Gardening Q & A

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We are into the full summer gardening season and you know what that means: overabundance of cucumbers and summer squash, ripening of those first tomatoes, pick-your-own blueberries, and a few stink bugs and mysterious dark spots on the leaves. The following Q & A represents a small sampling of the great questions that have come into our office in the last week.

Q: I have been monitoring my squash plants for squash bug and other insect pests. At first I thought that I had a good population of lady beetles but then I noticed that the ‘lady beetles’ were eating my leaves. I know that lady beetles are not pests so what is that insect (see photo)?

A: That insect is a squash lady beetle. Most lady beetles eat insects but the squash lady beetle feeds on the leaves of squash, cucumber, and melon leaves. The squash lady beetle is larger than the beneficial lady beetle and it has the yellow and black dot pattern on both the head and body. The larvae of the squash lady beetle looks like a yellow hedgehog covered in black, multi-point, spikes. It is very unusual for numbers of these insects to get high enough to actually reduce production. Removing by hand is usually the easiest and most drastic management called for.

Q: Why are my tomato flowers falling off?

A: The recent surge in temperatures will result in some stress damage to tomato plants. Tomato heat stress damage starts at 86° F. In the last week we have had temperatures in the mid 90’s F. At these high temperatures flower pollination is greatly reduced because of heat damage to pollen, pollen tube growth, and early tomato embryos. This damage causes flowers and small fruit to fall off. Once the heat passes, fruit production will pick up again. Keep the tomato plants watered sufficiently (water them without wetting the leaves to reduce fungal diseases), put 3 inches of mulch under the plants (but not touching the stems), choose heat-tolerant tomato varieties, and consider using shade cloth if your trellising structure will allow it.

Q: I did not prune my blueberry bushes last February. Can I prune them now?

A: The majority of blueberry pruning should be done in February with a little summer pruning. In general, pruning should be avoided after mid July/early August as it will promote new growth as colder weather approaches. New growth is more susceptible to cold damage. Cold-damaged plant tissue can be an entry point for infectious organisms. It may be best to wait until next February for pruning. By the way, we do hands-on blueberry pruning in the Master Gardener course – call our office for registration info!

The July presentation for the Advanced Gardener series (free and open to the public) will feature dozens of 2-minute recommendations on a variety of topics from vegetable gardening, soil health, fire ant management, stink bugs, garden diseases, lawn care, tree pruning, and more. The best part is that the audience gets to pick the topics! The first arrivals will get to choose the topics so come early. I will be at the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library on Thursday, July 12 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.; Newton Library on Tuesday, July 17 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Maiden Library on Tuesday, July 24 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tickets are now on sale for the Farm Feast on July 21. This celebration is as local as it gets – local food, beer, wine, and music. Come out and experience Eat, Drink and Be Local (EDBL) week, meet the farmers that put the food on your plate, and be a part of the Catawba County community – Making, Living, Better. Call the extension office if you have any questions – agriculture, food, and 4-H: 828-465-8240.

Squash Lady Beetle

Squash Lady Beetle, photo taken by Lisa Lemons