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Gold Dust Plant (Aucuba japonica) Gold Dust Plant (Aucuba japonica)
Gold Dust Plant Branch (Aucuba japonica) Gold Dust Plant Branch (Aucuba japonica)
Ron Smith answers questions about flowers, trees, gardens and shrubs.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I am working on the scale insects on my orange tree. I have been using Bonide systemic for four weeks and also cleaning off the new scales. How long does a systemic killer take to clear up the problem? Is there an advantage to wiping the scales off with rubbing alcohol or is water OK? Do you think spraying with insecticidal soap or alcohol helps? Do you spray the whole tree or just the stems? When do I give up? Is there a better systemic killer? Do I need to obsess about picking up all the scales that fall to the floor when I am cleaning them off? Now for an easier question: My tulips were sparse this year. When is the best time to fertilize? What do you use? Thank you very much for your input. (email reference)

A: I’ll answer your easy question first. If the tulips were sparse this past year, it probably isn’t a fertility problem as much as it may be a virus or other disease issue. Assuming you have not been removing the foliage too early when they finished blooming, you should be seeing good bloom production for the next three to five years. However, it depends on the density of the original planting. Another problem could be that they need to be dug up and separated somewhat to give them room to mine the nutrients out of the soil without immediate competition. As for the scale infestation fight, I’d say you are past the time to be giving up. It isn’t worth the effort you are putting into this effort. It also is not good for you or the plant to be assaulted with this much pesticide.

Q: Is it too late to plant tulip bulbs that my wife left sitting outside the past couple of weeks? I have about 50 extra bulbs. We have sandy (now wet) soil to put them in. Just curious if you think they are still viable and can be planted, given the time of year. (email reference)

A: Go ahead and get them planted before the ground freezes. Give them a good initial watering and they will pop up with flowers for you next spring.

Q: My clematis bloomed in the spring and then died after two or three weeks. I then pruned it down to the ground. In early September, it started growing up the trellis again until it had more than 25 large, purple flowers on it. It is now the first week of November and it still has the same blooms on it. It has rained hard, been cold and windy, but the flowers are blooming. Is this unheard of? (email reference)

A: Absolutely unheard of, at least by me. It will be interesting to see what happens next year. Sometimes plants get confused with our cultural practices, microenvironment and climate changes. Let’s hope this one comes through the winter OK and rewards you with flowers next summer.

Q: I saw your website online and am wondering if you could answer a quick question for me. My yard has an apple tree that produces apples that are small and yellow. We have some that we picked that have red spots on them. Are they OK to eat? I have a young child and don't want to be giving him something that will make him sick. Is there anything we should be doing to make sure this doesn't happen? I’ve attached a picture. (email reference)

A: I cannot attest to the flavor of the apples. They may not be something that someone would want to eat. As for the spots on the apples, they are insect injuries. I would guess that thrips caused the problem earlier in the season. The spots should not have a direct impact on the eating quality of the fruit. They pose no health threat to your child.

Q: I very much enjoy all your responses to cyclamen questions. Thank you for posting them. I've had a gift pink cyclamen for five or six years. It's a wonderful plant and I so much enjoy the many blooms it puts forth several times a year. It produces at least 30 blooms at a time, but is slowing down right now. I found your website recently and it seems that almost everything I'm doing with the plant is wrong. I water it every day from the top. It's in a 6-inch diameter pot that drains very well. However, I never give it enough water to fill the drain pan below it. It's in an east-facing window where it gets a lot of bright, indirect sun. However it is in a heated room and not too far from a heat or cooling vent. Is what I’m seeing a bulb or a corm? How long can I expect the bulb or corm to live? It is now about 4 inches in diameter and has six different spots on top where the leaves and flowers come out. Should I try to divide the bulb or corm? If so, how should I do that? I hope you will have a little time to help me out because I really love this plant. (email reference)

A: Botanically, cyclamens are tubers. Quite frankly, I wonder why you are writing to me asking questions when you have been so successful with your practices for the past six years. The only suggestions I could make is to try the textbook style of watering through immersion. Place the potted plant in a tub of tepid water and allow it to sit in the tub without getting the leaves wet. Keep it in the tub until the top of the media glistens with moisture. Then remove the plant from the tub and allow it to drain completely. Being a corm, this plant is not divided for propagation. Instead, it is done by seeding, which requires about two years of patience to get them to come into flower again. You must be a very determined person to have kept this particular plant going for so many years. I cannot recall ever hearing of anyone being that successful in working with this species.

Q: I've attached some photos of a plant that I've had for 15 years. Back then, you sometimes could purchase small plant starts at local grocery stores for a dollar or so. There was no information that came with the plant, so I am wondering if you might know what it is. I’ve attached some photos. Thank you so much for your interesting and useful website. (email reference)

A: It looks like a gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica). In those days, it was common for these plants to be sold in supermarkets without any labels because they were cheap and easily grown. More information about gold dust plants is available at http://www.finegardening.com/plantguide/aucuba-japonica-variegata-gold-dust-plant.aspx.

For answers to general horticultural questions, go to http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/horticulture. Enjoy!


NDSU Agriculture Communication – Nov. 14, 2012

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-7971, ronald.smith@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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