Question: We just moved into our house, and want to remove a large “century plant” that was planted by the former homeowner. It is very large, a hazard, and needs to be taken out. How should I proceed?
Answer: Agaves are native plants of North America, and are growing in popularity because they require no water once mature. (One agave is very popular with many non-gardeners, too. It was first grown in the Mexican town that bears the name of the famous drink it provides, Tequila.)
Century plants are so called because they are supposed to live a hundred years, then bloom and die. In fact, they may bloom more frequently, and also can produce new plants by vegetative offsets from the older plant.
Remove a live century plant (Agave americana) very carefully, with preparation and precautions. Protect against the serrated leaves that end in very sharp spines; wear protective clothing, including eyewear and gloves. Avoid skin contact with the milky sap that can cause burning and itching as long as a year after exposure. Resist the impulse to try a mechanical device (for example, a chainsaw) that can splash the sap on you and others.
Carefully trim off the sharp outer leaves with hedge trimmers or large pruners until you expose the base of the plant. Using pruners or an ax, cut the main stem. Remove the remainder of the stump to a safe area. Chop the plant into smaller pieces and put into the compost pile or put with yard waste removal after sealing it in bags.
To make sure a century plant does not come back, remove as much of the taproot as possible. After removing the leaves and stem, dig two to three feet down around the taproot. Use the ax or pruners to sever the taproot as far down as you can dig and remove it.
Sunset Western Garden Book says of Agave americana, “be sure you really want one before planting it.” Consider alternative architectural plants that will grow to a more manageable size and not create hazards in your yard. Removing mature plants is hard work and often very difficult. A little homework can save a lot of grief later on.
Question: Usually my summer squash are so prolific, but this year they aren’t doing so well. I have noticed small beetles, only a fourth inch long, that have pretty green stripes. Are these a problem?
Answer: The cucumber beetle (there are both striped and spotted versions) is a common insect that can be found feeding on a number of plants in the home garden — especially cucumbers and melons. The insects live about 8 weeks, and both the larva and adult form feed on plants. They also carry and spread the bacterial wilt organism and cucumber mosaic virus.
Eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves. Eradication of this pest is difficult but you should remove and crush any cucumber beetles you see. At the end of the growing season, be sure to clean up dead plant litter to prevent these insects from overwintering in your garden.
The next time you plant cucumbers or any of their relatives, try a trick from the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/VEGES/PESTS/cucumberbeet.html. Cover the emerging seedlings with floating row cover or ordinary cloth until the plants have several sets of mature leaves. At this point, the plants can withstand some damage from chewing insects.
Come see us to get answers to your gardening questions! Master Gardeners staff the Farmers Markets in Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland. On Aug. 9, they will assist with the seventh annual Woodland Tomato Festival from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Freeman Park on Main Street.
— Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail to 530-666-8737, or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information because any questions not answered in the Garden Doctor column will be answered with a phone call or email to you.
You can request the Yolo Gardener newsletter, delivered by email, and learn more about the Master Gardener program in Yolo County at http://ucanr.edu/sites/YCMG.