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Woodpeckers attack oak trees; spider plant's a goner

Q: We have three beautiful oak trees near our back deck. On Sunday, a woodpecker decided to try to chop them down. How can I stop this? What can I do to save the trees because a couple of the holes are 3 to 4 inches deep? Any help or suggestions would be appreciated. By the way, this is on Big Cormorant Lake near Detroit Lakes, Minn.

A: Try applying some Tanglefoot around the area where the woodpecker has been active. Wear gloves you can throw away and old clothes as well because it is messy stuff to work with. I guarantee the woodpecker doesn't like it, either. Once he experiences the sticky stuff on his feet, he'll move on. The damage done to date on the tree is not critical. The wound should heal naturally, but I'm assuming the tree is otherwise healthy.

Q: I bought a spider plant last autumn that was a few inches high and had two spiderettes. During my college winter break, I took it with me to my parents' home. It was repotted and given a much nicer climate. The plant apparently liked it because it was growing very rapidly. However, it lost a little vibrancy when I brought it back to college with me, but it was healthy. Unfortunately, last night I left the plant outside. The temperature dropped to 19 degrees. Now my poor spider plant is limp and the leaves have gone waxy, but not brown. I moved it to the bathroom, where I have a fluorescent warming light. I shaded the plant and left it to dry. Is there anything else I can do beside hope?

A: Unfortunately, there is little chance of your spider plant making it after an overnight exposure to 19 degrees. However, not all hope should be abandoned. If the exposure to the subfreezing was for a short time, the plant tissue in the crown may not have been completely killed. Keep the lights on it 12 hours a day. Do not water or fertilize during this time, except when the soil is completely dry. If the plant is going to recover, it should start showing some life in six to eight weeks. If nothing is showing by then, the plant is dead. Sorry!

Q: Could a dwarf venous orange tree planted in a container produce more than just a few oranges? Also, is it easy to take care of such a plant and would it do well in a south-facing window during the winter months? I live in southern North Dakota.

A: Is it worth the trouble? That depends on what you consider the hassle breaking point. For some, it is neat to work at getting a citrus to survive and produce a couple of oranges indoors. For others, it isn't worth their time and effort. It should grow as a tree in a south-facing window. Give the tree normal houseplant care. As to producing fruit, that is something I cannot say will happen for sure. Even without the fruit, a citrus tree makes an attractive houseplant.

Q: I'm wondering what the best way is to get rid of or prevent a problem we had last year. I'm not sure if we had a vole or whatever, but some small creature took bites out of lots of our potatoes. The creature never ate a whole potato. I think it even bothered our zucchini and some of the tomatoes that were near the ground. How do we stop this problem? Also, how do you prevent blight on tomatoes? We do rotate them in the garden, but last year seemed especially bad.

A: This could be the work of slugs or grubs. It depends on whether there is any other physical evidence to the contrary, such as droppings or footprints in the soil. Definitely rotate your crops, but not from potatoes to tomatoes or peppers. Plant a different species of vegetable entirely, such as beans or peas. Look for tomato varieties that are listed as being resistant to the various maladies that normally afflict this crop. Another suggestion is to stake your tomato plants to get the fruits off the ground. You also could do this with squash. For potatoes, I would encourage you to relocate them. If you are convinced that the problem is vole activity, set up some traps or place a physical barrier around the plants.

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail