Question: If a can hisses when opened, is the food safe to eat?
Answer: Some vacuum-packed cans will make a hissing sound when opened as a result of air pressure being released, which is perfectly normal. However, if a can hisses loudly or the contents spurt forcefully from the can when opened, it may indicate that the food is unsafe. If this happens, place the can and its contents in a heavy-duty garbage bag and seal it. Then bag and seal it again, and put it in a trash container. Double-bagging will help prevent animals from getting into it.
Q: Someone gave me a tall canna lily with narrow petals. I am used to ones with large flowers. I was told it was an old variety and was one my great-grandmother grew. Do you think it could be?
A: Quite possibly. Many early hybrids and wild species of canna are tall and have relatively small flowers. (Technically, what looks like petals on a canna are actually modified stamens.) The trend over the years has been to produce larger flowers on shorter plants. However, some modern varieties also have narrow flowers and many old varieties have fairly wide ones, and there are plenty of newer cannas that are tall. Check with plant catalogs, nurseries, reference books at the library as well as online to see if you can ascertain the identity of your mystery canna.
Cannas, also known as canna lilies, have a long history in gardens. Cannas were introduced to Europe by the late 1500s. Cannas were all the rage in late 1800s but later fell from favor. With such a long history of use, many varieties that are “new” or “modern” are more than 50 years old. And many cannas that are new to gardeners of today may have been planted in gardens more than a century ago.
Cannas are popular again because they are easy to grow and add a bold, tropical flair to any landscape. You will find varieties with striped leaves and in varying shades of purple. In these, the flowers may be considered of secondary importance. There are dwarf and tall cannas. The tall ones may be used as a summer screen. Because they like moisture, cannas are a good choice for areas that are perpetually wet or for pond gardens. Smaller varieties may be used in large pots. Because they are bold and colorful, you may find large beds of cannas planted along interstates. Cannas are flowers that can be appreciated leisurely up close or from a distance at 55+ miles per hour.
Q: Someone gave me some lavender heliotrope he said was perennial. Can you tell me more about it?
A: It sounds like Heliotropium amplexicaule, an attractive, useful, drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow and durable perennial. Its common names include clasping heliotrope, trailing heliotrope, and summer heliotrope. It is low-growing and produces flowers all summer. It likes full sun and is a good filler in a perennial garden.
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.
Clasping heliotrope is a favorite of buckeyes, skippers and small butterflies. Some people detect a slight grapefruit fragrance from the flowers on hot days, only if sniffed up close.
Q: What are some shrubs and flowers to attract hummingbirds?
A: Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red and tubular flowers. They will feed at flowers of all colors, but red seems to get their attention first, so include red ones in your garden. Aim to have blooms over a long period. The more hummer favorites you have, the better your chances of attracting them.
Every hummingbird garden should include one or more salvias. Texas sage (sage is another name for salvia), also known as tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), is an annual that blooms all summer. The most popular variety is Lady in Red. Anise-scented salvia (Salvia guaranitica) is a perennial, but unlike most perennials, blooms all summer. Although its flowers are a deep blue, hummingbirds adore it. It is one of the best flowers for a hummingbird garden. Pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans) blooms in fall and is valuable for late migrating hummers. A few other good salvias are autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and small-leaved sage (Salvia microphylla).
Other hummingbird favorites include firecracker vine (Manettia cordifolia), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), monarda, red-hot poker, Eastern columbine, cardinal flower, impatiens, red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), nicotiana, scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus), plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) and other native azaleas, garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), abelia, single tuberose, canna, pickerelweed (for ponds and wet areas), hosta, shrub althea (single, non-seeding ones such as Minerva, Helena and Aphrodite), copper iris (Iris fulva), cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) and candy corn plant/giant Mexican cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala).
Bidwill’s coral bean (Erythrina x bidwillii) and flame anisacanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) are two hummingbird magnets that are only available from specialty nurseries or catalogs. Flame anisacanthus is a Southwest native with orange flowers. It can look a little rangy and seed itself around but is a hummingbird and butterfly favorite. Bidwill’s coral bean dies to the ground in winter but comes back to form a large shrub with bright red flowers. Our native spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is an ideal hummingbird plant. It thrives in moist areas but is rarely available for sale. Other favorites that may be harder to find from regular commercial sources are red calamint (Clinopodium coccineum), spigelia, manfreda, fire pink (Silene virginica) and Turk’s cap mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus).
Although they are not tubular, Mexican sunflower/tithonia and single varieties of red zinnia are frequented by hummers. Their flowers may act as billboards to lure hummers to other flowers or to your feeder.
Hummingbirds love trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). However, it sends up dozens of suckers that can cause havoc. If you plant it, put it where these can be kept under control such as on a fence bordering a lawn or pasture or at the edge of the woods where it can climb up a pine tree and its flowers can act like lighthouse beacons for hummers.
Another vine that attracts hummers is cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit). It will take over and also invade your neighbors’ yards. Do not plant it.
