Chip and Dale may look cute, but they can cause trouble

BACKYARD Q&A

July 02, 2000

Q. We have quite a few chipmunks around our front yard. We think they are cute, but I'm wondering if they will damage my plants. If they get to be a problem, how do I get rid of them?

A. Chipmunk burrows can cause structural damage to porches, stairs and foundation walls. They will eat flower bulbs, seeds and seedlings but do not seem to bother plant roots, crowns or woody trunks. You can reduce their numbers by setting out live traps or snap traps, applying a labeled repellent around their burrow entrances and flower beds or covering flower beds with hardware cloth.

Q. I'm curious about a yellow insect. It looks like a beetle -- about 1/2 inch long with a black spot on the end of each wing. I've got zillions of them in my yard, especially in the Chinese chestnut trees. Are they a pest? What are they doing?

A. The soldier beetle, a.k.a. Pennsylvania leatherwing, is a beneficial insect common to our area. Beetles aggregate in large numbers to find mates. Chinese chestnut trees are among the last shade trees to bloom in our area. Your guests are dining on this large, available pollen source.

Q. I just moved into a house in the city with a wonderful little garden spot. I can't find tomato plants at the garden center. Is it too late to plant some from seed?

A. Yes, it's too late for seeds, but it's not to late for vegetative propagation. Find a friend or neighbor with some healthy tomato plants and ask if you can gently remove some of the suckers (the succulent shoots that grow at a 45 degree angle at the junction of a main stem and lateral leaf branch.) Quickly stick the suckers in a pail of water and plant them immediately in your garden. Do this at dusk or on a cloudy day to reduce transplant shock and water your new plants twice a day until they take root.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Be patient with your squash and cucumber plants. Most varieties first produce male flowers. The female flowers(those with small fruits attached to the base of the bloom)will follow.

2. Japanese beetle adults are emerging now. Traps will serve only to attract more beetles to your landscape, resulting in increased feeding damage.

3. Don't apply broadleaf herbicides to your lawn during hot weather. Wait until the fall.

Backyard Q&A is by Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist for the Home and Garden Information Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension Services 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, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

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