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Q & A Apple trees, coffee grounds, companion planting, pear slugs
by Jerry Filipski
by Jerry Filipski


Gerald (Jerry) Filipski is the gardening columnist for the Edmonton Journal, a position he has enjoyed as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Jerry also writes for Canadian Gardening, the new Alberta Gardener as well as for the lifestyle magazine of P&O ferries. Jerry also does numerous public speaking engagements including some major gardening conferences and workshops as well as question and answer sessions for Wal-Mart and Rona.

March 15, 2009

Q.- I heard that you can increase the fruit buds on an apple tree by bending the upright branches. Is this true?

A.- I had to look this up but it is true. You can tie weights to the vertical branches making them almost horizontal. Fruit buds will be more bountiful than regular shoots using this technique. Do this bending in the spring when the branches are supple. Be careful not to arch the branches. If you do non-fruiting shoots will grow from the highest point of the arch.

Q.- What is the definitive word on the use of coffee grounds in the garden? Is it good to use or not?

A.- Coffee grounds added to the soil encourage acid-forming bacteria aiding in the growth of acid-loving plants such as blueberries and evergreens. If you add the grounds to your compost pile or composter the grounds will not provide acid. The composting action will neutralize the grounds and they will be incorporated into the neutral, finished compost.

You can also use the grounds as a mulch for acid-loving plants. Do not use the grounds by themselves, however, as they tend to cake. Mix the coffee grounds with dry materials such as pine or spruce needles.

Q.- Can you give me some examples of plants that grow well together and help in warding off insects?

A.- What you are referring to are called companion plants. Certain specimens, when planted together, make good companions by increasing harvests, utilizing nutrients better, conditioning the soil and keeping pests away. Here are a few examples:

  • Plant nasturtiums close to beans, cabbages or zucchini. Many types of aphids will attack the flowers leaving your vegetables alone.
  • Plant the herb hyssop in cabbage rows. The white cabbage butterflies will abandon the cabbage in favour of the hyssop.
  • By planting mint between cabbages you can discourage caterpillars and other pests.
  • Try saving space by planting sweet corn and then using the stalk of the corn to grow pole beans. 2 crops in a small space.
  • To increase your production of snap beans plant them next to sweet peas or morning glories which will attract more pollinating insects.
  • Green beans planted next to eggplants will deter the Colorado potato beetle that loves eggplant.
  • Try planting sun-shy lettuce at the foot of cornstalks or tender cabbage and spinach below trellised peas. 2 Good examples of natural sunscreens.

Q.- Last year I had a bad infestation of pear slugs on my cotoneaster hedge. Do they overwinter? If so, what can I do to prevent the problem again this year?

A.- For other gardeners who may not know, pear slugs resemble a tiny slug and are covered with a dark olive-green or yellowish slimy covering. The front end of the larva is larger than the rest of the body.

The pear slugs overwinter in cocoons 5-7 mm below the soil surface or in leaf litter beneath the host plants. They will emerge in late spring just after the host plant is in full leaf. They emerge as pear sawflies which fly to the host plant and mate. The females lay eggs singly on the leaves. The eggs hatch in 9-15 days and the pear slugs feed for 2-3 weeks after which they drop to the ground and the cycle begins anew.

Cotoneaster, hawthorn, mountain ash, cherry, plum and pear are the trees most commonly attacked. Check plants frequently in mid-June for first generation larvae and from mid-July on for second generation infestations. To control this pest try spraying the infested leaves with a soap solution or a sprayed-on contact insecticide such as pyrethrum, rotenone, permethrin or malathion.

Follow manufacturer's directions carefully as always when applying insecticides.

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