Pinworms deflate 35 years of growing tomatoes

BACKYARD Q&A

In The Garden

September 12, 1999

Q. My tomatoes were doing great until the end of August, when the leaves started getting tan blotches, turning brown and folding up. Then I found skinny little gray worms inside the tomatoes. I've been growing tomatoes for 35 years and never had a problem like this. What's happening?

A. Tomato pinworms have finally found your garden. The adult moth lays eggs on tomato leaves. The larvae hatch out and begin feeding on the leaves. They created those tan blotches (called "mines") that you observed, and they fold over leaves for protection. After eating the leaves, the larvae enter the fruits and start on them.

This is a difficult pest to control. Your best bet is to till the soil where you grew tomatoes to kill overwintering pinworms in their pupae stage.

Q. My 'Autumn Joy' sedum looks terrible. I planted it last year in a partial-shade section of my perennial bed. It's tall and floppy and has small heads. Any solution other than relocation?

A. Your particular cultivar does best in full sun. If you choose to keep it in the same location, you might try cutting it back to a height of 12 inches to 15 inches in June. This should help keep the plant compact.

Q. I cleared away a nice, sunny spot where I want to plant blueberries next spring. I know they need a lot of organic matter but I'm not sure what to add or how much.

A. You're on the right track. The first step is to get a soil test. To order a test kit, call your county extension office, or the Maryland Cooperative Extension at the toll-free number listed below.

If it is not already there, you will need to get your soil pH to around 4.5 by adding iron sulfate (follow the label directions). You should also incorporate a 3- to 4-inch layer each of rotted manure and peat moss. And be prepared to set up a soaker hose or drip irrigation system for your blueberries. Their roots should never be allowed to dry out.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Kill woody weeds such as poison ivy, greenbrier, brambles and bamboo with a nonselective herbicide.

2. Take a soil sample from areas of your landscape that have not been tested in the past three years.

3. Prevent garden insects from moving into your home by tightening screens, and caulking and weather-stripping around door thresholds and vents.

4. Try to reduce foot traffic on drought-stressed lawns. Despite recent rains, such lawns are still fragile. Begin reseeding and fertilization projects later this month.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension . For additional information on these questions, or if you 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.

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