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Garden Q&A: On adding interest to gardens and managing indoor flies

A garden statue of St. Francis stands in front a hawthorn tree trunk.
A garden statue of St. Francis stands in front a hawthorn tree trunk. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

My landscape is boring and gray this time of year. Any suggestions? I already planted berry bushes and evergreens but they are still small.

Landscape is made up of softscape — mainly plants — and hardscape, which is just about anything else. Examine your softscape for hidden features that get missed during the growing season. In winter, this includes tree or shrub bark, like the hawthorne trunk in this photo with some beautiful color variation.

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Hardscape can be a weathered garden statue, old farm implement or “found art” that appeals or has meaning to you. Be inventive and change things around. Paving materials, bed borders or retaining walls add great interest, especially when you contrast the warm red of brick, smooth rounded stone, irregular rock and plain old cement. Beds needn’t be in straight lines. Design in waves, loops, circles, even triangles (though avoid making shapes too small and fussy.) They will entertain your eye even in the dead of winter.

How can I free my home of little flies? I kill 5-7 of them a day. I’d send a photo, but they are so tiny all my shots are blurred. They don’t seem to come from drains and don’t seem attracted to food. I can’t find a nest. I did have a fly infestation in my plants this summer but repotted the plants. I don’t think the current problem is related (but it could be). They seem to be attracted to my computer monitor, lamps and me. Some of them crawl.

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We need to see wings and antennae clearly for fly ID. If you can capture one in a container and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, it should stop the insect’s activity for a photo and keep it intact so we can see features. Or simply use a magnifying glass and compare with photos on the Home and Garden Information Center website. Click on Get Help> Insects> Indoors.

Fungus gnats, phorid flies and fruit flies are all very small.

All flies need moisture for reproduction. It sounds like you are investigating the right areas — drains, food sources, houseplants saucers and soil. Check less obvious areas for moisture and organic matter, e.g. sweating or leaking pipes, window condensation, vents or crawl spaces, recycle or compost bins, uneaten pet food. The key to managing flies is to identify and remove the breeding sites. Our website gives detail on each pest.

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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