Ask Neil – October, 2007

Would you like Neil’s help with your plant question? Send the question along with a digital photo by clicking here. Along with the photo you also will need to include your initials and the city in which you live. Neil will select 3 to 5 questions of the most general reader interest for answering in the next issue of neil sperry’s e-gardens. Unfortunately, Neil cannot respond individually by return e-mail.

What is wrong with my Chinese evergreen plant? I moved it from our house out onto the patio two weeks ago. Is this a disease?

L.S., Flower Mound

Answer: This is not a disease. It’s probably sunscald brought on by even a few minutes’ exposure to direct sunlight. This plant needs shade to survive. It rarely has diseases. While affected leaves won’t green back up again, new growth will be produced almost immediately. should come back fairly quickly.

What is this little weed? It’s actually pretty, but it is invading my St. Augustine.

J.M., Temple

Answer: You have dichondra. It hugs the ground as it intermingles with the St. Augustine, and, yes, it is quite attractive as weeds go. However, it doesn’t tolerate our Texas summer sun without the shade the grass provides it. Were you to attempt using it as a groundcover, it would die almost immediately in the sunlight. Use a broadleafed weedkiller spray containing 2,4-D, and follow the label directions carefully. Use a pump sprayer, not a hose-end model, for best results. You will need to spray directly down onto it to make good contact with its leaves, as the St. Augustine blades will shelter them somewhat.

I have these insects on a large croton that I have had in my greenhouse this winter. I assume they are mealy bugs. Is that correct, and what will control them? Will they kill the plant?

R.E., Wichita Falls

Answer: You have a nasty dose of mealy bugs. They are a type of soft-bodied scale insect that sucks the life out of its host plants. They usually abate when you put plants outdoors over the summer, but they make it really difficult to get some plants through the winter indoors where there will be no natural predators. Systemic insecticides are your best option in spraying.

I really like Japanese maples and their spring color, but mine fades to dark green over the summer. Is there any fertilizer I can use to keep it dark red longer?

G.L., Highland Park

Answer: That shift from deep maroons and reds to purplish-green hits most colorful plants, including purple plums, Forest Pansy redbuds and Japanese maples. The red pigments are actually repressed by the heat, allowing the greens to come forward. It is, in no way, nutritional, so adding nutrients will not change the course. If you ever travel in cooler regions of the Midwest, Northeast or Northwest, you’ll see the more intense shades even during the summer months.

Will vines do any damage to the side of my house? A neighbor told me that ivy can ruin the mortar.

M.K., Houston

Answer: Vines do no harm to masonry surfaces like the one shown. However, if the vines trap dirt and grime against the wall it can end up staining the brick or stone. On balance, the risks are tiny and the beauty vines provide growing up a masonry wall far outweigh them. Keep them trimmed away from window screens, however. They will do damage via their special rooting appendages. They’re almost impossible to remove from screens and metal siding.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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