Frequently Asked Questions

Question:
Why are my tomatoes ripening so slowly?
Answer:

Once fruit set has occurred, it normally takes 45 to 55 days for tomato fruit to fully develop and ripen.  Cool temperatures during tomato fruit development will slow maturity.  Tomato fruit may require an additional 7 to 10 days to...

Question:
Can I put disease-infested plant material in my compost pile?
Answer:

Temperatures of 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit are required to kill most plant disease pathogens. Unfortunately, the internal temperatures of most home compost piles don’t reach this level and the disease organisms are not destroyed. For many home...

Question:
How do I ripen pears?
Answer:

Pears should be ripened indoors at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  The ripening process should take seven to ten days.  To speed up ripening, place the pears in a tightly sealed paper bag.  The fruit give off...

Question:
There are brown streaks in my apples. What is the cause and how can it be prevented?
Answer:

The brown streaks in the apples are probably due to the apple maggot.  The apple maggot is the most serious insect pest of apples in Iowa.  Apple maggot damage appears as knobby, misshapen fruit with small pits or blemishes on the fruit...

Question:
Rabbits have damaged several trees and shrubs in my yard. Can I do anything to save them?
Answer:

Deciduous trees that have been girdled (the bark has been removed completely around the trunk) have essentially been destroyed.  The best course of action is to replace the girdled trees.  Wrapping the trunk or applying pruning paint to...

Question:
What is thatch?
Answer:

Thatch is the layer of dead and living plant material that forms between the soil surface and green vegetation.  It is composed of shoots, crowns, and roots.  Thatch, to some degree, is present in all lawns.  However, when thatch...

Question:
The berries on my grapevines have shriveled up and turned bluish black. What happened to my grapes?
Answer:

Black rot is probably responsible for the damage to the grapes.  Black rot is caused by the fungus Guignardia bidwellii.  This fungal disease is common in home and commercial vineyards in Iowa, especially in warm, humid summers...

Question:
One of my trees has been damaged in a storm. How can I determine if the tree can be saved or should be removed?
Answer:

Carefully examine the tree for the type and extent of damage.  Trees that have split trunks or suffered extensive trunk damage are no longer structurally sound and should be removed.  Large trees that have lost 50 percent or more of...

Question:
I can't get grass to grow under a large maple tree. What are my options?
Answer:

Most turfgrasses have a difficult time growing in the vicinity of large shade trees.  If your efforts to grow turfgrass are unsuccessful, there are alternatives.  Areas around and beneath trees can be mulched with wood chips or shredded...

Question:
Can blackberries be successfully grown in Iowa?
Answer:

The growth and fruiting characteristics of blackberries are similar to raspberries.  The blackberry plant’s roots and crown are perennial, while its stems or canes are biennial.  Blackberry canes are strictly vegetative during the first...

Question:
How often should I pinch my mums?
Answer:

Pinch chrysanthemums 2 to 3 times from spring to mid-summer.  Remove the stem tips when the shoots are 6 to 8 inches tall.  New lateral shoots will develop along the stems.  Pinch again when these new shoots reach a length of 6 to...

Question:
What is the storage life of onions?
Answer:

The storage life of onions is determined by the variety and storage conditions.  When properly stored, good keepers, such as ‘Copra’ and ‘Stuttgarter,’ can be successfully stored for several months.  Poor keepers, such as ‘Walla Walla’...

Question:
I would like to establish some perennial beds in my yard, but I don't have a great deal of time for maintenance chores. What are some good low maintenance perennials?
Answer:

All perennials require some maintenance.  Watering, fertilizing, pinching, staking, deadheading, dividing, and providing winter protection are common maintenance chores.  Some perennials require frequent attention through the growing...

Question:
Why are my tomatoes cracking?
Answer:

Fruit cracking is a common problem on tomatoes.  Cracks usually appear at the top or stem end of the fruit.  Cracks radiate out from the stem (radial cracks) or circle the fruit in concentric rings (concentric cracks).  Fruit...

Question:
How can I accelerate the decomposition of leaves in my compost pile?
Answer:

Leaves contain high levels of carbon and small amounts of nitrogen. The microbes that decompose leaves and other types of organic matter require nitrogen for their own metabolism and growth. A compost pile composed mainly of leaves decomposes...

Question:
What are the proper storage conditions for pears?
Answer:

For long-term storage, refrigerate the unripened pears at a temperature of 30 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pears may be stored for approximately one to three months.  Remove stored fruit about one week prior to use.  

Question:
Several apples have formed on a newly planted fruit tree. Can the apples be allowed to mature or should they be removed?
Answer:

It’s generally best to remove all fruit that form on apple trees during their first 3 growing seasons.  Removal of the fruit maximizes plant growth and increases yields in later years.  Removing the fruit may also prevent limb breakage...

Question:
Rabbits heavily damaged my raspberries over winter. Will they produce a crop this year?
Answer:

Purple, black, and summer-bearing red raspberries that have been badly damaged by rabbits will likely produce little fruit this year.  (Purple, black, and summer-bearing red raspberries produce fruit on the previous year's shoots. ...

Question:
Do I need to remove my grass clippings to prevent thatch development?
Answer:

Grass clippings contribute very little to thatch development because clippings are primarily cellulose and decompose quickly.  There is no need to remove grass clippings when lawns are mowed properly.  Infrequent mowing of tall grass...

Question:
The berries in my grape clusters are not ripening evenly. Why?
Answer:

Several factors could be responsible for the uneven ripening of the berries within a cluster.  Possible causes are over-cropping (too many grape clusters on the vine), a potassium deficiency, moisture stress, or 2,4-D damage. 

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Question:
How can I keep birds from eating my grapes?
Answer:

The best way to prevent birds from eating the grape crop is to place netting over the grapevines.  Netting can be purchased at garden centers or through mail-order companies.  When placing netting over the grapevines, make sure the...

Question:
My sycamore is losing some of its bark. Is there something wrong with the tree?
Answer:

Shedding bark on some trees is a completely normal development. The bark of most young trees is smooth and thin. As the tree grows, the bark layer thickens with the outermost tissue eventually dying. Continued growth pushes the bark outward,...

Question:
What is the proper way to deadhead roses?
Answer:

Deadheading or the removal of faded flowers is done to encourage additional bloom on hybrid tea and other repeat-flowering roses.  Hybrid tea roses usually have one or two 3-leaflet leaves immediately below the flower.  Next (lower down...

Question:
Parts of the berries on my red raspberries are white in color. Why?
Answer:

A raspberry fruit (berry) is composed of over 50 drupelets.  The white colored drupelets are likely due to sunscald or white drupelet disorder.  Sunscald and white drupelet disorder are physiological disorders caused by sun exposure (...

Question:
When can I divide daylilies?
Answer:

Daylilies can be divided in early spring (as new growth begins to emerge) or in late summer.  Dig up the entire clump with a spade.  Shake or wash off the soil.  Then carefully pull the clump apart.  Oftentimes, a sharp knife...

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