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Roses - Black Spot

Grapes - Black Rot

Lawns - Grubs

Lawns - Crabgrass

Poison Ivy - Removal

Squash Vine Borer

Lily Leaf Beetle

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General Gardening Questions

Q. When does the new mulch (ground hemlock) deprive the plants of nitrogen? In the beginning, all the time or as it is breaking down? Normally when I plant a new garden I plant in 100% compost then cover it all white hemlock mulch. This year I added a big perennial garden and did not have enough compost. So I planted in the regular soil.I mulched and now I am concerned the mulch will take the nitrogen from my plants. I have been trying to decide just how to deal with the problem before it becomes a problem. When does the mulch take the nitrogen from the plants, as it is breaking down or all the time? I would like to add something over the mulch so I do not have to dig everything and mix it in . I though of dried blood, but do not know how long the nitrogen in that will last. I also thought of adding a time reloaded fertilizer. Last but not least I thought maybe the miracle grow that you spray out of the hose. I have started applying that once a week, Will it be enough and how long should I do it? all season?  Normally  I do not water my gardens a lot, just in times of real drought, that is why I add the mulch to keep the moisture in so I do not have to water.

A. New mulch will rob nitrogen from the plants as it is breaking down, so some extra nitrogen should be added now. You can use Miracle-gro, which means you are committed to spraying it on periodically thru the summer, as it is just a quick fix fertilizer which is going to run off fairly quickly compared to organic fertilizer or granular chemical fertilizers like 10-10-10, etc. In any case, the fertilizers should be scratched into the soil, which means moving the mulch out of the way around each plant. If that's too much work, the Miracle-grow is your easiest way out, since you don't have to scratch that in. Check the label to make sure you are not adding it too often- every week may be too much. You don't want to burn the plants.


Q. I have 50 or so small tree and shrub stumps throughout my yard.  Most of the stumps are amongst perennial and evergreen groundcover, which I do not want to damage.  How can I keep suckers from growing up from the stumps?

A. You have several options.  Try to grub up as many of the stumps as you can for a start. If you don't want to use a herbicide, all you can do is to keep cutting off the sprouts at ground level.  This will deprive the roots of energy and after a year or two they will die off.  It will help if you cut the stumps off as close to the ground as possible and cover them completely with dirt or mulch.

Alternatively, you could use an herbicide, applying it either to the leaves of the sprouts or painting it on the cut ends of the stumps (make a fresh cut).  Check out a garden center for specific herbicide recommendations and READ THE LABEL before applying. Because of the other plants around, you will probably have to paint the herbicide on rather than spraying it, which could kill off your perennials!


Q. I've missed the opportunity to lime my lawn this spring. My yard is lined with tall pine trees and there a number of wet spots. Moss growth is increasing. Can I lime a few times during the summer and early fall - and be OK?

A. You can lime at any time. Lime dissolves slowly there is no danger of burning. BUT do you really need it? This is best answered by a pH test. Over liming can lead toproblems with your grass. You mentioned pine trees (shade & Acid from the needles) and moss. Moss usually grows where no other plants will grow. Liming will not stop moss. Check the fertility (low will permit moss growth)Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. (10-10-10) At the rate of 3lbs per 100ft square per growing season.(10x10= 100ft sq} This is applied in 4 segments at the rate of no more than 3/4lb per 100 ft square in any one month. May & June and again Sept & Oct Just before a rain is ideal. Do not apply during drought or dry spells. An increase in the soil fertility will permit the lawn grasses to grow. The moss will be shaded out.

You may need to re-seed with a shade grass such as a Fescue blend in the shady areas. You might also need to consider some drainage for the wet spots, Grass does not grow well in constant standing water.

The pine needles can be raked up and disposed or composted. When they decompose they leave an acid residue. They could be used as a mulch around Azaleas, Rhoddodendron, Holly and Blueberries.


Q. Over the past 3 days we have noticed hundreds of caterpillars in our yard near the hot blacktop driveway ? I do not have any trees in this area so I did not think they were Gypsy moths ???  They are approx 1/2 " to 1 " long, thin and black.  They seem to be crawling out of the grass ???  Is there anything I can do ?

