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Ask The Garden Keeper: Who is eating my pond plants?
Q: I have a preformed water pond with three waterfalls. Last year, I had striped grass that hid the return water tube. Some little creature was ripping and eating the grass. When that was gone, it started on my other pond plants. I am wondering what to do to prevent this creature from eating my plants -- besides using a screened cover?
Cindy Hartzell, Macungie
A: I don't have much experience with ponds, so I referred your question to Carol Sanna, garden manager of Tilley's Nursery (111 E. Fairmont St., Coopersburg, 610-282-4784). We didn't know if the plants were eaten at night or during the day or if there are any fish in the pond?
It wasn't deer damage, as you would have seen the entire plant chewed down in a few bites -- not gradual damage. We eliminated squirrels and chipmunks, as they generally go for bulbs or roots. Koi would have gone after the plant in the pond first and uprooted it. Raccoons probably wouldn't be attracted to the pond, unless you have fish and their damage is usually messy scattering, not neat ripping and chewing.
So your most likely suspects are rabbits or groundhogs. Both are large enough to reach several inches into the pond and both have an appetite for leafy vegetation. You should be able to confirm a rabbit problem, since they generally leave droppings everywhere.
Carol suggested mothballs. This is not one of my favorite options, but others find this solution quite workable. Another suggestion is the scarecrow, a mechanical device with a motion-detection sensor that sends out a blast of water when it senses an intrusion into the protected area. Other possibilities include: trapping, sprinkling dried blood (okay to use near ponds) or trying an application of one of the predator urines.
Another option for pond maintenance advice would be Glenmar Nursery and Garden Center (746 Copella Road, Moorestown, 610-789-2556 or www.glenmarnursery.com) or any nursery specializing in ponds and water gardens.
Q: Do you know of any greenhouses, garden centers, etc., that sell heirloom tomato plants in small quantities? I don't have the set-up to start seeds inside, so I must use already started plants. While the majority of tomato types we grow have been determined by trial and error over the years, there is always room for three or four more as an experiment each year. I'm particularly interested in trying the "Black Russian" types.
Kris Martin, Easton
A: Heirloom tomatoes have become increasingly popular as gardeners seek the old-fashioned flavor of these older varieties. Many nurseries now stock at least a few of the older tomatoes, such as Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter. However, if you want some of the harder-to-find varieties, such as Cherokee Purple, Mr. Stripey or some of the imports from the former Soviet states, look for a specialty grower such as Countryside Farm Greenhouse (439 Krause Road, Fleetwood, 610-683-8586, www.cfandginc.com) or Eagle Point Farm Market & Greenhouses (Route 100, Trexlertown, 610-395-8620) or a larger nursery, such as Dan Schantz Greenhouse and Cut Flower Outlet (2031 29th St. SW, Allentown, 610-797-2774).
Q: We have several burning bushes that were allowed to get out of control by previous owners. When is the best time to cut them back? Can they be "topped" severely?
Nancy Davis, Bethlehem
A: Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) does not usually need much pruning. If, however, you need to prune, do so in late winter or early spring. Thin out dense growth in the center of the bush by cutting back older stems to the ground. Shorten branches to shape bush at the same time. Severe cutting is not recommended. Control by a series of gradual cuttings over successive winters.
Q: What am I doing wrong? The tips of my spider plants turn brown? I use only water that I leave sit a few days before watering them. They look healthy and produce lots of babies but their tips turn brown. Any ideas?
A: The most common reason for the brown tips has to do with water. Low humidity can cause tip browning as can uneven watering (watering at irregular intervals creating stress on the plant). Try increasing the humidity (mist with water or put the pot on a tray of gravel with water to create a mini-climate) and water regularly.
Other possibilities include salt buildup in the soil from fertilizer (correct by flushing the soil with water at least once a year) or chlorine or fluoride in the water.
Sue Kittek writes The Morning Call's weekly Column "Garden Keeper."