Frequently Asked Questions

Question:
What is the proper way to harvest and store winter squash?
Answer:

Harvesting

Harvest winter squash when the fruit are fully mature.  Mature winter squash have very hard skins that can’t be punctured with the thumbnail.  Additionally, mature winter squash have dull-looking surfaces. ...

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:
Can the butterfly weed be divided?
Answer:

The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a member of the milkweed family.  Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and produce flat-topped clusters of bright orange flowers from July through September.  Their flowers attract several...

Question:
How can I minimize plant disease problems in my vegetable garden next year?
Answer:

Several steps can be taken to minimize disease problems in your garden next year.

Fall Clean-Up

An important task is to clean up the garden in fall.  Carefully remove and destroy the infected plant debris.  Many of the...

Question:
Can I grow an apple tree from a seed?
Answer:

It is possible to grow an apple tree from an apple seed.  However, in most cases, apple trees don't come true from seeds.  For example, a seed taken from a Red Delicious apple will not produce a Red Delicious apple tree.  Seedling...

Question:
How do I over-winter elephant's ear?
Answer:

Elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta) is a tropical plant grown for its huge, heart-shaped leaves.  Dig up the plants after the first fall frost.  Cut off the foliage.  Dry the tubers in a warm, dry location for 1 or 2...

Question:
What is the proper way to aerate a lawn?
Answer:

Aerate lawns with a core aerator.  Core aerators have hollow metal tubes or tines that remove plugs of soil.  Avoid spike-type devices that simply punch holes (compacting the soil) in the ground.  Core aerators are often available...

Question:
What causes my peaches to rot and turn brown?
Answer:

Brown rot is a common fungal disease of peaches and other stone fruits.  Affected fruits develop circular light brown spots that expand rapidly and rot the fruit.  Sometimes the fungus that causes this rot is visible as ash-gray tufts....

Question:
Do I need to add an activator to my compost pile?
Answer:

It is not necessary to add an inoculant or activator to a compost pile. A compost pile should be composed of layers of plant material and soil or finished compost. The soil and finished compost contain the microbes that will decompose the plant...

Question:
How do I get rid of moss in my lawn?
Answer:

Mosses in lawns are usually a sign of poor growing conditions.  Turfgrasses have a difficult time growing in heavy shade, compacted soils, or other poor sites.  However, mosses are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions....

Question:
How do I prevent straw from blowing off my strawberry bed in winter?
Answer:

In windy, exposed areas, straw mulches can be kept in place by placing wire or plastic fencing over the area.  The fencing can be held in place with bricks or other heavy objects.

Question:
What type of equipment do I need to prune trees and shrubs?
Answer:

Proper pruning tools for a home gardener include hand shears, lopping shears, and a pruning saw. 

3/4 inch and smaller in Diameter

Hand or pruning shears are generally used for cutting stems (branches) up to 3/4 inch in...

Question:
How often should I water my roses?
Answer:

Modern roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, require watering during hot, dry weather.  The frequency depends upon weather conditions and soil type.  In most gardens, a thorough watering every 7 to 10 days during...

Question:
How can I control Colorado potato beetles?
Answer:

The Colorado potato beetle is difficult to control.  Hand picking is a control option for individuals with small gardens.  Hand-pick beetles, eggs, and small larvae from infested plants as soon as possible (practical for a few insects...

Question:
How can I determine if my oak tree has oak wilt?
Answer:

Oak wilt is a serious disease that can infect many oak species.  It is caused by the fungus B. fagacearum.  Red and pin oaks are very susceptible to the oak wilt fungus and can die within 4 to 6 weeks.  White and bur oaks...

Question:
What are the site requirements for bee balms?
Answer:

Bee balms (Monarda species) perform best in full sun.  The planting site should receive at least 6 hours of direct sun per day.  Plants grown in partial shade won’t flower as heavily and are more susceptible to powdery mildew....

Question:
When should I harvest my pumpkins?
Answer:

Pumpkins can be harvested when they have developed a deep, uniform orange color and the rind is hard.  Mature pumpkins can also be left in the garden/field until the vines are killed by a light frost or freeze. 

When harvesting...

Question:
There are several bands of holes around the trunk of my pine tree. Is the tree infested with borers?
Answer:

The holes were likely created by sapsuckers.  Sapsuckers, members of the woodpecker family, damage trees by drilling holes in the trunk or large branches.  Sapsucker damage is very distinctive.  They drill uniform, 1/4 inch holes...

Question:
Can the Lenten rose be successfully grown in Iowa?
Answer:

While more demanding than many other perennials, the Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) can be successfully grown in Iowa.  The Lenten rose requires a fertile, well-drained soil in partial shade.  Also, choose a site...

Question:
Should I clean and till my vegetable garden this fall or early next spring?
Answer:

Fall clean-up and tillage provide several benefits.  Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris.  Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases.  Removal of...

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

Blueberries can be successfully grown in Iowa.  However, they do have special growing requirements. 

Blueberry plants require a sunny location and a well-drained soil high in organic matter.  Avoid wet, poorly drained sites...

Question:
When is the best time to plant daffodils?
Answer:

October is the ideal time to plant daffodils, tulips, and other spring-flowering bulbs in Iowa.  When planted in October, spring-flowering bulbs have sufficient time to develop a good root system before the ground freezes in winter.  If...

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:
When should you harvest plums?
Answer:

As plums approach maturity, the fruit develop their characteristic color.  The fruit of blue or purple varieties (‘Stanley,’ ‘Damson’ and ‘Mount Royal’) change from green to greenish-blue, then to dark blue or purple.  The ripened fruit...

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...

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