2017-10-26 / Editorial Page

Consumers get answers from Ga. Department of Agriculture

Consumer Q’s is a weekly question- and-answer column by Arty Schronce at the Georgia Department of Agri­culture. Please share your thoughts, questions and suggestions with him by phone, mail or email.

Q: I saw a photo of a lovely flower called a “toad lily” in a catalog. Can we grow it in Georgia?

A: Toad lilies (Tricyrtis spp.) are an excellent perennial for shady gardens. Besides being beautiful and durable, they bloom in the fall while most woodland flowers bloom in spring.

The most probable explanation for their name is that the flowers and leaves of some of them are spotted like toads. One of the best species, Tricyrtis hirta, has the unflattering name of “hairy toad lily” due to the fine hairs covering its leaves, stems and buds. Despite what they are called, toad lilies possess an intriguing beauty. Many people say the flowers remind them of orchids. Colors range from purple to white and yellow.

Toad lilies combine well with hostas, rohdea, ferns, Lenten roses, Solomon’s seal, heuchera, little pigs/ wild ginger (Asarum spp.), celandine poppy and green-and-gold.

Visiting Georgia nurseries in the fall gives you the opportunity to see plants you may have missed in the spring. Late-bloomers such as toad lilies and native asters that didn’t look like much in April are now in full glory. Seeing them may convince you to aim for having a garden that is as filled with flowers in autumn as it is in spring and summer.

Q: How can I keep track of where I planted bulbs? I don’t want a gar­den littered with tags and labels, but I am tired of accidentally digging up or cutting through bulbs that I forgot about.

A: Here are some suggestions that may save you some heartache and some cash, too:

• Use rocks and stones to outline the area where the bulbs are planted. Choose colors that blend in with the mulch or soil. Also place rocks in the ground next to the bulbs when you are planting them. These rocks may deter a shovel if you forget you have planted bulbs in that spot. Mixing pea gravel into the planting area will not only help the drainage but will help remind you that you have bulbs planted there.

• Purchase or recycle transparent or black plastic forks, spoons or knives and use them to outline or mark the area where you have planted bulbs. The black or clear utensils will not be as visibly distracting as white ones.

• If you have some leftover plastic plant pots, cut out the bottom and sink them into the ground. They will serve as a collar that will protect the bulbs from your shovel as well as from other digging creatures. Be sure to cut out the bottom or make sure there are adequate holes or the bulbs will drown because water will not drain through. Use black or non-obtrusive colors. The rims can be hidden with mulch.

• Photographing your garden and making a planting chart will also help.

Q: I was away for a few weeks and have stalks of okra in the garden with large pods on them. Are they too tough to eat?

A: Yes, they are probably too tough to eat. However, you can cut the stalks, let them dry and use them in dried floral arrangements. The pods may also be used with lotus pods, dried flowers and nuts to make a harvest wreath. They may be painted to make icicle ornaments for the Christmas tree. They are commonly made into angel ornaments or Santa Claus ornaments with the tip of the pod being the tip of Santa’s beard and the cap of the pod becoming his cap.

Q: Last Saturday I saw what looked like a hummingbird feeding at the moonflower vine growing at the edge of my porch. It was well past midnight. Was this one work­ing the third shift or was it just a night-owl hummingbird?

A: Hummingbirds were having sweet dreams when you saw your midnight visitor. What you probably saw was a species of sphinx moth. Some of these moths are quite large with heavy bodies with narrow fore­wings. They can be strong and fast fli­ers with a rapid wingbeat. Collectively they are also known as “hawkmoths” because of their swift flight. They feed on the wing similar to the way hum­mingbirds do. Because of their size, flight and manner of feeding, it is easy to think you saw a hummingbird.

Some species of sphinx moths are more familiar in their caterpillar stage than in their adult form. Gar­deners know the tobacco hornworm (Carolina sphinx moth) and tomato hornworm (five-spotted hawkmoth). As caterpillars, both species will feed on tomato foliage, and other members of the nightshade family. Fishermen know the catalpa worm as bait. If they escape being fish food, catalpa worms will become catalpa sphinx moths.

The hummingbird clearwing and the snowberry clearwing are two com­mon species of small sphinx moths that feed during the day and look like a cross between a hummingbird and a bumblebee.

You are most likely to see one of the sphinx moths feeding at white or light-colored flowers, especially night-blooming flowers or flowers that become fragrant in the evening. A few favorites include butterfly ginger (har­dy ginger), moonflower (moonvine), tuberose, abelia, evening primrose, petunia (especially old-fashioned re- seeding ones), nicotiana, manfreda, garden phlox, Abyssinian gladiolus, four o’clocks and angel’s trumpet. Plant some and enjoy the speedster moth show.

Q: What are some good bloom­ing houseplants? I want something other than greenery.

A: We are entering houseplant sea­son in which you will begin to see nu­merous flowering selections at garden centers and grocery stores. Some are basically temporary ornaments that are usually discarded after blooming. They provide color but are not usually treated as long-term houseplants. This group includes florist’s cyclamen, gloxinia, paperwhites and other pot­ted forced “spring-blooming” bulbs such as hyacinths. Poinsettias may also be considered in this group al­though many people keep poinsettias as houseplants and go to great lengths to entice them to bloom again.

Christmas and Thanksgiving cac­tuses, although often sold as holiday plants, make good long-term house­plants that will repeat their holiday blooming for many years with mini­mal care. Amaryllis is another house­plant commonly sold as a Christmas gift or holiday decoration but that will provide years of flowers.

African violets are an old favorite that are available in many colors and forms. Phalaenopsis orchids are one of the easiest orchids to grow and are more readily available than ever before. A few other possibilities that produce a lot of blooms include crown-of-thorns, angelwing begonias, wax begonias and geraniums.

Clivia is a flowering houseplant that is praised for its durability, for tolerat­ing lower light levels than many other flowering plants and for producing in­credibly bright and beautiful clusters of flowers. The standard flower color is deep orange, but yellow and other colors may be found.

Of course, there is the very popu­lar peace lily (spathiphyllum). It is primarily a greenery plant but may reward its growers by producing primitive, white flowers.

Visit your local garden center for more information and options about what flowering houseplants will be best for the conditions in your home.

And if it is color you are looking for, don’t forget that there are many houseplants with variegated and mul­ticolored foliage that will brighten your décor without even the hint of a flower.

If you have questions about agri­culture, horticulture, food safety or services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty.schronce@ agr.georgia.gov) or visit the depart­ment’s website at www.agr.georgia. gov.

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