Q: Is agastache, also known as anise hyssop, easy to grow? I saw beautiful bouquets of lavender ones for sale at the farmers market.
A: The variety of agastache you saw was probably Blue Fortune, which is one of the best agastaches for our area. It is easy to grow. Agastache (ag-a-STAK-ee) is not the most euphonious or marketable of names, which is why many people call it anise hyssop. Another name is hummingbird mint.
There are other species and varieties of agastache that we can grow. They are perennials that need full sun and well-drained soil, especially those with gray leaves and that originate in the Western United States. Too much water and humidity occasionally cause rotting with some of those. Hybridizers and nurseries are breeding and selecting for more types that can better withstand our humidity and climate.
Agastaches are a favorite of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The aromatic leaves may be used in herbal teas, and are refreshing to touch and smell on a hot afternoon.
Give Blue Fortune or another agastache a try in your garden. If you don’t grow one yourself, please treat yourself to one of those beautiful bouquets.
Q: Can you identify the green and brown caterpillar I found on my corn? It has spines and a brown circle in the middle of its bright green back.
A: It is a saddleback caterpillar (Sibine stimulea). It turns into a small, brown moth that is known as the saddleback caterpillar moth. As the name suggests, the moth is boring compared to its larval (caterpillar) stage.
The caterpillar looks like a colorful sea slug that washed into your garden from a coral reef. It is short with indistinct legs that make it look and move like a slug, brown at both ends and has a prominent, white-ringed, brown oval “saddle” at the center of its back. Its midsection is like an apple green saddle blanket. Lobes on the front and rear of the caterpillar bear stinging spines. There are also clusters of stinging spines along the sides. Stings can be very painful.
You should not handle a saddleback if you find one. As with many creatures that contain toxins, the saddleback’s distinctive appearance serves as a warning. Saddlebacks feed on a wide variety of plants. They are not numerous enough nor do enough damage to be considered a garden or agricultural pest, however.
Q: When should I prune American beautyberry? I don’t want to prune it at the wrong time and lose the berries. I can’t recall seeing it bloom, but I know it has to have flowers in order to have berries.
A: You have probably never noticed American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) in bloom because its small, pinkish white flowers are almost universally described as “insignificant.” Of course, that means only visually insignificant because, as you have stated, there must be flowers in order for the shrub to have those beautiful, bright purple berries in late summer.
American beautyberry blooms in early summer and it flowers on new growth, so you should prune it (if it needs to be pruned) in late winter or early spring. The shrub looks best with a loose, natural appearance. Prune it to keep it from becoming too tall or leggy. Do not try to prune it into a formal, boxy shape. Also, you may be doing some pruning when you cut branches of those purple berries to use in flower arrangements.
The same pruning advice applies to the Asian species of beautyberries. However, since those species are considered invasive weeds in many areas, stick with the American beautyberry which is native to Georgia and much of the Southeast.
If you have questions about agriculture, horticulture, food safety or services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (email@example.com) or visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s website (www.agr.georgia.gov).