Gardening Q & A from MSU Extension

Written by David Green.

The outdoor gardening season may be winding down, but questions about growing plants are always in season. Michigan State University Extension specialists answer timely questions about landscape ornamentals, vegetable gardening, familiar insects and related topics.

Q.  In a stand of goldenrod stems I noticed quite a few that looked as if they’d grown around a marble. What causes this?

A.  The marble is actually a plant gall – plant tissue that forms in response to injury by insects or mites, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, or chemical or mechanical irritants. In the case of the goldenrod stem, the gall formed when a tiny insect inserted its egg into the stem. Ice anglers have been known to harvest the larvae inside the galls for bait.

Q.  I grew luffa sponge gourds for the first time this year. They’re maturing nicely, but I don’t know when to harvest them or what to do with them after that.

A.  Allow the gourds to mature on the vine. After vines are killed by frost, soak the gourds in water until the outer covering and interior pith soften. Then rub the gourds together or use a brush to remove the soft tissue. What’s left is the luffa sponge. Wash the sponge several times in clear water and let it dry. It’s then ready for use.

Q.  What does the banded woolly bear caterpillar turn into? I’m guessing it’s some kind of moth.

A.  The woolly bear (or woolly worm) – black on the ends and rusty brown in the middle -- is frequently seen crossing roads in the fall. After over-wintering in the larval stage, it will pupate and turn into an Isabella tiger moth. The adult moth has a wingspan of 1.8 to 2.6 inches and ranges in color from dull yellow to orange with scattered small dark spots. The underwings may be white, yellowish or orange, and the head is small and the thorax (the body segment directly behind the head) is hairy.                                                         

Q.  What is a dwarf conifer?

A.  A dwarf conifer is a variation on a species of pine, hemlock, fir, spruce or other conifer that never attains the height of the original species. “Dwarf” is a relative term – a 15-foot plant may be a dwarf if the original parent species typically tops 60 feet, for instance. Dwarf conifers usually grow slowly. They may vary from the species in form and color as well as height.

Q.  What sort of care do rhododendrons need to survive a northern winter?

A.  Keep plants well-watered through the fall so that they enter winter with plenty of moisture in their tissues. Rhododendrons hold their foliage through the winter, so they continue to lose moisture even after the ground is frozen and their roots can no longer take up water to replace what is lost. Make sure plants are surrounded by several inches of an organic mulch such as ground bark, wood chips or pine needles. Spray with an antidesiccant to seal moisture inside the foliage and stems. Build a windbreak out of burlap fastened to wooden stakes placed around the plant to protect plants, especially those in exposed locations, against drying winter winds.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016