Garden Questions of the Week
“What do you recommend to get rid of tomato hornworms?” -Are they tomato or tobacco hornworms? Actually, it doesn’t matter, because control is best done by handpicking and destroying them. Look for eaten leaves of fruit with their feces underneath the area. You’ll find them, and then just pick them off. If you absolutely have to spray (there usually aren’t very many on the plant), use Bt or Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. By the way, they are the larvae of 2 types of sphinx moths. If you want to identify which is which, the tobacco hornworm has 7 diagonal lines on its sides and a curved red horn. The tomato hornworm has 8 – V shaped marks on its back, with a blue black straight horn. Both feed on tomato plants and the fruit. NOTE: If you find them and they have white horn-like structures coming out of their backs, leave them alone. That’s a parasitic wasp (eggs / larvae inside those structures) feeding on the hornworm, and will kill it shortly. By allowing them to mature, they will help you control hornworms ‘naturally’!
“Is this the time of the year for yearly locust? I started hearing them today.” -Yes, annual cicadas are emerging now, and those sounds are from the male cicadas. With annual (or dog day) cicadas, also keep on the lookout for cicada killer wasps. Not aggressive, but very big and drill holes in the fronts of landscape beds or in soil easily worked (female drills hole, deposits egg, catches a cicada, stings it and places it in the hole for the larvae to feed on). They can sting, but again, not aggressive, so just stay out of their way and let them take care of the cicadas for you!
“I’m seeing Endless Summer Hydrangeas with both pink and blue flowers. Why is that, and how do I get mine to stay blue?” -The color of the hydrangea flower depends on the pH of the soil and the availability of aluminum. With lower pH, the natural aluminum in the soil becomes more available to the hydrangea, which is what makes the flowers turn blue. A more alkaline soil ties up the aluminum, making it not available, and the flowers stay pink. So your goal is to create an acidic soil around your hydrangea. You can do this by adding Pine Soil Conditioner when you first plant, as well as using it as mulch. This helps to lower the pH. Adding coffee grounds around the plant helps lower pH, and, by adding aluminum sulfate in the spring and fall to the soil around the plant, you’ll also be lowering the pH, as well as adding aluminum to the soil – all helping to get those flowers to turn blue. And if you get it just right, you’ll have both colors!
“When I prune the dying flower heads off my Endless Summer Hydrangea, do I prune them off at the next leaf node or all the way to the ground?” -Prune above the next or next lower leaf node. Pretty much the same with all the hydrangeas, deadheading just below the spent flower on lower leaf node.
“I’m confused. My hibiscus isn’t the same as my neighbor’s hibiscus. How many types are there?” -Good question! In our area, we’ll mainly see 3 types of hibiscus being grown. There is the very hardy woody shrub hibiscus, also known as Rose of Sharon. Comes in a variety of colors, single and double flowers, and is a large growing woody shrub that flowers from mid-summer until fall. Another is the hardy perennial hibiscus. These bold perennials come in a variety of colors; some with dinner plate sized flowers, and make a great summer show in the perennial garden (they’re cut back close to the ground every spring). And then there’s the tropical hibiscus, which is not hardy here, and must be taken indoors over the winter. Again, a multitude of summer colors, but is a tropical plant.
“I have some strange looking substance growing on top of our mulch! It has gone from yellow to brown and looks foamy. What is that?” – Give me the right moisture levels, humidity levels and some organic matter breaking down, and I’ll show you some pretty funky looking things growing in the mulch. Whenever organic matter breaks down or is decomposing, you have bacteria and fungus helping out. You don’t see the bacteria, but the fungus can show up in many ways, including mushrooms. But there are a couple different things you’ll find in the mulch besides mushrooms. Birds Nest Fungus is one, and if you look closely, the fungus actually looks like a cup or birds nest, and looking even closer, you’ll see the ‘eggs’ in the middle. The fungus spores are actually in the ‘eggs’. When a rain drop lands in the nest, it forces the spores to jump out and land somewhere else in the mulch, to start the process all over again. You’ll also find what you’re describing. It’s called Dog Barf or Dog Vomit Fungus. Shows up over night, and looks like someone, or the dog, threw up in the mulch. This actually is not a fungus, but a slime mold, again developing as the mulch decomposes, and can slime its way up on foundations and plants. It starts out yellow or orange and slimy, then begins to dry, turns beige to brown and gets crusty on top – which eventually cracks open, and the spores fly away with the wind and the process starts all over again. Neither one of these are harmful to pets, kids or plants – they just look weird in the mulch – and there’s no control besides fluffing up the mulch, or scooping them up and throwing them away.
Reader Comments: “Just wanted to share my way of protecting my tomatoes from insects and critters. I have two container plants scooted close to each other, with a stake on the outside of each pot and a tomato cage over the plant. I then secure a netting of ‘chiffon’ over and around the plants, using the stakes and cages as support and twist-ties to pull it tight and secure. I can water thru the netting material, the plants grow great (plenty of sunlight), and I simply un-twist a twist-tie, open it up, and take out my ripe tomatoes. Works great! -Fran V. (‘Grow covers’ would work, too! Thanks for the tip! J)