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In the Garden

Q: What is the ugly black stuff on the leaves of my camellia? Is there a remedy?

A: If the leaves on your camellia look as if they’re covered with ugly black soot, your plant has what is commonly called sooty mold. This is a fungus that grows on the honeydew exuded by sucking insects feeding on your plant. You can wipe the sooty mold off the plant by using water and a soft brush, but it will come back unless you deal with the underlying cause. A number of sucking insects can create honeydew, but on camellias, the culprit is almost always cottony camellia scale. Look for narrow, white fluffy egg sacs on the backs of leaves. Each sac contains hundreds of eggs waiting to hatch in early summer, releasing tiny crawling scales that will feed for a short period before creating another egg sac. Although camellias seem to be able to withstand a great deal of scale feeding, if left unchecked the combination of sap loss and sooty mold can weaken the plant over time. Camellias thrive on hard pruning, so the best way to treat this pest is to begin by removing heavily infested branches. Then in the first week of July, spray with horticultural oil, making sure to thoroughly cover the undersides of the leaves. That will put the “el kabotsky” on a good number of the crawlers which are highly vulnerable in this stage. There is only one generation per year, so a good spray will go a long way toward keeping your Camellia cottony-scale- and sooty-mold-free.

Q: Please give me some tips for growing Brugmansia in a container.

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A: Brugmansia, commonly known as angel trumpet, is the queen of the tomato family. These South American natives feature huge hanging tubular flowers in a wide variety of colors. In the evening, the blossoms open their nectaries to fill the air with intoxicating fragrance. These beautiful, tropical-looking plants do well in containers and can easily grow to over 6 feet tall and bloom all season long — as long as they receive adequate light, water and nutrition. The container should be at least the size of a whiskey barrel with adequate drainage holes. Locate it in full sun, but not in a blazing hot spot. They are heavy feeders. Feed weekly with a soluble flowering houseplant fertilizer. They’re big drinkers as well. Water any time the foliage begins to wilt, and be prepared to water twice a day in hot weather. Once the weather turns cold, bring your Brugmansia inside and treat it as a huge houseplant, or store it dormant in a cool, dark location such as in an unheated garage. Water your dormant plant just enough to keep the soil barely moist. In spring, move it outside on nice days, bringing it back under cover at night until around Mother’s Day, when it can be left outdoors for the rest of the season. If you host an evening party, put the container on a roller so you can place it where you’ll be entertaining. Budget a little extra for the fete so you can hire a couple of bodyguards. You’ll need them to catch swooning guests after they sniff one of the exquisitely scented flowers.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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