iGrow Gardening: What is this weed?

David Graper
SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Q Do you know what this is? (See photo.) It is a vining weed that has an odor when you pick it.

A This is bitter nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). A perennial vine that spreads by underground rhizomes and by seeds. It gets green berries that eventually turn red when ripe. They are considered to be poisonous. It is pretty common in flower beds and among bushes etc. It is probably frozen by now with the cold temps last night but if you can still pull it out that would be good to get what roots you can.

Weed control

Q How late in the fall in Spink County South Dakota can a person spray for weed control — September, October, or later? I am using 2-4D for weed control in lawns. Thank you.

A How late depends on the weather, not just the month of the year. Since you are asking about spraying 2,4-D, then I have to assume you are trying to treat broadleaf perennial weeds in your lawn, like dandelion, thistles, plantain, clover etc. Probably the best time to treat these weeds is a few days after the first frost. in the fall. This is a good time because the weeds are now in the process of translocating their final supply of carbohydrates down to the roots, rhizomes and crown for winter. So, systemic herbicides like 2,4-D get moved down to those storage organs as well, giving better control than at other times during the growing season. Also, we usually have harvested the last of our garden vegetables by then and broadleaf ornamental plants are beginning to drop their leaves by now too, making them less susceptible to drift damage.

Since most of these broadleaf weeds are quite cold tolerant, it takes some very cold weather to actually kill the foliage of these weeds, usually at least down in the lower 20s for a few hours. So, you can still spray later into the fall, after the first freeze. However, it is best to pick a warmer day, at least 40F or better yet 50F, so that the plants are more actively photosynthesizing and translocating carbohydrates when the herbicide is applied. Of course, we still want to avoid spraying on a windy day because we can still damage non-target plants.

Fall, in general, is the best time to spray because it is more effective, as I discussed, there is very little active flower and seed production going on so not as many escapes from seed that germinates later, and the baby weeds, that grew up from earlier seed production, are there and also susceptible to the herbicide. However, some difficult-to-control weeds like clover, creeping jenny and a few others, may need a second application about 3 to 5 weeks after the first one, and perhaps re-treatment again next fall. If the lawn is covered by lots of leaves, then it would be best to try to remove the leaves by raking or using a lawn sweeper before applying the herbicide. Also, allow the lawn and weeds to grow out for at least a week before treatment to have more leaf surface exposed to absorb the herbicide.

Level of salts for irrigation

Q An electro-conductivity meter was used to determine the EC reading of water that we would like to use for irrigating lawn and minnows. The EC reading was 5030. What level is acceptable for watering lawns? I live in Perkins County, S.D. Thank you.

A It is difficult to know the correct answer to your question without knowing one important piece of information … what are the units that this EC meter is providing? An EC meter reads how easily an electrical current can pass between two small sensors, usually spaced 1 cm apart. The base unit is a mho, the opposite of ohm, a unit used to measure resistance to electrical flow. So the number you would get is mhos/cm. However, since this is a pretty large unit, the most common unit used is mmhos/cm. (1000 mhos = 1 mho) Ideally, we would like to see that number between 0.5 and 0.75, but numbers up to 3.0 can be acceptable, as long as other parameters are within limits.

Since the number you report is 5030, if the units are mmhos/cm, a decimal may be missing from the number. Check to make sure the number is not actually 0.5030 or 5.030. If it is the former, the water is fine, if it is the latter, the water is of pretty poor quality and would not likely be useful for irrigation or for use in a minnow pond. It is also possible that the units are not mhos/cm, but some other unit like dS/m = mmhos/cm, dS or ppm dissolved solids. So please check the report or the information that came with the meter to see what the units are supposed to be. Perkins County is known for often having water of poor quality, because of high EC, high sodium adsorpion ratio, high pH and other issues.

New ideas for hanging baskets

Succulents are all the rage. Every time you turn around there is a new idea to bring these plants into one’s landscape and home decorations. That being the case, how about trying to redo that hanging basket in your own house. We all have that one basket in the house that is either dying or just looks a bit raggedy. Why not try a hanging succulent? Using succulents as a hanging basket in the house is a very beautiful attraction. They are eye catching and unique. They are easy to care for and easy to propagate.

The care of succulents indoors is a bit different than if you were planting them outside. First you want to plant it in a container that is breathable. The best container would be a terracotta pot. It has good drainage and allows for air to get to the roots. Glass containers are the worst. There is usually no drainage hole and the plant usually sits in soggy soil. This is detrimental to a succulent.

