Leave those corn tassels on so every kernel can grow

Backyard Q&A

July 24, 2005|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

Do I need to de-tassel our corn for cross pollination, or do the plants do that themselves?

Hold off on the tassel removal! Pollen from the tassels is carried by wind to pollinate the silks. Each strand of silk leads to a potential kernel of corn inside the husk, producing each and every kernel. To get good pollination and full ears of corn, it's best to have at least three rows side by side. So let the tassels do their work undisturbed. De-tasseling is usually done by big commercial operations to produce hybrid corn seed.

I would like a natural recipe for killing weeds in flower beds and borders.

It is possible to kill some weeds with a high concentration, 15-20 percent, of acetic acid (vinegar). Grocery store vinegar is too weak (5 percent), but the more concentrated vinegar must be handled with great care! It can burn your skin and irritate eyes and nose. Another problem with acetic acid is that it kills only the above-ground portion of the plant. Roots may survive, and perennial weeds will reappear.

You could smother your weeds effectively and permanently by layering the site with cardboard or three or four overlapping layers of newspaper held down with mulch or grass clippings. Flame weeders, using a propane torch, direct a small flame to burn weeds, including roots. But nothing really beats hand-pulling or a sharp hoe.

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. Cicada killer wasps are large, ground-dwelling insects you may notice buzzing around your yard. They look menacing but are harmless. They should be left alone.

2. Prune lower tomato leaves that have lots of brown spots. Fungal diseases will spread upward and can defoliate your plants. Spray with a liquid copper fungicide as a last resort.

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