Last year I broke out in very itchy, weeping pustules on my legs … hands and feet but never saw any bugs on me, my clothes or my bed. At that time, I found insects on my dog. I thought it was flea dirt until I saw them move. They are round and black with a small white spot on their backs. My doctor thinks these insects may be the cause [of my pustules]. Now my dog has them again. Can you identify them?
The white dot on the back identifies these as lone star ticks. The itchy pustules, especially on legs, are typical. The ticks tend to bite multiple times, so the sheer number of bites is another positive identifier. When newly hatched, the lone star is minute, with no dot and not even all eight legs, so it is not easily seen. Lone star ticks can carry diseases. An unusual danger is that the tick bite may trigger an allergic reaction if you eat red meat. Read more at cdc.gov/stari/disease and take steps to prevent your dog from coming in contact with ticks. Alert your veterinarian and inform your doctor when bitten by this tick.
I have planted some Chickasaw plums (Prunus angustifolia) to border my property because I love their taste. Nearby is a wooded area, then a golf course. Will the plums be invasive?
The above tree is a native plant, and not invasive. It can form suckering colonies. In maintained areas, regular mowing should control suckers. In natural areas it can create a small colony, but only where it gets enough sunlight and moisture.
University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click "Ask Maryland's Gardening Experts" to send questions 24/7.
Plant of the week
This native starts to bloom at a surprisingly young age. In spring, the red to pinkish-red panicles — almost 1 foot long —draw hummingbirds and, says horticulturist William Cullina, rival the floral display of rhododendrons. A large shrub or small tree, it grows at a moderate rate into a 10- to 20-foot open mound. Large, glossy leaves stay attractive all season, and it does not sucker like some buckeyes. Plant in moist, well-drained soil amended with organic material. Native to the East Coast, red buckeye is an adaptable plant that prefers acidic soil and blooms in sun to full shade, but does better with more sun. Plants can vary in bloom color, including yellow. Cultivars are available.