A. One draw-back of this system is we cannot actually see a sample of the creature you describe.  However, in discussion with another master gardener we speculate that you may be seeing sod webworms.

Sod webworm larvae are actually caterpillars. (To check, mix a couple of tablespoons of dish soap with a gallon of water and pour it on the nearby lawn, the caterpillars should come to the surface, because the soap irritates them.) For treatment you could use B. T. or an insecticidal soap drench. ( 2 tablespoons insecticidal soap concentrate for each gallon of water). Or you can ask your garden center to recommend another insecticide. We do not recommend things like diazinon. Web worms feed by clipping the grass blades off at the soil surface. The adult moth (white) does not feed but will lay more eggs.

Some new information was just broadcast on the UMASS Extension Landscape report which may apply to your sighting although you described the caterpillars as being black: The UMass Turf Insect Diagnostic lab has received reports from southeastern Massachusetts that some home lawns are being inundated with caterpillars of some sort. Still waiting for actual specimen and based on the descriptions, the guess is the lawns are being attacked by one of the species of

ARMYWORMS. One species which has been active in Ohio already this spring is the armyworm, Pseudaletia unipuncta.   This is most like the culprit in Massachusetts as well.  Caterpillars of this species tend to be gray or green with a hint of pink, but they also have a distinct light-colored stripe along the side of the body.  There is also a thinner dark stripe that includes the black spiracles on its lower edge.  Caterpillars approach one and one-half inches before they begin to pupate.

Armyworms tend to move in large numbers (hence the name) and can be devastating in areas where they congregate.  The damage can appear seemingly overnight, if one of these "armies" appears in an area.  It is not know what conditions were so favorable this past winter or spring; but apparently, we are in for quite an onslaught.

Control options are limited once caterpillars reach an inch in length.  The good news is that most caterpillars of that size will be finishing their feeding fairly soon, so they will not continue to cause damage.  However, you can figure they have some brothers and sisters along with them.  If desperation reigns, a lawn-approved insecticide that has armyworms on the label, may offer some relief--no guarantees.  Armyworms normally are more active at night (believe it or not!), so applications made late in the day will be "fresher" when the caterpillars return to the surface to feed.

Overseed the damaged areas of your lawn.  Broadcast seed over damaged areas, roll to make sure seed is in contact with soil and water well.  Fall is the best time to do this, if you do it now it will take alot of extra effort i.e. making sure the area does not dry out, staying off the newly planted area until it has a chance to grow


Q. I live in Pepperell Mass. and I am dealing with Red Thread on my lawn.  I follow the Scotts 4 step program every year (home is three years old) and this is the second spring that my lawn has

showed the disease.  I applied step 2 about four weeks ago and just started noticing the red threads.  I am contemplating treating the lawn with a 25-0-0 fertilizer (1 lb/1000 sq. ft?) like I did last year and it seemed to work. We are very apprehensive about applying a fungicide to the lawn.

A. I've done some research into Red Thread. It is a disease that occurs when the grass is under stress.  You must remove or at least reduce the stress. Here are the most common causes:

Compaction of the soil, (cars, feet , kids etc).

Low or unbalanced fertility.

Apply 3lbs of a balanced  (10-10-10) fertilizer to a 100 square foot area per growing season. Apply in  ONE FOURTH amounts 4 times. Thus: 3/4 lb once in May, then in June and then in September and in October. Best applied just before a rain. DO NOT apply more than 3/4 lb in any one month or during a drought. Scalping or short mowing, Set the mower higher.

Poor drainage, Be sure that the lawn cannot remain soaked. Provide run off areas.

Wrong soil pH.  Avoid excessive use of lime.

Salt stress, Salt from roads and driveways is harmful.

Woody Ornamentals

Q. Our kousa dogwood is looking more like a bush than a tree.  I feel like I need to trim some of the branches at the botttom to give it some shape as it looks terrible.  Is this a good time to trim branches off this or should I wait until Fall?  Or is this something I should not be doing?

