In the garden: Plant virus, Virginia creeper and too many caterpillars

Viral infections can't be cured and could spread, harming other plants in this garden. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Don't let a plant virus spread

Q: We sent in a hydrangea plant sample to our local extension office a few weeks ago. The plants had some puckered leaves at the top and overall are not as green as we would like. The diagnosis came back that we had two viruses and that they weren't curable, and we should remove the plant. The plant doesn't look that bad. Do I really have to remove it?

A: Viruses are not curable, and while they often don't kill a plant quickly, if you allow it to stay in your landscape, you are potentially allowing other plants in your garden to become attacked. Viruses can spread by sucking insects (like aphids) and mechanically -- you prune one plant, and then use the same pruner to prune another plant. To reduce future problems, I would destroy the plant and plant something else.

Rough winter followed by hot summer may be behind tree's decline

Q: I live in Sherwood, and I have a magnolia tree. I typically rake anywhere from 6-8 bags a week from April through June any given year, and then I am done. Not this year! I am now raking about four bags a week and have hundreds of leaves that are turning yellow and falling every day. I had very little seed pods this year also. There is a tree up the street from me and it is very green and loaded with seed pods. Can you please tell me what is going on with my poor tree ?

A: It has been a tough season on a wide variety of plants. Southern magnolias, although evergreen, do tend to shed leaves year-round. As they add new leaves, they shed old ones. It is possible that more than the normal leaves were damaged with the winter temperatures; add that to the hot, dry conditions we have had this summer, and you could have extra leaf shed. The best thing you can do for your trees (and all plants in general) is water when dry. Assess their health in the spring -- see how full the canopy is. The same plant can react differently in different yards -- soil type, general care, exposure, etc.

Vine creeps in from neighbor's yard

Q: This vine is coming through and over my fence from my neighbor's yard. Two questions: First, what is it and secondly do I want to keep it? It's on the side gravel-and-stone pathway where I keep my garbage cans and garden supplies. It seems to be very prolific.

A: The vine in question is Virginia creeper, an Arkansas native.

I find it highly invasive in many gardens. It does have beautiful fall color, but it seems to be everywhere this year -- it doesn't stay just where you plant it. If you think you can keep it trained to your fence, then go for it, but do keep a close eye on it. I am constantly pulling it out of my own yard.

Abundance of caterpillars not much to be concerned about

Q: Isn't there an unusual abundance of caterpillars and all their droppings right now? I clean porches and decks constantly. And I've never seen so many emerald green beetles here in Hensley.

A: We have been getting a lot of questions about caterpillars and droppings since late August. The variable oak caterpillar is a nuisance but won't cause any real damage to the tree. The droppings can stain porches or patio furniture, so periodically blow or wash them away. The caterpillars can do some damage to leaves, but this late in the season, consider that just fewer leaves to rake -- it won't hurt the tree. There is no need to spray. It wouldn't be very effective, and the insects are a food for many local birds. The feeding frenzy should end soon, and the remaining caterpillars will fall to the ground to overwinter.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email [email protected].

photo The UA Division of Agriculture Extension Service pathologist traced this hydrangea's puckering to viral infections. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo Although it still looks OK, this hydrangea should be removed to prevent its viral infections from spreading to healthy plants. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo The native vine Virginia creeper grows rapidly and can get out of control. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo Although it can grow aggressively, Virginia creeper has attractive green foliage in summer and turns shades of red in fall. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo The variable oak caterpillar makes a mess but wonմ cause serious damage to a tree. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)