A little black and white woodpecker is pecking a sizable hole in my house siding. How can I stop it?
Your description fits that of a downy woodpecker. You could try hanging a temporary veil of bird netting or cover the area with wire hardware cloth. These birds are protected and are generally beneficial when they eat insects that bore into trees. Where practical, try leaving dead or downed trees for them to use for nests and food sources.
I want to plant a balled and burlaped Christmas tree after the holidays. Is this a practical idea?
It will require a bit of preparation before the ground freezes. First, dig a hole the same depth as the root ball, place leaves or straw inside the hole and cover it with a tarp to prevent the soil from freezing. Likewise, cover or store the soil from the hole to prevent it from freezing as well.
Before moving your purchased tree inside, spray it with an antidessicant spray -- usually sold in nurseries -- to prevent moisture loss from the needles. Store the tree in a shady location out of the wind and place the root ball in a container of damp sand. Then move the tree to an unheated garage or basement for a week before moving it inside for decorating.
Be careful; these trees can be very heavy with all their moisture and attached soil. You don't want to drop the root ball and crack the soil surrounding the roots. This would cause some of the roots to die. Keep the root ball moist and wrap it in a plastic tarp.
You should consider only keeping the tree inside for three to four days because the longer it remains indoors, the more likely it will break winter dormancy, which would lead to cold damage.
Transition the tree back outdoors and plant it in the prepared hole. Be sure to water the soil well and use burlap or a tarp to protect it from winter wind damage.
Store firewood outside and a little distance away from your home to prevent dormant insects from entering or emerging inside your house.
There is still time to plant fall bulbs for spring flowers. Plant a range of different species or cultivars to prolong the bloom period in the spring.
Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and David Clement is the regional specialist. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday) or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.