June 1996 - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

June 1996

Q: In your April column you mentioned a decorative tall grass for slopes. I’m very interested, however, we like to entertain in our yard and make use of the area up to about 15 feet from the slope at the south end of our 1-acre lot. I would like to know what pests this plant might draw – especially if it’s mosquitoes. – Shelly McCoy, Ridgeville, Ind.

A: Big bluestem does not attract any insect pests that will cause the plant serious harm, but its mere presence will create a natural habitat for insects and wildlife. You can imagine how inviting a piece of tall grass prairie is to a rabbit or caterpillar instead of a closely mown lawn. Some of these creatures may be considered undesirable, but the grass also provides a home for songbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects.

Mosquitoes prefer still air so they aren’t blown around. If your entertainment area is above the slope and you’ll still get a nice evening breeze across it, you can use a tall grass or shrub to hold the slope. However, if your lawn is enclosed by the slope, any tall plant will reduce the wind, increasing the mosquito population. You might choose to use Euonymus coloratus or another groundcover instead.

Q: You helped me once before, and I sure hope you can again. A friend of mine bought a rose two years ago called “Mon Cheri,” and it is so beautiful that several of us want one like it. We have checked with the local nurseries and have even called several national rose growers with no success. How can we find this rose? Do companies just quit growing a rose, making it unavailable? – Thelma McPike, Bloomfield, Ind.

A: The American Rose Society is a terrific resource for rose information. According to the ARS, ‘Mon Cheri’ is available from two sources. Teas Nursery in Texas, (713) 664-4400, is currently out of stock but may be able to put it on backorder for you. The other source is Alder Grove Nursery in British Columbia, (604) 856-8080).

You can take cuttings of your friend’s rose, but since roses are generally grown on rootstocks, this could get tricky. The ARS might be able to put you in touch with a local rosarian for assistance or send you information on the process. If any readers need a wealth of help growing or locating roses, or are interested in becoming a member, call the ARS at (318) 938-5402.

Breeders are constantly working to improve plants and, as they do so, older varieties are sometimes discontinued. Also, some growers have exclusive rights to propagate certain roses, so even major national growers may not have the specific rose you’re looking for. Finally, there are thousands of roses on the market, and sometimes the less popular ones just fade out of existence.

Q: In a past issue, a reader asked the question on what to do for groundcover on a bank. Your answer was ‘Gro-low’ fragrant sumac. We have not been able to find it or anyone that knows of it. Can you point us in the right direction to find it? – Tom Sweeny, Bloomfield, Ind.

A: Your local nursery may be able to order ‘Gro-low’ sumac for you. I know several wholesale nurseries in the state carry this plant. If not, call Midwest Groundcover at (847) 742-1790.

Q: Can you tell me what I can plant to the north of my house for privacy, noise and wind reduction? What makes it more difficult is that we live very close to the highway and, also, there is an overhead service wire. I would like to make our house appear farther from the road. We have some landscaping right next to the house. – M. Hill, Otwell, Ind.

A: Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is well suited to the salt and wind a highway generates. It has lustrous green leaves with a leathery texture, reaching a mature height of 6-12 feet. It drops its leaves here, so it won’t provide privacy in the winter, but you could plant the perimeter of the property with bayberry to catch the salt and wind and plant large, spreading junipers on the interior.

Upright arborvitae or junipers would meet your criteria, but are not as salt tolerant. Many cultivars are available in varying heights and widths. You’ll save money by avoiding the narrow types.

Q: I have had a redbud tree planted for five or six years and it has never bloomed. It grows and leafs out, but will not bloom. Can you help me? – Linda Everhart, Greensburg, Ind.

A: I have two redbuds in my backyard under identical conditions, and only the younger one is blooming. Redbuds are grown from seed, so there is variability in the genetic makeup. Different seedlings will have varying lengths of juvenility, which is the period of time before they bloom. Eventually both of our redbuds will flower.

Q: I’m writing for an answer to my husband’s problem with sweet potatoes. Something eats the sweet potatoes in the fall before they are ready for harvest. Some have places eaten out of them, and others are almost completely eaten. He thinks it might be moles or mice but hasn’t seen any of them. What causes this, and what can be done to prevent it? – Mrs. Edward Baumgardt, Lafayette, Ind.

A: A number of creatures could be causing this, but we can rule out moles since they aren’t interested in sweet potatoes. The primary suspects are mice, groundhogs, squirrels or insects. If the soil is disturbed, it’s probably a mammal. If not, it’s most likely an insect.

To help identify the problem, look at a sample with a magnifying glass. If the pest is squirrel size or larger, you’ll be able to see some teeth marks. Mouse damage is more difficult to see, but you may be able to notice if it’s gnawed (by a mouse) instead of chewed (by an insect). Vegetation may be covering soil disturbance. Look underneath the leaves for burrows or divets. You can dust the soil with flour and look later for tracks. If there are no signs of soil disturbance and the sweet potatoes seem to be disappearing from underground, insects are probably the culprit. Bring a sample to your county Extension office for identification.

To reduce mammal problems, put down 1-inch grid chicken wire on top of the ground and let the sweet potatoes grow up through it. This will deter the pests from digging down to the potatoes.


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