Q: This plant showed up in my flower bed. I have no idea where it came from. Do you know what it is? It is growing too close to the house, so if it is desirable, can it be easily moved?
Judy James, Newcastle
A: According to UC Master Gardener Martha Moon, the plant that showed up in your flower bed is pokeweed, a native plant of the genus Phytolacca, which contains 25 different species.
It is also known as pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot or poke sallet.
This plant has historically been used for folk medicine and food but is considered toxic unless prepared properly. It is mostly a weed.
Birds eat the berries and are not harmed by them. (Birds probably brought this plant's seed to your yard.)
If you want to keep it, do consider moving it farther from the house since it may grow to be a large bush (up to 9 feet high).
If you decide to remove it, cutting well below the root crown inhibits regrowth.
Q: I didn't prune my hydrangeas when I should have. If I cut them back now, will I lose my flowers?
Janie Muhlig, Elk Grove
A: According to UC Master Gardener Bill Pierce, hydrangeas can be pruned as soon as the flowers fade or in the winter when they are out of leaf.
The important point to remember is that they bloom on the growth that grew the prior season. Thus, cut only the stems that flowered.
"Personally, I prefer to leave the dead flowers on the plants until January because it is easier to see what you are doing when there are no leaves in your way," Pierce said.
Cut the flowered stems, either in summer or winter pruning, just above a green bud; either high or low on the stem depending upon what size you want the plant to be.
With winter pruning, it is a good time to completely take out a few old stems on each plant so you gradually renew the plant. A rule of thumb is to remove one-third of the old stems each year.
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.
Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to email@example.com. Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address.