A. Corrective pruning should be done in the spring.  Do not prune out more than 1/3 of the plant in one year.  If your dogwood needs a lot of branches pruned out, do it in stages over several years.  This will ensure that the tree will not be stressed unduly.  Your local library will have books on pruning. There are right and wrong ways to prune so I suggest you borrow one of these books, for example do not prune a branch flush with the trunk.  Take a picture of your dogwood when the leaves are off and plan which branches to prune that would give your tree the shape you want.


Q. I have many rose of sharon plants and was wondering the best way to care >for them.  When to prune or fertilize or just let them be if they are doing well.

A. Rose of Sharon is very easy.  You can feed them with a liquid fertilizer once a month or so to encourage flowering. Pruning can be done as needed to control size. Remember that if you prune during the summer you will remove some flower buds. You can prune them in the early spring (Apr) to remove dead canes. Most will die back to the soil over winter.


Q. I live in NE Conn. (Top of zone five).  I have 5 different varieties of daylilies. The foliage is just huge. (getting ready to divide next year?) Not one flower spike has started to emerge as of June 20. Am I too impatient?

A. Repeat-blooming daylillies require frequent division, about every two years to keep them vigorous and strongly blooming.  They are also heavy feeders and should be given both a spring granular and summer liquid feeding.  Deadheading is critical for good reblooming. That being said, I am hopeful that flower spikes will emerge.  Some daylillies, like the smaller varieties are showing spikes, however, I have several varieties which are yet to produce spikes.


Q. I would like to know if Galium which I always call Sweet Woodruff comes in colors. All my books show it as only coming in white and a friend of mine has it showing as coming in colors. If it does come in colors I would like to have info as to where the seeds or plants can be purchased.

A. To my knowledge, Sweet Woodruff comes only in white.  You could contact some of the specialized growers to inquire.


Q. Last year many of my impatiens developed yellow leaves, in addition, many leaves had black spots.  What caused this, how can I prevent this from happening this year?

A. It sounds as if there may be more than one reason for the symptoms you describe on your impatiiens plants. Yellow leaves can be caused by many things including lack of nitrogen, insufficient light, water-logged soil (plant roots need oxygen to thrive), dry soil, or iron deficiency. If the older bottom leaves are yellow, but new growth is green, it's usually a lack of nitrogen. If new leaves are yellow, with green veins, it's usually a lack of iron. (Lack of nitrogen is a more common problem than lack of iron.) Soil should be kept moderately moist (but not wet). Finally, transplant shock can contribute to yellowing. You didn't say whether you fertilized or not. I'd suggest trying a balanced fertilizer to see if that helps. Also, this fall or next spring, I'd recommend adding a generous layer of organic matter/compost to your bed.

It also sounds like your impatiens may have been suffering from  leaf-spot disease  A number of different fungi can cause this affliction. It is mostly a cosmetic problem, rarely killing the plant. Leaf-spot fungi are spread by the wind, insects, splashing water and even tools that have come in contact with it on other plants. This organism is most active in humid areas where the temperature ranges from about 50oF to 85oF.

My suggestion would be to become a fastidious "housekeeper" in this part of the garden. Rake up those leaves, clean your tools (a little bleach goes a long way -- use a solution made from 9 parts water and 1 part bleach to disinfect your tools) and perhaps add some clean mulch under them to prevent splashing raindrops!


Q. I am looking for advice on a Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nikko Blue'.  This is the third year since we planted it.  It's leaves look very healthy but I see no signs of buds.  I don;t know when it should be pruned; that might be the problem.  Last year we had a few flowers and we pruned it severely this spring.                                                                                                                                 

A. Hydrangeas that refuse to bloom can be very frustrating, but there are probably a couple of good reasons why you are having trouble.

Flower buds on macrophylla are formed on the previous season's growth, so by pruning it heavily in the spring, you essentially cut off any potential blooms for this year.  The time to prune this variety is right after bloom in the summer.  Any pruning done in the spring should be limited to snipping off dead bits and pieces that didn't make it through the winter.

