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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Consumer Q's June 2013

Q: The garlic I planted in my garden is now in bloom – a lavender ball of flowers. Someone has told me I need to cut these off to help the plant produce bigger bulbs. Is this true? I hope not, as they are pretty and the bees like them.
A: Some garlic growers cut off the emerging flower stalks, also called scapes, because they feel the flowers divert strength away from the developing bulbs. However, not all growers believe this, at least with some garlic varieties. You may want to experiment to find out what is best for the garlic you are growing.
     Remember, the home garden is not always about maximizing production at every turn but is also about finding enjoyment and beauty. If you and the bees are enjoying the flowers, you can leave them be. You can also cut the flowers and put them in a flower arrangement. Some home gardeners even let the flower stalks dry and use them in dried flower arrangements.
     Although yours are past this stage, some people like to cut off the scapes when they are young and tender and use them in the kitchen. They can be chopped into salads. They can also be sautéed or stir-fried with olive oil or tossed with oil, salt and seasonings and grilled. They can be chopped and sautéed with butter and mixed into mashed potatoes, summer squash or other vegetables.
     If you do cut off the flower stalks, be sure to cut only the stalk and not the leaves. Like daffodils and other bulbs, the leaves are manufacturing food to nourish the bulb.

Q: I love gallberry honey but don’t think I have ever seen a gallberry. What is it?
A: Gallberry (Ilex glabra) is a black-berried holly that is native to coastal areas from Nova Scotia to Florida and Texas. It is also known as inkberry. There is another native holly that usually goes by the common names “sweet gallberry” or “large gallberry.” Its botanical name is Ilex coriacea, and it is native to coastal areas from Virginia to Florida and Texas. Honeybees working the copious flowers of either or both of these two species of holly are the source of the gallberry honey that you and so many others enjoy.  
     Another native holly that is the source of a delicious honey is the familiar American holly (Ilex opaca). Georgia honeybees and their keepers produce numerous varieties of honey. Try them all!

Q: What fertilizer is best for crepe myrtles?
A: There is no “best” fertilizer for crepe myrtles. Crepe myrtles generally don’t have any special nutrient needs, and in most landscapes they thrive without any fertilizer.
     If you need to fertilize your crepe myrtles, select a fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs and follow the instructions on the bag or box. There are different brands available. Avoid over-fertilization because it causes excess growth and reduced flowering. Excessive growth is also prone to powdery mildew. Use a light hand. Too little fertilizer is better than too much.

Q: I saw brown tomatoes for sale at the grocery store. They were not rotting but were brown instead of red. What is going on?
A: All tomatoes are not red. There are tomatoes that are bright orange, yellow, yellowish green, white (ivory) and pink (pinkish red) when ripe. There are even “brown” varieties like the ones you saw. (Actually, they are more of a combination of red and green that gives an overall brownish appearance compared with the familiar red tomato.)
     Many of these tomatoes are old varieties, but they are just not as common or familiar as the ubiquitous and uniformly red ones you usually see at supermarkets.
     Give some of these different tomatoes a try. You may find them at farmers markets, and they are now showing up in supermarkets, too. You may find you like them as well, or better, than red tomatoes.

Q: The leaves on my cilantro have gotten thin and threadlike. What is wrong?
A: Nothing is wrong. Your cilantro is going to flower. The leaves change from broad to thin as the plant undergoes this process, which is triggered by hot weather. There is nothing you can do about it but enjoy the lacy white flowers when they appear and collect the seeds. The seeds are called coriander and are used as a spice.  

Q: Someone gave me some perennial heliotrope. It has lavender flowers. What can you tell me about it?
A: It is an attractive, useful, drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow and durable perennial. Its botanical name is Heliotropium amplexicaule, and it goes by the common names of “clasping heliotrope” or “trailing heliotrope.” It is a low-growing plant that produces flowers all summer long. It likes full sun and is a good filler for difficult spaces in your perennial garden or other places in the landscape. In fact, we have even seen it thriving and blooming its little heart out in the sidewalk planting strips where it received no care whatsoever.
     Clasping heliotrope was once only available as a pass-along plant, one shared from one gardener to another, but is now being sold in nurseries and garden centers. The variety most frequently offered is called ‘Azure Skies.’

Q. How can I get rid of gnats (fruit flies) inside my home? All foods and fruits are stored properly.
A. You are correct in making sure foods are covered and properly stored to keep the fruit flies from getting to them. The main way to get rid of the fruit flies is to get rid of what they like or prevent them from getting to it.
     Make sure your garbage can is covered tightly. Do not leave food scraps in the house. These insects are especially attracted to ripe and overripe fruits and vegetables. Remove any infested foods. Since some types of flies (including fruit flies) can breed in drains and garbage disposals, make sure they are cleaned and/or covered. Repair window screens and don’t leave doors open for them or other insects to fly in from outdoors.
     There are numerous home remedies and traps for fruit flies, but the best advice is to keep them from getting the foods they like and to remove any infested products. If the situation warrants it, you can kill the remaining fruit flies with a pyrethrin-based aerosol or other insecticide labeled for indoor use in controlling fruit flies. For more information check out this publication from the University of Georgia:

