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Originally published Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Ciscoe Morris: Cleaning hummingbird feeders, treating needle blight, attracting ladybugs

Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer tells about cleaning the hummingbird feeder; handling cedar-needle blight and buying ladybugs to get rid of aphids.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe's Picks:

Heavenly Hydrangeas Seminar at Molbak's: 10 a.m. Saturday. Nita-Jo Rountree will teach how to grow and care for these plants. Information at www.molbaks.com/events.html

Georgetown Garden Walk: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Stroll colorful gardens, discover shops and restaurants, visit artist studios and listen to live music. Plus tour the Museum of Communication. Maps for the free self-guided tour will be available on Sunday at the Georgetown branch of the Bank of America parking lot located at 1112 S. Bailey St. in Seattle. Information at www.georgetowngardenwalk.com Sixth annual Plant Amnesty Tree-Hugger Bingo and Chili Feed: 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Shilshole Bay Beach Club, 6413 Seaview Ave. N.W., Seattle. Tickets are $25 individual/$125 for a table of six. The ticket includes chili and chips, as well as bingo. Information about the event and how to buy tickets is at www.plantamnesty.org

Most Popular Comments
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For cleaning the bottle feeders, put a teaspoon or so of uncooked rice in the bottle... MORE
Most information regarding sugar solution for hummingbirds recommend a 4 to 1 ratio. ... MORE
The instructions with my hummingbird feeder, is 4:1 - 1/4 cup sugar to one cup water. ... MORE

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Q: How do you clean hummingbird feeders?

A: The first rule is to avoid using soap. Hummingbirds hate the taste of it, and if there's the slightest residue, they won't use the feeder. If you change solution often, simply scrub the feeder with a bottlebrush and then flush it out with hot tap water.

If the solution ever looks cloudy or spoiled, clean it thoroughly with a solution of straight white vinegar and rinse with hot water. Since it's necessary to change the nectar practically every other day in hot weather, save yourself a big hassle and choose a type of feeder that's easy to take apart and clean. I recommend the basin-style feeders over the inverted bottle type because the latter is frustratingly hard to clean.

If you decide to replace your old feeder, get one with perches. The hummingbirds will really appreciate a seat at the table rather than expending valuable energy beating their wings while they snack.

Q: What's wrong with my blue atlas cedar? Some of the needles are turning brown and the ends of several branches appear to be dying.

A: I suspect that your tree has cedar needle blight. This fungus disease is favored by prolonged cool wet weather such as we experienced this spring.

As you described, needles at the end of branches turn tannish-brown, and end of branches often die. In bad cases, entire branches can die, and in the worst cases, entire trees can be killed.

Although there aren't any chemicals registered to prevent cedar needle blight, there are steps you can take to help combat the disease. Start by making sure an irrigation system isn't wetting the foliage every time you water. If the foliage remains dry, the disease won't spread, but it will spread all summer if water hits the branches regularly.

As soon as possible, prune off any dead branches and rake up fallen needles. The disease overwinters on dead branches and needles, so removing them from your garden will help reduce the severity of reoccurrence next spring. For more information, visit the OSU Plant Disease website at www.pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease (search for "cedar needle blight").

Q: My garden is full of aphids. Should I bring in some ladybugs?

A: Ladybugs will do wonders but don't buy them to release in your garden because the ladybugs you buy for this purpose almost always fly away before doing any good in your garden.

That's because lady beetles go through a metabolic change in fall causing them to accumulate fatty oils that act as antifreeze in winter. Then they migrate to the woods and find a hole in a log, or some other hideaway where they nestle together to survive the winter cold.

The folks who collect them keep them in the cooler and when they sell them to us, the ladybugs are still full of fatty oils and have no interest in eating anything until they exercise a bit. Since ladybugs don't do push-ups and sit-ups, they'll take off and fly several miles before working up enough appetite to feast on aphids in someone else's garden.

Fortunately there are plenty of native ladybugs flying around looking for a place to call home.

Your large number of aphids will help attract them, but ladybugs love to eat pollen almost as much as bugs. Adding some ladybug favorites such as yarrow, angelica, daisies, sunflowers, alyssum, fennel, dill or lovage will greatly increase your chances of luring them in.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com; "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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