, Eureka Kansas


ANSWER:   Whiteflies are difficult to control. You should avoid using insecticides that kill their predators as that will make the problem worse. Remove plants that are heavily infested and throw them away. Remove leaves that are heavily infested and throw them away. Use a small hand held vacuum to vacuum them off leaves in the early morning when they are sluggish, then kill them by putting the vacuum bag in the freezer overnight and then disposing of it. Using sprays of water to knock the whiteflies off the plants can also be effective.

Question #8

Question:  I am growing 2 tomatoe plants indoor using grow lights on a timer. Both plants just start flowering. How often should I feed plant food, how often should I water & how much light should I give the plants. They are growing in the basement. When should I expect them to bear fruits.

  Roderick Clarke, Jamaica, NY


ANSWER:   You should use 14 hours of light for the plants, water them when the soil just starts to dry out, and feed them with a water solubile plant food every two weeks while they are blooming and producing fruit. They should start bearing fruit as the blooms fade. Small fruit will start appearing at the base of the flowert and grow as the flower fades.

Question #9

Question:  The soil in my raised bed seems to have soil diseases and fungus. Can I cure the soil in the bed? What can I use to cure it before using it again?

  Sandra Tanner, Harwich Massachusetts


ANSWER:   You can solarize the soil to sterilize it and kill the soil diseases and fungus. Cover the whole bed with clear plastic and weigh the plastic down with rocks. Leave on during three sunny months to completely sterilize the soil. You need to do this in the summer, not the winter, or it will not get hot enough to sterilize the soil.

Question #10

Question:  I have sprouted a date seed. What kind of soil does it need?

  Louise B. Brown, New York, NY


ANSWER:   Date palms can grow in almost any soil. A good potting soil mixture will work fine for your date palm.

Question #11

Question:  I own 2 dwarf banana trees. They are approximately 3 1/2 years old, about 5 ft in height, huge leaves that are turning brown and the stalks are also turning brown. The containers they are in are size 18 and each plant has produced baby plants...I bought some bigger containers that are 22-24 but have not put the plants in them yet as I have read contradicting articles on the size the pot should be. The plants are on the floor in front of a big bay window and get indirect sunlight at least 8 hours a day and they are also by a heater vent so that they can stay warm in the cold months. I fertilize at least once a month. I have not gotten any fruit or flowers, there are not spider webs, and I water at least once a week. What am I doing wrong? Help!!!! Thank you.

  Elaine Umfleet, Livonia, MI


ANSWER:   You are watering too much. You need to let the plant dry out between waterings. Your banana trees likely have developed root rot from the excessive water. As for the containers, you should make sure there is two inches between the banana tree and the side of the container.

Question #12

Question:  I successfully rooted two Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriaca) plants a few years ago. They continue to thrive and often bloom indoors (out of season, though). I WANT To plant them outside but when should I do it? I'm in zone 5 and also afraid of them being eaten by various animals. Each plant is about 2 feet high. Is fall a good time to plant or should I wait until spring? What would protect them? Do they make good container plants? I could use some good advice--I love these plants. They were cut from a double-blossom, vintage plant that is huge, but half-killed by last years harsh winter.

Thanks for your help!

  Sam Talbot, Leyden, MA


ANSWER:   You plant shrubs in the winter when they are dormant. You will have to harden off the shrubs before you plant them by leaving them outside a couple of hours one day, then four hours the next, etc. until they are out all day, then plant them. To protect them from animals eating them, simply make a welded wire fence around them that is three feet tall or taller and large enough to give them room to grow. When they get bigger, they will not need the fence and you can remove it.

Rose of Sharon are often grown in containers and will stay smaller, but be perfectly happy in them. You can just keep repotting them every year with a bigger pot to allow them to grow.

Question #13

Question:  My tomatoes are not bearing fruit. I have flowers and no fruit

  Nancy Hitchcock, Hanford, CA


ANSWER:   When the night is hotter than 90 degrees for more than a week, tomatoes stop setting fruit. They bloom, but the blooms fall off. When it cools down, they will start setting fruit.

Question #14

Question:  Will Sweet Basil plant come back in the Spring?

  A. McCormick, Newark, DE


ANSWER:   No, it will not. Basil is an annual and must be planted every year.

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If you love fruit tress like apples, peaches, pears and plums, but don't have the room, plant a dwarf variety.

Most grow from 3 feet to 8 feet. They product tons of fruit and are easier to harvest because they are low to the ground.

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