Secondly, make sure you have a good soil for the succulent. You can buy a cactus mix at many big box stores now. If you want to use the potting soil you have on hand, make sure that there is a quarter inch of particles (sand or tiny rocks) in it which will promote drainage. If you want to mix your own, start with a good quality potting soil, then add poultry grit, usually available at most farm stores. Get the finer grade and mix it about half and half with the potting soil. If you have grit left over, it works great as an alternative to deicing salts to make those icy sidewalks safer to walk on this winter.

Be creative when looking for hanging basket containers. They do not have to be costly, especially if you want to recycle things you might have thrown away. Have an old pair of boots, they can be a cozy place for succulents to grow in, particularly since succulents do not have large, extensive root systems. If you make pottery or know someone that does, then you might be able to get some really creative containers. Remember to include drainage holes in whatever you choose to use.

One other important consideration is weight. Typically, the growing media is quite a bit heavier than the usual types of potting sold in garden centers. If you use a terracotta pot, these are also quite a bit heavier than a plastic pot. And, remember that succulents are usually heavy plants. They usually have thickened leaves and stems that are mostly filled with water. So, a large plant can be quite heavy. Make sure the hanger, and what you hang it on are going to be able to support the weight. You may want to consider placing the pot on a stand which will give you the same effect of a hanging basket but then you do not have to worry about the plant pulling the hook out of the wall or ceiling and making a big mess. The stand is also quite portable, so you can move it around to different parts of the house or room if necessary to get better light exposure or for other reasons.

Indoor succulents need quite a bit of sunlight. They need at least 6 hours of sunlight. The best place is locating the plant near a window that gets sunlight all day. If this isn’t possible, make sure it is in the brightest window or area of the house.

Then there is the watering of an indoor succulent. It is untrue that succulents don’t need water. They do need water, they just prefer it less frequently that many other house plants. The trick to water a succulent is to soak the roots. Then, let the soil dry out. It should stay dry for a couple of days to a few weeks before you water the plant again, depending on the type of succulent. Since we are going into the cool months of the year, it is important to remember that succulents have a dormant period too. The cooler months of the year are a succulent’s dormant time. They will require less water during these months because they are usually not putting on much growth at this time of year. Since these hanging containers should have drainage holes, it might be best to set the plant in a sink to water it so that the excess water can drain out without making a mess.

To get started, you will need to pick which succulent you like. There are a few succulents that you might want to try. These have the trailing quality that you would love when considering using it as a hanging plant.

One of these are the sedums. They are commonly referred to by the name’s Donkey’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) or Burro’s Tail (Sedum burrito). These two are very similar. They have pendant stems that will cascade down the side of a hanging pot. The foliage is short and very light green. They will need medium to high sunlight. The vines can grow up to three feet long. They are great plants for kids because they can easily be propagated by individual leaves.

Ragwort vine (Othonna capensis) is also known as little pickles. It has a very showy, beautiful yellow flowers. It does require sunlight to get the blooms to open. This plant is actually a member of the daisy family. It has trailing stems that can reach several feet in length. This is a perfect plant to be used in a hanging basket.

String of Nickels (Dischidia nummularia) has foliage which will draw anyone’s attention. The leaves are round gray-green. The leaves are flat and will look like you have a string of nickels hanging from your flower pot.

String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii) or perhaps better know by the popular name rosary vine, has stems that are long and pendulous. The leaves are actually shaped like a heart. The upper surface of the leaves are blue-green with some silver. The underside of the leaves is purplish grey. They have quite interesting flowers too, that look a bit like a parachute.

String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) is an easy-care succulent. It has green, fleshy, pea shaped foliage. It will resemble a necklace or baby’s pop’n bead toy. Having this plant cascading from a hanging pot is quite a show stopper.

There are a number of different species of Hoya that make excellent hanging basket plants. These have waxy leaves that may be plain green, reddish, variegated or even crinkled. They also have attractive flowers.

The starfish flower (Stapelia variegata) has very interesting star-shaped flowers that have concentric lines spread throughout the petals. This is a particularly interesting plant because its flowers smell like rotting meat. But don’t let that scare you away from having one of these plants in your collection. You really have to stick your nose right in the flower to smell it. They have interesting succulent stems with very short, soft spines. There are some larger species with flowers that will open to 6 to 8” wide.

These are just a few of the more unique succulents that will do extremely well as a hanging plant. It will add interest and color to your indoor decorations. With succulents being the in-thing these days, you should easily be able to find some of these succulents in big box stores or your local greenhouse. These handing baskets can brighten up your cold winter day.

Bitter nightshade.
Burrow’s tail.
Small handheld EC and pH meter.
Starfish flower plants in bloom.
Succulents in boot.
Succulents in creative container.