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Garden Q&A: On identifying magnolias and mystery insect bites

Magnolia buds first swell up in late fall as fat gray candle flames and persist through winter before blooming in the spring.
Magnolia buds first swell up in late fall as fat gray candle flames and persist through winter before blooming in the spring. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

We moved this winter, and I’m trying to identify plants are in our yard. One big shrub has fuzzy things already. Is it a pussy willow?

Just as good if not better, these are the big furry flower buds of a magnolia. You’ll have to wait until they open for a positive ID. Most likely it’s Magnolia soulangeana, the tulip or saucer magnolia blooming rose, pink or white. Or a Magnolia stellata, the star magnolia, first to open its white floppy petals in spring. Robust leaves appear later on the smooth gray stems of these large shrubs or small trees. As you’ve discovered, these magnolia buds swell up by late fall into fat gray candle flames, excelling at winter interest and spring anticipation.

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Recently I had mysterious insect bites. They were itchy; maybe four in total. I read that bed bugs tend to be more voracious, so I didn’t worry. I had been using a sleeping bag. As soon as I got rid of it, I didn’t see a bite. But now a week later, I go to put on a hat hanging on my bed post, and there is a big bed bug and feces droppings, along with an exoskeleton. I can’t find others. Could I only have one? Could it be a bat bug? What should I do?

It was found near your bed. Bat bugs can look similar but, to tell the difference, we would need to see the length of hair by its head, which isn’t easily photographed without a microscope. Also, bat bugs are rarely found off bats.

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Educate yourself regarding identification, prevention, and control of bed bugs. Management includes inspection, vacuuming, cleaning, drying, getting rid of clutter, washing your bedding, etc. Search ‘bed bugs’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website.

View the center’s YouTube videos, the video from entomologist Mike Raupp, and fact sheets which give great detail on biology and what to do when you discover bed bugs.

You cannot treat bed bugs by yourself. It is advisable to contact a professional pest control company that specializes in bed bug control. Many do not. We recommend you have several pest control companies visit to get their opinions and estimates for service. A specially trained canine can be very valuable in detecting bed bugs. Some pest control companies use these dogs to sniff out infestations, no matter how small.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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