How to care for blue spuce

THE BALTIMORE SUN

My wife and I purchased a 3-foot Colorado blue spruce to use as a live Christmas tree. We have the tree in a pot on our back porch. Is there any way we can keep this tree in our home as a houseplant and keep it alive year-round?

A blue spruce requires a cold period for best growth. Its native habitat is the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to Wyoming, where it grows 30 feet to 60 feet tall with a 10-foot- to-20-foot spread.

It will not survive warm, dry conditions indoors, because the longer you keep it in the house the less winter hardy it will become. This means it will be susceptible to insects (spider mites) and possibly disease. After it re-acclimates to cooler temperatures on your porch for several days, plant it outdoors. A conifer that tolerates indoor conditions as a houseplant is the Norfolk Island pine, which originated in the tropics. For more information, read or request our online fact sheet, HG 46, "Caring for a Live Christmas Tree."

I tried to buy a set of three small artificial Christmas trees, and the store would not let me do it because of "an insect problem." How can an artificial tree have insects?

Pest alert! That particular set with three trees of varying sizes was found to harbor the brown fir longhorned beetle, Callidiellum villosulum, in its trunk, which was made of real wood imported from China. Sales were stopped nationwide.

This beetle, if it escaped, would threaten junipers and arborvitae - mainstays of U.S. landscape. Anyone who finds beetles in packaging, boring holes or sawdust in the trunk should call us or Maryland Plant Protection at 410-841-5920. These beetles are an orangy-brown with hairs and long antennae and may fly to windows. Freeze them.

Likewise, always be alert for any weird insect that shows up in imported ornaments made of wood, grasses or cones such as manger scenes, wreaths, scarecrows, bird cubbies, etc. Any imported pest may be a danger to our crops, forests and economy.

Moths in my closet have ruined my wool clothes. They are not the kind with wings that fly around the lights at night. They are tiny, and sometimes I only see larvae. I used a trap that killed only some of them, but I can't get rid of them.

I also have tons of cedar balls, blocks and hangers. I bought a bomb, but it's so toxic I'm afraid to [use] it. Is there any way to eliminate moths without such toxic chemicals? I saw a commercial for something that you plug in the wall that sends out a frequency and drives all the bugs out. What to do next?

Using mothballs and cedar are preventative measures against clothes moths. A different set of measures must be taken to control an active infestation. The tiny adult moths mate and die - it is the larvae (small white caterpillars) that do the feeding damage.

Their primary food source is soiled woolens. Soiled is the operative word here. First, empty the closet and dry-clean any salvageable woolens. Dry cleaning kills all stages of the clothes moth. Hand-washing your clothes also would be helpful. Vacuum the closet thoroughly, concentrating on areas where the moths hide, such as baseboards, cracks in floors, shelves, etc.

Store cleaned woolens in sealed containers. Cedar blocks can provide additional protection. Use mothballs or flakes containing naphthalene as a last resort (avoid those with paradichlorobenzene or PDB) and only in sealed containers. Using bombs or the sonar device you mentioned is not recommended. Contact our hot-line number or e-mail service before using a pesticide. See our online publication, HG 60, "Fabric Pests."

Checklist

Check with your county/city recycling office to learn about amnesty days at local landfills for household hazardous wastes, including pesticides.

Skunks, raccoons, fox and other wildlife will move closer to homes when food becomes scarce. Don't leave pet foods outside and be sure to keep trashcan lids tightly secured.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call the center's "hot line" at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to www.hgic.umd.edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems.)

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