Q. I have not seen many Japanese beetles this year. Are they on the decline?
A. I think it would be incorrect to say they are on the decline, but some entomologists think that the population of Japanese beetles is stabilizing. In other words, they are finding their niche in our area and some natural checks and balances have developed to limit their population. Also, the populations of all insects can vary quite a bit from year to year. There may be more beetles next year.
Q. Last year I planted some chrysanthemums in late summer. As I expected, they bloomed in late September and into October. They came back this year, but they have already begun to bloom. Is this normal?
A. Yes, this is normal for many, but not all mums. If you want late-blooming mums you have several options. The first option is to select one of the late-blooming varieties for planting. This is the easiest way to get late flowers; however, it limits the number of varieties that you can plant. The other option is to pinch back your early-blooming varieties several times in early and mid summer. This will delay bud set until late summer or early fall. It seems like a lot of work, but it allows you to use a much wider range of plants for the fall garden. (See first Checklist item, left.)
Q. I am concerned about the pH of my compost pile. Should I have it tested?
A. Generally, pH is not a concern in compost piles. This is because most people compost a variety of kitchen and yard waste products. However, pH could be a problem if you are adding an unusually large amount of one highly alkaline or acidic item to your pile. For example, large quantities of coffee grounds, which are naturally acidic, could lower the pH of your compost pile. If this were the case, I would have the compost tested. If you call your local extension office, they will send you a soil test kit.
THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST
1. Now is the time to stop pinching back your mums. Pinching back beyond this time may result in a loss of blooms for fall.
2. Check your azaleas for lace bug damage. Lace bug feeding on the undersides of leaves results in a white stippling on the upper sides of leaves.
3. Are your shrubs looking a little tired? It's probably natural, so do not fertilize. Fertilization at this time of year can put unnecessary stress on plants.
Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.agnr. umd.edu / users / hgic.