Hollowed out tangerines? Rats!

Q. We woke up this morning to all our tangerines on the ground leaving only empty shells. The tree was small with about 25 fruits. Was this due to squirrels or something else?

A. Something else, like a herd of rats, probably beat you to the tangerines this year. These rodents neatly hollow out the fruits that either fall to the ground or hang on the tree for a while. My guess it this has been going on for sometime and you have recently discovered the end results. Rats can be controlled with traps or bait boxes that are set in the landscape where the rats frequent. Obtain a free bulletin on citrus rat control from your local University of Florida Extension Office.

Squirrels can probably be ruled out as they tend to peel the fruits. Also, they often carry the citrus away from the tree to other feeding sites. Some have noted raccoons hollowing out fruits so they could also be contributing to the loss of this year's crop. But I say - Oh Rats.

Q. We have two 15 year old ligustrum trees that have grown out of bounds. Someone suggested we cut them back to bare branches to contain them. Will this harm the trees and what about a freeze?

A. Seldom are ligustrum trees or hedges damaged by cold but it can happen especially if they are making new growth after pruning. Avoid the potential cold damage by waiting until mid February to do the trimming. Ligustrum can tolerate a heavy pruning, but you might also consider selectively removing portions of out of bound limbs to reduce the height and width. Cut them back to branch angles or buds along the limb to keep a good tree shape and maybe preserve some of the foliage too.

Q. There seems to be a significant increase in acorns dropping from the oak trees this year that cover our lawn and fill the gutters. Is this something that happens every few years?

A. Heavy acorn drops have kept the squirrels, deer and gardeners busy recently. An abundance of acorns from oak trees have been produced both last year and this year. Much of the production has to do with the growing season a year or two before the acorns are noted.

Adequate rains and nutrients are needed to feed the trees, then you can expect good acorn production. Also, most oak trees do not begin producing quantities of acorns until they are more than 20 years of age. Many trees have only recently reached this age in our newer communities. The trees may then have cycles of heavy and light years. So maybe, just maybe, next year could be a light year for your trees.

Q. I have a rubber tree that has outgrown its container. Can I plant it in the landscape?

A. You could add the rubber tree, which is one of the Ficus species, to the landscape but should you? These are not very hardy trees so this could be the end of a good porch or patio tree. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a very warm spot, the tree could grow quite large to crowd out other plantings. If you want to give it a try, plant it away from the home or other buildings so it has room to grow. Maybe a better suggestion would be to do some root pruning to keep the root system to a size that would fit in a large container. Also, trim back the top accordingly to reduce the size. This way you can keep the plant in a container and protect it from the cold.

Q. I have a raised bed garden. What can I cover it with to protect tomatoes, broccoli, carrots and spinach from a freeze?

A. Only the tomatoes are going to need the cold protection in this garden. Your other crops can benefit from the chilly weather and tolerate both frosts and light freezes. Maybe you can add tall stakes round the tomato plantings to support covers that drape to the ground when cold is expected. If needed, small lights might also be added as a heat source. Make sure the lights are the type meant for use outdoors and do not touch the covers.

Q. I have a loquat tree which has a few limbs with leaves turning white while the rest of the limbs have all green leaves. Do I have a plague?

A. Hopefully this is not a plague, blight or anything quite so serious. Most likely this is a fungus affecting a few limbs. Loquats are susceptible to what pathologist call stem and limb cankers. The limbs become infected with the pathogen and then they decline. Often it is the lower, weaker limbs that are affected and being shaded by other limbs. The best control is to remove these limbs back to the trunk and apply a copper fungicide spray as labeled for loquats or general fruit tree use. Also, sterilize the pruners between cuts so not to spread the organism within the tree.

Q. I got a late start this fall caring for my citrus trees. Is it too late to give them a feeding?

A. Fall is over and so is the time to feed your citrus trees. A late season fertilizer application could encourage new growth to make the trees more susceptible to cold injury.

Let the trees rest for the winter but do make sure the soil remains moist by watering once or twice a week as needed. The next time to feed your trees is late February or early March with a citrus fertilizer.

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