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Apple trees: fruit often weighs down branches

Q: I have a problem with seporia on my tomato plants. I am wondering if my planting methods could be causing the problem. My mother taught me to bury the plant to the bottom of the top leaves by laying it in a trench. This covers many of the existing leaves. Should I be doing it differently?

A: With all due respect to the mothers of the world, sometimes their advice isn't quite right. Tomato plants can be planted deeper than they are in the purchased container, but they don't need or should not have any leaves buried.

Any leaves that are buried from deeper planting should be removed first. As for the seporia disease, this often is brought on by the watering practices where water is splashed on the foliage. It also is caused by working or handling the plants when they are wet or from planting the same crop in the same location every year.

Q: We have an apple tree that is at least 15 years old. It always has produced a healthy crop of apples. However, last year it failed to produce any fruit. This year, we are noticing that it already is shedding small and underformed green apples. Any idea what is happening?

A: This could just be what is termed June apple drop. This is something that takes place when the fruit is too heavy for the tree to support. It is nothing to worry about. You'll still have plenty of apples to harvest if the past holds true.

Q: I've been reading your material about apple trees. We have a young apple tree in our backyard that I'm guessing is six to eight years old. The base of the trunk is about 6 inches in diameter. This year, we have a tremendous amount of little apples starting to grow.

I've been reading that I can spray Sevin on the tree to keep off the bugs and worms that seem to get to our apples before they are ripe enough to pick. Is Sevin also safe to spray on trees once the apples have started to develop? I didn't read your material soon enough to see that I needed to spray prior to the flowers opening and again in the fall. Now we have apples that I'd really like to enjoy without the bugs and worms getting to them first. If I can't use Sevin once the apples develop, is there anything I can use?

A: At this time, you can use Sevin, but follow the directions. You also might want to set out sticky traps that are shaped and colored like an apple and covered with a sticky, nontoxic substance that attracts these pests. The insects will get stuck on the traps and die of dehydration. There are pheromone traps that can be found in the more upscale garden centers that also would help control problem pests.

Q: I have a small lilac bush with lavender near its base. I would like to put some lime around the lilac, but I do not know if that would hurt the lavender. Could you please tell me of a fertilizer that would be good for both plants? The ground where I live is quite acidic. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. Thank you.

A: The lime should not be placed around the base of the lilac. Put the lime around the drip line spread of the shrub. Actually, it should have been worked into the soil prior to planting the lilac and lavender to be the most effective. If the lilac seems to be thriving under its present conditions, why not just leave it alone? Lime worked into the soil will not hurt the lavender plant.

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