Q: What is a starter solution and how is it used on tomatoes? A: A starter solution is a mixture of fertilizer with a high percentage of phosphorus dissolved in water. It can counteract high and low soil temperatures that tend to restrict plant growth. With low phosphorus levels a soil temperature varying only a few degrees from 59 degrees F. significantly inhibits growth. To make a starter solution, mix three to four tablespoons of 5-10-5 fertilizer in a gallon of water. Dig the hole for the plant, put the plant in the hole and then apply a cup of the starter solution. Research has shown that it can increase the yield as much as 40 percent. Q: Is it possible to start asparagus plants from seed? If so, I'd like to try it. A: The best asparagus plants often are the ones grown from seed. The disadvantage is that it takes three years to get a crop instead of the two when roots are purchased. The seeds are listed in most seed catalogues. Q: Enclosed are some American holly leaves. What's wrong with them? A: American holly leaves are disfigured by blotches and winding tunnels caused by maggots feeding between the leaf surfaces. The mines become apparent in late fall after the maggots have done considerable feeding. In the spring the maggots change to small black flies, emerge, then return to puncture the new leaves and deposit eggs in them. Spraying the new leaves as they unfold with Sevin or Cygon will control the flies before they can puncture the leaves and lay eggs. In all cases, read the directions on the label for mix and application and follow them closely. Q: As children we had to eat spinach, and some actually developed a taste for it. What does spinach have that so enchants mothers? A: Spinach is very nutritious: a half-cup serving furnishes all of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for an adult man. It also adds appreciable amounts of vitamin C to the diet, more of the B vitamin and riboflavin than many other vegetables, and it ranks high in iron. Frozen, canned or fresh, it is a Mom-pleaser. Q: Can I put moth balls around my shrubs in front of the house to keep dogs and cats away from them? A: Moth balls have questionable value as a repellant for dogs and cats. They are poisonous and should not be put anywhere children may get at them. There are chemicals on the market sold as dog and cat repellants, but they are seldom effective after the first heavy rain. Q: Can you suggest some flowers for poor soil? A: Try some of the hardy daylily varieties. They will tolerate full sun and partial shade but must have good drainage. Q: My azalea plants have a disease; can you tell me what it is and how to cure it? A: The specimen leaves how serious injury from lace bugs. Usually they attack only plants growing in full sun. They feed by sucking juice from the underside of the leaves and multiply rapidly.An infestation allowed to go unchecked can ruin a plant in one season. Specialists recommend spraying with Sevin or Malathion for lace bug control. Directions on the label should be followed closely. Q: Is it all right to prune our wisteria, and when is the best time? A: A Chinese wisteria old enough to bloom can be pruned severely after if blooms and will bloom as well as, or even better than, if left unpruned. The Japanese wisteria blooms better if left unpruned. The blossoms of the Chinese open before the leaves appear; those of the Japanese develop with the unfolding of the leaves. Q: Last year the bottoms of my beefmaster tomatoes split open when they started to turn red. What causes this and can it be prevented? A: Too much rain when tomatoes are ripening could be the cause. The flesh of the tomato swells faster than the skin, and the skin splits. There is nothing practical that can be done about it. Q: Two of my young pines have some kind of white stuff in the joints. Is it anything I should do something about? A: It probably is a white mass of waxy filament secreted by pine bark beetles. Spraying with spectracide (diazinon) is usually effective. Directions on the label should be followed closely. Q: When is the best time to prune azaleas? Mine need it badly. A: The best time is before they break dormancy in early spring or immediately after they finish blooming.If they're badly overgrown, cut back one-third of the stems this year, one-third next year and one-third the following year. Q: Why do the lower branches on my Norfolk Island Pine drop off? A: The Norfolk Island pine may lose its lower branches and even die if it does not receive proper care. It needs cool nights, 55 degrees to 60 degrees F., and good light during the winter, light fertilization at least once a year, 40 to 50 percent relative humidity (but it can tolerate lower humidity if other factors are agreeable) and soil that is moist but not soggy. Q: There are a lot of small holes, about the size of a pencil, in the bark of my pine tree. Do you know what causes them and will they ruin the tree? A: It is probably due to sapsuckers, small birds that pass through in late winter and early spring on their way north. They stop here and there to feed on tissue just below the bark. The holes usually heal without treatment, but repeated attacks year after year may endanger the tree. Q: We want to grow some vegetables in our back yard this year. The only place available gets little or no sunlight. What can we plant there? A: Sunlight is absolutely necessary to produce healthy high-quality vegetables. You may be able to grow lettuce and a few other leafy kinds, but the quality will be poor. Q: What kind of care does an Easter cactus need? A: The Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter cacti all need bright light but no direct sunlight. Water when the soil feels dry; fertilize lightly every two weeks from early May to late June. Q: Some of my holly trees bloom and bear lots of berries; some bloom but bear no berries. Why? A: There are male holly trees and female ones. The females bear berries; the males do not. Q: The past two years my lilies-of-the-valley have had few blooms.I love their delicious fragrance. What could be wrong? A: Most likely they need to be dug and separated. The spread rapidly when growing in good soil andlight shade and usually need to be divided every three or four years. The time to do it is in the fall when the foliage starts to turn brown. They can be replanted immediately. Q: My wisteria has flower buds on it for the first time this spring, and the birds are eating them. Is there any way to protect them? A: Birds, squirrels and rabbits often cause such damage.In most cases there is little that can be done that is practical. Almost every way known to man has been tried to keep them away, from scarecrows to firecrackers, and still the search goes on. Q: I've been told that when green needles fall from a pine tree, it is a sign of a air pollution. Is this true? A: Air pollution can damage conifers more severely than hardwoods, causing them to lose their year-round needles prematurely. With fewer needles, the trees do not have the ability to maintain normal food-production levels and become weakened and vulnerable to insects, diseases and other environmental stesses. Q: We have spiders in our house. Do they do much harm, and how can we get rid of them? A: Actually, spiders are beneficial more than anything else. They feed primarily on flies, moths, cockroaches and other bothersome pests, including other spiders. Only the black widow and the brown recluse are harmful to humans. The best way to get rid of them is to use a broom. Q: We severely pruned our ligustrum bushes last fall. Is fertilizer necessary to give them a healthy start this spring? A: Ligustrums have an amazing ability to quickly rejuvenate themselves. Remember, you pruned them because they were too large, and fertilizer will simply speed up their recovery to become overgrown shrubs. Q: Is it true that ahses from a woodstove or fireplace can be used as a liming material? A: Ashes will help reduce soil acidity as well as provide some potash. Q: We want to start a hedge of Russian olive. When should we put out cuttings? A: Russian olive (Eleagnus) can be rooted from cuttings of mature wood taken in the spring. It can also be rooted by layering, pulling a low branch down to the ground, scratching the bark, covering the would with soil, and putting a brick or stone over the branch to hold it down.