All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A
by Pernell Gerver

Bookmark this page or add it to your favorites now!
(Reload or refresh each time you visit to get the current week's columns.)

 Tell a friend about Pernell Gerver's Official Web Site 

How to Protect Plants from Winterkill in New England

Protecting your garden now for winter is one of the most important tasks you can do for all of your outdoor plants. Just about every area of the garden and home landscape will benefit from winter protection including trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials. Without winter protection, some plants will suffer damage, die back, or even be winterkilled totally. Here in New England doing yearly winter protection each fall is a must. Recent winters have been especially hard on all sorts of plants including ones that have never had problems in this area.

Every spring I see and hear about the usual dead, winterkilled suspects like rhododendron, azalea, boxwood, hybrid tea roses, and other marginally-hardy plants, especially if they weren’t given any winter protection the previous fall, but what has surprised me most in recent years is the large numbers of plants that are considered hardy in this area that have had problems.

Trees and shrubs like rose of Sharon, holly, redbud, weeping cherry, dogwood, mountain laurel, forsythia, burning bush, juniper, cotoneaster, euonymus, arborvitae, and red-twig dogwood surprisingly were killed or damaged. Also, a large number of different perennials that have never had problems before were winterkilled.

Landscape plantings represent a large investment of time and money and as a gardener there is no more sad an experience than to go outside on a spring day to discover a cherished plant that was killed over winter.

Based on how the past couple of winters have been, it’s now more important than ever to provide winter protection to make sure that the plants make it through this winter. It’s especially necessary for any plants that suffered damage last winter.

The good news is winter damage and winterkill can be prevented and now is the time to do something about it to prevent it. With the way recent winters have been, I’m strongly recommending all outdoor plants be given their appropriate method of winter protection. Depending on the type of plant, each has its own preferred method of winter protection and now is the time to do it.

Another form of winter protection you can do now is to protect your plants from animals. Damage from animals including deer, rabbits, mice, voles, and others can be significant, but is preventable. Animals can disfigure, strip, girdle, and kill all plants including trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Honeydew on House Plants Caused by Sucking Insects"

Q. Last winter I had a sticky honey-like substance on two plants: a schefflera and an unidentified plant. It has thick, dark green leaves growing alternately on a tall trunk. It's a succulent of some kind with sprays of flowers at the top which last for months. The honey-like substance dripped onto a table and rug. It is difficult to remove. In the summer all my plants went on the covered patio. This substance disappeared. Now that the plants are back in the house, I'm afraid this condition will return. What is it? What causes it and what can I do about it? Thank you for any advice you can give.

A. The sticky substance on your plants is commonly called "honeydew." It is a secretion of many different types of sucking insect pests that attack house plants. As the leaf surfaces become covered with honeydew, the plant can become susceptible to a disease called sooty mold. This disease turns the leaves dark gray, sometimes covering the entire leaf surface. The honeydew disappeared this summer when you placed the plants outside because the insect pests that were causing it probably fell victim to their natural predators and were destroyed.

Aphid, scale, mealybug, and whitefly are four sucking insects that secrete honeydew. All attack a wide variety of house plants. The key to preventing honeydew is to control the insect causing it.

Aphid is a very small, soft-bodied insect. It's usually no more than an eighth of an inch long and is most commonly green, although there are also black, brown, gray, and yellow types. Aphid chews on all parts of the plant. It congregates on stems and underneath leaves as well as on flower buds. Aphids bear live young and they multiply rapidly.

Scale is an insidious insect pest because it covers its body with a hard shell, making it impenetrable to insecticides. In its juvenile crawling stage, scale is a small, round, pale tan or yellow insect that is no larger than the point of a pen. All house plants can be infested with scale, however ferns seem to be especially affected.

Mealybug is a small white insect that clusters together in groups on the undersides of leaves and along stems. It is easily identified by the white, cottony substance covering the insect.

Whitefly is a tiny, white insect that attacks a wide variety of houseplants. Some of its favorites are fuchsia and poinsettia. They live and feed on the undersides of leaves and when a leaf is brushed or disturbed, they fly up in a white cloud.

The best way to control aphid, scale, mealybug, and whitefly is with Neem Oil. Neem Oil is an organic, three-in-one spray that controls insects, diseases, and mites. Spray the entire plant at the first sign of insects and spray once a week or so to eliminate them. As a preventative, spray your plants about once a month.

Check all plants you bring in this fall from outdoors to make sure you aren't bringing any pests indoors. Also, any plants purchased over winter should be quarantined for at least a week or more to monitor for signs of pests and diseases. If you see a problem, treat it immediately, since a serious infestation can occur in a very short period of time and can easily spread to other plants.

Click here to read more about Neem Oil and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.