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Lifestyle Home & Garden

What looks like ground cover may be invasive plant

My neighbor said she will give me a plant that had white flowers with four petals and a center that sticks up like a skinny green nose. Leaves are a pointy heart shape. It filled in a huge bare area for her, but she doesn't know the name.

Sounds like houttuynia, a notoriously invasive plant. It's often known as chameleon plant because a variety of it that is still sold sometimes as a "ground cover" is colorfully variegated. Your neighbor's plant is the plain green species. Woe to the gardener who plants this. It will not stay where planted, even popping up on the other side of a driveway, and is resistant to herbicides.

I'm debating whether or not to leave a yellow jacket nest in a neglected area. Are they good pollinators?

It's not that they are good pollinators, but that they are great predators of pest insects such as flies and mosquitoes. Yellow jackets and other wasps feed these to their offspring. So they keep pest insects out of your yard, but because they are not fuzzy, their occasional visit to flowers will not get much pollinating done. In late summer or fall, their diet switches to more sugary foods, so we wouldn't recommend leaving a nest by a well-used picnic table.

Is it true that bird or deer netting catches snakes? Birds eat my berries and it seems like deer eat everything else!

Yes, snakes get caught in bird or deer netting, especially when it extends to ground level. They do not have the ability to back up, only go forward, and thus get more and more entangled. Extracting one is possible and a slow process requiring two people snipping off the mat of netting, but the snake may have hurt itself so much that it cannot survive. For the most part, the solution is to avoid netting or hang it a few inches above ground level. For a low-cost deer fencing alternative that would also solve this problem, see the July issue of the Home and Garden Information Center Newsletter at: http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/july-2013-hgic-newsletter.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Elephant Ears

Colocasia

Elephant ears can be your garden's backdrop or its bold center of attention. The plant adds texture and height with a tropical flair. It is in the genus Colocasia, which contains about 25 species of tropical plants grown in colder climates during the summer for their interesting foliage. Leaves range from emerald green and black to brown and chartreuse gold. Colored veins run through the leaves of some varieties. Plant elephant ears tubers 2 to 4 inches deep in well-drained soil after danger of frost has passed. Place in full to partial sun. They like moisture. Fertilize a few times during the growing season. After first frost, cut back foliage, carefully dig up tubers, gently remove the soil and air dry. Store in a container allowing air circulation in a frost-free, dry location. — Debbie Ricigliano

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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