QUESTION: My Mom, who lives in Houston, swears that
she has what looks like saliva appearing on several different
plants in her tropical flower garden. The substance is not
sticky, and has no obvious source. Any ideas what it is
and how to get rid of it?
ANSWER: Has some pervert been spitting on your old
Mama's plants!?!?!? Or is it just a bunch of little disgusting
insects disguised in a spit-like substance and consequently
called spittle bugs?!?!? Spittlebugs are sucking insects
of the order Homoptera, family Cercopidae. They are not
true bugs but rather closely related to leafhoppers and
are sometimes called froghoppers. The remarkable thing about
spittlebugs is the frothy mass (children call it frog spit)
enveloping the nymphs. This spittle is a combination of
a fluid voided from the anus and a mucilaginous substance
secreted by glands on the 7th and 8th abdominal segments,
mixed with air drawn in between a pair of plates under the
abdomen. The mixture is forced out under pressure, as from
a bellows, to make uniform bubbles. The tail, going up and
down, operates the bellows and deeps the bubbles coming.
As soon as the first bubbles are formed, the nymph reaches
back with its legs and hooks onto the globules, dragging
them forward to its head. The greenish nymph is soon hidden
under a mound of snow-white foam, protected from sun and
preying insects. Many spittlebugs are relatively harmless
but several are economically injurious to plants. Spray
with methoxychlor, Malathion, or endosulfan or use systemic
insecticides such as Orthene. I hope you did not read this
answer either soon after or directly before consuming a
meal -- if so, I apologize for the graphic description.
See, your Mama wasn't imagining things!!!
QUESTION: Can you recommend a good way to eradicate
mesquite roots, preferably _without_ resorting to chemicals?
The roots grow so deep that the mesquite keeps coming back
no matter what we do!
ANSWER: Mesquite are deep plowed out with bulldozers
pulling the huge plow on rangeland. So either "deep
digging" or use of a chemical such as Ortho Brush-B-Gon
or Ortho Brush Killer to be absorbed into the stump are
your only choices.
QUESTION: My oleanders have an orange caterpillar
looking bug with black spines that eats the oleanders. What
are these bugs called. What will kill them...they can soon
kill the plant.
ANSWER: You have identified the Oleander Caterpillar,
Syntomedia epilais juncundissima (Dyar), the worst pest
of oleander, especially in Florida. The larva is orange
with tufts of long black hairs scattered over the body,
1 ½ inches long. the adult is called Polka Dot Moth
because of the white spots scattered over the blue-black
body and wings. its shape resembles that of a wasp. Most
insecticides will control the pest. Try Orthene or DiSyston
or even the Bt sprays such as Thuricide or Dipel. BE SURE
to use a surfactant such as two teaspoons of a liquid detergent
(Joy, Ivory Liquid) per gallon of spray since oleander leaves
are so waxy.
QUESTION: My garden is becoming over run by "pill
bugs." They even ate the last seeds I planted. What
can I do to get rid of them. I prefer to use organic methods,
if there are any that work.
ANSWER: Simply search PLANTanswers for the answer
and you will find:
QUESTION: I'm not sure of the name. When I was a
kid we called them doodle bugs. They are grey, armor plated
insects with at least six legs. When threatened, they roll
into a tight ball. They hid under my mulch and ate my young
okra plants, bush beans and even my periwinkles. Do you
have any non-chemical suggestions?
ANSWER: You are describing what are called pillbugs,
rollie-pollies, sow bugs and, yes, maybe even doodle bugs.
They are night feeders and feed on organic matter. They
usually do not damage plants unless it is young, tender
and close to the ground. Garden centers sell pill bug bait
which they attack and devour. When consumed, the bait containing
some sort of insecticide (whether it is organic in origin
or not!) kills them. You can make your own bait using an
organic insecticide in mushed-up bananas or any decaying
food material. Some people put large lids or boards in the
garden area and pour hot water on the pill bugs after they
have congregated. You can co-exist by protecting young seedlings
with a band of insecticidal dust which allows maturing of
plants before devouring by bugs. The more organic matter
you have, the more rollie pollies you will have. Some gardeners
recommend ducks or guineas.
QUESTION: I have a nice yard with various types of
grass. and now the sticker burrs are trying to take over.
