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Garden Q&A: What’s a pawpaw and how to control grubs, if you really need to

Pawpaws are a native American tree fruit with a taste suggestive of bananas. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun
Pawpaws are a native American tree fruit with a taste suggestive of bananas. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun(Barbara Nibali / HANDOUT)

What is this flower? It’s such a strange color — brownish red? We just realized it is on several trees in our wooded area.

Pawpaws produce a strange fruit, too, with a taste suggestive of bananas, with hints of vanilla, pineapple and mango.

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Pawpaws are one of the largest of our few American tree fruits. They grow naturally in Maryland, and the highly fragrant green or yellow pawpaw fruits ripen in September-October. Each 1-2 ½” mauve flower has both female and male parts, but they are fertile at different times.

You’ll often see a thicket in the wild, such as yours, pollinating each other. Seedlings are killed by direct sunlight, yet later enjoy sun. Pawpaws grow to about 25 feet, with large leaves that turn clear yellow in fall. When installing plants, purchase at least two of either seed-grown or different grafted varieties. Named varieties produce the best fruit quality. Plant in slightly acid (5.5-7.0 pH) well-drained soil.

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Grubs killed part of my lawn. I raked up the dead grass, and it is bare soil. I want to plant vegetables or pollinator-friendly flowers there. Since grubs turn into beetles, should I wait to plant until I see no grubs? Is there a non-toxic grub treatment I can apply to the whole lawn now?

You can plant vegetables or flowers now. No control is needed for grubs in spring. They aren’t doing much this time of year. Turf easily outgrows the little bit of munching they do, and they are not a significant pest for flowers or vegetables. Toss aside any you find for the birds.

More common reasons for turf dieback are poor drainage, disease and drought. Be sure grubs are the problem before spending money on grub control. It is normal and not problematic to have a few grubs in the soil. (In fact, it’s helpful because it keeps grub predators around.)

Unless you see about 10 or more per square foot, and your lawn suffered severe damage in late summer-early fall (usually this occurs in tandem with drought), it does not warrant the expense and impact of applying an insecticide. Irrigation systems that keep the soil moist can attract beetles for egg laying and encourage grub problems.

For true grub issues, the insecticide Acelepryn (active ingredient chlorantraniliprole) has low toxicity to vertebrates and has shown no adverse effects on beneficial insects. It is most effective applied after 4th of July when grubs are small, on problem sections — not the whole lawn.

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

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