Plant/Flower ID

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By David Graper

SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Q Hope I am not ‘bugging’ you too much, but I would like to find out what these flowers (weeds) are. There is a huge field of them growing on Highway 81 south of the junction at Hwy 14 south of Arlington. It is a public hunting area – and just beautiful and gold with these flowers. I know they are weeds, but I am wondering if I would be crazy to get some started in my yard? I’ve tried to identify them, and the closest thing I’ve seen that looks like them is in my “Weeds of the Great Plains” book by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. On page 90 is a picture of Asteraceae – or Nodding beggarticks. The foliage looks the same, but the flowers are not in clumps like they are on these! And if they are actually these ‘beggarticks’ and have those stickers, I probably wouldn’t want them!

A I believe that what you are seeing is Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), a hardy native plant. We have quite a few here at McCrory and they are really showy later in the summer and into the fall. They do spread a bit, both by rhizomes under the ground and by seed, so you will want to keep an eye on them. Since they get so tall, planting them where they get a little support or some shelter from high winds will help keep them upright. They prefer to be grown in full sun. If you want to grow some in your yard, you can certainly use some of the ones you saw, with permission of course, but you might want to consider getting one of the newer, improved cultivars that are less likely to spread and do not get quite as tall.

Q Can you help me ID this plant? Thanks! (See photo.)

A This is likely prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata). It could also be spotted spurge, but it really doesn’t matter, they are essentially the same plant except spotted spurge has slightly larger leaves, grows taller with a spot in the center and prostrate spurge has smaller leaves that are somewhat hairy and grows closer to the ground. These are both annual, warm season weeds that germinate in early summer. They are common in bare, compacted soils, in sidewalk cracks and also as a garden weed. The plants are very heat and drought tolerant. They develop a shallow tap root, so in open soils, they are fairly easy to pull out, or they can be hoed out when young. They do produce quite a bit of seed so once you get them, they tend to grow back there year after year, unless the soil is covered by other vegetation or a mulch.

Re-blooming Tree Peony

Q I had something unusual happen and would like to know what would have caused it orif it has happened before.I have had a tree peony for years, which faithfully blooms every spring with other peonies.This year it re-bloomed again in September. Only a couple of blossoms.Has this happened before to other people?

A Each year we get a few questions similar to this but the plant species might be somewhat different. In woody plants’ buds are generally formed during late summer. Typically, they remain dormant until they have gone through a period of chilling, overwintering in other words. This chilling allows the plant to break down developmental inhibitors within the buds. Occasionally, often under unusual weather conditions, a few buds may begin to reinitiate development and bloom in the fall. I think that is what happened in your case with the tree peony. It is quite common in apples and other trees to see just a few flowers open up at this time of year and is nothing to worry about. I have to admit though that this is the first time I have heard this happen with a tree peony. But then there are not that many people that grow these plants in our area.

Replanting baby cactus

Q I bought my cactus over the weekend and I heard that most of the soil’s nutrients are gone when first purchased so I changed the soil. However, the top of the spikes are going brown and I think it got cut because there’s green sap coming from a tiny crevice on the side. I don’t know what to do or what type it is so I can’t find much help. Also, it’s really cold where I live so I’m not sure about watering it and all. Is there anything I can do in this situation? And, is my plant okay or is it dying?

A This appears to be a type of small barrel cactus but I am not sure of the exact species. Generally speaking, cacti grow in soils that do not have very many nutrients because they are often quite sandy or gravely and simply cannot hold onto very many nutrients like a typical potting soil can. It appears that you repotted it using a typical potting soil meant for regular houseplants. That is probably not the best idea because it will tend to hold too much water and not have enough aeration for cacti roots. Some garden centers and big box stores have cactus potting soils available already mixed up. Or, you can use regular potting soil but amend it to about 30:70 potting soil and potting soil and coarse sand, fine poultry grit or just perlite. The spines of some cacti do turn brown but it may be a sign of overwatering – the potting soil does appear pretty wet in the picture. I would not worry too much about the crevice, just let it alone and it should heal. Keep you cactus on the dry side, particularly during the winter months. Keep it in full sun if possible and only mist it occasionally during the winter then when it warms up and we have longer days you can water it more frequently. You mention it really cold. I expect that this will have to be a houseplant for most people unless you live down in the desert southwest.

Volunteer Violets

Q My yard is being overrun with what I am told are volunteer violets. Is there any herbicide I can use that will kill them and not kill my grass? Also, is it too late in the year to use it now? Thanks.

A Wild violets (Viola pratincola) are a common weed in many home lawns, especially if the grass is not growing vigorously as is often the case in shady sites or if the lawn has not been fertilized recently. Management needs to include several factors. First of all, the grass needs to become more vigorous to better compete with the violets. Apply fertilizer to the lawn, especially in the fall, at a rate of 1 lb. of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. Make an additional application in mid-spring. Raise the mowing height to at least 2 1/2 to 3”. If the lawn grass is thin, consider over-seeding in the fall or early spring to help get more grass plants established. If the lawn is in a shady location, be sure to use a mixture of grass seed that is meant to be used in shady locations. It should contain some fine-leaf fescues like chewings, sheep or creeping red fescue. Finally make a treatment with a three-way combination broadleaf herbicide. It is not too late to spray this fall. In fact, now is the best time to treat difficult broadleaf weeds. It is also safer for the non-target plants in your landscape, like your trees and shrubs, since they are shutting down for the year as they lose their leaves. Make a second application about three weeks later.

Creeping jenny garden

Q What is the best way to control creeding jenny this fall with herbicide (Roundup)? Can the ground that was sprayed for creeping jenny be used next spring to plant tomatoes and potatoes?

A Creeping Jenny is a stubborn weed! Roundup will certainly work but it is recommended that you apply 2 treatments a week or two apart. Now is a great time to tackle broadleaf weeds as they are sending nutrients down to the roots in preparation for winter – and its Creeping Jennys roots that makes it so difficult to control. Roundup bonds with soil so it will not impact your spring plantings if sprayed in the fall. Other recommendations are to cover Jenny with landscape fabric or thick mulch. For more information see

Creeping jenny infestation. iGrow photo
Maximilian sunflower. iGrow photo
Dandelions are generally quite easy to control with a fall herbicide treatment to the lawn. iGrow photo
Prostate spurge. iGrow photo
Prostrate spurge. iGrow photo
Tree peony in bloom. iGrow photo