ANSWER: Sticker burrs (also called grass burrs!)
are a result of a thin stand or sparseness of the grass-of-choice
for your yard. Burrs cannot compete with a properly maintained
bermuda turf or St. Augustine grass. When you mow the bermuda
closely every 5-7 days or the St. Augustine as high as the
mower blade can be set every 7-10 days, burr plants cannot
survive. It is only when adverse weather (dry) and poor
culture (do not fertilizer bermuda monthly or St. Augustine
twice yearly) diminish the desired grass growth do burrs
get started. Of course, in new lawns burrs compete with
the chosen turf until it is crowded out. Stickerburr eradication
requires several methods of attack. BEFORE sticker burrs
germinate and to keep them from germinating, use a pre-emergence
herbicide such as Balan, Betasan or Portrait beginning in
February, again in May and again in July. If grass burr
plants emerge, mow the grass-of-choice at the appropriate
height on a weekly basis before burr plants can produce
and mature seed burrs. If small burrs are detected at mowing
time, use a grass catcher to eliminate possible mature burrs.
MSMA or DSMA herbicide can be used on bermuda grass turf
ONLY to kill grass burr plants. Image can be used on both
bermuda and St. Augustine to kill grass burr plants even
though some stunting and/or yellowing may occur. Fertilize,
mow and water to cause optimum growth of the chosen turf
grass to crowd out the grass burr population. For the complete
program of grass burr elimination, see:
QUESTION: Why doesn't my wisteria bloom?
ANSWER: Youth could be the problem since seedling
plants require several years to flower and sometimes fail
to flower at all. Grafted plants, the kind purchased at
nurseries and garden centers, should not have this problem.
Reluctance of wisteria to bloom abundantly is usually due
to a lack of one or more of the following cultural requirements:
full sun, good drainage, and light fertilization in the
fall, not spring. Another essential is annual pruning, which
can be done by shortening new shoots to five buds in summer.
If a grafted or cutting-grown Chinese wisteria refuses to
flower in three or four years after planting, or a Japanese
wisteria is barren after about seven years, prune it heavily
and fertilize with superphosphate. If this fails to produce
blooms root-prune by driving a spade into the soil 24 inches
from the trunk around the plant OR beat the devil out of
QUESTION: How do you plant a Sago palm? Two years
ago I cut three small plants from the bottom of a large
palm and planted the new plants in a new bed. The leaves
of the transplants stayed green and got bigger but no new
leaves. The old big plant usually puts on new leaves twice
a year. Do you have to turn the transplants upside down
for them to put on new leaves? I have some new small plants
again and I would like to plant them to grow!
ANSWER: From reading the article on the propagation
of Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta) by offsets, it appears that
what you did wrong was to leave the leaves on the pup when
you transplanted it. See this good article on Sagos by one
of the primary growers in our area. It is located at this
This is what it says about propagating from the offsets:
"Offsets or "pups", growing at the base or
along the sides of mature Sagos, are an excellent source
of new plants. Remove them in early spring by using a hand
trowel to pop small ones from the trunk side, or a sharp-shooter
shovel to dig and gently crow-bar large ones from the base
of the plant. Remove all the pups' leaves and roots, then
set them aside to dry for a week or so. Plant in well-drained
soil or a sandy mixture so that
half the ball or trunk is below soil level - water thoroughly.
Allow the soil to become nearly dry until roots begin to
form and the first leaves appear several months later. At
that time, apply a mild dose of fertilizer and water when
almost, but not completely dry. Allow the new plants to
form a good
root system before repotting into a larger container or
planting in your garden or landscape. Warning! Removing
pups can be very hard work on large Sagos with lots of babies.
NEW LEAVES emerge all at once in a circular pattern, and
are very tender until they begin to harden several weeks
later. Do not disturb or repot the plant during this process
and allow the plant to
receive good overhead light; low light will produce long
leaves, while bright light will produce shorter leaves.
If light is coming from a window, give the plant a 1/4 turn
each day until the new leaves
harden, otherwise they may lean toward the light source.
Do not allow the plant to become excessively dry when new
leaves are developing, otherwise new foliage may wither
and die or
become yellow and stunted."
