Clusters of honeysuckle blooms will appear appear in spring and continue for weeks.
Clusters of honeysuckle blooms will appear appear in spring and continue for weeks. (Courtesy of Ellen Nibali, Handout photo)

My son has had Lyme disease twice — serious infections requiring intravenous antibiotics. How can I keep ticks out of my yard? He plays in our wooded lot every day, and I'm at my wit's end!

Ticks like to hang on branch tips and grab a ride when we brush by. Establish wide paths. Remove non-native invasive plants to encourage a functioning native ecosystem, which includes predators for the white-footed mice that are deer ticks' main host. Ticks are native and also have native predators, usually insects, that keep their numbers down. Research shows that barberry, a foreign invasive plant used in landscapes but is spreading to parks and woodlands, causes more ticks — especially those carrying Lyme disease. Removing barberry can reduce Lyme-infected ticks by 80 percent. It will also reduce the number of white-footed mice with infected ticks. Keep your lawn mowed, use tick repellent as needed and do tick checks at bedtime. For more resources about ticks and Lyme disease, go to the Home and Garden Information Center website.


I want to put a systemic drench on my roses. Will that harm bees and pollinating insects? Would just spraying a fungicide be better?

Systemic plant products are absorbed into the entire system of the plants, including flowers and pollen. Ingredients in some of these have been implicated as a factor harming bee populations. Check the label for neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid — they stay in the plant a very long time. Never use pesticides for incidental plant damage. Fungicides were once believed to not harm insects, but the latest research shows that they may have toxic effects on bees. If a fungicide must be used, spray late in the day when pollinators are not as active. There are so many excellent disease- and pest-resistant varieties of plants on the market today, as well as tough native plants, so we recommend replacing problem plants with natives and resistant varieties and avoiding spraying at all.

My vegetable garden is situated so that bad apples and peaches fall into it, along with dying leaves from my cherry tree. I'm afraid they will infect the vegetables. Do I have to pick up all those little fruit and leaves?

Diseases and pests are usually specialists. For example, what infects an apple won't infect a tomato or squash, so your vegetable garden is safe. However, controlling fruit diseases and insects often requires garden sanitation. This means collecting infected plant material and disposing of it off site. Also, you should contact an expert to help diagnose what is ruining your fruit crop so you can take steps to save it.

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 its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Coral honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens

Enjoy hummingbirds sipping nectar from the coral honeysuckle's tubular flowers after you grow this showy native vine. Clusters of blooms appear in spring and continue for weeks. Each 1- to 2-inch flower blends coral, pink and yellow tones that are fun to match with other flowers. Its blue-green leaves encircle and hug the stems in an interesting way, and red berries add a little late-season bonus. This woody vine is not too heavy to adorn a mailbox. It could also thrive in a trellis in sun or very light shade, as well as in average soils. Don't confuse it with invasive Japanese honeysuckle. This native beauty is earning more fans all the time.

—Ellen Nibali