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Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, not plants

As the weather warms, we begin seeing some common summer insects such as dragonflies. We often notice population explosions of these large insects, particularly after rainy weather. Well, the old-time Floridians didn't call them "mosquito hawks" for nothing. The dragonfly feeds upon many small insects, and its favorite food is mosquitoes, which are abundant after wet weather.

Dragonflies swoop through the air and catch them in a basket they form with their legs. Dragonflies look fierce, but they leave people and plants alone.

Avocado tree

Question: I have an avocado tree that was grown from seed and given to me in a pot. I planted it outside, and the tree is now eight feet high with a 1{-inch trunk.

It has been in the ground for three years, but hasn't produced any blooms yet. What can I do to make it flower and fruit? _ Erich Graham, Redington Beach

Answer: Avocado plants sprout easily from seeds, and, although they make nice houseplants, they should not be counted on for fruit.

First of all, seedlings take 8-10 years to produce. Secondly, avocado varieties do not come true from seed. This means that after your long, patient wait, you may end up with poor quality fruit.

If you are truly interested in growing your own avocados, buy a budded or grafted tree. It will produce fruit in 2-3 years.

Gerbera Daisies

Question: After struggling with Gerbera Daisy plants for some six years, I find that now most of them are doing only too well. The problem is that they are huge, healthy clumps of leaves and few flowers.

Should the plants be divided? If so, how?

Also, my blue agapanthus bloomed white last year and again this year. Can I do anything to reverse this annoying performance? _ John S. Erwin, Sun City Center

Answer: The crowns or growing points of Gerbera Daisies gradually sink into the soil after awhile. This weakens the plant's ability to produce flowers and can also lead to crown rot disease.

Because of this suicidal tendency, Gerberas should be dug, divided and reset every year. Spring and fall are the best times to do this.

Dig up a large clump and shake off most of the soil from the roots. Using a heavy knife, small hatchet or pruning shears, cut the large clump into several smaller clumps, each made up of several crowns. Dead roots and old leaves should be removed.

Replant immediately, being careful to keep the crowns slightly above the soil level. Keep the plants moist for a few weeks until they are re-established.

Regarding your agapanthus, also know as Lily of the Nile. There is an agapanthus variety that produces white blooms. If yours have never bloomed blue, I suspect the ones you purchased were mislabeled.

Macadamia nuts

Question: Upon purchasing a home recently, we discovered a Macadamia nut tree in our back yard that is healthy and has many nuts upon it. When do we harvest them, and how do we prepare them for eating after picking? _ Margaret Kimball, St. Petersburg

Answer: Macadamia nuts fall to the ground when they are mature and must be gathered quickly (at least once a week) to prevent them from spoiling. This occurs usually in late fall or early winter.

Remove the outer husks before mechanically cracking them. The shell is extremely hard, and you will find that ordinary nut crackers won't do the job. A hammer, vise or special nut cracker will be needed.

The nuts must be air dried at temperatures not higher than 110 degrees to reduce the moisture content.

They can then be eaten raw or dry roasted at 275 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

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.