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Ask the Experts – September 2017

By Kelly Young

Every one of the fruits on our pomegranate tree split open. We didn’t fertilize the tree this year. Could that be the cause?

Fruits with thick skin, such as pomegranates and citrus, are prone to splitting due to irregular irrigation. When the trees are drought-stressed, the fruit rinds become leathery and less pliable. Subsequent irrigation or rainfall causes the fruits to swell, but the rinds are unable to stretch so they split. Remove all of the affected fruits so that they don’t attract pests, such as the leaf-footed plant bug, and note on your calendar for next year to increase the frequency of irrigation the following spring. Managing drought stress throughout the summer will decrease the likelihood that the fruits will split after a heavy rainfall next year. Fertilize as the new leaves emerge next year with compost or a nitrogen fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate.

My daughter gave me a beautiful Boston fern for my birthday last month, and I’m already killing it. The fronds are turning brown even though I never let the soil dry out. What advice can you offer to save this plant that means so much to me?

Boston ferns require an environment that is both cool and humid, which is not typical in an Arizona home. If you have a bathroom with windows that offer natural light, keep the fern there, where it can benefit from the humidity generated by the shower. You might also consider using a cool-mist humidifier for extra humidity.

When I visited my plot at the community garden this morning, I discovered that all of the corn seedlings I planted a few weeks ago were lying on the ground. It looks as though something cut every plant off at ground level. What could be the cause of this?

It is possible that your corn was destroyed by cutworms, which are not actually worms but are the larvae of a number of species of moths. They feed at night and only eat a small portion of the stem, right at the soil line. By day, cutworms hide out under mulch or soil debris. When discovered, they curl into a characteristic “C” shape. Once the damage is done, there is nothing you can do to restore the plant back to health. Next year, consider placing a cardboard “collar” around corn seedlings shortly after they germinate. Cut a paper towel roll into 3-inch-long segments. Bury an inch of the collar below the soil line, leaving 2 inches above ground, enough to keep the larvae away from the plant.

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