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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

The current edition has an archive list of Home Grown columns.

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I have a big houseplant that is in front of the window in my living room. Lately, I have noticed that there are fruit flies flying around the plant. This doesnít have any fruit on it so what are they doing?

They are being misidentified. Your tiny flappers arenít fruit flies. They are fungus gnats. You are seeing the adults buzzing around. The kiddies or juveniles are small, white larvae wriggling around in the top inch of soil. The adults are just annoying.But the larvae are feeding on decaying organic matter in the soil and will also feed on small roots. This can cause a couple of not-nice things to happen. The chewing can allow bacteria from the damp soil to enter the roots and create root rots and root death. This can stunt growth because the new roots keep getting grazed off. Killing the adults wonít necessarily take care of the problem. Getting the larvae is more important. There are two ways that donít involve the use of pesticides to try. One involves buying more indoor sol-less potting mix and carefully taking a spoon and removing the top inch or so of soil. Thatís where the larvae are. Scoop it out into a bucket and toss it outside into the compost pile. When the soil is missing, check the remaining soil moisture. If the soil is dry, water the plant. Give it a chance to soak in and then replace the top inch of soil with the new potting mixture. Wait as long as possible to water the plant again. Having constantly moist soil is an invitation for bums like these to move in. Donít water the plant until the top inch or so has dried out each time. Fungus gnats canít live in dry soil. You will have to balance watering so the plant doesnít wilt but the top of the soil dries out. The other method is to allow the top several inches of soil to dry and them transfer the pot into a container with water in it. The moisture will be sucked up through the bottom of the pot through the drain hole. Allow enough to be pulled up that it gets damp to about two inches from the surface of the soil. Take it out of the water. Keep the top of the soil dry to kill the larvae. If you can swat some of the adults, itís good exercise.

I am really worried about a very nice evergreen in my front yard. I just moved into this house a month ago and I know there are deer around. The ground is too solid for me to put stakes in the ground and put some kind of a fence around it. Is there anything I can do to protect this tree?

You are in luck. Instead of a stand-up fence, you can block the munchers with a fence that is on the ground. Deer live in mortal terror of getting their feet snagged in something and having that saber tooth tiger attack and eat them. So you come up with a plan to put fencing or metal gates horizontally on the ground so they would have step into the stuff to get to the tree. Raise the wire or gates up on cement blocks so there is a space between the bottom of the wire and the ground. Deer donít want to step into something that has ďDeath TrapĒ written all over it. In the spring, pick up the wire and blocks and the tree should be fine. Just make sure the wire is wide enough that when lying horizontally, that a deer canít lean over and nibble. Put the cement blocks a couple of feet away from the tree trunk and put four-foot woven wire fencing or farm gates or whatever you can get on the blocks. This should get you about six feet away from the tree. Go ahead and ruin some deerís dinner plans.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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