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Citrus rust mites are not harmful

As citrus fruits begin to color and ripen, people begin to pay greater attention to their trees. Problems that went unnoticed in summer suddenly become apparent. Such is the case with rust mite damage. Injury from heavy infestations appears as dark brown blemishes on the peel. This mars the external appearance of the fruit but doesn't affect the internal quality.

Citrus rust mites are so small they can't be seen without a magnifying glass. Under a 10-power lens, they appear as lemon-yellow, wedge-shaped objects. They are most numerous from spring until late summer. Spraying is not advised for the homeowner since the damage is only superficial.

Palm kept too moist?

Question: We have a young pineapple palm about 2{ feet tall. The leaves look healthy and are growing. However, it doesn't appear to be firmly rooted, and I think the palm could be easily toppled with a little pressure. The old frond stumps next to the ground are rotting and falling off, but I see no insects in these areas. There are some palm roots on the surface. What could be our problem? John Wingis, Port Richey.

Answer: I suspect that your palm is receiving too much water. Surface roots and rotting stumps indicate that the trunk is staying wet _ perhaps from a nearby lawn sprinkler. Poor drainage or excessive irrigation would prevent the palm from developing an adequate root system. Most palms, including pineapple palm (Phoenix canariensis), are considered very drought tolerant.

Native lily

Question: A white lily came up alongside my amaryllis and bloomed in September. The foliage looks much like an amaryllis, but the flowers are unusual and exotic and I would like to know what they are. The center of the flower is a delicate, flat six-sided section with very long stamens. The long, stringlike petals hang down from this center.

Also, my amaryllis lilies are still green and lush. I expected them to dry up by now so I could cut them down. They show no signs of dying down. How do I treat them this fall? Mrs. J.M. Fenner, Palm Harbor.

Answer: Your "exotic" lily is one of Florida's native wildflowers _ spider lily (Hymenocallis crassifolia). This bulbous perennial normally is found near the edges of swamps and streams.

Amaryllis need no special attention this time of year unless you need to dig and reset the bulbs. This is not necessary or desirable unless the plants are crowded or the bulbs have become quite old and have pulled themselves deep into the soil. With the advent of cooler weather, they should die back as expected.

Your plants need bees

Question: I have a small vegetable garden; the soil pH is 6.8. I planted butternut squash seeds in a hill, and the plants grew with lots of leaves. Flowers and fruits began to appear, but a few weeks later the fruits turned yellow and dropped from the vine. I tried cucumbers, and the same thing happened. Could you please tell me what is wrong? Joseph D. Correa, Spring Hill.

Answer: Squashes, cucumbers and melons belong to the same family of vegetables _ the cucurbit family. Cucurbits have separate male and female flowers, and bees are necessary to transfer the pollen from the male blossoms to the females. The female will set fruit without having been adequately pollinated. When this happens the fruits reach a certain size, turn yellow and abort as yours did.

It's possible that bees are not "working" your garden or that your plants have produced all female flowers. The female flowers are tucked in close to the plant; males are on long stems. If both flowers are present, try hand pollination. Pick off a male bloom and rub the pollen-laden stamen on the center of the female blooms.

Protect your bees by avoiding the use of poisonous dusts which the bees pick up like pollen and carry back to the hive. Use sprays instead and apply them late in the afternoon when bees are not around. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and insecticidal soaps will control most of the pests in your garden and will not harm bees.

Sydney Park Brown is an urban horticultural specialist with the Hillsborough County Extension Service. Send written questions to her in care of the Extension Service, 5339 State Road 579, Seffner, Fla. 33584.