Q: Is it just me, or did the spider surprise lilies die this past winter? Normally I have a lot of them in bloom now, and I have seen none. Not in my yard or others as well.
A: I would be surprised if the Lycoris radiata, or the red surprise lily, is dead after last year's winter. Normally, this lycoris blooms in the fall and immediately afterward the foliage appears. If undamaged, the foliage grows all winter and dies in late spring. Then the bulbs are dormant until the fall bloom. This past winter weather did kill the foliage too early, so the bulbs didn't generate enough energy to bloom this year. I bet if you look where you normally see them, you will see the leaves emerging now. Hopefully, we won't have any severe winter weather to damage them, and we will have blooms next fall.
Q: Please help me identify this beautiful "weed" [the reader sent a photo]. I could not tell if the pink bracts were showy seeds or buds. Propagation suggestions would be very helpful.
A : The weed in question is Persicaria longiseta (previously Polygonum), commonly called creeping smartweed, creeping knotweed or Oriental lady's thumb. Most often found in moist or wet areas, it is an annual, but it is highly invasive. It blooms late summer through fall. The petals are fused together, making a cup-like structure, but there will be a fruit inside. Even though it is attractive, if you leave it growing, you will have even more next year. I hate to give propagation tips for an invasive plant.
Q : My asters are 7-8 feet tall. They are always beautiful in October. We have to stake them to the fence. If I trimmed them in July, would they still bloom? Thank you for your advice. I look forward to your column each Saturday.
A : You can start pinching asters back when they begin growing in the spring, doing so every three to four weeks (each time a little higher) to encourage bushiness. Stop pinching by early July so they can begin to set flower buds. Putting out perennial stakes that the plants can grow up through can also help to support them.
Q: My lawn care service has recommended that I treat my yard for grubs. It's going to cost $100 for each of two treatments, and they suggest I do it every year. What do you think about this?
A : Have you had lawn damage in recent years from grubs? I normally don't recommend treating for insects unless you know you have them. Some grubs are normal in every landscape. Grubs are the larvae of several species of beetles, including June bugs and Japanese beetles. They have a creamy white body and often a brown head, and are C-shaped when you find them. Grubs overwinter deeper in the soil and begin moving up in the spring. Depending on species, the adults emerge in midspring through early summer, then they mate and lay eggs. The grubs hatch and begin feeding soon after. When grub numbers are high enough, the grass can be easily pulled up from the soil because the grubs have eaten the roots. If your grass is dying back in the summer and you suspect grubs, you can dig up a small section and check for the grubs. Typically, a healthy lawn can tolerate 5-7 grubs per square foot. If you have more grubs than that, then treatment may be needed. It is rare to find a feeding frenzy throughout the yard -- damage is often concentrated in smaller areas. Also, the overall health of your lawn can determine how much gnawing the lawn can tolerate. A healthy lawn is your best defense. (I find grubs when I am digging in my flower and vegetable gardens, and I toss them out for the birds.)
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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 email@example.com