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Jeff Rugg


Purple Tomato Problems Q: I have a question about our tomato plants. I didn't notice it at first, but the leaves are turning purple. At first, I think it was just the veins of the leaves, but now the whole leaf is turning purple. We planted them early in hopes of getting …Read more. Sidewalk Flowerbeds Question: We're adding a sidewalk up to the front porch that will run along the side of the house. I was wondering what kind of plants would be good to use between the sidewalk and the house? There is no soil there, it is pretty much sand. We want …Read more. Pruning and Japanese Maples Question: Recently, you mentioned pruning out one fourth of the oldest branches on spring blooming plants like lilacs. How should I properly prune summer bloomers like spirea, potentilla or crepe myrtle? Answer: Small blooming shrubs like these can …Read more. Mosquitoes Bite Your landscape and local area may not have been affected by the flooding occurring in Texas and other areas of the South, but there has been a lot of rain in many parts of the country. Even without flooding, summer is when mosquitoes reign. Mosquito-…Read more.
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Check to Make Sure Trees Aren't Planted too Close to Septic Systems


Q: What tree would be good to plant near a septic system? One that won't invade the tank.The tree would be around 10 feet from the tank.

A: The main structural roots of a tree are designed to grow in all directions from the trunk to support the tree, and the smaller roots develop from each main root. If a root is rewarded by its efforts with dry soil, it won't survive or will remain small until favorable conditions occur. If it finds moist soil, it will grow bigger and longer, sending out more small roots along its length.

Tree roots cannot search out and find water, especially water in a pipe or tank that is not leaking — they merely grow faster in response to finding water. Unlike aquatic plants, most dry-land plant roots need air in the soil; therefore, too much water all the time will drown most tree roots.

Septic system pipes are designed to leak nutrient rich water into gravel trenches or loose soil. As the pipe drains, air returns into the pipe. It is likely that a tree root near a septic system will grow very well, but the roots may develop in the pipe's holes and clog it up. Wrap a septic system pipe in porous cloth to prevent roots from growing into the pipe. Roots developing in the pipe's moist soil pull water away from the pipe and surrounding soil; the soil will not remain full of water and the system can be used more often.

Typical tree roots grow three to four times the length of tree branches. Look at it this way, how many trees are already within reach of the septic system? Tree roots grow under and past driveways, patios and sidewalks — if necessary, count your neighbor's trees too.

The larger the tree, the bigger the potential root system. If you were not looking for a shade tree, then a smaller ornamental tree would have less potential for problems.

If it was a new septic system, you could bury a plastic barrier wall in the ground between the system trenches and the tree. Barriers are used to keep some forms of bamboo and tree roots from growing under sidewalks.


Q: We were looking at our flowers the other evening, and we saw an amazing insect with huge pincers on its rear end. What is it? Does it cause any damage? If so, how do we get rid of it?

A: The Midwest and some other northern areas had a lot of snow cover last winter, followed by a wet spring.

These conditions seem to have been beneficial for certain types of insects. The eggs or larval stages of earwigs, Japanese beetles and others seemed to be protected from winter's harshest temperatures by the snow cover.

The earwig is an insect pest many people seem to have this summer. They are 1-inch-long insects with pincers on the back end. They can pinch but not too hard, and they don't bite or sting.

In the fall earwigs put eggs in soil, which hatch in the spring and grow into adults by June. They eat many items: dead leaves and mulch, dead insects, live insects, live plants, flowers and fruit. Earwigs leave ragged holes in leaves and flowers; they will even climb trees and corn to eat the fruit. They eat crumbs of food once indoors. During the day, they hide in damp, dark cracks and under anything available. Earwigs feed at night — to be sure they are the culprits behind any holes in flowers or leaves, check the plant at night by flashlight. Outdoors use a contact insecticide. For earwigs inside your home, spray an insecticide that can be used for indoors on cockroaches. And be sure to follow label directions.


Q: My Yukon Gold potato has developed fruit. They look like tomatoes; they are green and golf-ball sized. I have grown potatoes for years, but have never seen anything like this. What is going on?

A: You may have missed it before, but your potatoes are producing fruit. The fruit look smaller since potatoes are in the same plant family as the tomato.

Most people grow new potatoes by using pieces of the tuber, which is part of the root. These pieces are often called seed potatoes, but they are not related to the seeds at all.

If you wanted to grow a new hybrid potato, you would have to cross the pollen from one kind to the potato flower of another kind; you need to grow new plants from the real seeds produced in those fruits. If you are not trying to create hybrids, it is not worth the bother to grow potatoes from seeds.

Just cut off any new fruits and toss them in the compost pile. Yukon Gold is one of the newer yellow-tinted potato varieties that have a moister flesh than the older white varieties. Since it is new, you may not have grown it in the past, and the old varieties could have been poor fruit producers.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, Kendall County unit educator, University of

Illinois Extension at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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