DEAR JESSICA: I’m hoping you can help me identify whatever it is growing in my flower garden. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The stem is a peachy color, and the top looks like it was dipped in chocolate. I have tossed a few out, and when I dug them up from the ground, they were attached to a white bulb with the consistency of a mushroom.
— Karen Steinhaus,
DEAR KAREN: You’d better sit down. That’s a “shameless penis” mushroom.
I kid you not; that’s the literal translation from its Latin proper name, Phallus impudicus. Although sometimes it’s more politely called a “stinkhorn,” my job is to give you all the facts. And there they are.
Stinkhorns show up without warning, growing (sometimes 10 inches in a day) straight up out of the ground from an egg-shaped mass. Then they add insult to injury by oozing a gag-inducing, foul-smelling slime from their tips.
The fungus is common in North American forests and often grows on mulch, as its spores thrive on wood debris.
They’re harmless, but if you’d like to eliminate them, dig them up and seal them tightly in plastic bags before placing them in the trash. Then remove the surrounding mulch, which may contain spores, and dispose of it in the same manner.
DEAR JESSICA: What causes the leaves to turn brown on my Knock Out roses? Is there a cure?
— Susan Bernard,
DEAR SUSAN: After confirming that they are getting enough water and that you haven’t over-fertilized (or fertilized at all), I’m thinking the culprit could be botrytis blight, which is a fungal disease, or it could be some kind of infestation (caterpillar, maybe) because I see some of the leaves are chewed up. I can’t be entirely sure, however, so I recommend you take a branch that has both brown and chewed leaves on it (or two branches if both symptoms aren’t evident on one) to the Cornell Cooperative Extension horticultural diagnostic lab nearest you (on the grounds of Bayard Cutting Arboretum on Montauk Highway in Great River. There also are offices in East Meadow and Riverhead). There it can be examined under a microscope to determine definitively what the problem is, and you’ll be able to get a course of action. The service is free for CCE members and low-cost for nonmembers, and there’s no need to make an appointment.
DEAR JESSICA: My Knock Out roses, which produced lots of blooms, have black spots on the leaves. Do I need to do anything? I do not use chemicals of any kind, just plant everything in compost from my own pile.
— Nancy Kaplan,
DEAR NANCY: Your rose bush appears to have a fungus, possibly black spot. Organic fungicides aren’t typically effective in the same way chemical fungicides are. And even copper fungicides have their problems, as they can be irritating to the skin and respiratory system, and remain in the soil for a long time. Copper also may be toxic to bees.
I prefer to grow (and buy) organic whenever possible, but sometimes you have to make a choice, or at least a compromise. When my tomatoes are stricken, I let them die rather than use chemicals around my food. But if my roses were in danger, I’d want to save them. The choice is yours, of course, but I believe this situation calls for a compromise: A chemical to wipe out the pathogen, a change in cultural conditions and practices, then an organic preventive going forward.
Apply a product that contains the fungicide mancozeb, following package directions (probably three times at 10-day intervals), and diligently clean up all fallen leaves and plant debris, bagging them tightly in plastic and disposing in the trash. The fungicide should stop disease progression in its tracks, and sanitation will prevent spores from making themselves at home in the soil, where they would otherwise reinfect the plants.
Prune the bush to avoid crowding, especially the inner canes, and remove any diseased canes, disposing of them in the same manner as the fallen leaves. Avoid overhead watering, as this wets foliage and creates a breeding ground for disease.
Next spring, when leaf buds begin to open, apply an organic preventive fungicide that contains potassium bicarbonate (Green Cure is one).