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Q&A with Bob Polomski 27

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Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University

Is any part of the canna plant poisonous to cattle? While we were away ours got into my flower bed and ate all of the leaves. I have heard that some part of any plant can be poisonous. —M.J.M., Jacksonville, TX

Answer: Your cattle should be fine, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435; In general, grazing animals find poisonous plants unpalatable and avoid eating them. When animals are starving, they will sometimes eat these plants, and even then they choose plants that contain low levels of toxins and so are not acutely toxic.

Animals differ in their tolerance of poisonous plants. Ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats can eat larger quantities of toxic plants than animals with single stomachs, such as horses, pigs, dogs, cats—and humans. Some animals have enzymes or other mechanisms that allow them to eat certain plants that would have a toxic effect on others. Deer, for example, feed on yew and rhododendron, which are toxic to other browsers. Even among ruminants there are differences. For example, sheep are more tolerant of the alkaloids contained in larkspur than cattle, but cattle have a higher tolerance of lupine alkaloids than do sheep.

This is not to say that animals are not sometimes poisoned. Horses have died from feeding on the foliage of wild cherry, which produces large amounts of cyanogenic glycosides when it is cut and allowed to wilt. Cats have collapsed from kidney failure after eating the leaves of the familiar Easter lily.

When the issue of animal-plant toxicity arises, you can always contact a veterinarian, your local Extension Service office, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. This center, an allied agency of the University of Illinois, is staffed by 25 veterinarians—including 5 board-certified veterinary toxicologists and 10 certified veterinary technicians—24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Finally, not all plants are poisonous, even in part. If that were true, we wouldn't be able to eat both beet roots and their tops!

Last fall my ‘Stella de Oro’ daylilies produced a multitude of seed pods. I picked a few of them, dried them, removed the seeds, and then planted them in small pots. It's been six weeks and only a few plants have emerged. What do I need to do?-G.D., Muncie, IN

Answer: ‘Stella de Oro’ is a continuously blooming, early-flowering miniature daylily introduced in 1975 by Walter Jablonski of Merrillville, Indiana. It bears slightly ruffled, canary-yellow flowers that are two-and-a-half inches wide and have green throats. Like that of other deciduous daylilies, ‘Stella de Oro’ seed should be stratified prior to sowing. (Seed from evergreen daylily cultivars can be sown immediately after harvesting the dry, mature capsules.)

Transplant your seedlings that have already emerged, and put the remaining pot or pots into a plastic bag and put that in the refrigerator for at least six weeks.

After such stratification, move the pots to a warm, well-lit location. At 70°F seeds should germinate over a two- to six-week period. Move them outdoors after the last expected frost in your area. It typically takes two to three years for seed-propagated daylilies to bloom.

Unlike vegetative propagation, seed propagation results in never-before-seen progeny.

I'm having a bad problem with worm castings in my lawn. The turf is turning a lumpy, muddy mess. What can I do?

—P.C., Salem, OR

Answer: Of the more than 200 species of earthworms in North America, the common night crawler (Lumbricus terrestris) is most likely to be causing your problem. They are a dominant species in temperate regions and play a big role in the breakdown of organic matter and the development of soil.

Night crawlers produce deep vertical underground burrows and feed on organic matter mainly on the soil surface. As they excavate their burrows, these worms consume mineral soil and litter. They excrete their fecal matter, or casts, in mounds on the soil surface. Researchers estimate that earthworms carry 20 to 25 tons of soil per acre up to the surface each year.

The casts actually benefit your lawn, because they contain readily available nutrients. The burrowing activity of the night crawlers and their soil mixing also improve the soil's drainage, porosity, aeration, and structure. Finally, earthworms decompose thatch and stimulate microbial activity.

However, extraordinarily high populations of night crawlers can produce so many mounds of soil that grass blades are smothered. On sloped ground, the casts can be carried away in heavy rains. Use a rake to scatter the castings across the lawn. If you have an automatic irrigation system, increase the interval between waterings to allow the top few inches of soil to dry out, forcing the earthworms to tunnel deeper into the soil. Also, mow your lawn at the higher end of its recommended height range to hide the castings. An acidifying fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate, will reduce the soil pH and make it less favorable for night crawlers. However, do not let the pH fall below the 7.0 that is generally needed for the grass to grow well.

I live in Southern California. About six months ago, I planted a fuchsia called ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’. It has grown to be three-and-a-half feet tall with hundreds of beautiful, red, trumpetlike flowers that are much appreciated by hummingbirds. Can you tell me more about this great plant? -J.K., by E-mail

Answer: ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ is a free-flowering heirloom hybrid descended from Fuchsia triphylla, a native of Hispaniola, which was discovered by Father Charles Plumier between 1689 and 1697. Between 1904 and 1906, Carl Bonstedt of Germany created the triphylla hybrids, which also included ‘Traudchen Bonstedt’, ‘Mary’, and ‘Koralle’. ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ is an upright, bushy fuchsia that has velvety-textured, bronze-green leaves and clusters of pointed, salmon-red tubular flowers that emerge from the sides and tips of the shoots.

A well-drained location in dappled shade or morning sun is best, as is a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Irrigate your fuchsia when the soil show signs of drying out. Fertilize with a water soluble liquid fertilizer every two to four weeks. Remove the seed-pods to encourage continued flowering. If necessary, prune back any wayward shoots and pinch out the growing tips from shoots that have at least two sets of leaves. This will keep your fuchsia dense and bushy.

‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ is more tolerant of heat than other fuchsias; however, it is very sensitive to cold temperatures. If frost threatens, cut back the top of your fuchsia to a manageable size, pot it up, and bring it indoors. Store it in a cool 45°-50°F location and water it sparingly. In the spring, trim back any growth to within six inches of the pot and move it outdoors. For more information, visit the American Fuchsia Society Web site, www.american H