QUESTION: We have a lot of pill bugs in our flower bed. Is there a safe way to get rid of them? Are they harmful?
ANSWER: Pill bugs (similar to sow bugs) can be a nuisance in flower beds and even potted plants. Pill bugs curl up in a ball when disturbed and look like gray BBs. They feed mainly on decayed organic matter, but can also feed on live roots.
Control: Tobacco water, the color of strong tea, usually works. The bugs are related to crayfish and are night feeders, breathing by means of gills. Pill bugs hide under trash during the day. Sometimes you can loosen up the trash and handpick them.
Another home remedy consists of one tablespoon of cayenne pepper, 2 tbs of household detergent, 1 quart of rubbing alcohol, all added to a gallon of water. Spray this in the area, or drench infested places.
Chemical gardeners spray the soil with Sevin. If you can get diatomaceous earth (called DE), scatter this around the base of the plants. This is a material mined from the sea. Diatoms are the "grass" of the oceans and lakes.
Just as green grass is the staple food of the earth animals, diatoms (algae) are the food of the ocean of freshwater grazers. When these algae die, their silica in their cell wells piles up on the bottom to form deposits. These are mined and sold as "insect dust." Its sharp needles (harmless to humans) will penetrate the insect, causing its death. It's nontoxic and inert.
New Double-Flowering Geranium Worth a Try
Q: I read about a new geranium variety called Floribunda, described as double and having stocky stems. Have they been around long, and are they worth growing?"
A: Your garden center probably has the new Floribunda geraniums. These are double-flowering and are available for the first time this year. We are growing them in hanging baskets, window boxes and patio planters, all for the first time.
They make a stocky plant, are heat-tolerant and aren't as messy as some geraniums. By all means try some. They take the same care as regular geraniums, and in a hanging basket, you can use about three small plants per 10-inch container.
Overfeeding Causes Boston Fern to Wilt
Q: We have a Boston fern whose leaves are turning a weak yellow. It has been fed a dry plant food but that made it wilt. Why?
A: We suggest knocking the soil ball out of the pot and flushing it under a sink faucet. Due to shallow roots of ferns, it's easy to damage them by overfeeding. Shift the plant into a pot one or two sizes larger, using a fresh soil mix of two parts pet moss, one part loamy garden soil, and one part perlite. A commercial peat-lite potting soil may also be used. Never use a dry fertilizer on ferns. Follow recommendations of any good house plant fertilizer label.
Soil should be kept evenly moist, not soggy. Over-watering causes the fronds to turn yellow and wilt. Underwatering can also cause wilt. To be sure soil is thoroughly soaked, submerge the pot in water until bubbles cease rising. Keep fern out of direct sun.
Regal Geranium Fussy About Temperatures
Q: I love Regal geraniums but have a hard time getting them to blossom during the summer. What is the secret to making them blossom?
A: The so-called Regal geraniums, also called Lady Washington or pansy geranium are probably the most spectacular of all geranium types but they are also the fussiest. A few have round, flat petals and look much like pansies. Others have huge, azalea-like flowers with ruffled petals. The Regals need cool night temperatures and do not flower well in summer heat. One reason they do not flower indoors is because it's too warm for them, especially the night temperatures.
When a commercial flower grower raises Regal geranium she knows how to get them to bloom in the greenhouse, by manipulating the temperature. People are intrigued by the appearance of the Regal geraniums and purchase them without thought to their culture.
They will not set buds if the night temperature is over 60 degrees F. This prevents many windowsill plants from setting buds. Often the air is too dry. Regal geraniums need a humid atmosphere and good bright light, but not hot. Another problem with Regal geraniums is their susceptibility to whiteflies. If there's a single whitefly in your neighborhood it will seek out your Regal.
The Abrahams cannot answer questions individually. Those of general interest will be addressed in this column. Write to Doc and Katy Abraham, Los Angeles Times, P.O. Box 579, Naples, N.Y. 14512.