Many critters love tomatoes, even when they're not ripe

Backyard Q&A

September 11, 2005|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

Squirrels are eating my tomatoes before they have a chance to reach a size and color where they can be harvested. At least I think it's squirrels. I find the tomatoes on the ground, on the deck and other places. Any ideas?

We've seen squirrels damaging tomatoes. Groundhogs, too, are notorious for damaging or eating tomatoes and leaving them on the ground. Turtles, birds, deer and other critters will also eat tomatoes.

One solution is to drape floating row cover (similar to gauze) over the plants to exclude the pests. If it's a groundhog, you can erect a 3- to 4-foot-high fence around the garden, burying 10 to 12 inches in the soil. They're good climbers, so hang the fence loosely to make it more difficult for them. A single line of electric wire 4 inches to 5 inches off the ground outside the fence will also help. Squirrels can still enter a fenced garden if tree limbs hang over.

I have a 4-year-old pyracantha bush that gets at least five hours of good sun every day. This year probably 90 percent of the berries are black, while few are the typical bright orange. I have not trimmed this bush for two years, if that makes a difference. Any thoughts?

Pyracantha, a cousin of apples, is subject to scab, a common fungal disease. It can cause dark, scabby blotches on both leaves and berries. Cultural practices may take care of the problem. Prune for better air circulation and rake away all debris that falls from the shrub. Use a slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Scab-resistant varieties of pyracantha are available. You can spray susceptible varieties with a copper fungicide in spring when buds break, repeating twice at 10-day intervals.

I have two pawpaw trees, a cultivar ('Wells') and a seedling, both planted about 2 1/2 years ago, bare-root. The cultivar has plenty of deep green, healthy leaves. The seedling's leaves, however, started yellowing and dropping almost two months ago, and now it's almost completely bare. Both trees were treated the same, but the cultivar received more shade. The seedling has produced root suckers prodigiously (I understand that's normal for pawpaw), while the cultivar has produced none. Any ideas what's going on with the seedling?

Pawpaws, a native tree with fruit reminiscent of mangoes or bananas, are very sensitive when young and require filtered sun for the first year or two. Once established, they prefer full sun. It sounds as though your seedling was under a good bit of stress during the past two years. It is not unusual for pawpaws to sucker, but suckering can indicate severe stress. Some varieties or cultivars are more resistant to root problems than others. You may find more information at

Starting Sept. 24, Backyard Q&A will appear in a new Saturday section called Go Today.

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.)


1. Knock down the large, silken tents of the fall webworm where they are accessible. This very noticeable pest poses no long-term threat to your trees.

2. Leave hummingbird feeders up through the end of October.

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