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No, woolly bear caterpillars cannot predict winter weather

Plant of the week: Willowleaf cotoneaster is an easy ground-covering shrub that is pest-resistant and fast-growing.
Plant of the week: Willowleaf cotoneaster is an easy ground-covering shrub that is pest-resistant and fast-growing. (Courtesy of Ginny Williams, Handout photo)

Does the size of an orange band on a woolly bear caterpillar mean a cold winter or a warm winter? Or is the important thing the black ends? I've heard so many forecasts of what to expect this winter, I'm relying on caterpillars!

What the middle band on a woolly caterpillar really tells you is that the caterpillar had a good summer. Each time the caterpillar molts and gets a new, bigger skin, its center orange band gets wider. Caterpillars with a wide band are older, and possibly wiser, but if they know anything about future weather, they aren't telling.

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Can I collect seeds from my Stokes asters and butterfly weed? If so, when would I plant the seeds?

Yes, you can collect seeds from your perennials. The seeds of Stokes aster, an evergreen native of the southeast U.S., should be kept at 40 degrees for six weeks (in a refrigerator is fine) before sowing in spring. Plant the seed of butterfly weed immediately after collecting for higher germination rates.

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Plant of the week

Willowleaf cotoneaster

Cotoneaster salicifolius 'repens'

Have a slope or hard-to-mow area? Willowleaf cotoneaster is an easy ground-covering shrub that is pest-resistant and fast-growing. In full sun, it rewards the grower with bright red berries in the fall and into the winter. With increasing shade, there are fewer berries. It sports small, white flowers in the spring. Evergreen to semi-evergreen, its shiny green leaves can become reddish purple in colder winters. When established, it is drought-tolerant and requires no special fertilizer. Native to China, it grows about 1 foot tall and 8 feet wide in any soil type. Give it plenty of room and enjoy its vigor.

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—Ginny Williams

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