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Seal cracks in your home to keep out overwintering ladybugs

This week's plant of the week is sapphireberry, a fruiting shrub that grows blue berries in the fall.
This week's plant of the week is sapphireberry, a fruiting shrub that grows blue berries in the fall. (Courtesy of Ginny Williams, Handout photo)

A crowd of ladybugs are huddled in the same corner of my dining room ceiling that they huddled in last year. Why did they return to that spot and how can I discourage this?

The multicolored Asian lady beetles were introduced to eat pest insects. They do a great job! However, they can be a nuisance in the fall when they look for overwintering sites in homes. Adults secrete an aggregation pheromone, or scent, which attracts large numbers at sites such as attics and basements. Prevent their entry by sealing or caulking any cracks, crevices or holes in exterior walls and especially around windows and doors. If you see any lady beetles inside, collect them and dump them outdoors. (Vacuuming works, though you'll want to dispose of the smelly bag outside.) Clean your ceiling corner with detergent or mild bleach solution to neutralize the pheromone. The University of Maryland Extension's website has an article with more information on the multicolored Asian lady beetle.

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I want to divide some aloe vera plants to give as gifts. Do I just pull off lower leaves? Will they root?

Offsets at the base of the plant are best rooted in early summer. They have the best chance of success if they have developed little roots, and tip leaves have begun to form the rosette typical of aloe vera. Pot them in ordinary potting mix with sand on the surface to prevent rotting. Give them bright, not direct, sunlight and water just enough to keep the soil from drying out. They require two to three weeks to root.

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Plant of the week

Sapphireberry

Symplocos paniculata

Native to Asia, some consider sapphireberry to be one of the handsomest of fruiting shrubs. White fragrant flowers grow in panicles in spring, and bright blue to lapis-colored berries are prolific in the fall (until birds get them). Measuring 10 to 20 feet tall and wide, two must be planted to get good fruiting. The seeds require double dormancy and have not proven invasive here, but do seed near parent plants. Sapphireberry has virtually no insect or disease problems. It's not picky as to type of soil, though it prefers acidic, it grows in full sun or part shade. Grow as a specimen tree or at the back of a shrub border. It transplants easily.

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— Ginny Williams

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