Garden Q&A: Alarmed over browning evergreen needles

For The Baltimore Sun

My arborvitae trees flourished all summer, but I just noticed a lot of brown needles near the trunk. What to do? My neighbor’s white pines seem to have the same problem. Is it contagious?

Your arborvitae is showing normal autumn needle browning. Although we think of evergreens as always being green, they actually drop old foliage in the fall, similarly to deciduous trees. The difference is that they only drop needles that are a couple of years old, so you see browning of interior needles of a shrub or tree while the exterior, newer needles remain green. Some autumns this process is more noticeable — and alarming — to homeowners than other years. The browning needles may be from a year when the tree put out a lot of new growth, so a lot are now due to drop. White pines, especially, can show a lot of brown needles. Heavy rain and wind knock off old needles, and trees look perfectly fine. At the base of the evergreens, dropped needles build up to form a natural mulch. They decompose to nourish the tree and help keep down weed competition.

I have a lot of fruit flies in my kitchen and I am constantly smashing them. Please tell me how to get rid of them. I am getting desperate with the holidays coming!

Fruit flies can be frustrating. The female lays eggs on the surface of overripe food or fermenting liquid. The entire life cycle takes 8 to 10 days. Locate and eliminate all potential breeding sites. Eat fruit promptly or keep in the refrigerator. Check overripe bananas, apples, potatoes or onions for soft/rotting ones and discard. Finding the unusual sites can take some detective work. Potential sites include wet sponges, mops or towels, drip pans under the refrigerator, garbage disposals, and recycling bins. All that is needed for development is a film of fermenting liquid. You can make or buy a simple trap that attracts and kills the ones you can't seem to smash by putting a small amount of vinegar with a drop of soap in a dish or bottle.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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