Issue: June 1, 1996

Africanized bees

Question: With all the news about killer bees in New Mexico I am afraid to go out in my garden. How can I tell if the bees on my flowers are killer bees or not? Is it too dangerous to garden here now?

Answer: First of all, the so called "killer bees" are properly known as Africanized bees. Individually, they are no more dangerous than the common honey bee. Their bad reputation is their more aggressive defense of the hive when disturbed. Unless you have an Africanized bee colony in your garden or a swarm is migrating through your garden, gardening is as safe as ever. Remember that even the common European honeybee can be dangerous if you are allergic or disturb a swarm and are stung numerous times.

You can recognize a bee swarm as a large, basketball-sized, mass of bees on the branches of a tree or shrub. Both the Africanized bees and normal honey bees swarm as they look for a place to start a new hive. In any case, avoid approaching or disturbing the swarm. Some beekeepers, with appropriate safety clothing, may be interested in collecting the swarm for their hive farm. After collecting the swarm, they can have samples of the bees inspected to determine if they are Africanized or just regular honeybees.

You can learn more about Africanized Honey Bees at the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences ' Africanized Honey Bee Alert web page.

Ficus leaf drop

Question: Every fall my Ficus benjamina drops its leaves. What am I doing wrong and what can I do to stop it?

Answer: Ficus benjamina is one of those plants sensitive to a change in environment. If you kept it outdoors for the summer and brought it inside for the winter, it could drop many old leaves and replace them with new leaves. If you just moved it from on location to another indoors (sometimes only a few feet is sufficient), it can drop its leaves. As the weather cools and the heating system is used, the drier air from the heater can cause leaf drop. And of course, insect attack, root rot, or salt build-up in the potting soil can cause problems. But since you described the problem as recurring each year, your problem is just the plant's response to environmental changes.

What can you do? Minimize the change if possible. As the heater dries the air, you must attempt to re-humidify it. That may just involve putting many other houseplants near the Ficus. Try to be sure your plant is not over- or under-watered. Re-pot when the tree is pot-bound, and expect some of the leaves to drop anyway. As long as it responds with healthy new growth that persists, your Ficus is probably healthy and much less worried than you.

Winter window garden

Question: What are good plants for a windowsill garden?

Answer: There are many plants that do well on windowsills. Herbs are a good plant for the window garden. They can be attractive, fragrant when brushed, and useful in cooking. Some even have attractive flowers. Chives, bunching onions, basil, marjoram, oregano, cilantro and many other herbs are good choices.

There is no shortage of flowering plants for the windowsill. African violets, geraniums (especially the scented geraniums), begonias, impatiens, and even some orchids do well on the windowsill.

Vegetables are somewhat more difficult to grow in the window, but recently nurseries have begun offering miniature vegetables for the window gardener. There are mini-tomatoes and eggplants which will produce edible fruit and are also attractive. Miniature lettuces and carrots may also be grown in the window.

Check your local nursery and favorite gardening catalogs to find the plants that you will most enjoy growing.