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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Consumer Qs March 2016

Question: What is gomasio and how is it used?
Answer: Gomasio, also spelled gomashio, is a dry condiment, made from unhulled sesame seeds and salt. It is often used in Japanese cuisine but can be used on many foods. We asked Mandy and Steve O’Shea of 3 Porch Farm ( in Comer, Georgia, for some suggestions since they produce their own gomasio made from toasted organic black and white sesame seeds, shiitake mushrooms, sustainable seaweed and sea salt. They suggested people try it on salads, pizza, vegetables, rice, eggs, soups (especially tomato soup), sushi, popcorn, toasted sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil, avocadoes and tuna-salad sandwiches. They said it is quite versatile, and they are constantly told of all sorts of uses from other folks who have tried it. We really liked it on fresh tomatoes.

Q: What are some flowers that will attract hummingbirds and that will grow in shady areas?
A: Here are some flowering plants that will tolerate full or partial shade that will also attract hummingbirds: red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), Eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) hosta, spigelia (Spigelia marilandica), redbud/Judas tree (Cercis canadensis), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), scarlet monarda (Monarda didyma), copper iris (Iris fulva) and fire pink (Silene virginica).
       Native azaleas and rhododendrons such as plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), Oconee azalea (Rhododendron flammeum), Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens), rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) and Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) are good choices. So are varieties of Asian azaleas and rhododendrons.  
     Torenia and impatiens/sultana are two commonly available annuals that will work. Choose the deep purple-blue or pink varieties of torenia and red, scarlet or pink varieties of impatiens. And of course, select single, not double varieties. Begonias are not generally considered a hummingbird favorite, but they will visit them, and red or pink varieties may lure hummers to shadier parts of your garden. Fuchsias are a hummingbird favorite but can peter out in summer’s heat. Try one in a hanging basket to see how it works for you.
     Visit your local garden center and talk to a horticulturist there to find out the exact needs of each plant. Some of these need some sun to perform best. Describe your area and its conditions in order to help the horticulturist aid you in deciding what is best.
     Of course, the more you have, the better your chances of having hummingbirds visit. And a hummingbird feeder will work in the shadiest of gardens.

Q: Is basil easy to grow? I see numerous types of basil at garden centers. Is one kind better than another?  
A: Basil is an easy herb to grow. Give it fertile, well-drained soil and a spot that receives at least five hours of sunlight per day. For maximum leaf production, keep the flowers pinched off. There are indeed numerous kinds including varieties with large leaves such as lettuce-leaf basil and small leaves such as ‘Spicy Globe’ basil. There are varieties with purple leaves. Thai basil is has licorice-anise undertones and is especially sought after for Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Cinnamon basil has a cinnamon undertone. Lemon basil combines lemon and basil flavors. When you visit your garden center, gently touch the leaves and smell them. Select the basils you find most interesting or think will be most useful. All kinds are equally easy to grow.

Q: What is an onion hoe?

A: An onion hoe is a hoe with a narrow blade originally designed for tending onions. The narrow blade allows for cultivation in tight spaces and between closely set plants. Before they were widely available commercially (and to save money), some onion farmers would modify a regular-sized worn-out hoe by removing the sides of the blade to make it vertically narrow. Today there are numerous styles on the market, including ones with blades that are narrow horizontally instead of vertically or that have half-moon blades. Many being sold today are small, hand-held types.
     Although they are still called onion hoes, most never see an onion field. Gardeners who need a tool to work amid closely planted vegetables and flowers value these narrow-bladed hoes. They also weigh less than a standard hoe, a desirable attribute if you have a long row to hoe.

Q: What is the Texas star hibiscus?
A: Texas star hibiscus is one of the common names, albeit a misleading one, for Hibiscus coccineus, a beautiful hibiscus native to swampy areas of several southern states, but not to Texas. However, its five pointed sepals are visible in the areas between the petals and reminded someone of the Lone Star flag, hence the name. Other common names are swamp hibiscus, scarlet swamp hibiscus, scarlet rose-mallow, scarlet mallow, crimson rose-mallow, wild red mallow and scarlet hibiscus.
     Whatever you want to call it, it is a versatile and beautiful perennial that ranges from four to as much as eight feet tall under good conditions and is a hummingbird favorite. Although it is native to wet areas and prefers moisture, it will tolerate regular garden soil. It does not like dry soils, however. A few good companion plants include canna, swamp sunflower, cardinal flower, turtlehead, ironweed, joe-pye weed, daylilies, Louisiana iris and copper iris.

Q: What are blister-fried peanuts?
A: Blister-fried peanuts are peanuts that are treated with a hot-water bath and then deep fried to give them a crunchy texture and their distinctive bubbly blisters.

Q: Can we grow coffee in Georgia?
A: Since coffee is not winter hardy here, we would have to grow it in a greenhouse or as a houseplant. You may want to try it as a novelty or as an ornamental for its shiny leaves, flowers and, if you’re lucky, colorful fruits. Coffee plants are available from several mail-order sources if you don’t find plants at your local garden center.

Q: I want to plant our native orange butterflyweed to help the monarch butterflies. Is it possible to grow this in a pot on my patio? I do not have a yard.
A: Yes, butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) can be grown in a pot. Choose a large one to accommodate its tuberous root. One 12 inches tall or taller will do nicely. We have had specimens growing in pots for years. It is always possible to plant something for butterflies, even if you do not have a yard and only have a small space to offer.

