Question: The flower stems on my hydrangeas are covered in a white cottony material. What is this and should I be concerned?
Answer: You are seeing a wax secretion from a leafhopper. They are fascinating insects and entertaining too. Touch the stem to see how they earned their name. With over 2500 species of leafhoppers in North America, you can rest assured that almost every plant we know is visited by them. Leafhoppers feed on the sap of plants with their piercing mouthparts. Since I do not have a Ph.D in entomology, I am unable to tell you which species of leafhopper you have. However, with that said, I can tell you that I am very familiar with this insect because I have dealt with this particular leafhopper before and I know it is of little concern. They are easy to dislodge with a strong stream of water from a garden hose or spraying them with soapy water (1 tbsp. soap per gallon of water). This will make them hop away to adjoining neighbors.
Question: I have heard you say that fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs, but I really can't wait that long. Is it safe to plant them during this heat?
Answer: The same trees and shrubs that you would like to plant in the fall are sitting in the nursery in full sun and being watered twice a day. Therefore, they could be planted in your landscape tomorrow and survive just fine in this heat. However, if you plant now, the risk of losing them is very high due to the lack of attention to watering. Unfortunately, every homeowner has a different idea of what sufficient watering is. Some don’t put a sufficient amount down at each watering, and others drown them by watering every day. Once they are in the soil they should be watered at least twice a week for 8-12 weeks. Use the size of the container they came in to judge as to how much water they need at each watering. For example, if your plant came in a 7-gallon container then apply that amount of water. New plants can wither and die after 1-2 weeks of no watering under the current weather conditions. Lastly, do not be deceived by afternoon thunderstorms. Most of that water runs off and your mulch material often repels it too.
Question: When is the best time to plant a crape myrtle?
Answer: My personal preference is right now while they are blooming in the garden centers and nurseries. Color selection is important to most homeowners for various reasons. Therefore, if you want the right color hue of red, pink, and purple, this is the time to make that selection. No Google image or description in a catalog can beat observing the actual flower in bloom. Follow the same suggestions on watering from the previous question and your new crape myrtle will be fine.
Question: Why do the plants in my hanging baskets wilt every day despite daily watering?
Answer: This is not that unusual because they are potted in an organic potting soil. When organic potting soils dry out, they repel water. It is becomes a hydrophobic soil. Once this occurs the water runs down the side of the pot and out the drain holes almost immediately after watering. Therefore, very little of the soil received any water — hence the daily wilting of your plants. This can be remedied easily by adding 1 tablespoon of liquid soap to a gallon of water and stirring it. Water each plant slowly with this mix until the water drips out of the pot. Soap is a surfactant and actually makes the water wetter and allows the organic soil to absorb more. This should reduce your daily watering regimen to watering every 2-3 days to keep the soil moist. Repeat the soap treatment as needed.
Rett Davis is a retired Alamance County Extension Director and certified arborist. You can email your questions to him at Rett_Davis@ncsu.edu