You may also want to consider some evergreen trees and shrubs to provide cover and protection. Do not use pesticides on hummingbird plants as hummers eat small insects, and the chemicals can also sicken or kill the birds.
Q: Is it safe to use rusted canned foods?
A: Heavily rusted cans should be discarded because they may have tiny holes in them that allow bacteria to enter. Surface rust can be removed by rubbing or cleaning is not serious. If you open the can and there is rust inside, do not eat the food.
Q: What are some good tomato varieties to plant for a late crop?
A: Almost any variety will do. Varieties with disease resistance are a good idea if you have had problems in the past. Some people choose varieties that are good for storing through the winter such as Longkeeper or one of the plum tomatoes such as Roma or Viva Italia.
Q: Can you identify a small butterfly that has been visiting my verbena? It has what appears to have a beak or long nose and is grayish brown with rusty orange, dark brown and white on the upper side of its wings. Does it bite? Is it even a butterfly?
A: It is definitely an American snout butterfly, also known as the “common snout butterfly” or simply “snout butterfly.” The snout is the butterfly’s most distinctive feature, and it is the only butterfly in our area to have one. It is composed of extended mouthparts. When the butterfly folds its wings completely it can look like a dead leaf with the snout resembling the leaf’s petiole, a camouflage to protect against hungry birds, perhaps.
Snout butterflies lay their eggs on hackberry trees, and the green caterpillars feed on the leaves. They do not harm the trees.
Adult snout butterflies feed at verbena, goldenrod, clasping heliotrope, dogwood, clethra, anise hyssop, native asters, joe-pye weed, gomphrena, zinnia, Indian hemp/common dogbane, boneset and numerous other flowers.
Snout butterflies do not bite. They may land on you, however, to get salt from your perspiration. When one of the butterflies lands on you, it does not hurt you in any way. It merely unrolls its feeding tube and picks up a little nutrition from the surface of your skin. You may not feel anything or you may notice a slight tickle. Whether you attribute this action to bravery, an overwhelming need of nutrients or confidence in its flying ability, it is a fascinating experience. As far as flying ability is concerned, the snout is a fairly rapid and strong flyer. And it is shaped a little like the Concorde.
Q: Will brewer’s yeast protect my cat from fleas?
A: Tests have shown that Brewer’s yeast does not protect cats or dogs from fleas. Your pet’s first line of defense against fleas is a flea comb and a good bath. Flea combs have fine teeth that remove adult fleas from fur. Pay special attention to the face, neck and the area in front of the tail. Dip the comb frequently in soapy water or an alcohol solution to kill the fleas you remove.
There are numerous treatments for cats and dogs including insect growth regulators that interrupt the flea’s life cycle and topical insecticidal treatments that have low toxicity to mammals and pose little risk to pets or people. Consult your veterinarian or visit a pet store for over-the-counter options. Always follow all label directions carefully for safety and for best results when using any pesticide or chemical.
Q: Are there different kinds of black-eyed Susans? I have seen some that have much larger flowers than others.
A: There are several species and subspecies of what we call “black-eyed Susan,” and plant breeders and horticulturists have selected and created different strains and forms of black-eyed Susans. Probably most common species you will encounter in the wild or in a garden is Rudbeckia hirta.
All the black-eyed Susans like sunny locations and are excellent cut flowers. They are grown from seed or purchased from nurseries. They pair well with garden phlox, purple coneflower, butterflyweed, baptisia, goldenrod, Adam’s needle yucca, ornamental grasses and many other annuals and perennials.
Q: My blueberries seem to ripen a few at a time. Is this normal?
A: Blueberries ripen over a period of weeks. You pick the ripe ones and leave the rest to ripen later. For home growers like yourself, picking may seem tedious, and it may take longer to fill your bucket, but it also means you can be gone for several days or more and still come home to blueberries ripening on your bushes. Question: Can you purchase zinnia plants or do you have to sow seeds? Is it too late to sow zinnia seeds?
Q: Can you purchase zinnia plants or do you have to sow seeds? Is it too late to sow zinnia seeds?
A: You can still sow zinnia seeds for summer and fall blooms. Georgia garden centers may also offer plants or have larger pots of zinnias to fill places in your landscape that need immediate color.
Don’t be afraid to try starting zinnias from seed. They are one of the easiest flowers to grow. Sowing is the most cost-effective way to get lots of zinnias. Visit a garden center for your best selections.
Q: Is it true that there are male and female cucumber flowers?
A: Yes. Cucumbers (as well as squashes, cantaloupes, watermelons and pumpkins) do not have male and female parts within the same flower. Instead they have separate male and female flowers. They are easy to tell apart. Female flowers have a small cucumber (squash, cantaloupe, watermelon or pumpkin) behind the ring of petals. Male flowers will only have a stem.
