Fun feature: Ask-a-GardenerBy Melody Rose (melody)
October 2, 2010
If you have a question you'd like us to consider, you may pose it in the Ask-a-Gardener forum. If your question is chosen for this feature, you can be sure you've helped others with the same question.
bannj asks: I have been breaking out in an itchy rash everytime I do the trimming in my garden. YIKES! What plants could be causing this? I have so many that I am in contact with. My whole yard is garden.
The other day I was cutting back day lillies, black eyed susan, roses, bleeding heart. Something does not like me.
sallyg answers: Aside from the obvious poison-ivy (which can actually be somewhat hidden and still get you when you're not looking) I know of a few other problem plants. I have also felt itchy after handling fuzzy trimmings from annual Black Eyed Susan plants. I don't know if it's a true allergy or just that fuzz. Euphorbias, as a famly, can have irritating, milky sap and one should generally use care with them. There are many comments in Plantfiles from people who swear they get a poison-ivy kind of reaction to Virginia creeper. Other than those, though, you may have to improvise your own sensitivity test. Muster your self restraint and touch just a few plants at a time to your skin, and watch for reactions. I'm no allergy pro, (maybe not a plant pro either,) but I have not heard complaints of reactions from daylilies, roses, or bleeding hearts.
carrielamont adds: My husband has the same problem. It started with prostrate lantana, which is listed many places as being allergenic for some people, but now bothers him even if all he does is mow the lawn! I try to remind him to wear gloves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, but he doesn't appreciate my loving advice very often.
As far as YOUR garden goes, it's hard to know what exactly is irritating you, if indeed it is one specific thing. Maybe it's a combination of factors, i.e. a scratch from the rose allows sap from the dandelion you pulled without thinking to get under your skin ... In general, plants to be careful of are those with tiny hairs along their stems, those which ooze obvious sap, those with thorns or prickers, and other obvious irritants.
My skin seems to be impervious so I am a bad judge of what specifically is irritating, and, it's likely to be specific to you. Furthermore, it's likely to get worse, I'm sorry to say. It's as if your immune system can tolerate only so much and once you've reached your lifetime quota of Plant X's pollen or sap or micro-scratches, you can't handle any more.
Sadly, probably your best bet is to bundle up! Wear gloves, long sleeve shirts and long pants. You could do one plant at a time and see if you can isolate the one that's bothering you, but my sense is that wouldn't really be useful. Would you then rip all the offenders out? NOOOOOO! And then what if in a year or a month, it's a new one? Let me guess, you're EXTREMELY bothered by poison ivy, too. Me? I've never had it, not even once, yet. Different immune systems.
Good luck. Maybe camping stores or athletic stores have information on long sleeved clothing that's not like plastic wrap!
mableruth asks: I have seen a short suggestion here and there but would very much like to know what the procedure should be for bringing outdoor plants inside for the winter . My main concern is about insects, secondarily temperature, and of course sun. There are not very many places inside that can mimic the outdoor sun but can some plants surive anyway. Insects inside can be a real problem and I do not want to help by bringing them inside with the plant.
melody answers: Over-wintering plants indoors depends on what you are growing. Some plants are quite happy to spend the colder months indoors and others simply refuse to thrive. Generally, if a plant goes through a dormant period, but isn't frost hardy, you can overwinter them in this state in an unheated garage or basement. The plant will require less water than when it is actively growing and will tolerate lower light conditions. I'll over-winter brugmansias in my garage. They lose their leaves and look like sticks in their pots. I'll give them a little water once a month or so, and they hibernate just fine. Around the middle of February, they'll start to sprout new growth and I'll move them to my dining room for another month until they can safely live outdoors.
If you have plants living outdoors on a summer vacation, such as ficus and philodendrons, you'll need to 'de-bug' them before bringing them indoors. You don't want an ant nest or aphids hitching a ride for your comfy climate controlled house. I usually move my potted plants to another area a couple of weeks before bringing them indoors. If you have a sheltered porch or patio, that would be great. I spray them down with a mister filled with water and a squirt of dish soap. Be sure to get both sides of the leaves, the stems and the soil. Let that sit for an hour and then rinse the plant with the gentle setting on your garden hose. Drench the soil well. You could even apply a mild insecticide to the plant and soil if you wish. (I'm not big on anything harsh and the least poison I can use, the better) Do this a couple of times over the next 10 days to 2 weeks. Just before moving them indoors, give them another quick spray.
