Poinsettia isn't all there is

GARDEN Q&A

December 22, 1996

I'm getting a little tired of poinsettias. What else makes a good holiday plant?

For something different, try rosemary topiaries. Rosemary gives off a wonderful, wintry fragrance and also serves as a versatile culinary herb. Topiaries (trees or shrubs in ornamental shapes) will lend a festive air to the holiday scene. Cyclamen and kalanchoe are also good choices. If you're adventuresome, try ornamental chili pepper plants. They are compact and produce a beautiful display of small, colorful pepper pods (yes, they are hot and edible). A variety of small, containerized conifers, such as stone pines, also would make a nice tabletop or floor display.

I brought our potted banana plant inside before it started getting cold, and now we're noticing that the leaves are yellowing and drying out. We water it regularly. What could be wrong?

Sounds like spider mites. Look on the undersides of the leaves just above the damage. You may notice very tiny little creatures walking around. Spider mites are variable in color and have eight legs. The leaves will look dirty or dusky where the mites have been feeding. Fine webbing may also be observed.

To monitor for mites, tap the affected leaves while holding a piece of white paper underneath. If mites are present, they'll fall onto the paper and you'll be able to see them moving around on it.

A resilient pest, the spider mite will move to another plant if it's simply dislodged from its host rather than destroyed. To kill them, use a pyrethrum/soap houseplant spray or an insecticidal soap product. Follow all label directions very carefully.

I was thinking of putting a chemical plant fertilizer down on my sidewalk to melt ice. My neighbor told me not to do that. Is there a problem with using fertilizer?

There are several problems with using chemical fertilizers to melt ice: 1) The salts in fertilizers are corrosive to concrete and metal -- (your car). 2) If you throw too much down, the salts in the fertilizer could easily burn nearby plant roots and foliage. 3) Nutrients in common garden fertilizers, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, are major pollutants of waterways should they end up there.

Other ice-melting materials, which pose less of an environmental threat, are available. These include magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate. Calcium chloride, potassium chloride and sodium chloride are also less harmful to waterways, but should be used with caution because they can burn plants and damage concrete. For more information, call the Home and Garden Information Center and request Factsheet #707, "Melting Ice Safely."

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at (800) 342-2507.

Checklist

Never throw pet waste on a compost pile or garden bed. Dogs and cats carry some intestinal pathogens that pose a health risk to humans.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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