Another reason for failure to bloom (even if you manage to do all the right pruning), is the fact that macrophylla is a Zone 6 plant, and we try to grow it here in WMass which is mostly Zone 5.  Many people have good microclimates in parts of their yards and can manage to grow a beautiful blooming plant,  but quite often the flower buds are nipped by the cold winter weather.  There is a reason that you see these shrubs alot on the Cape - they are just that much warmer than we are.  You might want to try a little winter protection.

Diseases – Tree - Arborvitae

A. Possibilities range from foul play (a neighbor who hates arborvitae, or thinks it's blocking his view from his driveway, let's hope not!) to some kind of disease such as Leaf Blight, or an inconspicuous insect like the arborvitae leaf miner. Does the end of the line face the street where road salt can contaminate the soil?

Does the tree die all at once, or do the leaves gradually brown and drop off?

Leaf Blight (Fabrella thujina) presents this way: 1-3 or more irregularly circular brown to black cushions appear on the tiny leaves in late spring.  Leaves then turn brown, and the affected areas appear as though scorched by fire.  Toward fall the leaves drop leaving the branches bare. The Leaf Miner (Argyresthia thuiella) makes the leaf tips turn brown as a result of the feeding within the leaves of the leaf miner maggot. Adult stage is a small gray moth with a wingspread of 1/3 inch.  The maggots overwinter in the leaves. one method of control is to trim and destroy the infected leaves. There are sprays to use in early June when eggs hatch - look in a garden center for an insecticide labelled for the miner.

Further details from you about the salt question and symptoms might help with a more definitive diagnosis. As to your question about the new one you put in, the 'Emerald Green', browning of the interior needles is common.  If the browning spreads to the exterior, then there may be a problem.

Diseases – Tree – Sour Cherry

Q. The top half of our sour cherry tree has flopped over in the past few weeks.  The tree stands at 25' - 30' feet and has five or six main branches with lots of leave and berries on them.  I've noticed that a white powdery like mold covers much of the lower half of the tree and it is oozing sap from the branches in different locations.  The tree has not experienced any trauma (lightning strikes, etc.), and I don't think the berry weight is the cause.

A. You have one sick tree.  I will research the specific symptoms and get back to you, but it sounds like a fungus is attacking the tree.  The type of fungus can sometimes be identified by the shape and color of the canker.  One possibility is Bacterial Canker.  At this stage, you might want to contact a Certified Arborist to see if the tree can be saved.  Look in the phone book under "Tree Services" or "Tree Surgeons".

Diseases – Plants – Grapes

Q. I'm wondering if you can identify what's going on with my grapes.  I'm attaching a picture of what the problem(s) is(are).  [Picture shows diagnostic white spots with brown rings and black, shriveled grapes).  I think the vines are 10+ years old but theywere transplanted to their present location about 5 years ago.  The individual grapes themselves are falling off.  They aren't shriveling up before they fall. When they reach maturity many grapes will fall off with the slightest disturbance.  This has been happening since the vines started producing.

A. It looks like you have "black rot". For a full description and control recommendations, check out:

Important - immediately remove and destroy (do NOT compost) all diseased plant material. Keep the plants dry, if possible. Insure that you have good air circulation.

Diseases – Plants – Flowers – Tulips

Q. Last fall I planted some new "Angelique" tulip bulbs.  They came up this spring and budded but did not bloom -- just sort of withered.  Some bulbs of the same variety that I've had for several years bloomed, but looked sort of pathetic: not very large, not very good color.  These older bulbs are in a sunny location; the ones that didn't bloom are in a shadier spot, though it gets quite a lot of sun in spring, before the trees leaf out.  We live in a mostly wooded area. Is there any hope for these bulbs, or should I just dig them up & throw them away?  Are all "Angelique" bulbs like this?

A. It's hard to be specific without seeing the bulbs, but there are a number of diseases that could be responsible for the problems you describe.  Angeliques are a late-blooming, double tulip.  It is possible that the cool, wet, late spring weather impacted them negatively.  Tulips prefer sun and need well drained soil.  A hit of "bulb-booster" type fertilizer when planting them is also useful.

