Question #1

Imagebakerboy72 asks: I have an insect that's in little patches of cotton all over my lifesaver cactus. Does anyone know how to get rid of them?

Melody answers: It sounds like you may have cochineal scale (Dactylopius coccus),which is an insect that covers itself in a waxy, cottony substance. You can positively identify them by crushing a few. Just take a stick or a trowel handle and smash them gently. If it 'bleeds' a deep red color, then it is no doubt cochineal scale. You can control them by squirting them with the water hose to wash them off, or if your infestation is severe, you might want to apply an insecticidal soap. As an interesting side-note, this insect is used to create the deep red natural dye, that the Aztec and Myan peoples of the Americas used to color their clothing and accessories. They are still used as a dye by artists today. Another modern use, is that they are a safe natural food coloring in many processed foods. If you have very many and are near an artists' colony, they might want to harvest them to produce their own dye. I'm guessing the 'ick factor' might be a bit high to experiment with home made food coloring.

Question #2

Imagecappy 28 asks: Can anyone suggest a chemical free way of getting rid of dandelions?

Melody answers: Those little yellow flowers seem impervious to most methods to thwart them. Chemical-free methods consist of using a 'dandelion-digger trowel' to pop the tap root out of the ground (best used after a rain), gadgets that you hook on to a cordless drill (various degrees of success reported) a 'weed dragon' butane torch (to burn them into oblivion) and corn gluten meal to inhibit germination. All is for naught if your neighbors have a casual yard. The corn gluten meal inhibits all seed germination, so time your lawn seeding to avoid the effects. Remember if you have no flowers, you'll have no puffballs to scatter more seed. Pick your dandelion flowers to prevent reseeding. (they make great jelly and wine) If you'll also keep the leaves picked, (they can be cooked much like spinach) the plant can't photosynthisize,so it will eventually die, but this can take quite some time.

Question #3

Imageoakgardener asks: I want to transplant my japanese skimmia (two males, two females) to make room for my new edgeworthia chrysantha because it's the best location with filtered sun under a large cherry tree in a fenced backyard.
I want to transplant the skimmia under a large crabapple tree in the unfenced front yard and I understand that deer won't eat skimmia. Thousands of birds hang out in the crab apple tree, however including blue birds and golden finch. I am worried that they will eat the poisonous skimmia berries. Does anyone know if birds eat the berries?

Melody answers: Birds are smarter than you think. They've not survived for eons by eating the wrong things. What may be toxic to a human, domestic dog or deer, may not affect a bird at all. It is like how humans can consume grapes with no problem, but dogs shouldn't eat them. (dogs have had the instincts to avoid the wrong foods bred out of them) If your birds eat the skimmia berries, then they should be fine. If they avoid them then it is a good bet that they are toxic to birds. The location of your skimmias won't make any difference. The birds know where they are right now and are either enjoying the berries without your knowlege, or avoiding them all together.

Question #4

Imagewhisperinggypsy asks: I have an area which is always in the shade of a large chestnut tree. Can anyone please assist me by telling me what flowers I can successfully grow, and will give this area some colour.

Melody answers: Oh,I envy you! I have no deep shade and have to constantly assess how sun-hardy plants will be, before bringing them home. I'm in the southeast US and heat and humidity are two huge hurdles for me. You have the perfect spot to have a colorful woodland garden. I'd plant a few variegated hostas and a couple of hardy ferns to give your garden some 'bones' and then I'd look at possibly Dicentra specabilis (bleeding heart), Kalmia latifolia, (mountain laurel) and Astilbe x arendsii for a little height. Helleborous are good for early blooms. Primulas, columbines and laminums are all great perinnials wirth colorful cultivars. One of my favorite plants is the Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica. I've got one that is blooming right now in a coveted bit of shade at my house. It is a North American wildflower, but it is also offered commercially. Mine happens to be a wild one that I rescued from a construction site. I'd also look into hardy terrestrial orchids. There are a great number that would be perfect for Ireland. If you want to plant a few annuals, try some coleus, (Solenstemon scutellariodes) their colorful leaves make up for the insignificant flowers. Shady gardens do not have to be drab and dark, there are many options that will make the area sparkle.

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The cochineal harvesting image is from Wikipedia Commons and public domain.

The Japanese Sikimmia image is from PlantFiles and courtesy of member 'cactus_joe'

The dandelion and indian pink images are my own.