Doug’s mailbag: Blackberry bush, garlic sprouts and a gardenia tree

Posted on: February 26, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Gardening 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
  • 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.)


Question 1: Blackberry bush

Andree: Several years ago I planted a blackberry bush in my garden. I had no idea that they spread underneath the ground, and I have shoots coming up as far as 10 feet away. I have tried to eradicate them by covering them with thick newspaper and digging them out. I’ve also created my own natural weed killer with salt, vinegar, and hot sauce. None of this has worked well. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thank you so much. I appreciate any help you can give me.

Doug: Blackberries can be weedy, but that just means more berries!

The best way to deal with them, in my opinion, is to simply cut them down to the ground where you don’t want them. Whenever they sprout, cut again. You’ll eventually win the battle. If you don’t want any of the plant, you’ll have to excavate and dig all the roots out, which would not be fun.

Question 2: Garlic sprouts

Renee: My garlic started to sprout. Should I cover them or do you think they will survive the rest of winter? Last time they did this I built a makeshift greenhouse over them.

Doug: Don’t worry about it. This is common with garlic. I’ve got some sprouted, too. If you were really worried, and it would make you feel better, you wouldn’t hurt them by covering them with a floating row cover. It’s a spun bound translucent fabric light enough that the plants will support the cover. It makes a nice little outdoor greenhouse, but it will accelerate the growth of the greens. I’ve done that before and got my garlic a little earlier in the summer.

Question 3: Gardenia tree

Jola: I wintered my gardenia tree in southern exposure, with minimal leaf drop. I kept it hydrated and now fertilized with additional magnesium. Previously buds did not open and fell off; now it’s full of buds again. Is there any way to encourage blooms? This has been my pride and joy, from a discarded twig to a tree with glorious fragrant blooms.

Doug: They will bloom when ready. Don’t overwater; that can cause them to drop blossoms, but don’t let the plant completely dry out either. Send us a picture when they bloom and tell us about the wonderful fragrance!

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Early garlic, pencil holly, hydrangeas and tree locations

Bellflowers, sweet potato vine, deer/garlic and more

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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.”