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Gardening: Gardenersí Q&As For November
by Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture
Before bringing plants inside the home, always inspect them for journey-ready critters such as the green anole lizard (shown above) as they and other critters like to make their home in houseplants growing outdoors. This can cause interesting encounters at 3:00 a.m. in the morning when you get up for a glass of water.
Question: I have lots of plants outside that will need to come in before winter. Is there anything special I should do to them before I bring them in?
Answer: Before bringing plants inside the home, always inspect them for journey-ready critters such as green anoles, geckos, slugs, and fire ants as each of these like to make their home in houseplants growing outdoors. This can cause interesting encounters at 3:00 a.m. in the morning when you get up for a glass of water.
Other insect pests to watch out for are mites, mealybugs, and scale in which case you should treat with an appropriate insecticide to control them before bringing them in. Pyrethrin sprays, insecticidal soap, and horticultural oil can control mites, mealybugs and scale.
If a fire ant colony has taken up residence in the potting soil, try moving the pot to another location and water the plant thoroughly to provide incentives to relocate elsewhere. You will likely have to repeat this action to encourage the fire ants to abandon the site. Some gardeners immerse the pot in water for 2-3 hours to flush out ants.
Question: I have received several conflicting recommendations on whether or not this is a good time of the year to plant shade trees. I have been told by some that it is too late in the year to plant these types of trees. Do I need to wait until springtime to plant them?
Answer: It is definitely not too late. In fact, late fall and early winter are ideal times to plant trees. Most commercial tree nurseries don't even start to dig trees for transplanting until fall. The survivability of trees is greatly enhanced when planted in the fall. The plants are dormant, the weather cooler, and rainfall more abundant. What a winning combination!
The roots of these newly planted trees will grow over the winter and help the tree get established in its new home. For your information, thousands of acres of new forests are planted each year from late November through February.
Question: This year I planted the ornamental sweet potato vines in several planters on my deck. When I emptied out the planters, I was surprised to find it full of sweet potatoes. The skins are cracked but one weighs 3 pounds. Can I save them and use them for Thanksgiving dinner?
Answer: The ornamental sweet potato vines are cultivars of Ipomea batatas just like the ones we eat such as Jewel and Beauregard. They are edible although I have not ventured to try one yet.
Reports from those that have tried them are mixed. I have been told they are bland, dry, and have no flavor. These ornamental vines where not selected for their culinary qualities. You could do a lot better for Thanksgiving. Your family would appreciate it.
Question: What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? I thought yams were the orange sweet potatoes.
Answer: Several decades ago when the orange fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced, the producers and shippers wanted to distinguish them from the more traditional white fleshed sweet potatoes. The African word "nyami" referring to a starchy, edible root of another plant was adopted in its English form, "yam." All yams sold in the United States are actually sweet potatoes with moist texture and orange flesh. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires the label "yam" always be accompanied by "sweet potato." The true yam is native to Africa and has a very rough and scaly skin. It is also very dry and starchy. The yam does not look at all like a sweet potato.
Question: My gardenia bush has grown so much this summer it has covered up a window. Can I safely prune it back now?
Answer: Gardenias should not be pruned during the fall season because you will be removing the buds that will provide next spring's flowers. Gardenias should be pruned immediately after their bloom cycle has been completed during the spring season. Pruning gardenias back now will also encourage the plants to put on tender new growth during extended periods of warm weather which will be more susceptible to cold weather injury should a cold snap occur.
Question: Should broccoli plants be left in the garden after the center head has been harvested?
Answer: Green sprouting broccoli varieties will produce smaller side heads for a time after the center head has been cut. The plants may be allowed to remain until hot weather makes heads tough and poor tasting.
Question: Every fall the older leaves on my gardenia and hibiscus shrubs turn yellow and drop. What could cause this?
Answer: When healthy gardenias and hibiscus are exposed to cool evening temperatures and warm days, it is common for some older leaves to turn bright yellow and drop. There is no treatment or prevention for this since this is normal. If yellow leaves and leaf drop occur at other times of the year, it usually is a sign of plant stress resulting from water stress, improper fertilization, root disorders, nematodes, or misuse of chemicals.
Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County
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