Question: Should I remove the suckers sprouting at the base of my corn stalks?
Answer: Leave them be. The suckers, also known as tillers, do not affect overall yield. Also, there is a possibility you could damage the main stalk when you attempt to remove them.
Q: I am trying to find the name of a flower from my childhood. It had a stocky stem that was sort of juicy like impatiens or begonias. I think the flowers were pink and white. The ripe seed pods would explode when touched. I loved to do that! The sections of the seed pod would curl up and the seeds would shoot out. Do you know what it is?
A: It sounds like the garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina). It is also known as rose balsam and is related to the impatiens or sultanas that are popular bedding plants for shady areas. The “exploding” seed pods are why some impatiens are called touch-me-nots.
Garden balsam flowers may be pink, salmon, rose, red, purple, white or bi-colored. They like full sun to part shade and combine well in flower beds with begonia, torenia, caladium, salvia, impatiens and coleus.
Garden balsam is not as popular as it once was but is a beautiful and easy flower to grow. And it is fun to make the seed pods pop.
Q: I love watermelon but cannot eat a whole one and hate dishing out the extra money to buy the cut up pieces. Are there smaller melons and is anyone growing them?
A: “Icebox watermelon” is a term used to describe numerous varieties of watermelons that are small enough to easily fit into a refrigerator. The smallest ones are sometimes called “personal watermelons.” Larger watermelons are sometimes called “picnic watermelons.” We grow all types in Georgia.
If you don’t see any of the small ones at your local farmers market or at the grocery store, consider buying a big one. The per-pound cost will be much less than packaged and processed watermelon. You can cube the flesh and store it in containers in the refrigerator and carry them for lunch at work. There are probably people in your office or neighborhood who would be glad to share with you, and there may be people who, due to arthritis or age, cannot lift or handle a large melon but would like to have some.
Another idea: If the melon is not seedless, remove the seeds, freeze the pieces and put the frozen cubes in a blender with some milk, almond milk or yogurt for refreshing smoothies. You can add other Georgia grown fruits such as peaches, blueberries and strawberries. This works with frozen cantaloupe, too.
Q: Is water from a rain barrel safe to use on vegetable gardens?
A: Yes. You can use it for watering your vegetable garden as well as your trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and lawn. Just keep an eye on the water to be sure it does not become a breeding place for mosquitoes. You can seal the top with a flexible screen that allows water in but keeps insects out.
A rain barrel is an old-fashioned tool that helps modern gardeners by cutting their water bills. It also reduces storm water runoff that may overload sewer systems in some cities.
Q: I want to manufacture and sell dog treats made out of jerky. Who do I contact about getting a license?
A: Please contact the Commercial Feed Program in the Agricultural Inputs Section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture at 404-656-3637. This section of the department administers the rules and regulations related to seeds, fertilizer, animal feeds and pesticides distributed in Georgia. It licenses seed dealers, fertilizer and feed producers, approves fertilizer and feed products, investigates seed arbitration complaints, regulates pesticide product registrations and applications, and supports the field inspectors responsible for monitoring compliance with the seed, fertilizer, feed and pesticide regulations of the state.
Q: What is the true name of the red and yellow wild plums that are found in the woods and roadsides in Georgia?
A: You are probably thinking of the Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia). This plum forms thickets and is attractive when in bloom. The fruit makes an attractive and tasty jelly. We do not know of any nurseries growing and selling it, although nurseries specializing in native plants may offer it. It is a good plant that more people should consider including in their landscapes and gardens.
There is a taller native plum called the American plum (Prunus americana). It is less common in Georgia than the Chickasaw plum.
Q: I have been finding bread crumbs and pieces of bread in my birdbath. Yesterday I saw the reason; a black bird was soaking it in the water. Is this unusual?
A: You probably saw a grackle or a crow softening bread in order to eat it. These birds are intelligent and know how to make stale and dry bread edible. The behavior has been noted in grackles at least back to the 1920s.
There may be a nest nearby and the bird is feeding the moistened bread to its young. The bird may continue casting its bread upon your birdbath waters as long as the food source is available. However, having your birdbath turned into a bowl of bread soup is not good for other birds wishing to bathe. Rinse the birdbath frequently and refill it with clean water. Consider placing an additional birdbath or two in other parts of your landscape. Garden centers, nurseries and nature supply stores carry various styles. Terra cotta saucers and other similar basins placed on stumps, inverted flower pots or on the ground are another option to help you provide the water your songbird friends need.
Q: What is "grass-fed" beef?
A: "Grass (forage) fed" means that grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the cow, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Its diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of annual or perennial grasses, forbs such as legumes and brassicas, browse (vegetation such as twigs and young shoots) or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. The cows cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
Q: Will Siberian irises grow in Georgia?
A: With “Siberian” in the name, you would think these irises would melt or fry in our summer heat. However, Siberian irises are one of the best irises for Georgia. The heat doesn’t bother them, and they are more tolerant of clay soils and moist conditions than bearded irises. If you have had trouble with bearded irises, give their Siberian cousins a try.
Look for Siberian irises in the perennial section of nurseries and garden centers. They combine well in the garden with many other perennials including coreopsis, amsonia, daylilies, peonies, bletilla orchid, Japanese roof iris, copper iris, Adam’s needle yucca, blue wild indigo baptisia, physostegia, cardinal flower, Penstemon digitalis and purple coneflower.
Q: Will there be any Georgia Grown Farmers Showcases this summer?
A: Showcase season starts May 31 at the Macon Farmers Market!
Following the success of last year’s Georgia Grown Farmers Showcases, they will return this summer to state farmers markets in Macon (May 31), Savannah (June 14) and Atlanta (June 28), along with the addition of a new showcase in Moultrie (September 6).
