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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Is an ant hill the problem?

Under some of my cabbage and broccoli plants there are ant hills. The stems look weak on those plants compared to others. Are the ants eating the plants?

Ants don't eat garden plants, but a large colony can interfere with a root system and thus stunt a plant. While ants are helpful when they aerate the soil or churn the soil, bringing up nutrients from deep soil, you may have a case of too much of a good thing. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the ant hills. The sharp edges on this powder of fossilized diatoms should penetrate and kill enough ants to reduce the population. Reapply after rain. Another option would be to move the plants.

This spring, my cherry tree was magnificent and then, bam, it died. It managed to grow a few leaves, I guess, but what killed it?

A dying tree, in a last-gasp attempt to perpetuate the species, will sometimes use its remaining resources to bloom and produce seed. Doing so, it can produce an extravagantly heavy bloom or seed set. Then, exhausted, it quickly dies. Often the tree has been declining for years, with shortened new growth, smaller leaves, thinning canopy and some branches dying. At this stage, we can't say what killed your tree. Once a tree is dead, it's almost impossible to diagnose the cause. Try to be alert to changes in your plants and contact us as soon as a problem starts.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the weekMealy Cup Sage 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'

Graceful and calming, blue is a great color in the garden and is often underused. Flowering constantly from May through frost with spires of tiny, tightly packed bluish-purple blossoms, salvia Victoria Blue has the added benefit of drawing hungry pollinators and butterflies. It grows compactly between 1 and 2 feet, providing a low-maintenance upright accent for your summer garden and makes a lovely addition to cut-flower arrangements. Salvia grows best in full sun to light shade in evenly moist soil. Once established, it can even tolerate poor and/or dry soil. In Maryland, this salvia is treated as an annual. When sown by seed, it should be started as long 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost to ensure bloom. For this reason, planting from nursery stock is usually preferred. In protected areas and during warm winters, it occasionally winters over. —Christine McComas

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