Question and Answer
Q. I have a ficus plant that was a gift in the
fall of 2001. Recently, it started to drop leaves. It started out with
a few leaves, then last week it dropped two-thirds of all its leaves.
I have checked the plant for mealy and scale bugs but do not find evidence
of them. I thought maybe it was getting too much sun in our solar area,
and I moved it. When I checked the floor after I moved it, I found what
looked like very tiny red ants. Could they be causing this problem? Do
I need to transplant it to new soil and get rid of the pot and basket
it came in? Or do I need to get rid of the plant to save my other plants?
-- Jane Whitsitt, Huntingburg, Ind.
A. Since ficus trees (commonly called fig trees)
grow indoors, we often forget that they are truly trees and need to follow
a cycle, just like trees outdoors. Periodically, theyll shed their
old leaves and put on new ones. Ficus trees are notorious for doing this
whenever a change takes place, like transplanting, relocating or even
a change in seasons outside their window. Just switching a ficus from
one room to another can cause defoliation. If new buds are apparent, it
The ants are not likely the problem. For information
on controlling them call the Extension office in your county and ask for
It is possible that natural leaf drop is not the
culprit. If the brown leaves are crisp and healthy looking, it's probably
normal. If they're seriously wilted, spotted or streaked, it may be a
disease, and you should take a sample to your Extension office.
Q. I have a pear tree, and when the pears are about
half-grown, they split and rot on the tree. This has happened the last
three years. -- Submitted via e-mail
A. A plant disease called scab causes olive-brown,
velvety spots on the leaves and young fruits. As the pears mature, the
spots develop into brown, corky lesions. The fruit is often cracked and
malformed and may drop prematurely.
The fungus spends the winter in infected plant
debris and twig lesions. In early spring, spores of the fungus are shot
into the air when leaves become wet. Spores are then carried by wind to
the newly developing leaves and cause leaf and/or fruit infection. Once
infection has occurred, a different kind of spore is produced; these "summer"
spores are capable of causing further infections throughout summer and
early fall. This cycle repeats itself annually.
Clean up all leaf debris and infected fruit each
year and begin a regular spray program. The most critical time to apply
fungicides for scab control is spring (April to early June). Apple and
pear trees should be sprayed on a regular schedule starting shortly after
bud break, when one-half inch of green leaf tissue is visible. Continue
spraying on a 7-10-day schedule (7 days during wet weather, 10 days if
dry) until petal fall. After petal fall, if dry weather persists, a 10-14-day
spray schedule is adequate for control of scab. Fungicides act as a protective
coat of "paint" on the leaf surface; where possible, apply fungicides
just before a prolonged wet period occurs, not after.
Captan is a readily available fungicide for control
of scab. Refer to the pesticide label for directions on rate of use, method
of application and safety warnings. General purpose fruit sprays sold
as "Home Orchard Spray," "All Purpose Fruit Spray" and "One Package Fruit
Spray," etc., may be used in place of the specific fungicides recommended
above. However, do not spray with general purpose sprays during bloom;
they are toxic to honeybees.
For more information, see ID-146.
Q. We moved to a house last year that had strawberries
in a small area. Last summer, the stawberries were very small. The neighbors
told us they get smaller every year. In the fall, my husband dug it all
up. I want to replant strawberries, but I have no idea when or how. Do
they need fertilizer? -- Julie Montgomery
A. Strawberries prefer well-drained, loamy soils.
Avoid sites where tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or potatoes have grown
within the past three years to avoid the possibility of verticillium wilt.
Prepare the ground much the same as for a vegetable
garden. Remove all weeds. In the absence of soil-test recommendations,
work in 2-3 pounds of 12-12-12 or similar fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Choose cultivars that are hardy and disease resistant.
For an early-season harvest, "Earliglow" and "Anapolis" are good performers.
Midseason cultivars include "Red Chief," "Guardian" and "Surecrop." "Sparkle,"
"Allstar" and "Jewel" are suggested for late-season harvest. "Ozark Beauty"
and "Fort Laramie" are cultivars of choice for everbearing strawberries.
Disease-free plants are crucial to a successful planting, so buy healthy,
virus-free plants from a reliable nursery rather than using plants from
old, established beds.
Planting depth is important to establishing a healthy
patch. Plants should be set so that the fleshy base of the plant, known
as the crown, is right at the soil surface. Space the plants 1-2 feet
apart, depending on how much space you have available. Allow 3-4 feet
between the rows.
Pinch off any blooms that form the first spring
to allow the plants to spend their food reserves on establishing healthy
roots and shoots. Horizontal stems will form new crowns as they fill in
the space between the rows. Allow about five plants per square foot to
remain, and remove any excess plants.
Plants benefit from a side-dressing of about 1
cup of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 25 feet of row. Flower buds for next year's
crop are formed beginning in mid-August, making irrigation crucial during
With yearly renovation, strawberry plants can remain
productive for 10 years or longer. Begin renovating the strawberry bed
immediately after the last harvest. Trim off the leaves near the base
of the plant, being careful not to injure the crown. This helps keep diseases
Thin runners back to one plant every 6-8 inches,
removing the older plants and leaving the younger, more vigorous ones.
Fertilize and then try to get the weeds under control. Continue to weed
and water throughout the growing season.
Words from the Wise:
Darlene Best of Plymouth, Ind., writes the following;
it echoes my thoughts precisely!
I was so pleased when you warned a reader against
crown vetch. I shudder at those two words! When we moved here 11 years
ago, our bank was covered with crown vetch. At first, I thought it was
great, but it's not. It should not be sold! The seeds blow, and you can't
control it. It also sends out little feelers that root. It suffocates
other plants, even covers bushes and kills anything in its path. If you
have it, your neighbor has it. It's not pretty up close--it gets too tall.
You can't stop it or get rid of it!
I will be planting more English ivy and will try
the purple wintercreeper that you recommended.