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Ask Dr. Hort: Squirrels feeding on your fruit trees? Bag the fruit

Bag fruit on trees to avoid squirrel nibbles

Q: We live in Brandon on a number of acres and have quite a few critters on the property. Two years ago we planted a couple of peach and nectarine trees. They're a hybrid variety from UF and have done very well. Our concern is the fruit from the trees. Last summer the fruit was eaten by something. I've seen squirrels, gopher turtles, armadillos and a fox in the yard, so I'm not sure. Do you know how we can protect the fruit from the guilty critters?

Sharon Campo, Brandon

A: Fruit that has been nibbled upon, but not totally eaten, has been visited by pesky squirrels. They can be quite the nuisance when it comes to thin-skinned fruits and all nuts. A baby bite here or there or fruit knocked off and lying on the ground, unripe, can be quite frustrating to the home gardener. I have found that bagging fruit can be a significant deterrent to these little rascals. The bags also eliminate insect damage without pesticides. Simply place a sandwich size paper bag (not plastic) over the fruit while immature and close around the branch with a twist tie. You can also enclose a cluster the same way. Check periodically for ripening and maybe, just maybe, you will have out smarted the varmints.

Grape varieties suitable for Florida

Q: I have a small arbor on the southeast corner of my property that has plenty of sun. I have been growing a bleeding heart vine at each end. I have decided to dig these up (they grow too fast and become unmanageable). I would love to try growing two grapevines. Where can I get information on buying grapes suitable for Florida, how to maintain them, including spraying, fertilizing? As I am English and love gardening, I thought this would be a new challenge.

Leontine Harrison, Palm Harbor

A: Believe it or not, Florida is movin' on up as a wine-producing state. There are several grape varieties suitable for Florida, both bunch grapes and our native muscadines. There are seedless varieties, red varieties and green varieties, all with special flavors. For growing information, go to the University of Florida's Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) website Type "growing grapes" in the search box. (Bookmark this website; it's a must for every gardener's favorites list.) You may be able to find the variety you choose at your local nursery or garden center; otherwise they can be ordered online.

Why gardenia leaves yellow

Q: I recently planted two small gardenia trees. The leaves are showing signs of turning yellow. What is the problem and what is the solution?

Clifford Brainard, Sun City Center

A: What a great selection! They are spectacular this time of year. First, make sure that they were planted at the correct soil height. The top of the root ball should be even or just a little higher than the existing soil around the hole. Make a soil saucer around the edge of the root ball to receive water. The trees will require more water as they go into flower to hold the buds. If all is well on that front, it could simply be that they are going into flower and the oldest leaves will yellow and fall as the nutrients move to the flowers. After flowering, apply a quality fertilizer containing chelated iron and get them ready for next season.

Epsom salts cause no harm

Q: Can the use of epsom salts in the landscape contribute to pollution because it is highly soluble and leaches through our sandy soils?

Jill Welsh

A: Putting epsom salts on the ground and watering it in causes no environmental pollution. However, magnesium sulfate, the fertilizer grade of epsom salts, is a lot cheaper for use on your plants. Magnesium is one of three elements that make up the chlorophyll molecule that makes plants green, allowing photosynthesis to take place. The soils in our area are very deficient in this nutrient. Therefore, additions of magnesium make for a healthier plant.

How long should sprinklers run?

People often ask how long they should run their irrigation system per zone. The answer? Long enough to apply 3/4 to 1 inch of water per application. Figuring out how long this takes is easy. Place several rain gauges or straight-sided food cans (tuna works well) randomly throughout your sprinkler pattern. The more, the merrier. Run your sprinkler system for 10 minutes. Check your gauge or, using a ruler, measure the amount of water in the cans. Add time, as necessary, to attain 3/4 to 1 inch average. Tape your findings inside your sprinkler control panel.

Need help?

E-mail your questions to Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles at or to (put Dr. Hort in the subject line). Mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe your problem in full, and include your name, city and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Squirrels feeding on your fruit trees? Bag the fruit 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 7:02am]
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