Date Palms originate from North Africa and Asia and can tolerate some cooler temperatures. In our climate in winter, however, they will need protection from a hard freeze which could kill them.

Bring them in when temperatures fall into the 40ís at night, and find a bright, sunny window inside with room temperatures of 65-75 degrees. Water them sparingly in winter, letting the soil dry out between waterings. Make sure to provide good drainage. If they stand in water for long periods (a day or more), the roots can be damaged, and the tree could die.

While you should fertilize the trees about once per month in spring through fall, do not fertilize at all in winter. Avoid cold drafts near your young palm trees, and they should winter well and be ready to set out next spring and continue to grow and thrive.



Slugs and snails love moist conditions.Slugs are our most common problem. Our weather was pretty dry for a while, but we've had significant rain recently. They hide in mulch and any kind of dense plant matter and debris and under plain surfaces like plastic, and paper mulch.

Many snail and slug baits on the market now contain iron phosphate, a natural and effective substance that is considered generally safe for kids, pets and vegetables. This bait needs to be re-applied every two weeks or when it is no longer visible. Remember to read the label for how much to apply. Clean up any plant material debris to minimize harborage. Hand picking at night or early morning is a possibility.



Your Magnolia tree does have a problem, but it is not a fungus. Rather, the problem is an insect called "Magnolia Scale." This is an insect that starts out as a small 6 legged crawler in early spring which finds a tender spot on a branch, attaches itself and begins feeding on the sweet sap of the Magnolia tree. As it feeds, it grows a protective shell or covering which looks like a scale and turns whitish.

The scale insects excrete excess sap called "Honey Dew" which drops down on lower leaves and on anything below the tree. A fungus called "Sooty Mold" grows on the coating of honey dew and turns black. While the black residue is sticky and unsightly, it is usually not harmful. The scale infestation, however, can weaken the tree and cause limbs to die back.

To get rid of it, you will need to eliminate, or at least, control the scale infestation. While the mature, adult scale is mostly protected from spray applications due to its protective coating, the juvenile crawlers are vulnerable in early spring and again in late summer as the new generation begins to hatch.

In early spring, before bud break, use a dormant "Horticultural" oil spray. Choose a warm day in early March when the temperature temporarily goes up (60 F) and the sleeping juveniles begin to stir. New juvenile crawlers emerge late August through the end of September and can be controlled with Insecticidal Soap or light horticultural oils made for that purpose. Multiple applications will be needed as more juveniles hatch. The materials do not have a residual effect. Other chemical insecticides are available and effective at this stage. Be sure to read and follow manufacturers' directions. Systemic insecticides can be drenched into the soil but take time to move into the tree.

Once you have the scale under control, the rain will wash away the black residue in time.



Your Magnolia tree does have a problem, but it is not a fungus. Rather, the problem is an insect called "Magnolia Scale." This is an insect that starts out as a small 6 legged crawler in early spring which finds a tender spot on a branch, attaches itself and begins feeding on the sweet sap of the Magnolia tree. As it feeds, it grows a protective shell or covering which looks like a scale and turns whitish.

The scale insects excrete excess sap called "Honey Dew" which drops down on lower leaves and on anything below the tree. A fungus called "Sooty Mold" grows on the coating of honey dew and turns black. While the black residue is sticky and unsightly, it is usually not harmful. The scale infestation, however, can weaken the tree and cause limbs to die back.

To get rid of it, you will need to eliminate, or at least, control the scale infestation. While the mature, adult scale is mostly protected from spray applications due to its protective coating, the juvenile crawlers are vulnerable in early spring and again in late summer as the new generation begins to hatch.

In early spring, before bud break, use a dormant "Horticultural" oil spray. Choose a warm day in early March when the temperature temporarily goes up (60 F) and the sleeping juveniles begin to stir. New juvenile crawlers emerge late August through the end of September and can be controlled with Insecticidal Soap or light horticultural oils made for that purpose. Multiple applications will be needed as more juveniles hatch. The materials do not have a residual effect. Other chemical insecticides are available and effective at this stage. Be sure to read and follow manufacturers' directions. Systemic insecticides can be drenched into the soil but take time to move into the tree.

Once you have the scale under control, the rain will wash away the black residue in time.



