Army of soldier beetles invades two yards

Backyard Q&A

September 13, 1998

Q. A new insect recently appeared in my yard by the hundreds. My neighbor also has them all over her Chinese chestnut trees. They are long and yellowish with two black spots on the wings. They don't seem to be eating my plants. Can you tell me what they are?

A. You've got an influx of soldier beetles, also known as Pennsylvania leatherwings. These are beneficial insects - adults and larvae have been reported to eat insect eggs, aphids, caterpillars, root maggots and cucumber beetle larvae. Adults do not eat plants but do feed on nectar and pollen.

Q. My 8-year-old and I planted a large bed of popcorn that grew magnificently. However, the crows discovered it and began devouring the developing ears. We've used netting to protect most of the crop. When can it be harvested and how do we store it?

A. Popcorn is ready to harvest when the plants turn brown and the kernels cannot be broken with your thumbnail - usually around 100 days from the planting date.

Pull and shuck the ears and allow them to dry for a few weeks indoors. Remove the kernels by closing your fist around an ear and then twisting it with your other hand. Store your kernels in a lidded glass container.

Q. My neighbor has a very large fig bush in his back yard and has offered to give me one of the root suckers that grew out from the base this summer. Can I just cut it off at ground level and plant it now?

A. Figs are easy to propagate because they root easily. Root suckers can be transplanted as you described to produce a new bush. However, the bushes that develop may not be very productive.

Try one of these better transplanting methods: 1) After the fig leaves drop this fall, take 6- to 8-inch terminal cuttings. Pot these in a moistened, soil-less growing medium and cover with a perforated plastic bag. Keep them in a sunny window and pot them in larger containers when roots and leaves develop. Plant them in garden soil after all danger of frost. 2) Do the same thing next spring, selecting a shoot that contains some of last year's wood. 3) Next spring, cut a division off your neighbor's plant using a spade and hatchet; replant it in your garden.

This week's checklist

Bring houseplants in from outside when night temperatures dip into the mid-50s.

Sow a late crop of lettuce, spinach, radishes or greens and cover with a floating row cover or cold frame.

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 LTC have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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