Plant Advertisements: Fact versus Fiction

Every spring, advertisements appear in newspaper and magazines extolling the virtues of plant material and garden products. Some of the advertisements are clearly fraudulent. Their claims are too unbelievable. The truthfulness of other advertisements is more difficult to determine. To help the home gardener, the claims of several advertisements appearing in newspapers, magazines, and catalogs along with important factual information are presented below.

Mosquito Plant
Advertisement: Here's mosquito repellent that works without nasty chemical odors, dangerous electrical currents or greasy lotions. The Mosquito Plant is the first of its kind in the world. Used indoors or out, the Mosquito Plant emits a delightful fragrance that keeps mosquitoes away. One plant protects a 10-foot radius.

Fact: The Mosquito Plant, also sold as Mosquito Shoo, is a species of Pelargonium (geranium). It along with lemon grass and lemon thyme do contain citronella oil. Citronella oil is used in mosquito-repelling candles. However, no plant will repel mosquitoes just growing in a pot or in the garden. Plants release significant amounts of their repellent oils only when their leaves are crushed. According to Dr. Arthur Tucker, plant fragrant specialist at Delaware State College, the best way to use the citronella oil containing plants would be to rub crushed leaves on your skin. Be sure to "test" yourself for any allergy to these leaves by repeatedly rubbing a small amount of material on your inner forearm for a day or so. If there is no irritating skin reaction, its safe to use the plants.

Canada Green
Advertisement: Amazing grass seed mixture guarantees you a lush, green lawn quickly and easily! Guaranteed to grow green, hardy and spread fast in just days in any climate. Developed in Canada where temperatures range from 20 F below to 100 F . Guaranteed to choke out crabgrass and unsightly weeds.

Fact: Canada Green is a poor quality grass seed mix that contains annual rye, Kentucky bluegrass, and red fescue. Annual ryegrass is a quick germinating, cool-season, annual grass. Use of annual ryegrass in seed mixtures is discouraged because its aggressive growth prevents the establishment of the more desirable perennial turfgrasses. Home gardeners can buy good quality turfgrass seed mixes at their local garden center for about half the cost of Canada Green.

Advertisement: Your zoysiagrass lawn saves you time, work, and money! Zoysiagrass is the low cost answer for hard-to-cover spots, play-worn areas, or to end erosion on slopes. Thrives from part shade to full sun. Zoysiagrass lawns grow so thick and deep-rooted, the grass simply stops crabgrass and weeds from germinating. Also, resists insects and diseases. Mow your lawn once a month -- or less.

Fact: Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica) is a medium-textured, slow-growing, warm-season grass. When managed properly, zoysiagrass will form an attractive lawn. Problems, such as excessive thatch, may develop if zoysia is managed poorly. Some of its growth characteristics may also be objectionable. Zoysiagrass is established vegetatively from plugs, stolons, or sod. Due to its slow growth rate, it may take two or more years to form a dense turf.

Zoysia grows best in well-drained, slightly acid soils. It does not tolerate poorly-drained soils. In alkaline soils, the color of zoysiagrass may be a chlorotic yellow. Zoysia performs best in full sun. However, it will tolerate light to moderate shade. The turf will be thinner in the shady areas.

Zoysiagrass possesses excellent heat and drought tolerance. Also, a thick, well-established zoysia lawn provides few opportunities for weeds. Cool-season annual weeds, such as henbit, may be the biggest problem.

A heavy-duty lawnmower and a sharp blade are necessary when mowing zoysiagrass because of its tough, dense foliage. Zoysia should be mowed at a height of 1 to 1 1/2 inches. During the period of active growth (June to September), it will usually be necessary to mow on a weekly basis.

One characteristic that many home gardeners find objectionable is that zoysia is slow to green up in the spring (typically mid to late May) and turns dormant with the first frost in the fall. In Iowa, zoysiagrass is dormant 8 months a year. The color of the turf during the dormant period is straw or pale yellow brown.

Another potential concern is its spreading habit. Zoysia may spread into flower beds, vegetable gardens, and into adjacent lawns.


Advertisement: The Austree is a tree for all reasons. Hardy and disease resistant from Alaska to Florida. Austrees are not susceptible to most insects. Austrees are very fast growing trees. Many people experience up to 15 feet of growth the first year. Austrees have a life expectancy in excess of 50 years depending on the growing conditions and the planting site.
Fact: The Austree is a hybrid willow. Its parents are the corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana) and white willow (Salix alba).

Austrees planted in 1990 by the Department of Forestry at Iowa State University have grown rapidly, especially those in moist sites. Growth has been slower on drier sites, but is still averaging 12 to 20 feet tall after 4 years. The major concerns about Austrees are potential disease and insect problems. Both corkscrew and white willows are susceptible to canker diseases. In 1995, the Plant Disease Clinic at Iowa State did receive several Austree samples with stem cankers.

Because of potential disease and insect problems, the staff in Forestry Extension recommends that Austrees be planted with caution. Their best use would be as a component in a tree planting, for example as a row in a windbreak. They are suitable for quick, temporary screens, but should be planted along with longer-lived, more permanent trees and shrubs. Austrees grow best in moist sites.

Other examples include the tree tomato (tamarillo), the amazing tomato-potato, and "Quicklawn." Home gardeners should use common sense when scanning these and similar advertisements. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This article originally appeared in the March 15, 1996 issue, pp. , 1996 issue, pp. 28-29.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on March 15, 1996. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.