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IN THE GARDEN: Houttuynia status in the garden — weed or welcome — down to preference

by Janet B. Carson May 7, 2022 at 1:32 a.m.
Houttuynia is called chameleon plant because the foliage of this persistent spreader turns various color in the sun. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q: This plant is growing in my flower bed and I don't recognize it [the reader sent a picture]. Please advise — is it a weed or a good plant?

A: It looks like houttuynia, commonly called chameleon plant because the foliage can turn a variety of shades in the sun. While some gardeners like it, most consider it a weed as it can spread aggressively, and it doesn't have the most pleasant scent to the foliage.

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Q: I have an old oak tree close to my house that was scorched 10 years ago by fire. It now appears to be deteriorating. Should it be cut down or trimmed or left alone?

A: As much as I hate to remove any tree, I would say this is not a great candidate for a long life. The proximity to your house makes it even more of a problem. While it appears the oak is leafing out, there is quite a bit of dead and/or decayed wood on one side, which makes it a hazard. I recommend removing it.


Q: Can you tell me the name of this plant? [The reader sent a picture.]

A: The plant in question is a dianthus. Depending on variety and soil drainage it can be a long- or short-lived perennial; but it blooms best in cooler weather, tending to rest in the heat of summer.

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Q: I have couple of Knockout roses, and their colors are so weird, but I am confusing whether they are the new growth or it's been sick [with] rose rosette disease, since they don't have a lot of thorns [and thorns are] one of its symptoms.

A: From the pictures you sent, it looks like new spring growth. Typically, when roses have rose rosette, the leaves will be mottled and the stems excessively thorny. Keep an eye on it and see what happens, but for now I think they are safe.

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Q: Poison ivy has gotten into a flower bed that has three large camellia bushes in it. How do I permanently kill the poison ivy without harming my large camellias? Your help would be appreciated.

A: Poison ivy seems to be coming up everywhere this year, but that is nothing new. If you can wear protective gloves and pull it out from the roots, that will help. Or you can cut it and treat the cut edge with glyphosate (Roundup) taking care not to let any drift onto the camellias. It is a woody weed and pretty tenacious, so don't think one treatment will do the job. Monitor it and stay after it.

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Q: Will this Japanese maple survive this drastic pruning that was done five weeks ago? [The reader sent photos.]

A: I would be surprised if the severe pruning would actually kill the maple, unless it dies of embarrassment, but in reality, it should leaf out. It looks like the cuts were made fairly cleanly. It will probably sprout out from most of the ends, but it will take a few seasons to get much of a shape back. Broadleaf plants are usually fairly resilient, but monitor the pruning job in the future. Give it extra care this season with regular water and a light application of fertilizer.

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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