Ask The Gardener: Crape myrtles, growing garlic, fertilizer and more

Posted on: August 18, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

There are three ways to send in your questions:

  • Email askdoug@535mediallc.com
  • Submit your question on our “Your Garden” section of our site
  • Send us a message on Facebook.

(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

crape myrtles

Question 1: Crape myrtles

Donna: In June of 2016, I purchased two different types of Crape Myrtle shrubs: A Dynamite Crape Myrtle of Monrovia from Trax Farm (zones 6-10 and should get 15 to 20 feet tall) and Black Diamond Crape Myrtles from Lowe’s (Zone 6 & should get 10 feet tall). The year we planted them is the only time they showed their blooms (so you can see what color the flowers are when purchasing them). Ever since then, the plants have never bloomed and they only got around three feet tall.

I have fed them in April with Miracle Gro All-Purpose Plant Food. (I was told this helps the plant). In May, I fed with Bloom Builder (I was told this for the flower). Our ground is not the best, clay and shell, but I did remove as much clay and replaced with better dirt. I’m not sure what to use to get the plants to bloom.

Doug: Crape myrtles are always tricky in our area. Some years if there’s a mild winter, they will not be killed to the ground. When that happens, there’s a better chance of the plants blooming. It’s very dependent on the weather. It’s also important that they are in full sun for the best flowering.

Here’s what I would do to help them along:

Mulch with good compost to improve the soil over time. Triple phosphate fertilizer from Espoma in the spring would help, and then you can continue fertilizing with the other products, although I think you would be better off with organic choices as they don’t include the salts that are in the chemical versions. I would also consider surrounding the plant with burlap over the winter to help protect the plant from the harsh conditions.

When crape myrtles bloom in our area, it’s a reason to celebrate. When they don’t, that’s just the way it goes.

Question 2: Growing garlic

Bill: I am a resident at a senior community called Longwood at Oakmont. A resident gave me three cloves of garlic which she grew this year. Name unknown. I wish to plant them but don’t think I can keep them healthy until normal planting time of mid-October. Can I plant them in my raised bed now and harvest them before a freeze or should I try to keep them until October?

Doug: That’s one of my favorite gardens. I did a story several years back. As long as that tough papery sheath is protecting the cloves, they will last into October. If it was me though, and I was worried about it (like you), I would get them in the ground during a cool spell in September. They might sprout, but don’t worry about that. Let them do their thing on their own. Winter will take care of the above ground greens.

If you don’t think they are going to last that long, put them in the ground. I have a friend that plants them right after July harvest without a problem. Hope that helps, and keep up the good work at that garden.

Question 3: When to stop fertilizing

Mark: I’ve been fertilizing my perennial garden about once a month with a fish based 2-3-1 fertilizer. When should I stop fertilizing for the season?

Doug: I bet those plants are loving that stuff. I’d give them one more feeding and then call it quits for the year. I don’t like to fertilize too late into the season, just in case the plants might put on new growth that doesn’t have time to harden off. That’s more true with shrubs, but that’s just the way I do it.

If we don’t get rain as the season winds down, make sure you give those perennials water.

Question 4: Salvaging tomatoes

Valerie: I have a quick tomato question. I had a large branch, loaded with green tomatoes fall off of a plant. Is there a way I can ripen the tomatoes so they don’t go to waste? The cultivar is Minibell, so they are small cherry-sized tomatoes. I look forward to your advice!

Doug: I would put those tomatoes in a bag with an apple. The apple produces ethylene gas that will hopefully help them ripen. If they have not begun the process of ripening though, they will remain green. Give it a shot and see what happens.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”