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Ask the Experts – May 2017

By Kelly Young

I planted Early Girl and Celebrity tomatoes in February and have several fruits developing on the vines. My neighbor says I should be covering my plants with a shade cloth, but I’ve never heard of this. What do you recommend?

Your neighbor gives good advice. The intense sun in Arizona can burn tomatoes as well as eggplants, peppers and melons during the long days in May, June and July. Covering plants with a 50 percent shade cloth is an effective way to protect precious fruits. You can drape the shade cloth directly on the plants or construct a small structure to support the fabric. If you are planning to garden year-round, you might consider building a low tunnel hoop house made of PVC pipe. During the summer, you can cover the hoop house with shade cloth and then switch to frost cloth when temperatures cool in the fall. Duke University has a nice picture tutorial on how to build an inexpensive low tunnel hoop house. Check it out at duke.edu/farm/2012/11/10/how-to-make-a-low-tunnel-in-pictures/.

My daughter gave me a potted miniature rose for Mother’s Day. Should I keep it indoors as a houseplant, does it need to be planted outside, or can I just throw it away when the flowers wither?

All the options you mention in your question are OK. If you choose to keep your miniature rose indoors as a houseplant, place it in a sunny window where it will receive four to six hours of sunlight per day. You can also plant it in a garden but don’t let it dry out during the hot, arid months of May and June. Or, you can recycle the pot and compost the plant when the last of the blooms have faded.

Some of the young leaves on my 5-year-old cara cara orange tree look ragged, as if something has been chewing on them. When I looked for the culprit, I found brown-and-white creatures that look like bird droppings. Could they be causing the damage?

Those creatures are probably orange dog caterpillars (Papilio cresphontes), the larval form of the beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly. If enough larvae are present, their chewing mouthparts can cause significant damage to small citrus trees. The least toxic solution is to regularly inspect the trees and remove the hungry caterpillars by hand. Leave a few behind if you want to enjoy the beauty of the adult form fluttering around your garden.

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