Gardening Tips: Q & A

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April is National Gardening Month and judging by how often my phone has been ringing lately, people are celebrating by working out in the yard. Here are a few questions that have come through my office this week.

Q: I thought April 15th was the frost-free date for our area? If so, how come we had a frost on the 16th?

A: Generally we do consider the 15th to be our frost-free date, meaning that historically there is about a 98% chance we will not have a frost or freeze after this date. Of course, 98% is not the same as 100%, and Mother Nature doesn’t always follow the conventions of our calendar. Some areas did indeed have a light frost early Wednesday morning and temperatures fell into the mid 30s again Thursday morning. As I write this, it looks like the same will happen Thursday night/Friday morning. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to predict the weather and while we do consider April 15th to be the frost-free date, there are some conservative gardeners who wait until May 1st to plant their gardens just in case we have unusual events like we did this past week.

Q: I set out my tomato plants last week and after a few days, several of them looked like they had been cut off right above the ground. What could have done this?

A: One of the most dangerous insect pests in vegetable gardens at this time of year is the cutworm. Cutworms chew through the stems of young tender transplants and newly emerged seedlings, causing irreparable harm. Cutworms live in the soil during the day and emerge at night to feed on plant tissue. Therefore we don’t usually notice them in the garden until the damage has already been done. When setting young plants, you may want to make a physical barrier around the stems for the first week or so. Cut sections of soda bottles work well. Prevention is the best way to avoid having to replace a garden of cutworm-damaged plants.

Q: My yard is covered with ground bees. What can I do to get rid of them?

A: When most people say ground bees, they are talking about a particular type of bee known as miner bees, although there are some other types of bees and wasps that also live in the ground, like yellow jackets. Miner bees are harmless insects that nonetheless can become a bit of a nuisance due to their nesting habits. The female miner bees dig many small holes and lay eggs in the ground. Miner bees have many solitary nests, rather than one single large nest, therefore they can take up quite a large area. People get alarmed when they see the bees flying around the hives, but the bees they see are all males, which do not have stingers. The females stay almost entirely underground and have weak stingers, as their ovipositor (the part of the body that holds the stinger) is built for digging. Thus they pose little threat. They are also important pollinators, meaning they shouldn’t be killed. If they are a nuisance, you can encourage them to move to a different location by keeping the ground wet and possibly reseeding grass in that area, as they are attracted to dry, sparsely vegetated areas. Contrary to common believe, they will not interfere with established or newly seeded grass.

Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or