Q: I have several plant catalogs that just arrived in the mail. Many list some unusual plants, such as tree tomatoes. Some plants sound too good to be worthwhile and others seem to have worthless descriptions. How do you know what is legitimate? One gardener told me to only trust the scientific name. Give me some help.
D.P. of Collinsville
A: Misleading information and mislabeling in some catalogs are common. For example, if you were looking for a way to get rid of gophers in your yard and came across the ‘gopher spurge’ plant, you might not know that it’s a weed and has no effect on gophers at all. Or that the citrus-scented geranium has been mislabeled as a mosquito-repellant plant for several years.
Generally, when searching for information on plants, and using scientific names, look for the first part of the name to be capitalized and the second to be underlined.
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Beware of any plant listed as a new wonder plant in a catalog, or if it boasts of miraculous properties because it may be great in a given plant zone, but not the one we live in. Our plant zone is 6.
Q: Underneath the leaves of many of my houseplants, there are white fuzzy things with legs. I suspect they are an insect that could be harming my indoor plants. What should I do?
H. M. of Belleville
A: You are describing mealybugs which can be a serious threat to your indoor plans. They are white, cottony insects found underneath or where the leaves connect to the stems. They harm the plants by sucking out the sap.
If only a few mealybugs are present, wipe them off with a damp towel, or remove them with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol. Sometimes you can prune the plant back and it put out new growth. Keep a close eye on your plants, since mealybugs and their eggs are probably present and can re-infest the plant.
Q: I can’t keep my cat from eating my houseplants. I’ve read that some plants are poisonous. Which ones are particularly poisonous?
K. M. of Highland
A: Many plants are poisonous if specific parts are eaten in sufficient amounts, such as dumb cane, morning glory, lily of the valley, rhubarb, tomato plants and mushrooms. Try to break the habit by squirting your cat with a toy water gun.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.