A no-nonsense pruning should perk up crab apple

BACKYARD Q&A

January 02, 2000

Q. I have an old, healthy crab apple tree that has become a tangle of branches, many of which are dead or dying. How severely should I prune it to keep it healthy?

A. First, prune out all the dead branches. Then remove weak or dying branches, especially those growing across or into the middle of the canopy. If two branches are rubbing, remove the weaker one. Don't simply remove the ends of branches; make your pruning cut back to the next healthy branch or limb. You will probably end up with a lot of wood on the ground, but your tree will live longer as a result.

Q. I know this sounds weird, but my brother-in-law read in a gardening magazine that you can spray milk on plants to control powdery mildew. Is this true and, if so, is it legal for home gardeners to spray milk on plants? My lilacs, roses and bee balm get powdery mildew and I would love to try it.

A. A recent study in Brazil did show that a 1:1 mixture of cow's milk and water controlled powdery mildew on zucchini squash plants more effectively than commercial fungicides. More work will have to be done to confirm the results. The federal law regulating pesticide use prohibits you from using a labeled pesticide in any way that contradicts the label instructions. It is perfectly legal for you to spray a milk solution on your landscape plants (and please let us know how it worked!).

Q. Little brown bugs started crawling all over the potpourri I bought over the holidays. I moved it all out to the garage. What are they and is it safe to bring the potpourri back indoors?

A. You probably had an infestation of cigarette or drugstore beetles. These beetles are known as pantry pests and will feed on spices, grains, nuts, flour, etc. Pour your potpourri into a glass jar and place it in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any remaining eggs or larvae. Check your pantry for signs of the pest and discard any infested foods immediately.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Remove all the tinsel, lights and ornaments from your Christmas tree and wreaths before recycling them.

2. Review your 1999 garden diary to build on successes next year and avoid mistakes.

3. Have your soil tested by the University of Maryland's Soil Testing Lab. Many plant problems result from soil pH that is too low or too high. Apply lime to raise the soil pH or sulfur to lower it this winter.

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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