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Ask the Master Gardener: Stink bugs are pests but otherwise not harmful

Stink bugs are not reproducing, don’t damage your home and don’t bite but they do stink when you crush them.

A terrarium with stink bugs in it
A terrarium with stink bugs in it.
Contributed
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Dear Master Gardener: I still am finding stink bugs in my house. In fact, there was one crawling in my bed the other night, which I have to say, freaked me out. Why are they still hanging around and how should I get rid of them?

Answer: I still find one every once in a while, and squish about four boxelder bugs per day. The priest on Sunday told us that at the earlier Mass a boxelder bug flew in his mouth and he swallowed it, then joked about the dilemma of having to fast for one hour before communion. Well, at some point last fall these harmless little pests entered our homes (and churches and other buildings) to hang out for the winter and wait for warmer weather. Don’t worry — they are not reproducing, don’t damage your home and don’t bite. Like the Asian lady beetles, the stink bugs do stink when you crush them. The best thing to do is to vacuum them up or squish them and toss them in the garbage. Or, if you are in a bad mood over the negative temperatures, you could always throw them out the door and see how they like the late January Minnesota weather.

Dear Master Gardener: Some of my Sansevieria leaves are bending over. What causes this?

Answer: Usually, it’s caused by overwatering or incorrect lighting. Sansevieria (mother-in-law tongue) is a succulent and stores water in its leaves. It dislikes having wet feet and will get root-rot if overwatered or the soil is poorly drained. Although Sansevieria is considered a low-light houseplant, it does prefer medium to bright, indirect light. Extended absence from bright light or exposure to a lot of direct sunlight may also cause the leaves to fall over.

 Sansevieria plant.
A Sansevieria plant.
Contributed / Jennifer Knutson

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February Gardening Tips

  • By mid to late February days are growing longer and houseplants react by growing more actively. Toward the end of the month, start fertilizing houseplants at half-strength and continue every three to four weeks. Don’t fertilize if the potting soil is bone dry or there is little to no active growth.
  • Roses are still the most popular flower to give for Valentine’s Day. There are some steps you can take to make all cut flowers last longer. Fill the vase with clean, cool water and add the packet of floral preservative that typically comes with the flowers. If there is no packet, add a half-cap of bleach to the water to keep it free from bacteria. Cut each stem (underwater if possible), removing at least 1 inch. It is important not to crush the stem, so use a sharp pruner. Strip away any foliage that would be in the water otherwise, it will contaminate the water in the vase. Change the water every two or three days, making new cuts to the stems.
  • Consider giving your Valentine a Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) rather than cut flowers. The flowers last much longer than cut flowers — several months! They are one of the longest blooming orchid genera. 
  • If you are selecting a flowering potted plant, choose one with a few open blossoms and a lot of healthy-looking buds. To get it home and prevent the buds from falling off, wrap the plant very well to protect it from the cold temperatures and head straight home.
  • Start seeds now for Lisianthus. Mid to late February start seeds for geraniums, pansies/violas, heliotrope, and wax begonias. Onions and leeks can be started mid-month.
  • Plant begonia tubers in a flat of peat moss or vermiculite now for bloom in June.
  • Get gardening tools and equipment ready if you haven’t already. Clean off soil residue, and wipe spades, rakes, tomato cages, pruners, shears, etc. with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol won’t rust your equipment or produce harmful fumes like bleach. Once clean, sharpen blades.
  • Improve your winter landscape by adding plants to your yard next spring. Spruce, pines, and firs are great choices. Ornamental grasses and some tall perennials can also stand up to snow and add winter interest. The bright stem color of red-osier dogwood (Cardinal is a recommended cultivar) also adds interest to a Minnesota winter landscape. 
  • Consider adding a crabapple tree in the spring for winter beauty next year. Crabapples are apple trees with fruits smaller than 2 inches in diameter. If the fruit is larger, it’s an apple. Crabapples that retain their fruit are a colorful delight in the winter. When choosing a crabapple consider the following traits in this order of importance: fruit, form, disease resistance and flower color. You want the variety to retain fruit that is attractive and provides food for birds; fits into your landscape in terms of size; is resistant to apple scab, cedar apple rust, and fireblight; and produces the flower color you want. One variety that meets these criteria is “Prairiefire” (as long as you like purple-red flowers).
  • Read seed catalogs and gardening magazines for new ideas. Good planning now may prevent impulse purchases later. Look for flower and vegetable cultivars with disease-resistance and check that they will mature in our relatively short growing season. Seek out perennials that are hardy to our zone 3b.
  • Have oaks, elms, apples or other trees professionally pruned this month or in March. It’s easier to see a tree’s structure when no leaves are present and the fresh cuts won’t invite a disease or insect problem. No pruning paint is needed! Maples, birch and honey locust are likely to drip lots of sap from wound sites in spring, but they should be fine as long as no more than 25% of their canopy was pruned out. Unless the trees are small and easily accessible, it’s best to hire an experienced professional — they know how to deal with large trees and are insured against accidents.
  • Check on canna lilies, calla lilies, dahlias, gladioli and tuberous begonias you are storing over the winter. It’s not unusual for them to rot in storage, especially if they are kept too warm. Discard any that are soft and mushy.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDENGARDENING
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