Q: This plant came up in my herb garden and I let it grow to see what it was. Started with little white flowers, green berries, now brown/black. What is it?
A: You have a healthy-looking specimen of Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum). This is a very common weed found throughout California. It is a not-so-nice member of the Solanum family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. It can harbor pests and diseases that are harmful to these crops.
It also produces compounds that are poisonous to humans and livestock. The plant’s toxicity can vary depending on the subtype and growing conditions, but under no conditions would I consider this plant to be edible. It’s not a plant that you want to keep around, though it should make a nice addition to your compost pile.
Q: Several times a week I find that during the night, some creature has disturbed the mulch/soil in some places along the edge where the garden meets the sidewalk. This last time the animal ruined one or two of my “green carpet” Carissa grandiflora plants that I will need to replace. I have bought some rabbit scram pellets that I will place down along the edge, but am wondering if there is something else I need to do.
A: It is quite likely that you have been visited by a skunk. Skunks like to eat grubs, earthworms and other underground critters, so they will dig up lawns and garden beds in search of a tasty treat. Since you have seen damage occurring more than once a week, it is possible that the striped stinkers have set up residence nearby.
First, you will want to make sure your grass is healthy and not stressed, since these are conditions that invite grub and beetle infestation. Water deeply and infrequently, mow on the highest blade setting, periodically remove thatch, and keep your lawn free of weeds. Use a hand trowel to dig a few small areas and look for grubs, beetles, and other pests.
If the critter is digging in a garden or border bed, make sure your plants are healthy and are not stressed. Overwatering is a frequent cause of plant stress and can produce conditions that are attractive to pests.
If you find grubs, beetles, larvae or other critters, it is important to identify them before treatment since each treatment is specific to only certain pests. There is no “one size fits all” treatment for lawn pests. Consult the UC IPM website at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/ for a list of pesticides that are appropriate for your particular pest.
If the skunks keep returning, consult your local animal control agency for advice.
Since we are on the topic of skunks, I wanted to share this recipe for skunk odor neutralizer:
1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid soap
I like this recipe because it uses ingredients that you probably already have around the house. The traditional tomato juice remedy is only somewhat effective, and not many people have several gallons of it sitting around the house at any given time.
Have gardening questions? Email email@example.com.
Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
firstname.lastname@example.org; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
email@example.com; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
firstname.lastname@example.org; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
mgsanbern@ucanredu; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/