Identifying a mystery pest will lead to controlling it

BACKYARD Q&A

In The Garden

December 19, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

An insect is in our building, mostly at night. It resembles a silverfish, but its body does not taper, has more antennae, and is not silver colored. The young insects are light brown and as small as 1/4 inch. The adults can grow as long as 2 inches just in the body and are dark with a reddish cast. They are wingless and move like greased lightning! Can you identify them?

Firebrats are similar in appearance to silverfish, though tan in color. Both travel at night. Firebrats, however, only tend to be about 1/2 inch in length. Our publication "Key to Pests In and Around the Home" or our individual fact sheets on silverfish / firebrats, earwigs or cockroaches can give you more clues to your pest, as well as some control measures. Another option would be to capture one of your pests and send it to us through the mail or via a digital photo. Call or go to our Web site for instructions. Most control involves dehumidifying, cleaning, sealing containers, and weatherstripping and caulking.

I want the pretty, airy, red clusters of nandina berries I see in the winter around people's houses. The two-year-old nandinas I bought have only a few scattered berries, with green leaves in the winter. A neighbor gave me a nandina with dark red / purple leaves and it has clusters of berries. Are there male and female nandinas? Do different color varieties have different berry formations? I trimmed them this fall to give them a tree shape.

There are not male and female nandina. It may take awhile for young ones to develop a good crop of berries. Some dwarf varieties, such as 'Harbor Dwarf', don't flower for several years, and other varieties not at all. Check before you buy. Like most berry plants, nandina produce berries and flowers on old wood, so do not prune after spring flowering or you'll prune off the year's berries. Instead, prune in early spring and leave some older branches to ensure a good berry crop. (Nandina growth habit is one of airy stalks, thus its common name, "heavenly bamboo." It's not normally pruned to a tree shape.)

Because nandina is hardy to zone 7, it can be killed to the ground during exceptionally harsh winters, and this can affect berry production the following year. Leaf coloring ranges from coppery to purplish red and becomes blue-green with age. It assumes a reddish tint in winter, especially when planted in full sun. This winter coloration trait is quite variable, however. Coloration depends on seedling or clone, some redder than others, and has no correlation to berry production.

Can I cut back ornamental grasses now?

The foliage of ornamental grasses is usually enjoyed for its winter interest. It's possible to cut them back now, but traditionally they are cut back before new growth occurs in the spring. The exception would be some types of Miscanthus that self-seed, which makes them invasive (usually seed-grown or early-flowering varieties). Any other grass whose seed is becoming problematic should also be cut back early to prevent a plant invasion.

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 www.hgic.umd.edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

Checklist

1. Remove bagworm bags from evergreen trees and shrubs. Put them in the trash or a bucket of soapy water. The egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar resemble black plastic foam and can be found in cherry and crab apple trees. Scrape them off and discard.

2. Excessive walking on frozen lawns can damage the grass crowns and slow growth next spring.

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