University of Maryland Extension: Garden Q&A
Photo credit: Baltimore Sun/Nanine Hartzenbusch
Q: My 130-year-old oak tree is dropping a tremendous number of acorns, more than I’ve ever seen. An arborist told me that acorns are a sign of distress in the tree and not a prediction of a cold winter to come. Your thoughts? What can I do with all these acorns?
A: When oak trees produce massive acorn crops, it is called masting. This happens at intervals of about 3 to 5 years, and the same species tend to mast on the same years. The reason is uncertain. It may be weather related—e.g. summer 2009 was unusually moist and favorable to plant growth. Or it may be a survival strategy—i.e.by producing more acorns than acorn-eaters such as squirrels can eat. It is true that declining plants may hike up seed production in a last gasp attempt to reproduce before they die, but with oak trees this is not necessarily the cause.
You can shred your acorns and compost them for use in garden beds or as top dressing on your lawn. Or donate your acorns. The Maryland state tree nursery has a huge annual need for acorns from all native oaks. Citizens can donate collected acorns. Large quantities are preferred but a 5 gallon bucket is welcome and takes hardly any time or effort to fill. The only caveat is that the species of acorns be kept segregated.
Interested? Call 410-260-8583 or email DRider@dnr.state.md.us for more information.
Q: While bringing my house plants inside, I found an infestation of red and black bugs on the fern. I don't see evidence of damage. I’m attaching a photo [on HGIC’s website.] What is the best way to get rid of these insects?
A: These are boxelder bugs; not a pest of ferns. Here is our publication on boxelder bugs: www.hgic.umd.edu/_media/documents/hg10_000.pdf.
They won’t harm your fern but are congregating before finding a place to spend the winter. You can simply knock them off of your fern, either by hand or with a blast of water.
To avoid bringing other insects in on your plants, examine them carefully. Spray them with insecticidal soap if water spray doesn’t wash them off.