Q: This hosta problem has been going on for a few years for me. The plants face west and there are four just like this. What’s wrong, and what can be done? — Ron M., Fargo.
A: Hosta as a species prefers shade, a cool environment and rich, moist soil. There are some hosta cultivars that will tolerate heat and sun, but they’re an exception.
Your hosta are showing at least two troubles. A west exposure, especially if the hosta are planted close to a building, can be very intense as the hot afternoon sun beats down. Rock mulch tends to accumulate and intensify the heat, which is opposite of hosta’s preferred site. The crispy leaves, yellowed foliage and general weakened appearance are signs of sun and heat stress.
The second situation is the holes in the leaves, caused by slugs, which are a frequent pest of hostas. Slugs work mostly at night, and rock mulch gives them a great hiding spot to slither under during daylight.
What can be done? Relocating the hosta to a cooler, shadier location would help greatly. Spring is the preferred time, but they can be moved now, with great caution. Mulching with shredded bark or wood chips is more hosta-friendly than rock mulch. Slug baits and remedies are available at garden centers, or try the age-old remedy of sinking beer-filled trays into the vicinity around the plants you wish to protect.
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Q: I’m a new gardener and I’m wondering when buttercup squash is supposed to be picked. It looks like some of them are getting large enough. — David P., Horace, N.D.
A: Buttercup squash are categorized as “winter squash” along with acorn, butternut, hubbard and others, meaning they store well into winter, as opposed to “summer squash” like zucchini and yellow crookneck, which are eaten when young and tender.
There are several very good indicators that winter squash are fully ripe. Fully mature squash taste better and will store longer than those harvested when not quite ready.
Winter squash can be left in the garden until after the first light frost, down to about 30 degrees. A mature squash loses the glossiness of the skin, and becomes dull in appearance. The “ground spot,” which is the area on which the squash was resting, turns from yellow-green to orange on many varieties, including buttercup. Finally, give the thumbnail test. A mature squash cannot be easily dented with your thumbnail, while an under-ripe squash has a softer rind.
Cut the fruit from the vine, leaving a few inches of stem attached. Field-cure them in place for a week or two in dry, sunny weather. This method will dry and toughen the skin for longer storage. If the weather has turned cold or rainy, you can cure squash indoors in a warm (80-degree), well-ventilated space. Store for the winter in a cool, but not cold place, ideally around 55 degrees, with good air movement.
Q: Several of our houseplants appear to be infested with fruit flies. What is the recommended treatment for this? — Brian A., Fargo.
A: If they are little black flylike insects that flit around the vicinity of the plants, they’re most likely fungus gnats, which are very common. Fungus gnats lay eggs in the soil that hatch into tiny larvae that feed on plant roots and organic material in the soil. The larvae then hatch into gnats, which lay more eggs, creating a continual life cycle of gnats, eggs, larvae and more gnats.
Don’t laugh, but there’s a good product for fungus gnat control called Mosquito Bits. On the label, it also indicates it controls fungus gnats.
Sprinkle the granules on the soil surface, following label directions. The product, which is an organic insecticide, breaks the life cycle of the gnats. It usually takes a little time to work, but is effective long term. I've seen the product sold at garden centers, hardware stores, farm supply stores and national chains.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.