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Ask a Master Gardener: Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Q: What ate the leaves almost completely off my tomato plant?

A: The infamous hornworm has come to visit. The hornworm can strip a plant of its foliage in record time. The tomato hornworm are voracious, mulching entire leaves, small stems, and even parts of immature fruit.

While they are most commonly associated with tomatoes, hornworms are also common pests of eggplants, peppers and potatoes.

Most likely you'll notice the damage before you notice the hornworm because their color blends in so well with the foliage. The tomato hornworm is three to four inches long at full size, green in color with white V-shaped marks along its sides, and a black horn projecting from its rear.

The tomato hornworm is the larvae stage of the sphinx or hawk moth. The moth overwinters in the soil as a dark brown pupae, then emerges and mates in late spring.

They lay round, greenish-white eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs hatch in four to five days and the hornworm emerges. It spends the next four to five weeks growing into full size after which it makes it way back into the soil to pupate.

The easiest and quickest way to get rid of them is to pick them off and either squish it or toss it into a bowl of soapy water.

Q: When is the best time to plant palm trees?

A: Unlike most other types of trees, the best time to plant or transplant palms is in the heat of the summer. So now is a perfect time.

It is also the time to prune or clean up your palms. Remove dead foliage and seed pods after June 15 on Mexican Fan Palms.

For Queen Palms you might want to wait a bit longer. The longer you wait the more seed pods you will be able to remove. Queen palms will continue to produce seeds pods all summer long, so the longer you wait the more seed pods you will be able to remove.

Palm fronds are not real friendly to remove. They should be removed very close to their attachment without cutting into the main trunk. This is a job you may want to call a professional for, but remember; just because they call themselves a tree trimmer does not mean they are professional.

Q: I have seen lots of bats lately. Are they dangerous?

A: No, they are not dangerous and, actually, we need these amazing creatures around. They not only eat tons of insects, but also pollinate many cacti and agaves (especially the night blooming ones).

There are only eight species of bats that commonly inhabit Mohave County. Most of the eight species are referred to as aerial insectivorous bats.

Aerial insectivorous bats capture prey while flying. They begin their feeding at dusk and are often seem flying in open areas. In one aerial feeding a bat can capture hundreds of mosquito-size insects in just one hour.

They actually feed on a wide variety of insects such as mosquitoes, centipedes, scorpions, beetles, flying ants, roaches, grasshoppers, katydids, and moths. They are very shy creatures and avoid contact with humans.

Although their general appearance would not deem it, bats are very clean. After a night of feeding they return to their roost and spend up to 30 minutes cleaning themselves before retiring.

To encourage them to visit your yard, put out water in a shallow container a little larger than a bird bath so they can swoop down for a drink between insects.

Q: I am watering my tree with one bubbler just like last year and it does not seem to be doing well. What's wrong?

A: Your tree is most likely not getting enough water. Each year as your tree grows, you will need to add a bubbler or two depending on the amount of growth. Having only one bubbler means your tree is only getting water on one side.

The bubblers should be placed at the edge of the tree canopy which is referred to as the drip line.

A newly planted tree may do well with one bubbler, but each year, as the canopy expands, so should the location and the number of bubblers so that the tree's entire root system receives water.

Make sure you are watering long and slow for a deep watering, which encourages the roots to go down to securely anchor the tree. Surface roots will not support a tree in heavy winds. Always keep the water away from the trunk of the tree. Trees are not elephants; they do not drink with their trunks.