GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Leaf-footed bugs attack tomatoes

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dear Neil: What insect stings tomatoes just before they ripen, causing them to rot from the inside, and how can I eliminate the pests? They look like stink bugs, but they’re black.

That sounds like the damage of the leaf-footed bug. They are occasional visitors to tomato fruit as it nears maturity, and the damage you described is a match. They are a bit difficult to eliminate, but most product manufacturers have at least one or two garden insecticides that list them on their labels. Repeat applications may be needed.

Dear Neil: Our loquat tree produces fruit, and I planted three seeds in pots last summer. They started growing last fall, and now one is 10 inches tall, the other two about 6 inches tall. When should I plant them, and should they be separated? They are all currently in the same pot.

Loquats are beautiful trees, even if they’re winter-tender in much of Texas. You should separate those trees before any more time passes this spring. They’re large enough to pot up individually. I’d put each tree into a 5-gallon nursery pot that has been filled with a lightweight potting soil. You want to do that before they start active spring growth that could be damaged by the loss of roots that will occur. Keep them in pots for a year, so you can protect them from next winter’s cold, then set them out in their permanent homes next spring.

Dear Neil: I’ve attached a photo of a weed that is growing in the cemetery where I work. We cannot seem to eliminate it. I’ve tried pulling it, but I can’t get all of the roots, and the sprays I’ve tried haven’t helped. What could I apply that might offer us some help?

Your photo was fine, but there are so many weeds that are similar in their finely cut foliage – I don’t know its precise name. That probably doesn’t matter, however, since the same products should control most non-grassy weeds.

Apply a spray containing 2,4-D, probably in a three-way blend known as Trimec. Spray when the weed is growing actively, and don’t mow for several days before or after you spray. Do not spray when winds exceed 5 to 10 mph. Read label directions, and follow them explicitly. Be especially cautious using any herbicide around existing trees and shrubs.

Those precautions sound stifling, but they really aren’t once you get the hang of things. Re-treat in two or three weeks if necessary.

Dear Neil: My new property has several oak trees that are surrounded by stone borders that are almost 10 feet in diameter. Weeds come up within the beds. I was told not to apply weedkillers within the beds, for fear of damaging the tree roots. I was told not to use weedblocking fabric due to the drought. I don’t want to hand-pull the weeds again this year. What can I do?

You can certainly apply a glyphosate-only herbicide (no other active ingredients) around trees’ trunks without fear of damaging the trees. They are quite effective in eliminating invading bermudagrass. Your only concern would be to keep the spray away from any green (no bark) tree trunk tissues that might be exposed.

And I’m not entirely sure why a weed-blocking fabric would be of concern during drought. By killing weeds, it would rebate all the water they would have been using. I think that warning is in error. A 1-inch layer of mulch would also slow growth of weed seedlings. So there are three good options. Personally, I would start by spot-spraying with the glyphosate once the weeds are up and growing actively.

Dear Neil: I have two fig bushes that have sprouts coming up from their trunks. Can these be pruned? If so, when and how?

I’m glad you referred to these as “bushes” and not “trees,” as so many people do. Because they are truly large shrubs in Texas, it’s fine to have new shoots coming off their trunks. If a branch is damaged, or if it is rubbing another branch, you can certainly prune. Each cut should be made flush with a larger branch. Do not leave stubs. That pruning can be done now. Late winter is the ideal time in future years.

Dear Neil: A friend has a Brunfelsia plant that has made it through one winter in College Station, but this spring, most of the plant’s leaves are dark (almost black). Is this a problem with the high sodium level in College Station water? What can be done about it?

If this plant was outside in College Station this past winter, it almost assuredly froze. It was much colder than the plant can normally endure. Hopefully it will come back from its roots. Sodium damage, for what it’s worth, is indicated by marginal browning around the leaf edges. You normally don’t see it in the winter.

Dear Neil: We have an 8-year-old Meyer lemon tree that has grown to be 10 feet tall. It has had a scale outbreak for many of those years. For the first while, I was able to reach all the pests, but now it’s so tall and full of branches that I can’t reach the trunk where scale now covers the bark. What might I do?

Scale insects are traditionally among the most difficult pests to eliminate. Horticultural oil sprays applied during winter will help. A systemic insecticide applied as a soil drench could also help, but not if your plant has fruit in place. You’ll have to be vigilant, and several treatments will be needed. The dead scales will not fall off, but they will become dry and flaky as they die.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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