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Q I was recently sitting outside on my deck and I saw the most unusual insect. I thought it was a small branch or stick that had fallen from the overhead tree, but then it started moving. Upon close inspection it had legs. What in the world is it and are they beneficial or harmful?

A Your description nailed the common name -- it is a walking stick insect. We have several species in Arkansas, and they have a wonderful camouflage, looking just like a small stick. Depending on the species, walking sticks can grow from 1 to 12 inches long, with males usually bigger than the females. All species are vegetarians, but only a few are considered pests. They use their strong mandibles to consume leaves, their primary food. Males have a small pincher attachment at one end, which is used during mating. It is harmless. There is a small spine on the bottom of the leg that can scratch you if you try to pick up the insect. When walking sticks feel threatened, they do one of several things -- they fold up their legs and fall to the base of the plant looking like a dead twig, or they firmly attach themselves to a plant so it is difficult to remove them. If a bird has their leg, they let their leg go -- just detach it. They are one of the few groups of insects that can regenerate lost legs. Some walking sticks give off a foul odor to deter predators. They sometimes sway on a branch trying to mimic a twig blowing in the wind. Enjoy them in the garden, if you can find them.

Q My elephant ears have been exceptionally large and beautiful this year. I have tried keeping the rhizomes through the winter by mulching, but they rotted. Can these be trimmed and dug after frost and stored in a basement until next spring?

A Common varieties of elephant ears are usually hardy in most of Arkansas, but some of the specialty varieties are more tender. Any of them can be lifted and stored for the winter. Dig them up either before a hard freeze or immediately afterward. Let them air dry for a few days in a protected area and then store them in a cardboard box in shredded paper, dried peat moss or perlite. Store in a cool, dry place until spring. For gardeners wanting to leave them in the ground, never apply extra mulch until they have been frozen back. Mulching before the plants go dormant can lead to decay.

Q When is the time to trim azaleas? Mine are several years old, and they are getting too big. I have never cut them back.

A Azaleas should be pruned, if needed, in the spring after they bloom. Even the re-blooming azaleas such as Encore and ReBloom that are blooming again now should only be pruned in the spring after their spring flowering display has ended. Spring-blooming plants are setting or have set their flower buds for next spring now. Any pruning done after mid- to late June will hurt their blooming the following spring.

Q After living on the same farm in Conway for 30 years, I discovered a "new" tree ... or new to me. It has produced a round fruit that looks like muscadines ... the skin is a deep reddish burgundy, thick and somewhat tough. When you squeeze one of the fruits, the inside pops out and the flesh resembles a grape or muscadine and has the same smell. The leaves are rough and have serrated edges, the bark on the tree (which is double trunked) is rough or blistery in appearance. So, if it is a chinaberry, isn't the fruit toxic? But if it's a strawberry tree, then is the fruit edible?

A For proper identification, send in a picture. From the description, I do not think it is a chinaberry. They have compound leaves and the fruits turn yellow at maturity. Chinaberry is toxic and can be invasive. The common name "strawberry tree" could apply to two different plants. One is Arbutus, which produces a tree that can be 30 feet tall or more. It is rarely found in Arkansas, so I doubt this would be your answer, but the fruit is edible. The other plant commonly called strawberry bush is Euonymus americanus, a native shrub that grows to be 4 to 6 feet tall. The fruits are rough and somewhat warty in appearance and turn pink when mature. The five orange seeds pop out when the plant is mature. They are not edible. So none of them sound like your discovery.

Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Write to her at 2301 S. University Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72204 or email her at

Photo by Ron Wolfe
Walkingstick for Janet Carson's In the Garden column of Sept. 8, 2018.

HomeStyle on 09/08/2018

Print Headline: IN THE GARDEN

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