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IN THE GARDEN: Mystery plant is the highly invasive chameleon plant, or houttuynia

by Janet B. Carson June 4, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
Chameleon plant (Houttuynia) has an appealing appearance but the ugly habit of spreading aggressively. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q: I just found this in my flower bed [the reader sent photos]. Could you please identify it for me? Could not find it in my wildflower book. Thank you.

A: The pretty flower in question is commonly called chameleon plant — Houttuynia. It is highly invasive, especially in moist areas. Although it looks pretty now, you probably want to pull it.

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Q: The attached pic shows some ground cover I have in my zoysia grass that I was wondering if you can identify and what I can use to kill it. I have MSMA available, but if that is not the proper chemical, I will purchase what is best.

A: Since you are doing a good job mowing, I can't be 100% sure, but I believe it is Virginia buttonweed. This is a perennial weed that prefers low and often moist areas. If you can spot it as it first gets established, dig it up, making sure to get the taproot. Herbicides provide only temporary suppression of Virginia buttonweed. Multiple applications of three-way (2,4D + MCPP + dicamba) herbicides at intervals of three to six weeks do a fair job. Don't use them when the temperatures are hot.


[Gallery not showing above? Click here to see photos: arkansasonline.com/64garden/]

Q: You do such a great service for us plant enthusiasts. I hope these pictures are clear enough for you to tell me what kind of plant/shrub these are. They are supposed to be the same type of plant. Thank you for your help.

A: It is possible they are both loropetalum. For sure, the small one is. The tall one could be a larger variety of loropetalum or it could be a smoke tree. I can't tell for sure from the picture, because the resolution is low. When I blow it up it gets fuzzy. Why are they planted in the middle of the field of grass?

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Q: My friend and neighbor asked me what to do about a fire ant mound in her backyard garden. Is treating it with Orthene a viable option? As you can see there is already a small squash amid the blooms. I told her I'd ask you. (She and I both treat ant mounds in our respective lawns as they appear.)

A: Fire ants in a vegetable garden are tricky. Many of the traditional fire ant baits are not labeled for edibles. Read the label of your formulation of Orthene and see if it is labeled for squash. Products containing Spinosad are labeled for gardens and should kill fire ants. You could also carefully shovel the fire ant mound into a bucket with water and some vegetable oil to kill the ants. Some people do pour boiling water on the mound, but as close as your mound is to the squash plant, I am afraid you would damage the plant. Good luck, and be careful. Fire ants are not fun to deal with.

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Q: Our camellia tree's leaves are turning yellow and then brown. We have already lost a large limb that had no sign of life. The large limb in the picture still has green if you scratch the bottom bark. Entergy came last year and "trimmed" the trees behind us, leaving it with lots of morning and afternoon sun. Could it be sun scald, or perhaps a fungus or nutrient issue? Any help as to what is happening would be appreciated. We sure don't want to lose this tree.

A: It does not look promising. If a camellia has lived its whole life in a shady environment and then is exposed to full sun, that can cause damage. I definitely think you have a lot of dead wood. Do you see any cracks or damage on the trunk? While this is not the ideal time to move a large plant, you might have to try a "Hail Mary" and move it to a shadier spot, removing the dead branches in the process. Water it well all summer and see what happens.

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 jcarson@arkansasonline.com

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