Q. I had this nice planting of Western arborvitae, all the same cultivar that grows quickly. A snowplow pushed one over significantly (see photos). Now that the snow has melted, I see it is tipped badly. Should I replace it or straighten it up. If the latter, how?
A. Definitely, you want to straighten the tree you have. Trying to establish a new tree with the others competing for its moisture and light, any replacement would never catch up, if it even survived. This tree is not that badly damaged. In two or three years, it will probably look like the others, and in one year it can be straightened.
Straightening can be accomplished fairly easily, but you will need a sturdy post about 10 feet tall. The simplest way would be to back a truck up to the tree and tie a rope at about 7 feet up. Pull it straight. Then drive the post in at a slight angle of about 200 opposite the tip direction. Tie the tree at two to three locations (say 4, 5.5 and 7 feet up) with a good nylon rope, to straighten it within reason. Leave it with that support for about a year and then remove. Let the base recover on its own and do some corrective pruning if obvious.
Q. I read your description about the European origin of Groundhog Day weather prediction, but that didn't address where the use of the groundhog came from. And I thought it was descendents of Germans who started it in Pennsylvania. What was the prediction and what does it mean?
A. Thanks for reading and keeping me on my toes! As previously discussed, the origin is to Candlemas Day, but the "animal" involved in weather forecasting is indeed from Germany. This is right from "The Legend" webpage of Groundhog.org. If, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a "Second Winter" or six more weeks of bad weather. As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen.
On Feb. 2, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it was snowing (no shadow), so we are to get an early spring (not clearly defined usually thought of as two more weeks of winter). By the way, it was a record crowd there this year, with an estimated 40,000 people. It wasn't such a big deal until the movie "Groundhog Day," which also generated the top rate Super Bowl commercial this year!
Q. When should I establish strawberries? Can I lift sets from a neighbor?
A. Early spring is an ideal time to plant either crowns (mail order) or plants (from a garden center). If you plant the latter early enough and we get a cool and rainy spring, you might get a small spring crop. We do NOT advise using home grown strawberry sets to establish a new planting. Once strawberries are in a given location for three to four years, they usually have some disease problems. If these are moved into a new location, that planting (generally) declines more rapidly. In Missouri, most strawberry plantings have to be reestablished in a new location after four to five years, as that location is beset by a combination of disease and insect pests. New crowns from a reliable supplier of disease free stock should be sought for the new location. Previously used ground should not be used for five years or longer.
Q. Whenever I plant eggplant, I get these little bugs that eat the leaves full of holes. What are they and what can I do to stop them? I prefer to not use insecticides. Also, any suggestion to control slugs?
A. Those are flea beetles, and they love eggplant. They will also feed on potatoes (but much less) and cabbage. They are especially attracted to arugula and certain Asian greens like mizuna and tatsoi. For eggplant, early season control is easy, starting with a plastic gallon milk jug with the bottom cut off. Simply place it over your newly planted eggplant. The cap should be left off. When the plant looks like it is ready to push through that top hole, remove it. Vigorously growing eggplant can usually tolerate flea beetle feeding. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on the leaves to reduce the damage or a synthetic insecticide can be applied. Make sure it is labeled for vegetables and control of flea beetles.
For easy control of slugs, I recommend Sluggo, which is a natural product (iron and phosphorus) that is a bait and breaks down as a fertilizer. Its label gives simple to follow instructions for sprinkling it out.