This is why bees are so important in the garden or in a farmer’s field. The bees carry the pollen from the male flower to the female flower in order for pollination to occur and the small fruits to grow. There are some exceptions such as parthenocarpic greenhouse cucumber varieties that produce fruit without pollination. There are also some cucumber varieties that are gynonecious; they produce only or primarily female flowers. With these, seed companies will include some non-gynonecious seeds in the packet and farmers will plant some non-gynonecious cukes along with them in the field so there are enough male flowers for pollination.
Q: When is the next auction of rehabilitated horses in Georgia?
A: The next auction will be Saturday, June 24, at the Lee Arrendale Equine Center, 645 Gilstrap Road, Alto, Georgia 30510. The gates will open at 10 a.m. The sale will start at 11 a.m. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health Office at 404-656-3713. (M-F 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Q: Near a wooded area I have seen what looks like white foaming bubbles sticking to the top of some of the tall grass and weeds. Is there a cause for this or should I be concerned about a rabid animal?
A: This sounds like the work of spittlebugs. The nymph of the insect protects itself within a froth that looks like spit. The froth keeps the insect from drying out and also probably protects it from predators. If you check inside the froth, you will probably see the pale young insect. When the insect matures, it flies off and the foam disappears.
Generally, spittlebugs and their handiwork are more unsightly than destructive. There is usually not a large population in one place. Other than producing the “spit,” these insects have minor detrimental effects on most plants in the overall landscape. You can wipe them off by hand or dislodge them with a blast of water from a hose if you find the appearance unbearable or if they are on a prized and delicate plant.
If you have a large population of spittlebugs on a lawn or crop, contact your county Cooperative Extension office for the best control measures for your area and what you are growing.
Q: Can hostas be grown in pots?
A: Definitely. Depending on the size of your hosta and the size of your container, hostas can be grown as a single subject in a pot or part of a combination container with perhaps an upright plant and a trailing plant.
Container culture is a good option for the miniature hostas that may be overwhelmed by other plants or weeds in a garden. Some of these miniatures may have leaves smaller than a fingernail. The varieties with very large leaves such as Sum and Substance are probably better planted in the ground unless you have large enough containers that will not look overwhelmed by the huge leaves. These large varieties will also require much more attention to watering as they will dry out more quickly than smaller varieties.
Growing in pots is a good option if you have a bad slug or snail problem. Snails and slugs are more easily controlled in pots than in the open garden. Also, if deer are turning your hosta bed into a salad bar, raising some potted hostas on a deck or porch where deer are less likely to venture may be a way for you to enjoy hostas.
As with all container plantings, the plants will need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground.
Q: What is the orange daylily I see growing wild along roadsides? It blooms in May and June.
A: You are probably seeing the tawny daylily. Some people mistakenly refer to it as a native wildflower. It is not, but it is easy to think so by seeing how it thrives without any apparent human intervention or cultivation.
The variety of tawny daylily that you see forming patches along roadsides, in ditches and at abandoned home sites does not have the ability to form seeds. It overcomes this by being a vigorous spreader with a hearty constitution. Every patch of these tawny daylilies you see blooming was originally planted by someone either for beauty or perhaps to control erosion on an embankment. Because it spreads readily, it is often shared as a pass-along plant from person to person. Although common in the landscape, it is not commonly sold.
Because of its aggressive spreading habit some people consider it an invasive species. If you are thinking of planting tawny daylily where it will overwhelm other plants or where you will not be monitoring its growth, choose another daylily or another flower. Other daylilies are more refined in color and form. The orange of the tawny daylily’s flowers is muddied and dull compared to the pure yellows, vibrant scarlets and subtle peachy pinks of newer varieties. And the ruffled, reflexed petals and enormous blooms of modern daylilies may make the old tawny look scrawny. Or you may want to plant the tawny where it cannot spread beyond its boundaries such as islands in a parking lot or in sidewalk planting strips.
Q: Does mayonnaise cause most summertime cases of foodborne illness on camping trips and picnics?
A: People often blame mayonnaise as the cause of foodborne illness from chilled foods such as chicken or tuna salad or when used with luncheon meats in a sandwich. However, commercially produced mayonnaise is acidic (made with vinegar or lemon juice) and tends to prevent bacterial growth. Commercial mayonnaise may even be made with pasteurized eggs, further reducing the risk. Usually it is the meat, poultry, fish or eggs kept out of the refrigerator for more than two hours that is the medium for bacteria to grow. If the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees F., food can become dangerous after only one hour, so pack the cooler containing these perishable foods with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs.
We do not have data on what is the main cause of foodborne illness for camping or picnicking, but food safety practices need to be maintained whether eating indoors or out. However, being outdoors presents special challenges.
If you do not think you can maintain food at or heat it to a safe temperature, choose foods that you know you can keep at a safe temperature or that are “shelf-stable” and will be unaffected hours sitting out in hot temperatures.
Wash hands and surfaces often. Use hand sanitizer if clean water is not available. Drink only water you have brought yourself or from a safe source.
Consumer Qs is a weekly question-and-answer column written by Arty G. Schronce for the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It appears in various newspapers across the state. For more information write Georgia Department of Agriculture, Room 330, 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.