Gardening and Living in Grand Style:
Answers to some frequent gardening questions...
by By Michael Johnson
Utah State University Extension Agent, Grand County
Oct 06, 2016 | 1922 views | 0 0 comments | 112 112 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Questions are asked of me all the time, although admittedly they wax and wane depending on the season, topic area and how much of a concern they are to the asker. This week’s column will respond to questions asked of me lately.

Black widow spiders

We’ll start with black widow spiders. Last October I wrote about black widow spiders, but I never would have thought I would be asked, “what’s with all the black widow spiders,” as many times as I have been lately. Apparently, there’s a deluge of black widow spiders moving into people’s homes and offices. The bottom line is black widows really like undisturbed places. So if you have stuff stacked here and there, in and around the house, that’s not moved and periodically cleaned around then that’s a place they will set up shop. So don’t just let things sit — move them and clean.

Stink bugs

Stink bugs are pretty common and some years I receive lots of calls about them, while in other years the inquiries are few. This was a year for few calls, until the last couple of weeks when I have seen pears and tomatoes damaged by stink bugs. It’s difficult to catch a stink bug in the act as they will drop off the plant as you approach.

A common stink bug here in our area is the Say’s stink bug, Chlorochroa sayi, which has a green back with white dots across the back. We do also see others in shades of brown and black. Stink bugs have piercing, sucking mouthparts they insert into fruit to suck out the juices, which damages the fruit. With the pear, it caused a bumpy surface, and when cut open there were brown spots in the flesh where the mouthpart had pierced the skin and damaged the fruit. On ripe tomatoes you can also get a bumpy surface, but often will notice greenish, pinkish or yellowish colors, and always white callous tissue under the skin where the mouthpart pierced the skin. This is most noticeable when trying to pull the skin off when preparing for canning because it doesn’t come off smoothly at those spots. That said there is no reason not to eat the tomatoes, just cut off the sections with the spots.

Browning tree leaves

The last couple of weeks have brought a lot of questions concerning large trees with leaves or needles suddenly browning. Let’s start with the basics. If it’s a large tree it’s likely an old tree, and this isn’t the most long-term tree-friendly place. That leads to many old trees being less healthy due to diseases, for example slime flux with cottonwoods and poplars, or damage to roots due to holes or trenches being dug near the trees. And of course, there are other problems.

Two relatively new issues here in the city can also lead to the decline in large tree health. One involves new homeowners who have a keen interest in weeds, so they limit irrigation because they figure weeds are amazing at living without regular watering and it cuts down on yard care. The other involves those changing their landscapes to a xeric landscape, or rocks with few plants. Due to the natural spread of tree roots out beyond property lines, the large trees and shrubs surrounding those properties can be damaged due to the soils drying out in yards that once were irrigated, thus killing or damaging roots. As such, even if you want to save an old, large tree it can be difficult to do so by yourself if your neighbors don’t also have green landscapes.

In these cases I always ask the property owners where they want to be in 10 years. Seeing a younger tree approaching its prime, or an older one that likely you’ve continued to see slowly decline also raises the added concerns with falling limbs, etc. Trees are amazing in many ways and I have seen old trees that caused me concern stay upright and alive for a good long while, so there isn’t always an easy answer. I know, because I faced the hard choice of cutting down a big tree that probably could have lived another 10-plus years. I chose to cut it down and plant more Moab-friendly trees, but it’s a difficult decision and I really feel for those in that quandary.

Thought for the day: “Trees outstrip most people in the extent and depth of their work for the public good.” —Sara Ebenreck.

Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at

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