Garden Detective: white pines now orange

A row of white pines affected by superstorm A row of white pines affected by superstorm Sandy. Photo Credit: Sandy Miller

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print ...

DEAR JESSICA: I have noticed there are many white pine trees that have been affected by the recent storm. The needles have turned the orange-yellow color typical of the inside set of needles before they drop. These are the needles that cover the entire tree and not just on one side where I could understand the tree might have been affected by wind or salt spray. Many of the trees are nowhere near the coastline, so it wouldn't be salt spray, anyway. Do you know if this was caused by superstorm Sandy and if the trees will drop all their needles and die or will they be able to slowly bounce back? -- Richard Waldman, East Patchogue

DEAR RICHARD: White pines routinely shed a lot in autumn as they replace their 2- and 3-year old needles. The older needles do turn yellow as part of this process, which typically appears in a random pattern all over the tree, leaving the branch tips green and healthy.

This year, however, some white pines seem to be suffering from desiccation, or dehydration, caused by a wind-salt one- two punch. After withstanding a storm, often only one side of a tree -- the side hit by wind -- will be affected, but you point out correctly that entire trees are browning. That's due to the severity of the storm coupled with exposure to salts carried by the wind. If the branch tips are green, what you're noticing could very well be seasonal shedding. But if they're brown, then storm-caused desiccation could be to blame.

If it's desiccation, the best you can do is water deeply now and regularly throughout winter during dry spells when the ground isn't frozen. Apply mulch to the soil above roots, keeping it a few inches away from trunks, and wait until new growth begins in spring before trimming away dead branches and tips. Be sure trees get an inch of water per week next spring and summer, and keep an eye on them: Some affected trees that look healthy now may not show symptoms until spring. Good luck!

DEAR JESSICA: I have a plant I received as a gift, and I'm not sure of its name. I was told to water it twice a week. One day while watering I noticed a millipede. I plucked it out, thinking nothing of it. The next time I watered I discovered a few more. I dug down to find there were hundreds of millipedes in the dirt! I tried submerging the pot in soapy water, rinsing off the dirt, and using insecticides to no avail. I don't see them around the house. It seems to just be in this one pot. Any suggestions on getting rid of these pesky creatures? -- Sara Aleman, Bay Shore

DEAR SARA: Ewwww. I'm getting itchy just thinking about it! I know that wasn't helpful; just had to get it out of my system before I could proceed with anything constructive.

It's not unheard of for millipedes, which also are called "thousand-leggers" for obvious reasons, to live in the soil of potted plants. What's more, you can be sure they're laying eggs and multiplying in there. Aside from the yuck factor, they do pose a threat to plant roots and stems. Regardless, I'm sure you don't want them in your home, even if they are respecting pot boundaries.

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It's no surprise your use of insecticides has proved fruitless; millipedes aren't especially vulnerable to pesticides. There are only two guaranteed ways to get rid of them: Ditch the plant, pot and all, or empty the pot of the soil and its inhabitants, rinse the plant thoroughly from roots to tips, and thoroughly wash and disinfect the pot with bleach. Then replant using fresh, sterile potting mix. This can be done but will require a bit of intestinal fortitude -- and gloves. No one loves plants more than I do, but faced with "hundreds of millipedes," I wouldn't judge you harshly for calling it a loss and moving on.

DEAR JESSICA: I read somewhere that putting moth balls in plants you are bringing back into the house for the winter works against insects. I have done it for quite some time now. Once plants are in-house, I remove the moth balls. Not one single bug. -- Marie McCreight, Northport

DEAR MARIE: Thanks for writing! Moth balls contain the chemical naphthalene. They work by releasing a toxic gas that kills moths and, yes, other insects, too. In closed containers or suit bags, their fumes build up and kill clothes moths.

The chemical, however, should never be inhaled, as it also can harm humans and animals. If you can smell moth balls, you're inhaling the chemicals. You also should wash your hands immediately after handling. I don't doubt moth balls are effective in eradicating insects from plant pots, but I worry about killing beneficial insects and perhaps wildlife in the area, not to mention the neighbor's curious cat, or worse, harm small children who might mistake them for candy.

Instead, I'd recommend a thorough water rinse before moving plants indoors. If you're concerned about insects that might hitch a ride in the soil, repot as suggested in my response to the previous letter.

Garden club of the week

@Newsday

North American Rock Garden Society

Meets: Sunday at 2 p.m., once a month, except July and August

Location: Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay

Dues: $20 annually per household, includes monthly email newsletter

Contact: 631-368-5997, nargs.org

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This society is for lovers of alpine, saxatile and low-growing perennials, and encourages the planting of wildflowers among rocks. This local chapter holds regular meetings that include guest speakers and educational sessions. The group attends garden tours, plant sales and auctions, and holds an annual picnic for members.

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