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.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.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in 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.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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