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Growing fruits and nuts not for the faint of heart

Friday - 10/12/2012, 12:47pm  ET

Cherry trees are one of the fruit-bearing trees that grow well in the D.C. region along with pears, figs, apples and peaches. (Thinkstock)

Protecting your plants in colder temps

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath


Mike McGrath,

WASHINGTON - Jim in Silver Spring writes: "Thanks for last week's report listing the best and (worst) shade and ornamental trees for this area. Now: What about best and worst fruit and nut trees for our region? I want food as well as all the other benefits trees provide."

Well, that's both a long and short list, Jim. Pears and figs are by far the easiest-care of the tree fruits that grow well in our region.

Peaches, apples and cherries also grow well in our area, but forget the "easy care" part. Peaches and apples are plagued by seemingly endless disease and insect problems, and require an enormous amount of care. They must be pruned heavily at the end of every winter. The developing fruits must be thinned heavily every spring.

How heavily? Three-quarters of the little fruits have to come off if you hope to get full-sized, good-looking specimens at harvest time. And birds tend to get most of the cherries a tree produces. Raspberries and blueberries are easier fruits for homeowners to grow.

Two nuts come to mind as growing well here. Black walnuts love our climate, but the nut meat is an acquired taste (most people find it to be too sour), and it's difficult to process. Hickories are much better tasting and easier to process. They're great trees that produce great nutsóbut it can take decades for a hickory tree to begin producing them.

Lots of Acorns This Fall = Lots of Ticks Next Spring

Jan in Bethesda writes: "Your mid-week warning on the dangers that can result when oaks drop a lot of acorns was great. I find that very few people in our area are aware of the whole "acorns feed mice and more mice means more of the ticks that carry Lyme disease" connection. I'm originally from New England, where we know about the problem - and so I spread Tick Tubes around my property every season; haven't found a tick since I began using them."

I'm with you 100 percent, Jan. Field mice are the No. 1 vector for the small ticks that carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other dangerous illnesses (so-called "deer ticks" should be called "mouse ticks!") And, if reports of local oak trees dropping lots of acorns prove true, it means an explosion in both the mouse and deer population.

But even one tick can prove too many, and that's why I also use Tick Tubes, which are cardboard cylinders stuffed with cotton balls that have been treated with a tick-specific pesticide. You spread them around your property, the mice take the cotton back to their nests to use as bedding and the pesticide kills the ticks on the mice before they can latch onto bigger prey, like deer. Or people. Here's a link to the Tick Tube website.

And if you have acorns coming down, be proactive and clean them up. Use a yard vac to suck them up or cover the ground with the kind of netting used to keep leaves out of fish ponds and make sure it has the smallest holes possible.

When the acorns are done falling, roll it up and throw it out.

It may seem strange, but cleaning up acorns means less chance of being bitten by ticks.

No to grass seed, but there's still time to lay sod

Ziggie in Alexandria writes: "I know that early fall (up to the end of September) is the best time to sow grass seed or lay sod. But I missed that window. Short of my waiting a year, do you have any suggestions? My yard is somewhat shaded, so I don't think sod would work. Am I correct that seed is better for shade? And can I still seed in the spring?"

That's "no" all around, Zig. Spring seeding of a lawn is almost always doomed to failure, and it's getting too cold to try and get grass seed to germinate well now.

But you can still lay sod for another couple of weeks if you can find it for sale. In your case, the right kind of sod would be one of the fescues. These are cool-season grasses that work well in areas that get at least four hours of sun a day. There's no sun or shade difference between seed and sod so, either way, you have to get the right type of grass for your conditions.

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