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Winter creeper isn’t a keeper

What to do this week Old Christmas greens can be spread around the perennial garden as mulch to help keep the ground from thawing prematurely during warm spells. This is also a good time to prune evergreens and use the cut branches as winter mulch. They should keep their needles until spring, Then you just remove the branches but leave the fallen needles on the garden as part of the permanent mulch.

Q. I am in a new house and found this lovely vine that flowers with berries. I think it’s so outstanding because most everything around it is brown or dying. Can you identify it? (pictured at right) - K.H., Duxbury

K.H., Duxbury

A. You wouldn’t think that garden writing would be a profession rife with ethical quandaries, but it often is, especially these days when our relationship with nature is so fraught with unexpected repercussions. This vine is a typical example. It’s beautiful, but it’s also invasive. I should tell you to get rid of it, and yet I let it clamber up my own crabapple tree (which it seems to be slowly killing. . . . Every year the vine gets bigger and the tree gets sicker.) Why have I let it stay? Because it provides evergreen shelter for birds waiting their turn at the feeder. I know I should kill it before those same little birdies spread the seeds to nearby conservation land, but I just haven’t gotten around to it because it’s the only vine I know of, except some kinds of ivy, that stays evergreen through our cold winter. The plant is called winter creeper and is also known as climbing euonymus. The scientific name is Euonymus fortunei , and like many invasives, including its ubiquitous relative, burning bush, it was introduced from China as an ornamental and has been running rampantly through woodlands ever since. As a dense ground cover, it will spread over anything in its way, an unstoppable force. When it reaches something it can climb, it transforms into a vine, just like magic. Happy and fulfilled, that’s when it begins producing pretty pink encapsulated seeds that remind me of Oriental bittersweet , another bad character. The Nature Conservancy suggests that you and I both cut down our winter creeper vines to ground level, allow them to re-sprout, and then spray the new foliage with an herbicide. So let’s do it! . . . You go first.

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Q. I have a plant in my home that is growing nicely; however, there are what looks like water droplets that are sticky on the leaves. Can you tell me what they are and how to get rid of them? Would bleach and water help? R.L., Braintree

R.L., Braintree

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A. It sounds like your leaves are dotted with honeydew from tiny aphids, mealybugs, soft scales, or whiteflies. One of these is sucking the sap from your plant and excreting the excess as sticky sweet honeydew. They usually feed in clusters on new buds and shoots, or the undersides of leaves near the stem and also in tender plant crotches. You could try rubbing the plant with cotton balls soaked in one part rubbing alcohol (not bleach) to eight parts water with a squirt of soap once a week.

You could also spray the plant with warm water in the sink to try to wash pests down the drain. Most flush off easily. If your plant is large, put it in the shower after placing the pot in a plastic bag so you don’t wash soil down the drain. Then treat the plant with insecticidal soap, neem, or another natural insecticide labeled for indoor use for these pests, following package directions. You may have to do this more than once.

Honeydew can serve to attract ants who “milk” the pests for more of the sweet, sticky substance and, in return, carry pests that can’t walk to new feeding areas — perhaps your other houseplants.

This is the ant version of dairy farming, and admirably industrious if you are a student of invertebrates. The amount of actual damage to your plant depends on which type of pest you have, but all of them multiply if unchecked.

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Also, the honeydew itself can drip onto walls and floors. And, as I said before, it attracts those industrious ants.

Please send your garden questions to Carol Stocker at carolstocker@gmail.com. Please include your town and your name or initials.