Q: I have many pieces of an old black locust fence that I have removed from my yard. Will it be o.k. to cut them up and burn them inside in my fireplace?
A: Seasoned black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) wood is highly desirable firewood due to its high heat content and its long period of burning. In fact, black locust produces such desirable firewood that some people plant it for that purpose in “firewood plantations.” Unlike some other trees with dense wood, black locust grows quickly. It is adapted to a wide variety of soils. It will sprout from the stump after the first harvest, and the second crop may grow faster than the first due to the established root system.
     Black locust is also a good species for erosion control, and, being a legume, it improves the soil by “fixing” nitrogen from the air into the soil. Another reason people plant this native tree is for its beautiful white flowers. These fragrant flowers are a favorite of honeybees, and black locust honey is one of the delicious varieties of honey that beekeepers produce in Georgia.
     And of course, the strong, durable, rot resistant wood of black locust is a top choice for fences and fence posts, sometimes lasting for generations. You may find people interested in buying your pieces to use them again as a fence.
     If you choose to cut the pieces for firewood, you will not be disappointed. Although winter seems far away, your black locust wood will help keep you warm when it gets here!

Q: My Burford holly has gotten too large and wide. Can I cut off the lower limbs and make it into a tree? Can I do it now? (June 12)
A: “Limbing up” your holly is a good idea if it has gotten too wide as a shrub. This is a common practice with many large shrubs that have gotten too big. Summer is an ideal time to do this.
    This pruning away of lower limbs is also done as a security measure if you are concerned about someone with ill intentions hiding in the foliage and branches of a large shrub or need to increase visibility in an area. Removing lower branches can also increase air circulation in the landscape.
    Other shrubs such as tea olive, Fortune’s osmanthus, Chinese photinia and other photinias, wax myrtle, sasanqua, camellia, yaupon and other hollies such as ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, pomegranate, Japanese cleyera and loropetalum often are given this treatment when they get too large.
     Prune off the lower limbs, selecting and keeping the ones that will leave an attractive branching pattern. Take your time and step back to look at your work as you go. Do not leave stubs, but cut the limbs back to the branching collar so that the cut will heal properly.  
     Visit a Georgia garden center or nursery for proper loppers or saws if you need them and to get some suggestions from a horticulturist there about the best way to shape your shrub into a tree.

Q: What is meant by the texture of a plant? I heard that attractive landscapes have both coarse-textured and fine-textured plants.
A: Texture is a relative term. There is not a strict definition for what is considered a fine-, medium- or coarse-textured plant. Fine-textured plants generally have small leaves and flowers, and coarse-textured (also called bold-textured) plants have large ones. Fine-textured plants reflect many small patches of light. Coarse-textured plants reflect fewer, larger patches. You could paint a picture of coarse-textured plants with a broad brush, while fine-textured plants would require a delicate one. Fine-textured plants have more of a light and airy feel, and coarse-textured plants have more of a bold, heavy or tropical feel. Fine-textured deciduous trees and shrubs have a twiggy, perhaps somewhat delicate or intricate, appearance in winter while coarse-textured ones have stouter branches and a more open structure.
     A few coarse-textured plants include basswood or American linden, Eastern sycamore, bigleaf magnolia, canna, fatsia, loquat, aspidistra, catalpa, fig, oakleaf hydrangea, cabbage palmetto, pawpaw, castor bean, banana, holly fern, butterfly ginger, caladium, elephant ear, sunflower and crinum. A few fine-textured plants include cryptomeria, Canadian hemlock, cutleaf Japanese maple, honey locust, pond cypress, rosemary, lavender, thyme, rockspray cotoneaster, Lady Banks rose, fennel, Arkansas blue star, winter jasmine, maidenhair fern, abelia, Russian sage, 'Powis Castle' artemisia, gaura, 'Gracillimus' eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'), anisacanthus and boltonia. Most plants are considered to be of medium texture.
     Texture can vary with the seasons. For example, cutleaf sumac is fine-textured when in leaf but is definitely coarse-textured when bare. Weeping willow is generally considered to have a fine texture in summer but a medium one in winter.
     A landscape or even a small planting with all fine- or medium-textured plants can be monotonous or lackluster. All coarse-textured plants can be overwhelming, and they do not look as bold without some medium- or fine-textured plants for contrast.
     There is no right or wrong with texture. However, being aware of the differences in texture can help you create a landscape that is more pleasing and interesting.

Q: I was told to plant my tomatoes in the evening or on a cloudy day. Why?
A: Some people like to do this if possible because it gives the tomato plants a little more time to become acclimated before a full day of burning sun.  However, most good nurseries will harden off tomato plants outdoors before they are sold. Moving a tomato plant (or any plant) from the windless, humid atmosphere of a greenhouse to the outdoors can quickly lead to windburn, sunburn and even death. You should shade tender plants with branches, newspapers or commercial hotcaps until the plants are acclimated to the wind and sun. You should also water your tomato plants thoroughly when you set them out and monitor them every day until they become established.

Q: Does anyone still sell bundles of tomato plants?
A: You may find a few suppliers who still sell bundles or bunches of bare-root tomato plants, especially if they are selling to farmers or commercial growers. However, most nurseries and garden centers sell tomato plants grown in cups or other containers because the average home gardener does not need a large number of tomato plants.  

                                                                                                                            -- Arty Schronce

If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, peruse the rest of our website or write us at 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Room 128, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail us at To learn more about agricultural issues, get garden tips and find sources for flowers, livestock and other products, consider a subscription to The Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. Subscriptions for Georgia residents are $5 per year for the online version and $10 for the print version. To start or renew a subscription, send a check or money order payable to Market Bulletin at the address above or subscribe online at our website.


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