Pantry pests can follow your cat food into the house


In The Garden

October 31, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

Help! My bedroom is infested with a tiny black or dark brown insect that looks like a flea, but crawls rather than hops. My cat's dry food was loaded with these things. (They aren't weevils like you find in flour. They're bigger.) My friend in another state suggested an "ozonator," which is supposed to kill all bugs, bacteria, mold and mildew. I'm looking for a non-chemical, safe method to deal with these invaders!

You're describing a cigarette beetle or drugstore beetle. As curious as the names sound, they are rather common pantry pests, probably introduced to your home via the dry cat food. Once in the home, they are attracted to other grain products and spices. The best method is to interrupt the life cycle of the insect. Discard badly infested items and freeze other suspected food products for a day or two to kill undetected eggs. New dry cat food should be stored in a cool, dry place -- preferably in a metal container that can be tightly sealed. There's a color photo of a cigarette beetle on our Web page under Plant Diagnostics (click "Pest Control"). Our publication HG67 Pantry Pests can be viewed online or you can request a copy by calling us.

Two years ago I bought an orange tree. Since then it has grown but has not flowered or produced fruit. Is there anything I need to do to help?

Orange trees flower in summer if they receive four hours or more of direct sunlight daily. Normal room temperatures are fine. Enhance humidity by placing the plant on a water-filled tray with pebbles in it. Do not allow the bottom of the pot to actually sit in the water. Water the tree moderately from spring to fall, allowing the top inch of soil to dry between waterings. Fertilize with a high-potash, "tomato-type" fertilizer every two weeks. The tree must have a rest period (usually in the winter) during which you water only enough to keep the soil from drying out and do not fertilize. To force flowering, maintain cool, dry conditions for about a two-month period. Fruiting requires cross-pollination between blossoms, so if there are no insects, you must pollinate flowers repeatedly over a few days with a small, soft brush.

Can I do something with all these fallen leaves I rake up, instead of just putting them out with the garbage?

You can both save money and enrich your landscape by using them as a mulch, a soil amendment, and a key ingredient of the compost pile. To mulch, spread them -- whole or shredded -- on bare ground around trees, shrubs or in flower beds. To improve soil, shred them with a mulching mower and leave them on the lawn (no more than 1/2 inch deep) or dig directly into garden soil. To make compost, pile whole or shredded leaves in a large pile and use next year after they decompose or add leaves to existing compost bins.


1. Chop up your Halloween pumpkins into small pieces with a machete or hatchet and add to the compost pile.

2. Store all pesticides in a location where they will not freeze over the winter.

3. Do not add lime or soil to your compost pile. The pH of finished compost is around 7.0 (neutral), so lime is unnecessary. Soil is very dense and may prevent your pile from heating properly.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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