Doug’s mailbag: Christmas cactus, gnats, shredded leaves and more

Posted on: December 21, 2018 | 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 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.)

Christmas cactus

Question 1: Christmas cactus

Lynn: I need more info on a Christmas cactus. They have gotten brown on the edges, and it looks kind of like they dried out or are dying. What should I do? And can they be transplanted? (My windowsills are kind of cold though.)

Doug: It’s pretty easy to grow, but should be treated more like a houseplant than a cactus. I keep mine in the windowsill on the dry side, but not completely dried out. They bloom when they are ready, sometimes becoming Easter or Thanksgiving cacti.

The good news is, they like it a little cold. The first step is to pick up the pot. Is it super light, or heavy? If it’s light, it needs a little water; if heavy, let it dry out. They transplant easily if you want to start over. Get a good planting mix from your local nursery. Get it moist, but not dripping and then make the move to a pot that’s one size bigger than the container it’s in.

Dead is dead, anything that doesn’t look to be alive should be removed from the Christmas cactus.

Question 2: Gnats on plants

Becky: I am still getting gnats in my house, I’m thinking from my potted plants from outside even though I repotted them. I have tried the usual vinegar, sugar, Dawn soap in white dishes around the house, and I used paper cones with this mixture, too. I also am going to try a hydrogen peroxide and water mixture on my plants. I’m at my wit’s end. Can you suggest anything else?

Doug: You need to let the soil dry out. If it’s too wet, the gnats will persist. The fungus gnats will disappear once it dries out.

Question 3: Using shredded leaves

Ruth: Is it beneficial to put shredded leaves in flower beds or could it create a mildew problem?

Doug: Shredded leaves are a great addition to a bed. Just check the pH every few seasons to be sure everything is good.

Question 4: Planting garlic

Robert: Is it still OK to plant garlic and other bulbs?

Doug: As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s still fine to plant both.

Previous mailbags

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Canna lilies, elephant ears, daffodils/garlic and more

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Early garlic, pencil holly, hydrangeas and tree locations

Bellflowers, sweet potato vine, deer/garlic and more

Lemon tree, Knockout roses, soil repair and more

Butterfly weed, tomato seeds, rose bushes and more

Roses, Japanese beetles, planting garlic and more

Artillery fungus, heliotropes, crown gall and more

Skunks, pawpaws and a memorial tree

Mushrooms, harlequin bugs, fall planting and more

Beautyberry, nematodes, tomatoes and more

Pokeweed, bug identification and voles/moles

Caterpillars, mystery flower, onions and more

Seeds, leaf gall, bulb sale and more

Praying mantis, tomato issues, crabgrass and shrubs

Dogwood relocation, tomato issues and garlic soup recipe

Canada thistle, compost, bolting parsley and more

Blossom end rot, bees, butterfly weeds and more

Mystery bugs, lavender plants and watermelons

Strawberry plants, cool-weather crops, pumpkins and more

Tomato issues, zucchini struggles, lilacs and more

Hosta seeds, garlic, Alternaria leaf blight and more

Moving a hydrangea, hibiscus and succulents

Lilies, Brussels sprouts and septoria leaf spot

Garlic harvest, cucumber beetles, spindly tomatoes and more

Bladdernut, fungus gnats, rose black spot and more

Poison ivy, black-eyed Susans and container mix

Cucumber beetles, hot pepper plants and planting potatoes

Zebra grass, pale vegetables and yellow nutsedge

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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.”