|The mission of the Montgomery County Master Gardener Association is to educate the community through fellowship and demonstration using research-based gardening information.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office
is open for business
9020 Airport Rd, Conroe
For Gardening questions call 936-539-7824
Plant of the Month
Image by Bransford W.D. and Dolphia
by Elisabeth Castro, Master Gardener
Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica, also known as Woodland Pinkroot or just Pinkroot, is native not only to Texas but also the southeastern states, Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana.
According to the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Research and Extension…“The genus name was given by Linnaeus and honors Adrian van der Spigel, a Brussels doctor who wrote a text in 1606 detailing the procedure for developing an herbarium to preserve dried plants.” Marilandica is a reference to the state of Maryland.
Although that explains the botanical name the common name is a little bit more obscure. The dried roots used to be collected by the Creek and Cherokee Indians for sale to traders where it was thought to have medicinal qualities. All parts of the plant including the seeds are poisonous. It contains an alkaloid spigiline which causes dim vision, vomiting and convulsions among other symptoms (North Carolina State Extension).
Indian Pink is a beautiful herbaceous perennial that should be grown for its striking flowers. Nature does not exactly follow the color wheel as can be seen by the trumpet shaped upward facing tubular flowers, red-pink on the outside and light yellow on the inside flaring open into a five pointed star. It blooms in April and May in our parts of Texas. It takes a few years to form a nice clump, 1-3 ft, but it is worth the wait and attractive to hummingbirds.
It grows best in dappled shade, moist sandy loam and slightly acidic soil. It is drought tolerant once established. In sunnier locations it may require more frequent watering.
Propagation can be done by root division and fresh seed. The seed capsules ripen in June and July and once ripe the capsules split open, and seeds scattered nearby. To capture the seeds, place a small organza bag over the capsules until ripe. Propagation can also be achieved by tip cuttings before the plant sets blooms.
There is a cultivar ‘Little Redhead’ available which is a compact version of the native Indian Pink.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay
What to do in the Garden in May
by Bob Dailey, Master Gardener
Our spring vegetable garden is looking pretty good right now. Tomatoes are filling out, beans have set blossoms and are starting to produce pods. Because of the cooler than average March and April weather, lettuce has probably not bolted yet. Peppers are also setting fruit just about now, eggplant looks good, strawberries are turning red. Swiss chard is prospering, and we’ve already picked some. Sauteed with olive or avocado oil and a little salt and pepper, it’s delicious.
Squash is blooming right now, but we’re hearing that on some plants, the male flowers are coming out long before the females, so insect pollinators (and for those of us who pollinate with Q-tips) are having a difficult time. The good news is we’ve heard no reports of the squash vine borer, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. It may be a little early. We can hope that our squash will fruit before those pests get here.
You can seed okra, cantaloupes, watermelons, any variety of southern peas now. For all these, except southern peas (blackeye peas, crowders, purple hulls, and zipper creams), you can continue to sow until July.
If you’re growing herbs, then you can certainly put in basil now through August. If you want to attract pollinators, the best basil variety for that is African blue basil. Let it flower and be amazed at the number of bees it attracts: plant two or three African blues around your garden. You may want to plant some in your flower beds too.
Last month I reported that insects were going to come back with a vengeance. Remember, though, there are 1,000 times more beneficial insects and insects that have no interest in our gardens than those pests that feast on our plants. There is an excellent book titled “Insects of Texas” by David H. Kattes. The book was published by Texas A&M Press, and you can order it online there.
Of course, pollinators, which are very important to our vegetable and ornamental gardens, and agriculture as a whole also exist in the same world. Bees (including honey bees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees, as well as the thousands of species of native bees) are vitally important pollinators. There is a variety of beetle which help pollinate and, of course, butterflies and moths. Don’t forget bats. They help in pollen exchange in night-blooming phlox, evening primrose, fleabane, moonflowers, goldenrod, nicotiana, honeysuckle, Brugmansia, and four o’clock. Bats also help fertilize figs and peaches.
Other beneficial insects have nothing to do with pollination but have a lot to do with killing harmful insects. These include parasitic wasps, lacewing larvae, ladybugs, praying mantids, and spiders.
Remember, before you get out those pesticides, be very careful not to kill beneficial insects. Use the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. This includes using the least lethal methods first and then proceeding to other more stringent actions. The IPM Institute of North America describes the steps in Integrated Pest Management. You can search for it on the Internet.
Critter of the Month
By Bob Dailey, Master Gardener
Cicadas are emerging from their almost two-decade sleep and cicada killers will not be far behind.
Compared to most insects in North America, the cicada killer is gigantic. The body can be two inches long, and the extended wingspan three to four inches long. It can be terrifying as it zips around the yard, dipping this way and that, looking for its prey, strongly resembling a giant, angry hornet.
The insect is giant, but fortunately, not angry.
This big bug is the Eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus), and it is not interested in anything other than cicadas, no matter how frightening it looks. In fact, although the female does have a stinger, the cicada killer is not aggressive. The wasp’s venom is reportedly somewhat painful. However, the female will usually ignore humans and other animals unless she is stepped on or handled roughly. The venom’s use is to subdue cicadas.
Males Are Harmless
Male cicada killers are very aggressive, but since they do not possess a stinger, their aggression amounts to dive-bombing any visitor, human, dog, cat, bird, or other large insects. The males also have very poor eyesight. Add their need for corrective lenses with their aggressiveness, and the result is a very belligerent, pesky, but ultimately harmless drone. Males have a sharp spine on the abdomen and may try to jab with the tip, but it is a useless gesture.
Laying Eggs on Cicadas
Female cicada killers burrow holes into the soil. The burrow may be up to 10 inches deep. After she digs a hole, the female will begin to hunt for cicadas. Once she finds one, she stings it and then carries it to her burrow. She drags the cicada into the hole and lays an egg on it. The living but paralyzed cicada will provide food for the newly hatched larva.
Cicada killers drill burrows in sandy, well-drained soil exposed to sunlight. The insect’s preference is to dig the burrows along the edges of sidewalks, by the side of driveways and ditches. The insect’s den can be recognized by a U-shaped mound of very fine soil around the ½-inch hole. Although they can infest a lawn, they prefer to build their nests in locations with little or no vegetation.
The female will lay male eggs on single cicadas. Since the female is significantly larger than the male, female eggs are usually given two or three cicadas to consume during their larval stages. Eggs will hatch in two or three days. The larvae will feed on the cicada for a week or more, spin a cocoon and overwinter in the burrow.
Once emerged, the females will mate, spend several weeks creating burrows, and eating (mostly flower nectar) until they begin hunting for cicadas. Cicada killers only have one generation per year.
A female cicada killer is relentless in her search for cicadas. Once she has found one, she stings it, taking it back to the burrow.
Unless the population of cicada killers is immense and bothersome, it may be a wise option to simply ignore them. In addition, as is often the case with insects, there are generally fewer cicada killers around than cicadas. Nature tends to seek a balance.
Although there are insecticides that work, cheap tennis or badminton rackets also work well. Use insecticides with discretion and sparingly, if at all. Spraying into burrows also contaminates the soil and kills beneficial insects. Whatever is used, it is challenging to eliminate a population of cicada killers. Applying the old tenet of “live and let live” could be a potential (and really the best) solution.
For more information about gardening-related topics, contact the Montgomery County Master Gardeners Hotline at 936-539-7824 from 8 AM to noon and 1 PM to 5 PM Monday through Friday, or visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office at 9020 Airport Rd, Conroe, TX 77303. Visit the Master Gardener website for upcoming programs and plant sales at https://www.mcmga.com/.