Q: Crazy! My wax ivy and vinca vine are blooming! I have never had blossoms on these ivies, but I’ll take what I can get this time of year. — Mary Berg Lass.

A: Thanks for the photos, and yes, flowers are a welcome sight this winter. Plants that are normally considered foliage-fillers for outdoor containers, like vinca vine and wax ivy, sometime surprise us with flowers, although it’s completely normal.

This is a great example of the value of the science of botany. If we research the botanical family of a plant, we can see the expected characteristics shared by plants within the family. Vinca vine (Vinca major) belongs to the botanical family Apocynacea, which are flowering plants. Another member of the family is mandevilla, well-known by gardeners for its beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers. Wax ivy (Senecio macroglossus) belongs to the family Asteraceae, the family that gives us daisies and other familiar flowering plants.

Plants we utilize mainly for their foliage sometimes pleasantly surprise us with flowers. We recognize it as normal, though, if flowering is a family trait.

Q: What’s a good all-around bug control for use on houseplants? — Celine Fetch, Sykeston, N.D.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

A: Common houseplant insects include white cottony mealybugs, aphids (small greenish-white or brown insects clustered along new growth stems), fungus gnats (little black flies) and spider mites (nearly invisible, eventually causing millions of tiny pinprick-sized light discolorations on leaves and webbing when extreme.)

Observation and early control are important, as insect population explosions are difficult. At the earliest signs, treat with insecticidal soap, neem oil or aerosol houseplant insect sprays. Before application, rinse plants if possible with a water spray to reduce insect numbers, then allow to dry before insecticide treatment.

I’ve also had great success with systemic houseplant insecticide granules that are applied to the soil, absorbed by the plant and protect from the inside out as insects suck plant sap.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Fielding Questions columns

Q: We’ve had a lot of quackgrass growing in our asparagus patch in the past years, and it’s growing throughout the plants so tightly that we can’t dig it out without hurting the asparagus. Any ideas? — Bob H., Fergus Falls, Minn.

A: Perennial weeds like quackgrass, thistles and dandelions are a challenge in asparagus because once they’re established, they’ve found a “safe zone,” hiding among the asparagus, free from cultivation and many control measures.

Once quackgrass is growing through the crowns of asparagus, it’s difficult to control without using herbicides, and luckily there are types that specifically control grassy weeds without affecting the surrounding non-grass crop. Two such brands are Bonide’s Grass Beater and Hi-Yield’s Grass Killer. Both list asparagus on their labels, and indicate a one-day waiting period between application and harvest of asparagus spears.

These grass-killing herbicides should be applied to actively growing quackgrass, following label directions, and can safely be sprayed directly over asparagus plants. If you prefer, this can be done after asparagus harvest has ended July 1. Several applications are usually required to kill quackgrass regrowth from its sneaky dormant, latent buds.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.