The three most probable diseases are gray bulb rot, which is evidenced by rotted bulbs covered with heavy gray mold; stem rot, in which the bulbs are okay, but the stalks shrivel; or winter injury, in which the roots fail to develop properly over the winter.  Dig up a bulb or two and see what they look like.  In all cases, you need to make sure you have well drained soil and good air circulation.  If you have gray bulb rot or stem rot, dispose of diseaased plant materials (do NOT compost them) and plant in a different area next year.  To improve soil drainage, augument the soil with sand and organic matter.  In extreme cases, you can put a layer of gravel 6 inches below the bulb planting level, but this is a lot of work.

Diseases - Vegetables

Q.  Type of garden:  Vegetable; Planted Early June; Type of plants:  Cucumbers (2 mounds with 2 plants each) , Zucchini (1 plant on one mound), Yellow Squash (2 plants one mound each), Butternut squash(2 plants 1 mound each, celery 3, tomatoes  6, sunflowers 10 one foot apart).

Problem: last week noted one cucumber plant on a mound wilted (dead), the night before it was perfectly fine; the other one on the same mound was fine.  The next evening, same thing, now the other one was dead.  Now: last night, noted the second cucumber mound with 2 plants, one plant dead (wilted, buds still bloomed).  This plant was perfectly healthy and beautiful the night before.  The other plant was fine this morning (I will check it when I get home).   I also noticed the same thing happening to my sunflowers. One by one they are dropping dead within 24 hours of being healthy. There are no bug bites on the leaves, the roots are perfect.  .  My neighbor seems to think it could be a virus caused by a small black/yellow bug on the squash plants. I put Seven on the plants last night.

A. This sounds like bacterial wilt.  Bacterial wilt can be a real pain in your garden.  It is spread by an insect, and once they take up residence it seems a constant battle to get rid of them.  hen you plant and cucurbits in the future, try covering the plants with light-weight row cover which will discourage the striped cucumber beetle.  Leave it on as much as possible, but you will need to remove it when the plants flower to allow for pollination.

Insects – Woody Ornamentals

Q. I noticed at the base of my flowering almond a mass, which looked like the bark. I scratched it away and found worms about a half inch long. I guess they are eating the bark and killing the tree. How can i get rid of them? There is a bit of the skin showing after scraping the bark off to get the worms out. Do you think it's to late for the shrub?

A. This is an egg case that you found.  Most likely the larvae ("worms") are not eating the bark, but if they hatched out, they might go after the leaves.  Destroy the egg case and keep your eye open for others.  I can't identify it specifically from your description, but unless the tree is girdled (bark removed all the way around) it should be fine.  Watch for damage to the leaves and apply an appropriate insect control if damage becomes excessive.  Do not spray the tree if no leaf damage is present.  Consult your garden center for specific products and read the label carefully.


Q. My white pine are infested with some type of boring bug that is killing them.

A. Sounds like your pine may have a Pitch Mass Borer. The larva of this clear winged moth chew their way into the vascular area of pines. The process generally can go on for 2-3 years until the larva reach maturity. The telltale sign is a large glob of pitch on the main trunk. Usually pitch is a natural defense which protects the tree from infestation, but this borer uses it for shelter and protection while feeding on the nutrient rich area under the bark. The recommended control is to remove the pitch glob, excise and destroy the larva. There is usually only one infestation, but if the tree is particularly stressed, such as from drought, there may be more.

Insects – Flowers

Q. Can I do anything about the white spots on my columbine?  Is it a fungus that spreads to other plants? I see the same spots on the leaves of blanket flowers I planted last year (may be called painted blanket) though they have full lovely blooms. I'm in Springfield.

A. Are they trailing lines (serpentine trail eaten through the middle of the leaf)?  If so, the spots are probably caused by the leaf miner on the columbine. Remove and destroy infested leaves on columbine to help control the leaf miner, continuing throughout summer.

I don't know of any pests or diseases that affect gallardia (blanket flower).  I've had it in my arden for a long time and it seems pretty immune to any problems.  I will keep checking though, and see if I can come up with anything.

Insects – Lilies

Q. I have red bugs eating all of the leaves on my Lillies. I think they are called Lilly beatles.  What Pesticide should I use on them?

