Beetles invite themselves to dinner on asparagus

BACKYARD Q&A

May 27, 2001

Q. My asparagus plants were covered with red and black bugs that ate the spears and ferns. Then I noticed little dark gray worms doing the same thing. This is only my third year of growth and I'm concerned they will kill the plants. Is this the dreaded asparagus beetle? What can be done to get rid of them?

A. Yes, very few asparagus growers escape the dreaded asparagus beetle. The gray larvae hatched from eggs laid by the adults you saw earlier in the spring. Control them by cleaning up all plant debris and weeds in the fall to remove their winter home. Also, harvest your spears on a regular basis and try handpicking the adults as they begin to appear.

As a last resort, spray a botanical insecticide like rotenone or neem.

Q. I see aphids on my spirea, foxgloves, cabbages and other plants. I usually don't worry too much about them but there are tons of them this year. Should I spray with an insecticide or try buying and releasing lady bugs?

A. It is usually not necessary to spray insecticides or release beneficials to control aphids. Aphid numbers start out high in the spring, but populations of lady bird beetle, green lacewings and wasp parasites build up quickly to keep aphids in check. You'll see these predators and parasites at work if you observe the aphid colonies closely.

Planting a wide variety of flowering plants that bloom throughout spring and summer will help attract and keep beneficial insects in your landscape. If necessary, an application of insecticidal soap or ultra-fine horticultural oil will kill these soft-bodied pests.

Q. I have been seeing ants in my house, originally in the kitchen, now in the upstairs bathroom. The ants are large and black.

In the kitchen, I was able to identify an entry point and spray into that crevice. That seemed to control them for a few weeks. After that, they began to appear upstairs, but more sporadically. What are they? Do I need an exterminator?

A. Ants will frequently enter a home in search of moisture. And they are usually found in either the kitchen or a bathroom, both sources of moisture. The ant you have observed could be a carpenter ant, which becomes a serious pest only if it nests in damp wood.

You may want to examine the plumbing in your kitchen and bathroom for possible leaks and signs of nesting. Try using a liquid ant bait to reduce the population. Contact a pest control operator if you suspect a larger problem. Call the number below or access our Web site for detailed information on ants.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Put tropical lilies out in backyard ponds. Most varieties require a minimum of five to six hours of sunlight each day.

2. Pull off fruits with blossom end rot or serious deformations from tomato plants. These inedible fruits take water and nutrients away from healthy fruit.

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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