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Readers offer helpful tips on garden pests

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this column is that readers frequently contact me with their own ideas and suggestions that I am able to pass on to you.

In a recent column, I addressed a reader's question about humane ways to discourage snakes from invading the garden, and I also included a comment from another reader about the benefits of planting marigolds to keep away snakes and mosquitoes. That inspired quite a lot of e-mail including these two:

"I read the article from one of your readers regarding snakes in her yard and I do have a suggestion that worked for us. Living in a Country Club with thick honeysuckles, grapevines and evergreens in our back yard, snakes were thriving which was fine by me as long as they kept their distance! We would see them slither under our shrubs and through the lawn, but when l I found one coiled up on the stairs leading to the basement.... I drew the line!

"We found a product called Snake Away that has seemed to work. It comes in a quart bottle that attaches to your garden hose. We sprayed it around the perimeter of the house and around the front and back yard last spring and never saw a snake in the yard afterwards. With all the rain this year, we didn't apply Snake Away and guess what? They are back! I'm on way to purchase Snake Away and as soon as the rain stops, we will again apply the product." - Joyce Scannell

Thanks for tip, Joyce! Now here's an interesting letter about marigolds...

"I read your article regarding marigolds. I have to agree about the repellant affect of it. My father used to make a "tea" for his veggie garden by using a similar plant called Khaki-bush (indigenous to South Africa) and chicken litter. He used only that to spray his veggie garden with. No pests... and he had by far the best veggies in the neighborhood.

"I plant vast amounts of marigolds every year and use the dry plants in the fall to prepare my veggie garden for the following year. I chop it up and work it into the soil with a good amount of fresh horse manure, then cover the soil with a 4" layer of straw until the spring. I have very few destructive bugs in my garden. If I find any during the season, a few hands full of marigold petals scattered amongst the veggies do the trick. I also use a combination of crushed marigold petals and leaves to rub onto my patio table and chairs when we eat outside." - Patsy du Plessis

It sounds like Patsy has found a whole lot of uses for her marigolds! If you have any helpful tips or ideas, e-mail them to me at [email protected] and you might see them included in a future column or in my weekly newsletter. Now on to a couple of questions from my e-mail bag...

QUESTION: "I have several Blue Spruces that are at least 20 to 30 feet tall. Every year at about this time they get a parasite that looks like soft brown cones which hang down from their small branches. If you know what these things are could you advise me on how to rid the trees from these parasites?" - Jose Cuevas

ANSWER: What you have are bag worms. First you will have to pull them off, put them in a paper sack and take them away from the area to burn. At least twice each season you will have to spray the trees and the ground under and around them with Malathion. You will eventually reduce the population but I'm afraid they are here to stay.

QUESTION: "I am considering replacing a purple flowering plum in my small front yard due to the fruit it produces. We have an ant problem and I would like to avoid bees as well. Does the pansy redbud produce any fruit or seed pods? I would like to plant a pair of trees and the size and purple color of the red bud look about right. We welcome your suggestions for a suitable small tree(s). I would like them to be fast growing to provide some shade, as front of the house gets full sun." - D. Doss

ANSWER: The forest pansy red bud would be a good choice. They can be planted about 20 feet apart because the normal spread is 20 feet per tree. They will produce seed pods in about 3 to 4 years, but it's not a major concern because the pods are rather like leaves and when they drop they can be mulched up like leaves with the lawn mower.

Another suggestion would be flowering cherries that do not produce fruit, such as the Washington basin cherry trees that DC is famous for each spring.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

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