QUESTION: I bought a "resurrection or passion plant"
at a local plant sale here in San Antonio, and my question
is do I have to move this plant indoors in the winter? I
planted this out in my garden and it is doing quite well,
and I was wondering if I left it out in the garden if it
would come back next year after winter. Can I get "cuttings"
off this plant to give to my friends? Any special procedures
to getting cuttings to survive? This plant has the most
spectacular blooms I've ever seen !
ANSWER: There are two plants that have the common name
'resurrection plant'; Selaginella lepidophylla and Polypodium
polypodioides. I think, because you have the plant growing
in your garden that it is the former. The only reference
I can find with the hardiness of these plants says that
they are frost tender and only hardy in USDA Zones 9 thru
11. We are in zone 8 here in San Antonio, so your plant
is probably not going to survive outside in the winter.
You note that I said probably because I do not know for
sure. Maybe you should split it, potting up half to bring
inside for protection and leave the other half outside in
the ground to see what will happen.
Common Name: Resurrection Plant, Rose of Jericho; Family:
Description: The Resurrection Plant, Selaginella lepidophylla,
is native to certain arid regions of Texas, Mexico and Peru.
Mature plants form a flat rosette of densely tufted branched
stems with stiff scale-like leaves.
S. lepidophylla shows an interesting xerophytic adaptation.
In response to severe water stress, the plant contracts
and curls up. In this semi-dehydrated condition it is able
to tolerate long periods of drought. During subsequent irrigation
the plant rapidly unfurls and resumes active growth.
The response can be effectively demonstrated in the classroom.
Simply soak a specimen in water for one or more hours. The
plant will unfurl and remain in this condition as long as
moisture is available. When allowed to dry, the plant will
again curl up.
This Aggie web site says that it can be propagated by tip
cuttings but gives no further information:
Plants which can be propagated from stem cuttings include
Selaginella (Resurrection Plant) - tip cuttings
Instructions on rooting cuttings can be found at this PLANTanswers
Here is the answer given to a previous question about Polypodium
Question: Wife gave me some "resurrection fern"
bulbs. Can you tell me how to plant them and how to take
care of them?
Answer: Finding information on growing this fern is next
to impossible. It is an epiphyte getting its nourishment
from the air. Therefore, it may be very difficult to grow
it by "planting it". This web site has some images
of the Polypodium polypodioides var. michauxianum and this
is what it has to say:
Resurrection Fern - Native Closely packed clumps of open
green or curled dry fronds are a common sight on rough tree
bark and rock in hammocks and forests throughout Florida
and the Southeast. The common name comes from the fronds'
ability to curl up and appear dead when low in moisture,
then and open quickly and "green up" after a rain.
The fronds are a few inches long, dark green, narrowly
triangular and deeply divided into several pairs of narrow,
straight-sided, rounded lobes. The rhizomes are long, thin
and often difficult to detect because of their sturdy attachment
to the host plant. When drying out a frond's tips curl inside
towards its upper surface, giving a fiddle head look.
Several form around the end of the lobes and the underside
of each frond is covered with tiny brown scales. This species
may occasionally form terrestrial colonies in well-drained
This is what it says: "Overhead, the aerial flora
of the park puts on a fascinating display. This is Resurrection
Fern, Polypodium polypodioides. When there has been rain,
the fronds of this fern unroll, become green, and produce
spores. During dry spells, they turn brown and curl up.
This plant is a true epiphyte: it grows on trees but takes
nothing from them other than support." The only mention
of growing in a planting medium that I found was in the
first reference above, last sentence; "This species
may occasionally form terrestrial colonies in well-drained
soil." It does not tell how to do it, however.
QUESTION: I have a crapemyrtle. It has multiple trunks,
2 inch to 3 inch diameter, about 12 feet tall. During two
days it has dropped 50 percent of it's leaves. Leaves are
GREEN and look very normal. Even the leaves that are laying
on the ground are green and look normal. There is a little
powdery mildew...not much. If you shake a limb the leaves
fall like rain. There is no sign of cupping, no discoloration,
no margin burn, no insects. I did notice that someone has
used some herbicide across the alley. It appears that the
herbicide hit only the grassy weeds...since some broad leaf
weeds are growing right in the middle of the kill. This
is the only tree (shrub) in the area that is having the
ANSWER: Crape myrtles show their thirst much more
than many other plants. The normal reaction for trees and
shrubs is to abort a lot of leaves. This may be what is
happening to your crape myrtle. If you see no other herbicide
damage, you can probably rule that out.
