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Hairy bittercress weed prevalent on Long Island this spring

Hairy bittercress weed (Cardamine hirsuta).

Hairy bittercress weed (Cardamine hirsuta). Photo Credit: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University o

DEAR JESSICA: This weed has grown all over my yard this spring. It wasn’t here last year, and I don’t know what it is or how it sprung up so fast. It’s purplish in color.

 — Barbara Dell,

 via email

  

DEAR BARBARA: I didn’t recognize your visitor, so I reached out to Andy Senesac, weed science specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, based in Riverhead. Senesac said it appears you’re dealing with the flowering stage of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) — and you’re not alone. “I am seeing this a lot this year,” he said. “It is the most common weed in container nurseries, but in the last few years it has stretched its boundaries to include lawns, shade tree fields and landscapes.”

Senesac said the weed spreads after its seed pods ‘pop,’ disseminating seeds easily. “Fortunately, the plants die quickly after the seeds explode, so mowing the seed heads or weed whacking before they ripen will help control it and prevent new viable seeds.”

 

DEAR JESSICA: The leaves are falling off my 10-year-old money tree plant. They get yellow spots and then turn completely yellow, then brown and fall off. On the underside of the leaves are sticky droplets. The bottom of the plant is now completely bare, with only a bunch of leaves on top. It’s still producing new leaves which are fine for now. Is there anything I can do to save this plant?

 — Rita Stasi,

 Miller Place

 

DEAR RITA: Sounds like mealy bugs. The small insects use their piercing, sucking mouthparts to remove chlorophyll from leaves, which is why you’re seeing light-colored spots. Infested plants weaken, drop leaves and wither. The sticky droplets you’re noticing are honeydew, which essentially is mealy bug excrement. If you haven’t already, you may see the growth of black sooty mold, which is common on honeydew. In addition, ants are attracted to honeydew, although they will not harm the plant.

When in their young, crawler stage, mealy bugs can be controlled with stick traps. For light infestations, mature insects can be killed by touching each individually with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. For heavier infestations, either spray plants every 10 days for a month with a solution made from one-quarter each water, alcohol, mineral oil and liquid soap (not detergent) or apply insecticidal soap such as that sold under the brand name Safer.

 

DEAR JESSICA: I received this amaryllis as a gift in December 2016. I followed the instructions for making it bloom again for this past Christmas. It grew back fine, except the flower stayed so short. What happened?

 — Ingrid Santiago,

 via email

 

DEAR INGRID: Did you water the plant before it began growing for the season? Oftentimes, short stems are due to overwatering before top growth begins. If you did not overwater while the plant was dormant, then it’s possible the short stem resulted from either over- or underwatering during the plant’s growth stage. Not allowing the bulb to go dormant after blooming also can result in stunting.

To avoid this in the future, wait until after leaves turn yellow and limp, then store the plant in a cool, dark place, such as an unheated basement, keeping the soil mostly dry. After two or three months, bring the plant to the warm part of your home, where temperatures of around 70 degrees will bring it out of dormancy. At that point, provide a bright-light exposure and keep the soil moist, but never soggy, until it resumes dormancy.

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