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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Mealybugs make a meal of houseplants

One of my jade plants has some sort of white fluff on the stems. Is this normal?

Jade plant

Jade plant is one of many houseplants that can be affected by mealybugs.

White fluff is not normal. Your jade plant is no doubt hosting an infestation of mealybugs, tiny sap-sucking insects that will damage the plants if they are left to multiply. They appear as small, cottony growths on the stems and leaves of jade plants and many other houseplants. They do their damage by inserting their piercing mouthparts into the plant’s tissue and extracting the juices.

Mealybugs thrive in a warm, dry environment – such as inside a home in winter. Female mealybugs don’t fly, but once established on a plant, they can find their way to nearby houseplants so it’s good to get rid of them as quickly as you can – not always an easy task, because that fluff is rather waxy and resistant to pesticides.

The best way to begin to eradicate the insects is to remove them by hand. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and wipe them off. You may have to do this two or three times until all the unseen eggs that may have been deposited have hatched. If the infestation is heavier, follow up with a spray of insecticidal soap.

Always be watchful for insects to reappear, and try to get rid of them quickly. In addition to jade plants, mealybugs may find their way onto African violets, ferns, pothos, Norfolk Island pine, schefflera, diffenbachia, pothos, philodendron and many other popular houseplants.

Mealybugs are a common problem, and information is readily available. The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension provides information here.

Plant perennials now, enjoy them later

I’m still seeing perennials for sale at garden centers. Some of them are being sold at reduced prices. Can they really be planted this time of year?

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Spring is the typical planting time, but for gardeners who are willing to be patient or take a chance on a plant that may look like it’s past its prime, early fall is a good time to plant. Many of the plants on sale still have plenty of life, even though they don’t look their best right now.

But if you make careful choices and plant now, they will begin to establish good root systems and should spring back beautifully in the garden next year.

While perennials you find now may not be at the peak of perfection, you should still look for healthy plants with no sign of disease. Here are guidelines from the website of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension and other sources:

  • Look for plants with good color and vigorous appearance. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease.
  • Ease the plant out of the pot and look at the roots look healthy, and not mushy or limp. Avoid anything with roots that have a bad odor.
  • Buy labeled plants (unless you want to be surprised!) and label it in the garden so that you can remember where and what you planted next spring.
  • In the garden, prepare the soil and amend it as needed with compost. Dig a hole a few inches wider that the plant’s pot, remove the plant from the pot and gently loosen the roots, then set the plant in the ground with the base of the plant level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil, water thoroughly, and add mulch.
  • Don’t set them out and forget them. October can be a dry month, so remember to provide water on a regular basis.

Hanging plants look like home to wrens

Birds have built nests in our hanging ferns. I have tried putting plastic snakes in the pots, but they only build on top of them! Any suggestions for keeping them from building in the hanging pots?

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

The birds making a home in your ferns are most likely Carolina wrens, cute little brown birds that eat insects – and lots of them – and feed them to their babies, say bird experts at Wild Birds Unlimited. And there is really not much you can do, since as far as they can tell, you’ve put out the welcome mat and invited them in. The birds are taking advantage of the foliage to provide cover for their nests, and they’re too smart to be scared away by fake snakes.

Continue to water the plants as usual (trying to avoid the nest if you can) and the plants should continue to do well.