The showcases bring together farmers and consumers. They are an opportunity to support Georgia farmers and to pick up fresh produce along with other items produced in our own state.
Market visitors will find locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as pork, beef, poultry, plants and flowers, olive and other oils, jams, jellies, barbecue sauces, honey and baked goods and other prepared foods. In addition, visitors will find Georgia made soaps, beeswax candles, candy and other items.
Q: Can I put grapefruit rinds on the compost pile?
A: Thick grapefruit rinds can be slow to decompose. However, they will decompose and can be included in your compost pile. Speed up the process by cutting the rinds into smaller pieces and making sure they are incorporated into the mix. Also, do not leave grapefruit bowls (rinds of halved grapefruits) sitting on top of your pile. These will hold water and possibly breed mosquitoes as well as being very slow to decompose.
Q: What happened to my tulips? They bloomed and then died.
A: It is normal for the foliage of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs to die after flowering. However, the bulbs are not dead; they will re-sprout in the spring.
Q: When is blueberry season in Georgia?
A: Georgia’s blueberry season usually runs from mid-May to mid-August. Start looking for recipes now for ways to use this nutritious and antioxidant-rich food. Consider smoothies, fruit salads, green salads with feta or blue cheese or as a topping for cereal or yogurt. And, of course, use them to make pies and blueberry pancakes and muffins. Don’t forget you can freeze them while they are in season for use later in the year.
Q: Can you identify this shrub growing in my woods? It is deciduous with clumps of fragrant, pale pink flowers. I think it may be an azalea. It was blooming in mid-April in north Georgia.
A: From your photo and description, the mystery shrub looks like the pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides). It is also called pinxter flower or pinxter azalea and is sometimes confused with a similar species, Rhododendron canescens, the Florida pinxter or hoary azalea.
Pinxterbloom azalea is native from New England to Georgia and Alabama and west to Illinois. It is a favorite of Eastern tiger swallowtails and is a beautiful part of woodland landscapes. It deserves to be more widely planted in gardens, too. Florida pinxter generally is a more southerly and coastal species that also deserves to be more widely planted.
Although they may sound like it, their names have nothing to do with the color pink. Pinxter comes from the Dutch pinkster for Whitsuntide or Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter, celebrated as a festival in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In Georgia, however, both usually bloom earlier in the year.
Q: Can I freeze leftover cooked hamburger patties?
A: If ground beef is put in the freezer promptly after cooking (within two hours; one hour if the air temperature is above 90 degrees F), it can be safely frozen and should keep its quality for about four months. When reheating fully cooked patties or casseroles containing ground beef, be sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F or it is hot and steaming. Refrigerated patties can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days provided they are also refrigerated promptly after cooking.
Q: I am sending you photos of a plant that is taking over my flower beds. It has small, pink flowers and round, lobed leaves. The stems and petioles on some of them have a rosy hue. Please tell me this is a weed. I have been pulling it up. It is somewhat pretty, but it is everywhere!
A: A weed is any plant growing where you don't want it to. Having said the required definition, the plant you have is called Carolina geranium or Carolina cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum). It is an aggressive spreader in garden settings which means it is usually considered a weed. Keep pulling it up now to keep it from going to seed. If you keep it from setting seed, you will have fewer plants next year.
In natural settings where it is not overwhelming rare or more desirable plants, you can let Carolina cranesbill be. It is a native plant whose flowers provide nectar for various native bees and Syrphid flies which help control aphids. Bobwhite quail and mourning doves are known to eat the seeds.
Q: What is wrong with my camellia? Some of the leaves are pale green, abnormally thick and have a white coat on the underside.
A: What you are seeing is camellia leaf gall, a disease caused by the fungus Exobasidium camelliae. Fungal spores form the white coat under the leaves. These spores are released or splashed onto the ground, bark, buds, twigs and leaves and will re-infect the plant next spring. Control is easy and inexpensive – pick off all the galls (enlarged leaves and shoots) and throw them in the trash. Remove them before the fungal spores are exposed. Do not throw them on the ground or in the compost pile. As an extra precaution, you can put the galls in a plastic bag and then put them in the trash.
Camellia leaf gall is more alarming than harming. It may look dramatic but causes no serious harm to the plant. This disease is primarily seen on sasanqua camellias but can occur on other camellias. There is a similar fungus that attacks azaleas. Its control is the same.
Q: What is the ivy on the walls at Wrigley Field? Will it grow in Georgia? Signed, A Transplanted Fan.
A: Two kinds of vines were planted in 1937 to cover the new brick walls of the outfield at Wrigley and are still there today.
One is Parthenocissus tricuspidata, commonly known as Boston ivy. (Sorry Cubbies, there is no Chicago ivy.) Because of it being planted on academic buildings in the Northeast, Boston ivy also gave the Ivy League its name.
The second vine is Celastrus orbiculatus, commonly known as Japanese, Chinese or oriental bittersweet. Japanese bittersweet was once planted for its durability and showy fruits. However, it is now considered an invasive and noxious weed that is taking over forests from Canada to Georgia. The grounds crew of The Friendly Confines can keep it confined and under control, but you will not be able to. Do not plant it.
Both will grow in Georgia. No one should plant Japanese bittersweet, as it is an environmental danger and a pain in the neck for gardeners to get rid of. If you want to plant a bittersweet, plant our native American species, Celastrus scandens. Boston ivy is considered invasive in some areas but is not currently listed as an invasive species in Georgia. However, it is a rampant grower, so do not let it loose in the woods or where it will invade your neighbor’s property. Keep an eye on it.
Good luck with the season and happy 100th anniversary to Wrigley Field. Garden and play ball!
-- Arty Schronce
For more information, please write Arty Schronce, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Agriculture Building, Room 128, Atlanta, GA, 30334 or call 404-656-3656.