Q: When I visited the coast, I rescued some Spanish moss that had fallen into the street. (I did not collect it off a tree; I do not remove wild plants without permission.) Will it grow outdoors in Atlanta?
A: If Spanish moss thrived in Atlanta, the city’s trees would be covered with it because so many people have tried to grow it. The same could be said for other Piedmont cities outside the plant’s natural range. People are entranced by the strange beauty of Spanish moss and want to transform a piece of their own landscape with it.
     You may have success for a few years if the weather is mild and you have a protected and humid location, but eventually your Spanish moss will go into decline and die. Yes, we know of cases where it has lived longer than a few years, but as a general rule it does not survive long-term or become established. If you have a greenhouse, it can survive in there if you keep it watered and misted.
    Also, because it is prime nesting material, don’t expect the birds to leave it alone. They will gather it faster than building contractors would grab free 2x4s at a lumberyard.
     You are correct about removing plants. You should not take plants without permission, and municipalities may have ordinances restricting removal. While you may have been “rescuing” the Spanish moss out of the street, you are not necessarily ensuring it a long and bright future by moving it to a location where it does not naturally grow.

Q: What is the difference between a snowdrop and a snowflake?
A: Both are bulbs with pure white flowers. Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) have three large outer petals and three short inner petals. The inner petals have green markings while the outer petals are usually pure white. Snowflakes (Leucojum spp.) have bell-shaped flowers with green dots at the tip of each petal, like a white ball-gown with emeralds sown into the hemline. There are a few flowers called snowflakes that were once classed in the genus Leucojum but have been reclassified into the genus Acis. They have white or pale pink flowers. You are unlikely to see one of them except in a botanical garden or a specialist’s garden.  
     Out of all of these, the one you are most likely to encounter in Georgia is the summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum). It is durable and vigorous and will thrive in hot areas where snowdrops do not perform well. Its name is misleading, however, as it blooms in spring, not summer.
     Plant bulbs for snowdrops and snowflakes in the fall. Clumps can also be dug and divided after they bloom. Replant them immediately and water them in well.

Q: I saw pots of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths for sale at a store. Shouldn’t these bulbs have been planted outside in the fall?
A: That may have been ideal, as well as cheaper, but we don’t live in an ideal world. People who were too busy or who just didn’t get around to planting bulbs in the fall can take advantage of these potted ones to brighten empty spots in their landscape. They also make nice gifts, and may be a way of introducing a non-gardener to the world of spring bulbs.

Q: A female cardinal keeps attacking the underside of the metal shelf of the gas grill on my deck. What is going on? It looks like she is attacking her reflection.
A: She is attacking her reflection which she sees as an intruder. Both male and female cardinals will do this as will other birds. (Robins are especially known for doing this.) Car mirrors and shiny bumpers are often the scene of these battles which most often occur in spring and early summer when aggressive hormones are high and the birds are obsessed with defending their territory against interlopers. We look at ourselves in the mirror and often begin to find fault; birds see their reflection and think “There is a dangerous intruder that must be chased away!”
    To keep the bird from exhausting or hurting herself, cover the reflective part of the shelf for a few weeks.

Q: I love tulips, but don’t see as many here as I did up North. A friend told me they do not perform well in Georgia, and they may only bloom once. Is this true?
A: I may not have a voice like Andrea Bocelli, but that does not mean I can’t sing in the choir! If you love tulips, plant some this fall. While tulips are not the reliable perennials in the South that some other bulbs are, gardeners here can get several years of bloom from them if they improve soil drainage, select the right varieties and fertilize properly. If some of them do peter out after one year, didn’t they bring you a springtime of beauty and joy? And they were considerably cheaper than a Ferrari.
    We promise to revisit this subject in the fall with a list of recommended varieties for Georgia and planting suggestions to increase your chances for success with tulips.

Q: I saw white sweet potatoes at the farmers market. I had never seen any before. What can you tell me about them?
A: There are hundreds of sweet potato varieties including some that have white, cream, yellow or purple flesh in addition to the familiar orange ones. Sweet potato varieties differ in sweetness, flavor, texture, nutrient content and storage life as well as in the color of their flesh and skin. You can’t always judge a sweet potato by its cover since some white-fleshed varieties may have purple or pink skin.
     There are differences among white sweet potatoes just as there are among orange varieties. Some people describe white varieties they have tried as being less sweet than the orange ones while some people describe some white varieties as being sweeter. We have not found anyone who has tasted all the varieties so it may be best to refrain from making an umbrella statement regarding taste, a subjective matter to begin with.
Here is some information about a few white varieties that may provide some guidance. Sumor is less sweet than most white varieties and has even been substituted for Irish potatoes to make potato salad and other dishes. That makes it a possible alternative to them in areas too hot to grow Irish potatoes. Burpee describes Murasaki as having a “distinct nutty flavor” and Bonita as “the sweetest we’ve ever tasted.” Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company describes Oriental as having a “sweet flavor reminiscent of a chestnut.” We recently tried O’Henry grown by Rise ‘N Shine Organic Farm ( in Calhoun, Georgia. It had a sweetness that lends itself to baking and being topped with butter like orange varieties but could also be used for making mashed potatoes or savory dishes.
     If you have not tasted white sweet potatoes, give them a try. Don’t be shy about trying different sweet potato varieties in your garden as well as your kitchen. Garden centers will soon have sweet potato slips for planting. Or you can plant one of the sweet potatoes you purchased at the farmers market and grow your own slips for transplanting.

If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce ( or visit the department’s website at

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