Kinzler: Bigfoot?, lawn weed-and-feed and sweet potato vine
In today's "Fielding Questions" column, a reader asks what is causing this strange mass that kind of looks like the mythical creature.
Q: We have a county ditch across the road from our house and the creature in the photo has shown up over the summer. From our house it looks like Bigfoot. Could you possibly tell us what it is? I did walk over to it today and it’s covered with prickly seed pods with brownish black seeds inside. — Kent & Deb Roesler, Leonard, N.D.
A: The creature is wild cucumber vine, although I’ll admit the mass does resemble Bigfoot. Wild cucumber is a distant relative of our garden cucumber, and it's an annual vine that grows each spring from seeds that were previously shed from the rounded, spiny pods. It's extremely vigorous, easily climbing 30 feet in one growing season.
Being an annual, it’s killed by frost, which is apparently what’s happened to this dried vine. The roots do not survive winter, but it seeds itself readily, as the round pods explode and eject seeds. Once established, it usually continues to emerge each year. Wild cucumber vines are frequently seen on riverbanks, along areas of native trees and throughout lakes country. The vigorous vines can completely cover shrubs, trees and anything else on which it finds support.
What's underneath the dried vines? Did the wild cucumber overtake Bigfoot? Out of curiosity, if you venture to take a peek, let us know what the vines are climbing over.
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Q: I’m wondering if it’s advisable to apply weed-and-feed to the lawn at this time. — Lowell D.
A: Fertilizing in October is a great idea, but weed-and-feed isn't very effective this time of year. The herbicide granules need to cling to the leaves of actively growing weeds for effective kill, and they have no appreciable properties for preventing future weeds.
Although September is a prime time to control weeds, by mid-October most weeds are soon dormant, and the highly effective fall window of application is past.
Weed-and feed products tend to be expensive, compared to fertilizer alone. A better option in October is to apply plain lawn fertilizer. It's more economical, and the herbicide granules don't have much, if any, effect now. Since we’re getting a little late for weed control, spring will be our next window to address weeds.
Q: I would like to save the tubers of sweet potato vine over winter to start new plants next spring. Do I keep them in a cool fridge and then plant in potting soil in spring? I did that a long time ago by just laying the tubers on the soil and they sprout. Am I correct with that method? — Lois B.
A: Ornamental sweet potato vine has become a favorite vining staple in outdoor pots and planters. In several forms, including lime green and deep purple, it’s a great accent in combination with flowering plants. It’s the same species as the edible sweet potato, and the tubers formed by the ornamental vine are edible, even if not very palatable.
I’ve never tried saving the tubers to start new plants, although I know it’s successful. Usually we take cuttings of the plant, which root readily, and keep several plants growing in a sunny winter window. You’ve inspired me to also try the tuber method.
From the sites I've studied about overwintering the tubers, many suggest storing around 50 degrees in a cool, dark spot, if available. The refrigerator could be a little chilly for these warm-season tubers, but it might be better than a spot that's too warm. Some sites suggest storing them in a brown paper bag or in dry peat moss.
In late March or early April, lay the tuber horizontally in a shallow bed of moistened peat or high-peat potting mix in a warm, sunny window, and observe where roots and shoots form. The tuber can then be cut into chunks and potted, with each piece having roots and a shoot.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at email@example.com or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.