There are numerous grass seeds and seed blends available in a wide range of prices. A Northeast blend is best for our area. In our northern cool-humid region, lawn grass must be perennial, winter hardy, able to withstand frequent mowing, and relatively disease free. A typical lawn mixture might be something like 65% Kentucky bluegrass, 20% fine leaf fescue, 15% perennial ryegrass. This type of blend is more expensive than seed that is all or primarily ryegrass. Kentucky bluegrass is the predominant high-quality lawn grass for our climate. It is the best species for full sun, it forms good sod because it spreads with rhizomes (underground lateral stems), and can withstand frequent mowing and foot traffic. It takes about 2 weeks to germinate and 6-8 weeks to produce dense sod. Perennial ryegrass is a popular component of grass seed mixtures because it germinates quickly, often in 2-4 days, providing a uniform lawn in about 2 weeks. Fine-leaf fescues are well adapted to infertile or acidic soil and can tolerate shaded conditions, but cannot withstand heavy traffic. Therefore, a blend provides the best qualities of each variety for an all-purpose lawn grass. Follow directions on the seed bag for seeding process and rates (lbs/1000 sq ft). The hot dry summertime is not the optimum time for grass seeding, but if you must, then mulch with straw and water (sprinkler works best) daily. When you begin mowing, leave clippings on the lawn for the nutrients they provide. Fertilize in the fall with a fertilizer that has a high percentage of slow release nitrogen.

If tree roots are causing disruption in your lawn, it is okay to prune a few small roots away, but care must be taken not to injure the tree. Do not cut away any root that is more than 2 inches in diameter. A rule of thumb is to measure the diameter of the tree about 4 ft up from the ground and prune out only roots that are 3-5 times that distance away from the trunk (2í trunk diameter, go out 6-10í to take out above ground roots). Never take out more than 20% of the roots showing, then wait a year or two to be sure that the tree remains stable and healthy before taking out more. The fewer above ground roots you remove, the less likely you are to damage the tree.

It would be easier and less potentially damaging to mulch. Use a 3-4 inch layer of mulch around such trees with exposed roots that make mowing more difficult.

Do not form a “volcano” of mulch which seems to be too popular in the landscape and can do severe damage to the tree.



Bolting lettuce - You have some choices here that you can make. Lettuce is one of the cool-season crops, not a good summer season crop. When the weather gets warm and the days get long, lettuce is inclined to bolt or “go to seed”. When this happens, the leaves get very bitter. You can cut them back to the ground, leaving the roots intact, and they should re-sprout when the weather cools a bit if they have consistent moisture. You can donate the tops to someone who has rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens. They will eat them readily.

You can let them go to seed and collect the seed for next year’s crop. This also helps pollinating insects as they visit the flowers for nectar and pollen. Leaving them there, if you have the room. can also serve to act as an insect trap crop to help protect other crops such as broccoli and cabbage.

You can, of course, pull them up and start over, but some of the other options, I think, are more fun. I would not cut them in half.



Iris is a very tough plant. If it is in a good location it will spread readily. The iris tubers grow best with the top of the tuber just above the soil surface. They grow longer each year, and may also produce offshoots on the sides, which will form new tubers. If you dig one up, you will find the healthiest roots on the “front” end, where the flower stem emerges. It will not produce more flowers further back on that tuber. You can cut off the back end, then replant. Yours are blooming nicely, so you could just remove some plants around the edges and give them away each year. If you notice the bed is not flowering well over time, you may need to thin it by removing the spent ends.



Herbs should be harvested when the oils that provide their flavor and aroma are at their highest. Once the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth, you can begin harvesting. For instance, Basil can be harvested when the plant reaches 6-8 inches high; sprigs of Oregano once the plant is 3-4 inches tall; Cilantro when the stems are 6-12 inches long. When you cut stems, leave new growth below the cut so that the plant will become bushier. The rule of thumb is to cut no more than 1/3 of the plant back at a time so that it will continue to grow and thrive throughout the season. Cut a few stems at a time. Depending on the size of the plant or the number of them you have, you may be able to harvest every few days. Young leaves have the best flavor, so continue to cut back 2 or 3 nodes of new growth on a regular basis. The best time to harvest is in the morning when the morning dew has evaporated, and the plant is dry. Dusk is fine as well. Avoid harvesting in the heat of the day. Herbs are best harvested before they start to flower (or bolt) to ensure that they continue to produce new leaves suitable for harvesting.



Starting lupines from seed is a little tricky. First, the seeds are hard and should be soaked overnight for best results with germination. They do best in a sandy, well-drained soil rather than a heavy clay. Lupines have a tap root so they can send down that long root most easily in a light, sandy soil. They need moisture but not wet feet. Lupines require patience. If seeds are planted in the spring, they will spend their first season getting started. Lupines are a good example of the sleep-creep-leap principle that you may have heard from gardeners before. The first year: sleep - germinate, develop roots and produce some small foliage. Year 2: creep - more roots, bigger foliage, and perhaps, or perhaps not, a few blooms. Year 3 and beyond: mature plants, full blooming. If you want blooms without the wait, I suggest buying small plants in 4 or 6 packs that you can find at most garden stores.