A. What you have is the lily leaf beetle.  To check out management options, see this web site:

This is the official UMass Extension recommendations on this beastie.

Insects – Vegetables - Potatoes

Q. My potatoes have come up vigorously and now are rotting off at the dirt level after we hilled them. Just below the surface of the dirt the stem is getting black and rotting. I'm putting some "docacil" on them assuming its a virus of some kind.

A. Following up on the potatoes, the problem could be one of three or four different fungal or bacterial diseases.  Are there any foliar symptoms (changes in the leaves) and if so, can you describe them?  Also, are there any signs on the tubers themselves?

Insects – Vegetables - Squash

Q. I have a decent size home garden, and for that past two orr three seasons I have had trouble with my summer squash and pumpkin plants.  There is a sudden wilting of the plant.  At first it does respond to watering.  In only a day or two the leaves begin to yellow and the entire plant looses turgor and dies.  I have done some research and at first I had thaught it might have been bacterial wilt passed on by the cucumber beetle.  I went on a chemical control program using roternone last year.  I still had the same problems.  The cucumber beetle populations were down and really lot a problem.  So I searched for answers again.  The squash vine borer is what I found.  There was "orange sawdust" at the base of the wilting plant.  And when I examined the plant I found the larvae inside.  So this year I went on a chemical control program every seven days.  Alternating between three chemicals.  The chemicals were Sevin, Roternone, and Bayer advanced insecticide.  I am not sure of the A.I. in the bayer.  I baught it at a local garden center.  All of these chemicals are liquid formulations.  So after three years of loosing summer squash and pumpkins, I have no idea what to do next. I don't understand the life cycle of the vine borer.  But every seven days should have knocked anything down to levels that are acceptable.  Do you have any suggestions?

A. Squash vine borer is a common pest of curcurbits.  Basically, the moth lays its eggs at the base of the vine and the larvae eat their way into the hollow stems (hence the "sawdust").  Once inside the stem, the larvae are protected from chemical attack.  Recommendations are to keep the plants covered with a fine mesh cloth until the flowers appear.  This will keep the moths away.  You need to remove the mesh so that the bees can fertilize the flowers.  Check the bases of the stems for egg masses each morning and remove any you find.  Destroy dead and invaded stems or put them in the trash to avoid a second generation.  Some people try to kill the larvae by probing up invaded stems with a fine wire, but this is not really successful.

Note that some squash varieties are more susceptible than others. The ones with the best resistance are the patty pan types. For a full discussion, check out:

Insects – Vegetables - Tomatoes

Q. I grow big tall tomatoes plants in the backyard in boxes. They are not wanting for anything in terms of fertilizer, I start with fresh manure, compost, 6-12-12, pro-mix, and water each night about a gal. each plant. One a week I give them a feeding of miracle grow tomato fertilizer. Last year I did the same thing with 10ft. high plants, some yellowing, lots of tomatoes, basically good luck.

This year the leafs are curling just at the top, the rest of the plant is really healthy. the leaves feel dry, and there doesn't seem to be good fruit setting.

A. The tomatoes sound like they might also be being over watered.  Dig carefully to see if the roots are rotting.  If so, let the soil dry out a bit between waterings.  Let me know what you find.  Are the curled leaves still green or are they yellow and spotted?  Do you see any insect damage? Are you getting bees around to pollinate the flowers?

One possible explanation for the lack of fruit set is a condition known as “Blossom drop”.  This can result from a magnesium deficiency or from a fungus.  If your soil is deficient in magnesium, you can apply Epsom salts by dissolving one tablespoon in a gallon of water.

Field Maintenance

Q. I live in South Hadley, Ma. and have created a mini-field bordering my woodland. I'm looking for information on field management. I've found limited information. University of Maine has a page on Hayfield Renovation which I found informative, but they did not explain "frost seeding" and "no-till seeding". They advised "contacting Cooperative Extension educators and specialists for advice on these options". Could you direct me to information/resources appropriate for our region?

A. I am looking for more resources, but it would help if you could tell me a little more about what you want to do with the field. First, how big is the field? Second, do you want to grow hay, manage it as a wildflower and wildlife meadow, graze livestock, or something else?


