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Scentless plant bugs are no major threat

Noticed hordes of little red bugs around the yard lately? If so, you've got a massive get-together of Scentless Plant Bugs. These bright red bugs, known in the scientific community as Jadera, seem to have a common affinity for plants in the Sapindaceae family, including golden rain tree, chinaberry and lychee. However, they prefer to feed on the fallen seeds of these plants rather than the foliage and are therefore considered more a nuisance than a threat.

Their sheer numbers cause great alarm in homeowners who find them

congregating in the mulch around plants, crawling around on the outside walls of the house and occasionally making an appearance inside the house. Scentless Plant Bugs are rarely fazed by insecticidal sprays.

Dozens seem to replace every one you kill, so don't waste your time.

They'll subside on their own.

Too humid for olive harvest

Question: Has anyone tried growing olives in Florida? The climate in Greece is similar to ours but drier. If they do grow here, I'd like to know where to obtain one and how to grow it. Can you please list a few places where "off the wall" plants and trees (like olives) are available? Bill Caron, St. Petersburg Beach.

Answer: Olive trees will grow here, and the one or two I've seen were attractive small trees. However, they can't be counted on for fruit. You're right about the drier climate of Greece. Here in Florida, our weather is just too humid. Any olives that set usually rot.

Unusual plants can be ordered through specialty seed and plant catalogs; many sources are listed in gardening magazines. Local nurseries can sometimes track down uncommon plants as well. As to unusual fruits, the Rare Fruit Council of Tampa Bay has a plant sale every October in Tampa where many specialty fruit trees can be purchased. If you find an olive tree, be sure to plant it in a well-drained spot and water it sparingly once it's established.

Vine threatens oak tree

Question: We have a lovely old oak tree in Fort Myers that is covered by a strange-looking vine that has long, straight, bright green needles with small green berries. The vine turns brown sometimes, but always come back healthy and green. The Christmas freeze didn't faze it.

We paid to have this growth removed manually, but it grew right back stronger than ever. This vine covers all the leaves, and we're afraid this grand old oak will die. Can we spray to kill the vine without harming the tree? Please help us. Margie Kincaid, Tampa Answer: For the life of me, I can't figure out what this vine might be, but never fear, the approach you should take is standard, no matter what the plant. There's no way to spray the vine without damaging the tree. What you must do is determine where the roots grow into the soil and cut it off at ground level at that point. When it resprouts from the ground, spray the leaves with Round-Up, Block-Out or any herbicide containing the active ingredient Glyphosate. This material is absorbed only by the green chlorophyll in plants. That's why you must wait until enough leaf surface area exists to absorb the chemical.

After being absorbed by the leaves, the material will be translocated to the roots. The plant will die back or be partly stunted, but it will no doubt sprout again from its large, established root system and require additional sprays. Be patient and diligent and you will eventually overcome it. Glyphosate is not absorbed by the roots of plants or the bark of trees, but care should be given not to get the spray on any other green plants in the area, including grass.

I would be happy to identify the vine if you would mail me a piece of it. The county extension service in Fort Myers would do the same.

Still wondering about ball moss

Question: I read with great interest your advice on removal of ball moss. You advised hand-picking it, but if I try to hire someone to do that, he will think I'm crazy! You say that ball moss does not feed on trees. Please explain to me why any tree that gets it dies? Alexandra Peterson, St. Petersburg Answer: I knew that column would stir up debate! First of all, every tree that gets ball moss does not die. I urge you to look around and note the many fine, healthy trees upon which some ball moss is growing. You'll also observe ball moss growing on telephone lines, fences and just about anything that stands still long enough for it to perch upon.

You are right. Trees heavily infested with ball moss usually die, but I assure you that something else - disease, construction damage, lightning - caused the tree's initial decline. Being the opportunist it is, ball moss will quickly spread over the bare, declining branches. So it's very understandable that people assume the moss is the culprit. However, scientific research has concluded that moss does not feed on trees. Radioactive isotopes injected into trees were not absorbed by the ball mass growing on them.

Heavy amounts of ball moss degrade the aesthetic quality of trees.

Perhaps someday we will have safe chemicals that are legal to spray on it. What I object to is the fact that some companies use scare tactics and illegal, unlabeled chemicals. Dr. Gary Simone, plant pathology specialist at the University of Florida, says only one product is legal to use: Cocide 101, and then only on live oak trees.

Cutting palm seed stalks

Question: Our palms produce large seed stalks that we would like to cut off, but we're concerned about harming the palm. Also our gardenia is covered with whiteflies and sooty mold. We spray every two to three weeks but can't get it under control What do you recommend? Mrs. R.L. Peck, Sun City Center Answer: Feel free to prune the seed stalk off your palm - just cut the stalk close to the trunk. This will not hurt palm and will reduce the maintenance associated with picking up seeds or culling seedlings.

My best advice concerning whitefly control is to quit spraying.

There are several natural controls of whitefly that, left alone, will usually eliminate the problem. However, frequent spraying kills off these "good guys" before they can become established. Mix a solution of water and mild liquid detergent and spray it on your gardenia. It will help flake off the sooty mold and will have little effect on beneficial organisms feeding on the whiteflies.