Use caution when planting early

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Q: When will the soil be warm enough to do successful spring plantings this year? — P. Wamsley, Forsyth County

A: I know it’s a great temptation to plant vegetables and annual flowers when the spring air is warm. Plants, however, grow very slowly in cold soil. Soil temperatures need to be reliably above 60 degrees for most seedling plants to thrive. I’d wait until soil warmth is 65 degrees before planting seed. Check your soil temperatures at

Q: What possible purpose do hornets, wasps, fleas and mosquitoes serve? — Steve K., email

A: Retired Fernbank naturalist David Funderburk says it’s all about “pollination, predation and parasitism.” Hornets and wasps pollinate flowers and eat aphids, caterpillars and other landscape pests. Without wasps, there would be no Fig Newtons! Mosquitoes (particularly the larvae) are important food for fish and amphibians. Fleas are food for small birds and soil-dwelling creatures. According to David, “There are no “good” or “bad” organisms. We just judge them based on whether or not an individual species or an individual organism makes a person’s life better or worse.

Q: I moved into a new subdivision in November. My yard has Bermuda sod, which I don’t really care for. Is it possible to overseed with centipede grass? — Mark Dunaway, Jonesboro

A: I don’t think the centipede will ever smother the Bermuda. Bermuda grass simply grows faster than centipede grass. If you really want to have a centipede grass lawn, you need to spray the lawn with glyphosate (KleenUp, Roundup, etc.) now while the grass is greening and do it again in three weeks to mop up any surviving sprouts. Till the area thoroughly, then rake it smooth. The best time to plant centipede grass is mid-May until late June, so you have time to do it right. I have details on planting centipede grass seed at

Q: I keep finding small golf ball-size pods in the woods. They are delicate with a thin green outer shell and one fluffy seed inside attached with little spidery legs to the inside of the pod. A friend says they are aliens, so we are not letting them into the house in case they try to take over our bodies in the night! — Elaine Artman, email

A: No aliens from this! They are oak apple galls, caused by a harmless wasp. The wasp damages an oak leaf and inserts her eggs. The eggs secrete a hormone that causes the plant tissue to grow a distinctive green protective skin over them. No harm is done to the tree and no control is necessary. I have more details and great pictures at

Q: I planted a Brown Turkey fig in 2001. It is huge, but so far this year it has not sprouted any leaves. The smaller branches are dark and brittle. Did winter cold kill the branches? — Michael Davoli, Roswell

A: My mother’s fig also seems very slow to sprout leaves this year. But when I was there earlier this week, tiny green buds had begun to open. I think you should give the fig another couple of weeks and report back if it hasn’t sprouted small leaves by then.