HG: Homegrown Column November 01, 2008

A client gave us a pot of mums. There were no instructions as to how to replant it outside. Will you please instruct on the proper planting?
— Patty

Most mums you get from a florist in a pot as a gift (believe it or not, we call them “pot mums.” Original, huh?!) are poorly suited to be planted outdoors.

Pot mums are bred specifically for greenhouse culture. Some of them just aren’t cold hardy enough to withstand our winters. Most will survive, but they’ll often have a problem of flowering too late in the season.

You see, mums use the number of hours of sunlight and darkness each day to trigger flowering. As the days shorten and the nights lengthen as we go into fall, the plant is stimulated to produce flowers.

Pot mums have this trigger, it’s just set a bit later.

This isn’t a problem in the greenhouse where darkness and light are often manipulated to stimulate flowering year round.

But outdoors, the plant goes later and later into the fall and when it finally sets flower buds, they’re often killed by the first frosts.

This doesn’t happen with all of them, it’s just common enough that I want you to know about it.

The last common thing about pot mums is that they’re often tall, leggy plants if left to themselves.

These plants behave like many of the old-fashioned mums that required pinching back in early summer to slow down growth, make the plant bushier and shorten it so it doesn’t fall over when the flowers start to set.

Mums sold in garden centers are from a different group we call “garden mums.” These plants are bred and selected for growing outside in the garden.

They are reliably cold-hardy, dense and compact without pinching and bloom beautifully through the fall. In fact, some varieties will bloom in the spring as well.

Sorry to be such a killjoy! If you’re game, go ahead and plant it in the garden, I just want you to know what you may be in for.

Besides, there are a few pot mums that make pretty good garden plants. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

Yellow jackets are swarming around my cottonwood tree, apparently feeding on black aphids. A similar swarm is on a pine tree, but I can’t see what they are after. Should I spray either? Both?
Thank you.
— Terry

Since yellow jackets are omnivores, they’ll eat just about anything.

The aphids in your cottonwood trees attract the yellow jackets. Some of them will eat the aphids, but most
often they’re after the honeydew the aphids secrete.

Honeydew is a sweet sticky liquid secreted by piercing-sucking insects, such as aphids. You could also have aphids in your pine, or perhaps scale that are doing the same thing.

The key to all this is to focus on the aphids, not the yellow jackets. If you get rid of the aphids, the yellow jackets will go away.

Aphids aren’t all that difficult to kill. There are a number of insecticides out there that will do a great job.

If the trees aren’t too big, you could spray them. This will give the fastest results. Malathion, acephate, imidacloprid and permethrin should all get rid of them.

If you’re looking for an organic solution, use an insecticidal soap or an ultra refined spray oil.

If the trees are too big to spray, then you’ll have to use a systemic insecticide.

I like a Bayer product called Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control. You mix it with some water and then slowly apply it right at the base of the tree.

It’s a really easy way to treat a tree that’s too big to spray, it doesn’t kill off the beneficial insects and it will remain effective for up to a year.

The only drawback is that it’s not a fast solution to the problem. It will take some time for it to be absorbed by the roots and taken up and distributed throughout the tree.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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