Q. I want to store fireplace wood in the basement. Is there danger of termites?
A. The subterranean termite, the one that damages homes, cannot survive freezing temperatures. Deep in the soil or in a warm cellar, with comfortable temperatures they can endure. However, they usually need access to the soil to get the moisture they need to live. If the wood is left outdoors until after a hard freeze and then brought into a basement with a concrete floor, there is little chance of a termite problem.
Q. We have black plastic and white plastic covered with woodchips around our hydrangeas, azaleas and forsythia. Should this be removed for winter?
A. It can be left on during the winter.About the only effect of the mulch is that the soil under it will be warmer in late fall and slower to warm up in spring. The covering also prevents soil erosion.
Q. My three four-to six-foot hemlocks have lost most of their needles from the top down. Do you have any idea what might have caused it?
A. Hemlocks can make out in shade but can't survive long in dry soil or a windswept location. Once well established, they can endure an unfavorable environment.
Q. I have a flowering Japanese tree about five years old in my yard. The roots protrude above ground. Can I chop them off?
A. Frequent light sprinkling when the tree is young has a tendency to bring the roots to the surface. If you cut them off, the tree may topple over during the first heavy wind storm.
Q. I dug my roses to use the space for vegetables. Now thousands of weeds have come up in the garden. Where could they have come from?
A. Most soils have thousands of weed seeds buried in them, seeds that accumulated years ago, waiting for someone to stir them up to the surface where they can germinate. Weed seeds cannot germinate in the dark. A mulch of newspapers (about eight pages) or black plastic will shut off light and prevent the weeds from annoying you.
Q. My sweet corn didn't do much this year. Most of the ears didn't fill out; some had very few kernels. What could cause this?
A. Most likely, poor pollination. Instead of planting corn in one or two long rows, plant four shorter ones side by side, to insure good pollination.
Q. I'd like to grow strawberries in tubs on my balcony. How is this done?
A. One large healthy strawberry plant with lots of leaves will provide more fruit than a dozen small ones with only a few leaves each. Those that bear fruit only in June are preferred over the ever-bearing kinds.
Flower buds of strawberries are initiated in leaf axils and the more leaves there are in the fall, the more flower clusters there will be in spring. A two-leaf plant (in autumn) may produce one small flower cluster good for three to five strawberries while a plant with 50 leaves may provide more than a quart of fruit. Buy certified (disease-free and insect-free) plants. Grow them about nine inches apart in full sun. Pinch off flower buds the first year.Cut off runners as they develop. Water and fertilize when needed, mulch for the winter, and protect the fruit from birds with netting.
Q. I want to raise violets. How can you keep them blooming?
A. Most violets and pansies, also of the violet family, do best in light shade with plenty of water. Most bloom for a period of time in the spring.Get a variety that can adapt to your environment. One main reason violets stop blooming is the clump gets too big and needs to be divided.
Q. There is something seriously wrong with my redbud tree-a lot of dieback of twigs and branches. How can I save it?
A. In some areas the redbud is susceptible to a canker disease which causes extensive dieback. Infection occurs in wounds and dead and dying twigs. Sometimes a tree may be saved by cutting infected branches back well below the area of infection. Fertilizing the tree in early spring to stimulate vigorous growth may improve its chances.
Q. Many of the blossoms on our tomato plants dried up and fell off. What was wrong?
A. Some varieties of tomatoes will not set fruit when daytime temperatures go above 90. Also, there could be too much nitrogen in the soil.
Q. Should a newly planted tree, five feet tall, be staked?
A. If the tree is likely to topple over, or if the wind could cause swaying of the trunk to loosen the roots, the tree should be staked. Otherwise, no: A young tree standing alone with its top free to move usually becomes a strong tree able to withstand the elements.
Q. A great big green worm is eating the leaves of my tomato plant. What can I do?
A. This is the tomato hornworm, a green worm three inches long with a horn on its tail and a ravenous appetite. It also feeds on the foliage of eggplant, pepper and potato.
In a garden with not many tomato plants, the best control is to pick then off: They cannot sting or bite. Spraying with Sevin can be effective but picking them off is much easier.
Q. My bluegrass lawn looks like it has mildew on it. Could this be possible?
A. Some grasses are susceptible to powdery mildew, and Merion bluegrass is very susceptible when growing in shade. Usually no control is needed. Where the grass is badly hurt, spray with Acti-done. Follow directions in the label for mix and application. Repeat 10 days later if necessary.
Q. We have hundreds of lightning bugs in our yard every night flashing their light. Does anybody know why they do it?
A. When they flash their light it is their mating signal. They are ready for love.
Q. We love the crape myrtle, but ours requires constant spraying to overcome powdery mildew. What can we use to replace it that will bloom in late summer?
A. Your best bet is another crape myrtle, resistant to the powerey mildew fungus. Several have been developed: Catawba, Powhatan, Cherokee and Seminole.
Q. I have four large maple trees in my yard and get bushels of leaves from them every fall. I also have a very good compost grinder. Is it a good idea to grind the leaves and then rotary-till them in?
A. It can be done, provided inorganic nitrogen is applied at the same time: Use about two cups of 5-10-5 per bushel of leaves. This would not be necessary if the leaves were composted.