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Originally published March 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 21, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Plant Talk

Citrus trees need light

In the March 7 Plant Talk column, a reader asked about growing citrus trees outdoors in Seattle. Rose Marie Nichols McGee, of Nichols Garden...

Special to The Seattle Times

In the March 7 Plant Talk column, a reader asked about growing citrus trees outdoors in Seattle. Rose Marie Nichols McGee, of Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon, weighs in:

"I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me they grow their citrus outdoors year around in the Pacific Northwest. I always ask if it bears fruit. The answer is always, 'Well, no ... '

"But, indoors, even in low light, citrus trees will limp through, drop some leaves, have fragrant flowers and fruit and actually be a pleasant plant. We get them outside when there's no or little danger of frost. Then they seem to rejuvenate.

"I lightly fertilize all year. My sister and brother-in-law in Bellingham keep theirs indoors all year and the plant does well, but they have more light than we do."

Q: Some of the ornamental grasses in my garden look dead, and others are OK but have some brown foliage. Should I pull out the dead ones? Should I cut back the ones that are tattered?

A: No and no. March is the month to deal with ornamental grasses, but not quite so severely. Chances are the ones that look dead are deciduous grasses, such as Japanese forest grass or blood grass. Don't pull them out — if you look closely you should see new blades beginning to grow at the base of the plant. Cut the grass back to the ground, and in a month or so you'll have fresh foliage that will last until late next autumn.

For the tattered evergreen grasses, just comb your gloved hand, or a small bamboo rake, through the foliage to groom out the dead parts. Don't cut these grasses back, for they resent such treatment. Sometimes they die outright, or look so bad you wish they had.

When evergreen grasses start to develop too much thatch or get bare in the middle, they need to be divided. Dig up the clump, chop into chunks, replant the vigorous side parts and toss the ratty-looking middle part of the grass.

Q: I have a beautiful 25-year-old Granny Smith apple tree that produces prolifically, with just one problem. The fruit is full of worms! What can I use to spray, and when should I spray? Also, does picking off a portion of blooms produce larger fruit?

A: The worms in your apples are probably coddling moths or apple maggots. Whichever pest you have, a first step in getting rid of them is to clear up all the fallen apples and any that remain on the tree. This is because apple maggot worms develop inside the fruit and emerge in spring. Coddling moths overwinter as larva in a cocoon under the bark of the tree trunk.

There are organic methods that are somewhat effective, such as using sticky traps, but it might take several years of conscientious use to rid your apples of worms. At the very least, using a trap or two will prove which pest is infecting your apples.

For detailed spraying directions, take a sample of the pest to a Master Gardener clinic and get the advice of the experts trained by Washington State University. There's a Master Gardener clinic held every Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. at the Washington Park Arboretum. Or call 206-296-3440 to speak with a Master Gardener, or to find the clinic most convenient for you.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday's Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.

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