There are over 200 varieties of lupines that thrive in many climates. Most commonly found in this area are Russell Hybrid Lupines which produce flowers in a variety of colors. They are very hardy and are often seen growing on hillsides in the wild.



Hummingbirds are truly one of the joys of summer - tiny and feisty and beautiful. They like lots of concentrated nectar, preferably sucrose. Tubular flowers are best since they hold the most nectar. They are attracted to bright colors, with red being their favorite, but also yellow, orange, pink, and purple. There are many lists you can find online, but at the top of almost every list is Bee Balm. Others on the lists include Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis), Columbine, Daylilies, Salvia (the blue or purple ones), Foxglove, Butterfly Bush, Trumpet Vine, and Bleeding Heart. Also, some easy to grow annuals like Zinnias and Petunias attract them. Although not on any list I saw, at my house I have seen the hummingbirds visit the Guara, Crocosmia Lucifer, and Angelonia. Some trees preferred (according to one online list) are Crabapple, Tulip Tree, Horse Chestnut, Hawthorn, and Eastern Redbud. In my yard, they hang out in the Katsura Tree and go back and forth from the tree to the feeders and flowers all day long. I recently purchased a flat feeder and have found that the hummers love it as well as the upright feeder. They sit on the flat surface for several minutes at a time with their wings still, enjoying the sugar water. A combination of feeders and flowers can make your yard a favorite spot for these remarkable little creatures.



You can grow two herbs with similar size and needs in the same pot, but the pot will need to be twice as big if you want good growth. Rosemary and sage can grow into small shrubs within a season, so each needs its own pot. Basil is a small plant that needs a lot more water than other herbs, a separate pot would be best to hold 4-6 plants. Parsley is also a small plant, so one pot would be needed for 4-6 plants. Thyme and oregano could share a large pot.



Lavender is a sun worshiper, loves heat, and grows best in infertile, well-drained and slightly alkaline soil. Of course, lavender plants need soil, but will do just fine in an area where there are many small stones. Avoid heavy clay soil that does not drain well. Plant in the spring when danger of frost has passed, mixing some compost into the soil to get your plants off to a good start. Some lavender growers recommend putting a layer of crushed oyster shells or limestone in the bottom of the planting hole to improve drainage and to increase the alkalinity of the soil. Also, some suggest mulching around lavender plants with pea sized gravel. The theme, good drainage is essential. Fertilize sparingly or you will get leaves at the expense of flowers. Lavender thrives in dry conditions so be careful not to overwater to prevent root rot. Also, dry heat helps to release lavender’s strong and wonderful fragrance and because of that aroma, deer generally stay away.

In this area, the most commonly grown Lavender is English lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) because it survives best in our cold climate. Garden stores generally stock two cultivars, ‘Hidcote’ with silvery foliage and deep purple flowers and ‘Munstead’ with green foliage and a violet or blue-purple flower. In the past few years, one called ‘SuperBlue’ has become more popular and is one that I find does very well here. It is a little shorter and heavier blooming cultivar than the two mentioned above. Linda Phillips, Master Gardener



Spiny sowthistle is a winter annual that is actually in the sunflower family and not a true thistle. Spiny sowthistle spreads by seed. It flowers from late spring through the summer, depending on the location. The flower is yellow, resembling a dandelion, but forms in a corymbiform cluster. The root of spiny sowthistle is a taproot. It is found in waste areas and other open areas such as roadsides and thin turf. It can be controlled by mowing which prevents the stem and flowers from forming and eliminates seed formation. The plant can also be cut out. A postemergent herbicide application is effective when spiny sowthistle is young and actively growing but should not be needed if the location will be mowed. For best results, treat prior to bolting.

Canada Thistle is a rhizomatous perennial. Since Canada thistle has a deep root system, the only mechanical approach for controlling this weed is to exhaust the storage roots (exhaust perennial roots). Food reserves in the roots reach a minimum in June and then increase as food flows from the shoots to the storage roots. Consequently, shoots should be removed for the first time by early June. Mowing or repeated cutting may be used to help prevent the production of seeds and starving the plant. Persistent removal of the shoots before they attain several leaves will exhaust the storage roots within two years and eliminate the weed. One study found a 21 day weeding schedule was optimal. Postemergent applications of a systemic herbicide may be used. Fall is typically the best time for these treatments when the plant is translocating food reserves to the rooting structures. Other good times are during the early bolting stage when plants are 6-10” tall and during the bud to flowering stage. Some of the common lawn weed control materials are effective. Spot treatments are good for limited stands. Glyphosate products labeled for the use are effective. Lawns should be properly maintained to promote a healthy, dense turf that with managed mowing will compete well with weeds.


Keep checking back for more Q&As!


A Big Thank You
to the Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Livingston County for answering your questions. Want to learn more from them? Visit their website!