Q: This insect damage has occurred to a lowly, invasive privet. I rip them up from my yard wherever I see them, and in fact this bonsai was created from one of those. When very young these "whips" are very flexible and can be wired with impunity into all kinds of interesting shapes. This is one — but it seems sick with whatever infestation has attacked it. New growth is slow in coming. Can you offer any suggestions? Should I treat? Cut off every affected leaf? Just wait with fingers crossed for warmer weather? Thank you for whatever suggestions you can offer.
A: A privet bonsai is impressive. At least by pruning you prevent the flowering and seed set that make it invasive. I don't think the damage looks like insects. I wonder if it could be some type of physical damage from storms. Watch the new growth. If it is clean, eventually you can prune off the old leaves and let the new growth replace it. For now, wait and see. If the new growth begins to show damage, let me know.
■ ■ ■
Q: My wife bought this poinsettia for $5 right after Thanksgiving at a local grocery store. We're in a new house with a nice sunroom that faces west, but with mature trees it's semi sunny. I told my wife if it was still alive and growing six months later I would email you for advice. The plant has more than doubled and all I've done is water and turn. Obviously we're very pleased. Thanks.
A: Poinsettias have been bred to retain their color for months, provided they get bright light. The true flower is an inconspicuous small, yellow bloom in the center of the colored bracts, which actually lasts a relatively short amount of time. The bracts — or modified leaves — can keep their red, pink or white color (depending on variety) for a long time. Bright light and even moisture are the keys, which you have obviously provided. Continue to enjoy the color as long as possible. Then, move the plant outdoors and either keep it on a deck or patio and watered, daily, or sink the pots in the ground to make watering less frequent. They should grow much fuller and bushier, provided they have room to grow. In the fall, you can take them indoors and try to get them to rebloom, but the light/dark cycle is a chore without a greenhouse. I buy new plants every holiday season, enjoy them for months, then toss them and buy new ones. The choice is yours. But a great amount of color for just $5!
Q: What are the beautiful white-flowering shrubs or small trees that seem to be everywhere in Central Arkansas right now? I see them on roadsides and in parks around town. They have a very nice fragrance. Would they be a good choice for a hedge or screen in my yard?
A: Please no! The plants that you correctly said are everywhere in bloom now are common privet (Ligustrum vulgare). They were a common hedge plant in the 1900s. They did so well that they escaped and are now highly invasive. The fragrance of the flowers is debatable — some like it, while others detest it, but they are full of blooms right now. Following the copious blooms will be millions of berries that the birds eat and then drop, giving us even more privet. Not a good plant for our gardens!
■ ■ ■
Q: These strange things have appeared in our rose garden. I noticed them last year as well. Do you know what they are?
A: The growths are called slime mold. Slime molds are members of a shape-shifting group of organisms called myxomycetes. They usually start out as a bright color — white, yellow, orange or red, and often resemble the common name. As they begin to dry out they turn a tan or brown color. They are not a true fungus. These organisms exist in nature as a "blob" (plasmodium) similar to an amoeba. The blobs usually appear in and can spread around mulched beds when there is high humidity and relatively warm weather. In Arkansas, we typically hear of slime molds in the spring and occasionally in the summer when we have high humidity and rains. They are not dangerous, just unsightly. Rake or break up the mold, which will encourage it to dry up and disappear more quickly.
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