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Ask Dr. Hort: Passionflower is a host plant for butterflies

Blooms to try in lieu of lilacs, bearded iris

Q: I am a New Jersey transplant and sorely miss my bearded iris and beautifully scented lilacs. I do not miss the snow!

Can I possibly order these plants from a nursery up North and expect them to live down here? Those wimpy excuses for iris that do grow here do not cut it for me. Crape myrtle are a poor substitute for scented lilacs. Many garden suppliers have suggested I plant them as a substitute for the "look" of the lilac flowers in bloom. It is not a plan I embrace.

By the way, I had a friend in New Jersey send me lily of the valley plants and they all died. Camille Russell, Largo

A: Plants can only be transplanted successfully within their hardiness zone or zones of natural growth. New Jersey is zones 6 to 7 and Pinellas is zone 9. There are no perfect substitutes for lilacs, but butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii, and all of its varieties will sure turn your nose. It blooms all summer with 8- to 18-inch sprays of flowers in purple, white, lavender, pink and yellow, all very fragrant. Butterflies and other nectar-feeding insects adore the plant. Depending on variety, height is in the 3- to 6-foot range. A downside is nematodes, microscopic roundworms in the soil. They pretty much make the plant an annual, meaning it lasts just one season, but still it's worth it. Plant in a large urn or decorative container to eliminate the nematode problem. Plant amaryllis, Hippeastrum spp., bulbs for beautiful spring flowers and swamp lily, Crinum americanum, one of our perennial bulbs that blooms on and off most of the year. It grows up to 6 feet with large, white lily flowers that are fragrant. How's that for some "transplants"?

Passionflower is host plant for butterflies

Q: I have a healthy passionflower plant with buds, but by the time it opens it looks as if something has taken a bite and the flower is gone. What can I spray on the plant to discourage munching? Caren Evans, Clearwater

A: Thank you for sharing your photo. Caterpillar excrement (frass) is shown at the base of your flower. Passionflowers, Passiflora spp., on which caterpillars feed, are a host plant for numerous butterflies. The primary butterfly is the Gulf fritillary, which looks much like the monarch. The caterpillar is orange with black spines. If the damage is more than you can tolerate, spray with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacterium that kills caterpillars. It is sold under the brand names Thuricide and Dipel. As with all pesticides, follow label directions.

Grapefruit subject to fungus diseases

Q: I have a grapefruit tree that was loaded with fruit this year as it has been for the past several years, but the tree seems to be sick. The leaves have yellowish and white blotches as well as small brown spots. The fruit itself also has this same skin appearance. The fruits are also not as large as they once were. Bill Broun

A: It sounds like greasy spot, which is one of many citrus fungus diseases. Many of these diseases look very similar, and positive identification is difficult. Along with the yellow spots, brown spots under the leaf and skin problems, greasy spot also causes lots of leaf drop at this time of year. Another fungus, melanose, causes yellowing when the leaves are first forming, with small, raised brown to black specks that form on the leaves and fruit, which are rough to the touch. There's very little leaf drop with melanose. The management for both is basic copper sprays. For greasy spot, spray foliage completely in April and rake up and destroy fallen leaves. For melanose, spray in May or June, covering the tree completely. Be sure to follow label directions completely.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at [email protected] or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Passionflower is a host plant for butterflies 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 3:30am]
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