August 26, 2008

Screeching Noise in Yard is Just Sound of Male Cicadas

By Linn Mills

Here are some problems that are on gardeners' minds.

Noisy yard: The screeching noise you hear this time of year comes from male cicadas sending out mating calls. Females lay eggs in twigs and larvae later hatch, drop and burrow into the ground, where they live a few years only to repeat the cycle. The noise will soon subside.

Ripe watermelons: They are ready to eat when the melon belly becomes yellow where it touches the ground; the curly tendrils where the melon attaches to the vine turn brown; and a thump on the melon elicits a dull sound. Don't become overzealous and harvest too soon.

Pillbugs in cantaloupes: Give pillbugs something else to eat by placing mulch under the fruit. The bugs will feed on that and improve your soil for years to come.

Honeydew melon sunburn: Either tuck the fruit under the leaves or under a newspaper.

Pruning ocotillo: Why prune and take away from its beautiful silhouette? Those long, arching branches make it so desirable. Pruning makes it look like an angry porcupine ready to attack.

Texas laurel concern: As mentioned in an Aug. 10 column, the Texas mountain laurel is a great tree. However, its poisonous red seeds are a concern with children. To overcome this, either remove pods as they form or remove the tree.

Small seedless grapes: This is normal for seedless grapes, as they do not produce a hormone to make grapes larger. Thinning out clusters next year will increase their size.

Colorless grape leaves: A grape-leaf hopper strips chlorophyll from grape leaves and if not controlled, the grapes will taste like vinegar. Disturb the vines and listen; you'll hear hoppers hitting leaves attempting to get away. Use neem oil to eliminate them.

Small, hard figs: To overcome this problem, water longer. Figs need lots of water to mature.

Rose leaf sections missing: Leaf cutter bees use rose leaves to build nests to lay their wintering eggs, so don't kill them. Consider damaged leaves as your way of helping to pollinate next year's fruit and vegetables.

Hibiscus flower drop: You probably are overwatering; the plant wants to produce foliage rather than flowers.

Pruning hibiscus: It doesn't need much pruning now. Next winter, prune and leave several flowering buds along the canes for more blooms later.

Spiders in sunflowers: Generally, they are not a problem because spiders feed on insects. But if they become a problem, wash them off.

Sloughing bark on palms: This comes about by constantly soaking palm trunks in lawns. Direct water away from the trunk.

Fuzzy stuff on Mediterranean palms: Don't worry, it is a natural phenomenon of this palm.

Remove Mediterranean palm fronds: Don't remove them because they are producing energy for palms and add a bushy effect to the yard.

Planting pines next to a fence: Generally, pines do not damage walls. Dig your hole and line it with a root barrier, which is sold at a nursery, and plant the tree.

Watering level lawns: You can water only once if no runoff occurs, and you'll have a healthier lawn. But if your lawn slopes, you need to cycle and soak to prevent runoff. Do your part to conserve.

Pruning climbing roses: Don't prune bushes now, so you can build up energy for next spring's blooms and expect a stronger plant.

Wind-damaged paloverde: If your desert-loving trees snap off from high winds, it will send up new shoots for you to retrain.

Christmas pine needles shedding: Back at the tree farm, they heavily sheared them to develop a Christmas tree shape. That created lots of interior growth and it is now shedding, which is OK.

Shearing pines: This is a no-no amongst arborists, because it diminishes their beauty. Control size by not overwatering and fertilizing, and you'll have less needle drop.

Bloomless oleanders: A lack of water is the main reason for oleanders not blooming. I had the same problem and found plugged emitters.

Red yucca won't bloom: It takes about three years and plenty of light to get blooms.


Whether you are designing a new landscape or converting an existing yard, this series of classes will introduce you to the basics of creating a beautiful, water-efficient and sustainable landscape. Topics include how to select a theme and plants to bring it to life, as well as how to maintain your work of art. Classes start at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10 and continue through Oct. 15. Reserve your seat by calling 822-7786.

Linn Mills writes a gardening column each Sunday. You can reach him at [email protected] or call him at 822-7754.