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Will asks: What is the recommended procedure to rid peanut cactus of mealybugs? I prefer not to use chemicals. I have a favorite cactus that is called a peanut cactus. The cactus is in the form of a peanut, thus its name. Now it is appearing rather sad, with some distortion, and I was told that it is mealy bug infested.

Answer: For those readers not familiar with a mealybug, it is a small, 1/8-inch oval waxed-shaped insect with a fine, whitish cotton-like body. Mealy bugs damage and weaken plants by sucking on sap, distorting new growth. Commonly, infestations are seen in greenhouse plants, ornamentals, grasses and roses.

To get rid of these pests, Janet Price of Lone Pine Nursery in Sebastopol recommends combining a mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent rubbing alcohol in a plastic, hand-held sprayer and spraying the cactus with the solution. Be aware that spraying when temperatures are too hot will damage the cactus.

By the way, the peanut cactus is known botanically as Echinopsis chamaecerus. Its bloom color is reddish-orange and blooms in late spring and early summer. Display your potted peanut cactus in a sunny to partial shade location. Since it originates from Argentina, it can tolerate our cold winters.

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Julie asks: What do you know about Neonicotinoids and how do they affect bees?

Answer: I am not well informed about them, but I found this in the National Garden Club newsletter: “Neonicotinoids are synthetic insecticides similar in chemical structure to nicotine, and all of them control pests through the same mode, binding to receptors in the insect’s nervous system and blocking nerve impulses.”

The concern is about how these insecticides control honeybees, beneficial insects, butterflies and good bugs, eliminating natural pollinators. They may also be responsible for beehive collapse.

The insecticide will persist in plants and soil for months to years, and the amount accumulates as time goes on. It is water soluble and readily moves into rivers and large bodies of water. Neonicotinoids are systemic, so the insecticide moves into pollen and nectar, creating a direct exposure to our valuable pollinators.

It is important to be informed, and check plant labels or check with your local nursery to make sure that the plants you are purchasing are free of Neonicotinoids or other pesticides.

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Margaret asks: I purchased some delphiniums and something is eating them. What type of insect do you think is doing the damage? I prefer not to use chemicals for control.

Here are some possibilities:

Earwigs: Small holes are chewed into the blossoms and the leaves. Control them by rolling up wet newspaper. The earwigs like to hide overnight in the wet paper. Collect them in the morning and discard. Or, try filling a flat container with a small amount of oil and soy sauce. The earwigs are attracted to the solution and will succumb.

Slugs and snails: Will chew large rounded holes in plants leaves and flowers. Control them by sprinkling Sluggo. They will ingest the product but it will take a day or two to be effective. Or, try filling up a flat saucer with beer. It attracts slugs. They will drown in the beer. Or, handpick the snails and feed them to the ducks at Spring Lake.

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Mike writes: I saw a beautiful plant at a nursery and there was only one left, so of course, I felt I had to purchase it. I am going to plant it in a small area leading up to our front porch. The name of this plant is Russelia equisetiformis, commonly known as firecracker plant or “Saint Elmo’s Fire”. How should I care for this plant?

Russelia equisetiformis prefers to have full sun exposure and late afternoon shade. It is deliciously fragrant like honeydew melon, and it blooms continuously summer through fall.

I do think you should change your mind about the planting location! It is expected to grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. I recommend you plant it in your backyard in a huge pot that can accommodate its growth and show off its attributes.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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