Q. !  have a question about cats in the garden.  How can I keep them out of a newly planted vegetable garden?  I have 2 cats that go into my neighbor's yard and dig in her garden, disrupting her seedlings and plants.  This is causing a problem because I am new to the neighborhood and she never had this happen before.    Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated.  ( we already tried moth crystals on the perimeter to no avail)

A. This is a very common problem with free-roaming cats.  They like to dig their potty holes in nice soft soil or sand, and not many things will stop them.  Some people say that sprinkling cayenne pepper thickly over the soil in the garden will offend them enough to keep them away.  The simplest solution, of course, is to keep the cats indoors: as my veteranarian son-in-law says, an indoor cat is a healthy cat, because he doesn't have the opportunity to pick up parasites, fleas or injuries from fighting!  There are animal repellants in garden centers; you could offer to buy and apply them on your neighbor's garden if you feel your cats must be allowed outdoors.  It is fortunate that your neighbor let you know about the problem, instead of taking violent measures as some have been know to do.  I hope you can find a solution that satisfies your neighbor - this kind of thing can poison neighborly relations for good, and that can be uncomfortable. After all, neighbors are good for watering your garden when you're away, and sharing their garden products!


Q. This year for the first time some animal is breaking down my corn stalks. It happened just this week when the corn stalks are about 3 feet high. One third of my small 4 row planting were either trampled or bitten down. There seems to be small bites at the base of the stalk, and up about 4-6 inches. There was also a whole dug in the patch with a much smaller corn plant dug up and cast aside.  I tried to stake the corn stalks thinking the amimal was looking for grubs and just trampled the patch, but the following day 2 more of my stalks were broken, and it looks like a small bite or nip actually was taken out of the stalk which broke it. What can I do to keep these pests away. I think it might be a skunk because we have smelled it at night, and also our lawn has been quite dug up.

A. It sounds to me as if you have a raccoon visiting your cornpatch - I don't think that a skunk would do such extensive damage as you describe.  Whatever it is, now that it knows where the "good stuff" is, it will be hard to discourage the critter.

Your two best approaches are probably exclusion or trapping .  By exclusion, I mean some kind of fencing or way of keeping animals out of the garden.  This might be a wire or wooden fence, or even an electric fence.  The best way for a home-owner to trap is to use a " have-a-heart "trap which is a humane way to trap an animal alive.  This usually results in rather easily capturing the animal ( raccoon, woodchuck, skunk, or whatever ).  The problem becomes what to do with the animal afterward.  Legally, you cannot release the animal on any property other than you own, which isn't always that helpful.

There is no easy answer for dealing with the larger critters that invade our gardens.  Hopefully you will be able to discourage it before it discourages you!  It becomes part of the challenge of gardening.

If you think that you are dealing with something larger than a raccoon, skunk, or woodchuck, then I would suspect a deer, coyote, or bear - but not knowing where you live, it is hard to know if those are a possibility.  In any case, if they were the problem, there would be alot of trampling of the corn besides the munching.  Again, fences are probably the best solution, if possible.

House Plants

Q. I am looking for a list of flowering indoor plants that will do well in front of a southern exposure window.

A.  Here are a few plants that should meet your criteria.  More information about these can be found at

Easter Lily
Pocketbook Plant, Slipper Flower, Pouch Flower (Calceolaria herbeohybrida )
* requires a period of darkness to flower

Master Gardener Programs

Q. How do I become a Western Mass Master Gardener?

A. Our Master Gardener classes start in January. You may request an application by sending an email to When the classes are completed the interns are required to volunteer 60 hours in various activities before they receive their certificate and pin. We are a volunteer association and our members support our activiites. Thank you for your interest in our classes!


Q. Is there a Master Gardener Program in Connecticut?

A. Yes.  Here is the contact information:


Q. Is there a Master Gardener Program in Eastern Massachusetts”

A. Yes.  Here is the contact information: Mass. Horticultural Society deals with the public in the east. Their hotline is M-W-F 10-2 year round (781) 235-2116.