Q: This is a picture of a tree in the wood behind my home in Maumelle. Are you able to identify it? Even though it has the appearance of a brain, I suspect the growth is some invasive species. It appeared recently and has grown rapidly.
A: The white growth on the trunk of the tree is a conk, or the fruiting body of a fungus. It indicates there is internal decay inside the trunk. Once decay has begun inside a tree, there isn't much you can do to stop it. If the tree is growing where it could cause damage if it falls, then removing the tree is warranted.
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Q: This bush is in shade and has a woody trunk, green branches and stems, three leaf clusters and red berries in the fall. I can't find it anywhere in my books or the internet. Can you tell me what it is?
A: The evergreen shrub in question is a common nandina, native to Japan. Some gardeners consider it an invasive species, while others like the red winter foliage, coupled with the berries. There are many varieties on the market, with most of the newer ones being seedless — so less chance of birds dropping seeds and planting more. Nandinas will grow in full sun to almost total shade, but better winter color and fruiting occurs with more light.
Q: Last year I tried growing paperwhite bulbs, and it was a disaster. The bulbs grew really fast, but the growth was very "leggy." The flowers bloomed at different times, and the stems started to fall over. I did loosely tie them, but it wasn't too attractive. I think they needed more light when sprouting. The temperature that I kept them at was my house temperature of approximately 68 degrees. I didn't pre-chill them. Can you offer any suggestions as how I could have better results this year?
A: Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) are one of a few species of narcissus that do not require pre-chilling. You can plant them as soon as you bring them home, and usually you will have blooms in three to six weeks. Choose a container that can support the top growth, so the pot doesn't topple over. When planting the bulbs, you can grow them in rocks or decorative glass beads, planting the bulbs half in and half out of the rock base. Then pour water into the rocks, just keeping the basal area of the bulb wet. Put the bulbs in a cool spot — 55-60 degrees — until you see new growth beginning. This will keep them from growing too fast and getting leggy. When the bulbs have sprouted and are 1 to 2 inches tall, you can add alcohol to the mix to stunt their growth. Many gardeners use cheap vodka, at the rate of 1:7 parts alcohol to water. If they are exposed to higher temperatures, they will grow taller and leggier. Turn the container regularly to keep them from leaning toward the light. You can also plan for supporting the stems as they grow, taking either deciduous stems from outdoor plants or small stems of nandina with foliage to put around the pot. This gives them a showy look and supports the stems, too. Once they begin to bloom, remove them from direct sunlight and try to keep them on the cool side, as this will extend the bloom period. Once they are finished blooming, I usually toss the bulbs and buy new bulbs next year.
Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org