Move your plants indoors before you have to turn your furnace on. They tend to drop leaves and sulk if blasted with artificial heat right off the bat. Your plants probably won't require as much water indoors, but pay attention to humidity. Wintertime homes tend to be much drier than many plants like and they will enjoy a water-filled pebble tray or a mist every now and then. Light requirements depend on what you want to move indoors. Generally, a southern or western exposure is best for indoor winter plants. The sun is lower in the sky and the light isn't as strong. Trial and error will tell you which plants in your summertime garden will survive the winter indoors, but over time, you'll figure out which ones will enjoy a winter vacation.
juliep127 asks: I have used everything for whiteflies!! They won't die and they are everywhere!! Anyone have a sure way to kill these pests???? Thanks!!!
palmbob answers: I do not know what plant or plants this person is having problems with, but in my climate (southern California) whiteflies are basically part of life if you grow tropicals, or even other susceptible species such as Mulberry. I get whiteflies on my bananas, cannas, hibiscus (the worst attractors), begonias, and sometimes on Heliconias and Strelitzia. These itty moth-like sucking insects can have severely deliterious effects upon these plants, though most plants overall seem able to deal with the damage except the Hibiscus. I have not lost one yet to whiteflies, but they get weak, spindly, and very ugly if you totally ignore them. You can always tell if white flies are around when you see their classic spiral white fuzzy patterns on the undersides of leaves, or in more severe cases, the long beards of white filaments that hang down from these leaves, and the cloud of itty bitty white, slow-flying insects when you bump into these leaves. Or sometimes the Black Sooty Mold that makes the leaves look like smog is settling on them.
The problems controlling white flies are multiple. The first is that they only seem to attack the underside of leaves, so early infestations are very hard to find unless you look for them. There are sticky traps you can get at a nursery or argicultural center that you can put in and around susceptible species to pick up on early infestations before they get out of control. The second problem with whiteflies, is they fly... so they always come back easily. No way to keep them permanently out of the yard that I know of, except live in Alaska, or don't grow anything they like.
Start spraying with your favorite product (from safe soaps to deadly toxic sprays) as soon as possible, just remembering what else you might be killing or poisoning in the yard (bees, preying mantids, kittens, small children etc.). These flies are not that resistant to most treatments, they are just PERSISTENT. So you don't have to use an industrial-strength biotoxin to rid your plant of these pests... but you do have to approach them properly. Simply spraying a plant down with you favorite bug juice will not work, usually, as the bugs are on the OTHER side of the leaves. So you have to usually spray UP your plant. I personally am not into using all sorts of cancer causing or liver-rotting poisons on these plants (prefer those products for more exacting applications to plants I care more about), and since I know I will never truly be rid of these pests, I first remove the most severely effected branches carefully and toss them into my 'green can' (part of our refuse system here), and sometimes spray it down once inside it with insecticidal soap. Then I just spray the remaining plant from below first with a sharp stream of water dislodging most everything. Sometimes I follow the spraying with a rag and wipe off the spiral egg/nest patterns to get rid of all signs of them. Then, if I really want to be rid of the things for a while I spray the entire plant, from below mostly, with soap, poison and at least something with a insect growth regulator, trying to be careful not to spray these on the flowers (to protect bee exposure). Fortunately the only whitefly-attacked plants I own that have flowers are the Hibiscus, and they are easy to replace (so I remove them). Then I don't have to be quite as careful with my sprays. Some experts recommend adding some coating or sticking agents to the sprays to keep them adhering to the leaves longer, so the flies will die off if they come right back. Whatever I have used/done, the flies are usually gone for 2-4 weeks, and then return. If I am alert and watchful, I can stop them before they get going, and nothing happens. But, as is more often the case, I forget, and then next thing I know a few months later, is the Black Sooty Mold that grows on the upper sides of the leaves that is a secondary invader from the whiteflies (or sometimes just aphids) secreting honey due or the sap damage accumulating on the leaves. Then I know it's time to get serious again and remove leaves, branches sometimes, and spray again. No way to permanently get rid of them other than keep plants in a greenhouse in which you spray regularly. They will always come back.
zakacs asks: Can I propagate Clematis by cutting shoots? Will they root? Will hybrid clematis grow from seed?
melody replies: Hybrid clematis seed will not produce plants that look like the parent and they can even be sterile. If you wish to try, collect the dried seeds in the fall and plant them in sterile potting mix, lightly covering them with a thin layer of sand. moisten the mix and leave it outside during the winter so it can go through several freeze/thaw cycles. Clematis seed can take from 6 months and up to 3 years to germinate, so be patient.
It will be easier to take cuttings, and you are assured of getting a plant exactly like the parent, so that is what I'd suggest. Take your cuttings from stems of the current year's growth. Mid-June here in Kentucky is the perfect time. Do not try to root the older, woody stems. You do not want the limp, brand new growth, but stems that have firmed up some. Cut your stems with a sharp knife about an inch below a leaf joint and make sure that you have another leaf joint above it. Strip off the leaves from the lower joint and cut the growth on the upper joint so that you only have two or three leaves left. The image at the left, shows clematis cuttings ready to pot up. Dip the lower end into rooting hormone (not necessary, but it really helps the success rate) You can get it at any big box garden store and I keep a couple containers around all the time. Poke a hole for your cutting in some moistened, sterilepotting mix and place your cutting in the hole. Make sure enough of the stem is covered to almost reach the leaves. I like to put a plastic bag over my pot to help keep moisture in, but I poke a few holes in it so it can breathe. Place your potted cutting in bright light, but not direct sun and check frequently to make sure it does not dry out. You want it moist, but not wet. Cuttings should be rooted in about 6 weeks and you'll see tiny new leaves starting to form. Good luck!
Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.
Whitefly image by Stephen Ausmus USDA-ARS - License: Public Domain