QUESTION: My question concerns using Epson Salt
(magnesium sulfate) as a source of magnesium for tomatoes
and flowering plants. Several friends know 'Old Folks' who
use Epson Salt around tomatoes to stop blooms from dropping
- but, no one knows how much to use. I was thinking of using
it as a water soluble solution. I would greatly appreciate
your thoughts on the wisdom/efficacy ( or lack of) of using
Epson Salt as a means of supplying micronutrients. If the
idea does have any merit, please advise also on the amount
ANSWER: The addition of organic material (compost)
to the soil and the use of mulch usually supplies the necessary
magnesium to the soil. The only dilution rate I could find
comes from Rodale's Garden Problem Solver which calls for
1 cup Epsom salts dissolved in one gallon of water and applied
either as a foliar spray or directly to the soil. I find
nothing that says that this will prevent blossom drop. Blossom
drop in tomatoes is caused mainly by temperature. Tomatoes
will not set fruit when the night temperature exceeds 75
degrees or the day temperatures exceeds 92 degrees F.
QUESTION: I am interested in learning more about
growing Tea shrubs and Tea trees in Texas. I really don't
know where to start but I would like to know if tea is grown
commercially in Texas as well as where one might turn to
for more information on this subject.
ANSWER: I know of no cultivated tea in Texas. Here are
a couple of web sites which will provide links to many articles
on tea for your information:
QUESTION: My neighbor has two lovely hibiscus plants
but they have grown tall and sparse. She needs to know exactly
how, where and when to cut them back. I understand this
is the way they grow in the wild but she would prefer a
bushier plant. Also, one plant tends to lose its buds before
it has a chance to bloom.
ANSWER: The hibiscus should be pruned back quite
drastically to force new growth and bushiness. This needs
to be done periodically to keep the plants from getting
in the shape they are now in. It can be done anytime, but
is best done just as you are bringing it outside from the
winter protection. While this article does not address the
pruning of tropical hibiscus it has lots of good information
on pruning in general. It can be found at this PLANTanswers
There are a couple of reasons for a hibiscus to lose its
buds before they open. She needs to check for thrips. Have
her cut some of the buds open and tap them on a piece of
white paper. If she sees tiny, slender insects crawling
on the paper, the plant has thrips and they will keep the
buds from opening. They can be controlled using a systemic
insecticide such as Ortho's Orthene. Another reason that
hibiscus will abort their blossoms is getting too dry. They
do not like to dry out.
QUESTION: I would like to know a method of preserving
Lemon Balm leaves after harvesting.
ANSWER: This web site on Lemon Balm gives this advice:
Harvest: before the plant flowers, pick leaves as needed,
or cut entire plant to 2 inches above the ground; for drying,
place leaves on a wire rack in a warm, airy place, then
store in an airtight jar.
QUESTION: I moved to southwest Austin (Oak Hill)
recently and bought a new home. I have the fun of planting
all of my favorite plants with the exception of those that
don't do well in this area. I have installed Prairie Buffalo
grass in my yard and have come across conflicting recommendations
regarding its watering and fertilizing schedules. Please
advise. I also bought an eastern redbud tree. I've been
told that it's the one used by landscapers in this area.
Why don't they plant Texas redbuds? Can I expect it to do
ANSWER: You will get as many opinions on buffalo
grass as you ask horticulturists. In my opinion, buffalo
grass is a fine prairie grass and that is how you should
let it grow. It should never be fertilized or mowed and
should be watered just enough to keep it green. When it
is manicured like a typical lawn grass, it will be overtaken
by bermuda grass if there is any in the vicinity. Our recommendations
for ornamental trees can be found in the list of Outstanding
Landscape Plants for South Central Texas at this PLANTanswers
You will note that in the list of small trees we include
the Mexican redbud and the Texas redbud. The two just mentioned
have a much thicker and smaller leaf. It seems to be able
to withstand the extremely hot, dry summers we have much
better than the thin leaf of the eastern redbud. As to why
the landscapers don't plant the proper tree - probably because
the customer doesn't demand it!