I have a couple of crab apple and flowering cherry trees in my yard. I recently noticed what looks like small, silken tents in the upper branches. Is some kind of animal taking up residence in my trees?
Your visitors are Eastern tent caterpillars -- one of the first defoliators to appear in the spring (usually on wild cherry). The caterpillars hide in their nests at night and feed on tree leaves during the day.
You can knock the tents down into a bucket of soapy water, prune off infested branches if you can reach them, or spray your foliage with B.t., a microbial insecticide that acts as a stomach poison on young caterpillars.
I'm keen on the idea of buying a dwarf apple tree for my backyard. Would I be better off spending more money on a containerized plant rather than purchasing a bare-root plant?
You'd probably be better off buying local apples. Apple trees are notorious for having significant pest problems. Backyard gardeners are usually much more successful growing small fruits like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
If you are set on having an apple tree, we recommend that you buy a 1-year-old bare-root plant from a reputable garden center or mail-order nursery. We suggest bare-root apple trees over those in containers because the latter cost much more and may have an overgrown or otherwise damaged root system that goes unnoticed. Be aware that for cross-pollination, in most cases you need two apple varieties that bloom during the same time.
What size containers would I need to grow tomato, basil and pepper plants on a balcony?
The minimum-size container for peppers and tomatoes is 5 gallons. However, larger, deeper containers will help to increase your yield. Half-whiskey barrels work very well. Single basil plants can be grown in gallon-size containers, or several can be planted together in larger pots.
Be sure that your containers have drainage holes and that the growing medium is loose, well-aerated and high in organic matter.
Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800- 342-2507.
Before tilling a large quantity of last year's leaves into your garden beds, add a source of nitrogen (bloodmeal, steer manure, 10-10-10 fertilizer) to aid in decomposition.
For growing vegetables on a patio, fill large containers with equal amounts of garden soil, soilless potting material and composted yard waste or manure.
Sharpen mower blades before you begin another season of grass cutting. Dull blades can lead to poor grass growth and pest problems.
Don't cut down daffodils or other spring flowering bulbs when they are finished blooming. Let them die back naturally.
Pub Date: 4/20/97