Metro-East Living

Gardening: Oiled sunflower seeds are best for birds

By Charles Giedeman

For the News-Democrat

Make sure that poinsettia you got for Christmas doesn’t have whiteflies. The adults can spread to other houseplants.
Make sure that poinsettia you got for Christmas doesn’t have whiteflies. The adults can spread to other houseplants. Chicago Tribune Service

Q: I have noticed that birds eat sunflower seeds. But which type is better for the birds — oiled sunflower seeds or striped sunflower seeds?

D. S. of Waterloo

A: The oiled sunflower seeds are the best for birds, especially for winter feeding. They are higher in protein content and also have oil, which helps the birds obtain more nutrition over a longer period. The striped sunflower seeds are much cheaper if that enters in to your budget concerns.

Q: I had my indoor plants outside all summer. When I brought them inside later in the fall, I noticed small white flies flying around for a while, then they disappeared. Now they are back in bigger numbers. What should I do?

B. K. of Collinsville

A: Adult whiteflies (Alleyrodidae Family), which actually consists of more than 90 species in the United State and Canada, are only 2 to 3 millimeters long and are covered with a white powder. They have five stages in their life cycle. In the first stage, the egg stage, you cannot kill them except by smashing the eggs. After hatching, they spilt the exoskeleton three times (known as the crawler stage) before pupating and turn into adults. Adults can fly. They emit “honeydew,”which is sticky excrement. This excrement then can attract sooty mold (a black fungus) to develop on any surface where the honeydew falls. This sooty mold can stain fabric and wood.

When you brought the plants inside, there were adult whiteflies on the plant and they died off. But there were also egg cases on both the tops and under sides of the leaves. After those molts of exoskeletons, the insects turned into adults which you now notice.

You can control them by washing the plant’s leaves both on the top side and under side with a soft cloth containing a tablespoon of liquid dish detergent to a gallon of water solution. Make sure this dish detergent does not contain a degreaser as this will strip off the wax layer, which protects the leaf, and will cause more problems.

When you bring the plants back inside in the fall, use a bucket that contains the above detergent solution and swirl the plant upside down to kill any adult whiteflies. Also use a cloth to wipe off any eggs and pupae on both sides of the leaves. This technique should prevent future buildups of this problem. Pour any remaining detergent solution on the soil in the pot as there may be small crawlers there also.

This same process can control aphids on the plant as well.

If you notice any damaged or discolored leaves, you can cut them off to also prevent future problems.

If you received any poinsettias as Christmas presents, you will want to watch them closely as they can also have problems with whitefly. The adults can spread to any of your indoor plants.

Do it now

  • BIRD FRIENDS: Keep the birds fed and add suet to keep insect eating birds around throughout the winter and early spring so they will be your natural control in early spring.
  • PESTS: Check the base of shrubs and small, newly planted trees for damage by mice and voles.