Ask the Gardener: Crocuses, dormant oil and Bermuda grass

Posted on: March 9, 2020 | 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.

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


Snow crocuses blooming for Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster

Question 1: Crocuses not blooming

Kathy: Why haven’t my crocuses bloomed?They usually bloom very early, especially the yellow ones, but nothing yet and no signs of buds. They have been in the ground at least 30 years.

Doug: I’ve only had snow crocuses bloom, and I’m still waiting for the main crop. I’ve seen some up, but not the bulk of them. I bet you will see them in the next week or so.

Question 2: Dormant oil

Patty: In reading the fine print on my dormant oil spray, it’s not safe for bees when they are actively visiting the treatment area. Not sure when our bees will come out since this is our first over-wintering of our bees. Do you know of a dormant oil spray that is safe for bees?

Doug: First off, good for you carefully reading the warnings and directions on the dormant oil. It’s always important to note, that even though a treatment is certified organic, there still can be hazards. Dormant oil is sprayed on things like fruit trees and other plants early in the season to suffocate insects that have overwintered on the plant.

The key to using the horticultural oil, when there are concerns for the bees, is to apply when it’s too cold for the bees to fly. Once the oil is dry on the bark, it doesn’t pose a threat to the bees. A calm morning around 40-50 degrees would be perfect.

Question 3: Bermuda grass

Susan: I bought a new house six years ago and didn’t realize there was a patch of Bermuda grass in the front yard. It has spread. How can I get the Bermuda grass out of the front yard?

Doug: It’s not going to be easy, but here are a couple of organic methods.

  • If the patch is small enough, it can be dug out. Just be sure to get down to the roots. You don’t want to break off any of those invasive rhizomes, you want to get under them. Personally, I think that’s very difficult.
  • You could cover the patch with 7-10 layers of newspaper and then mulch, which will kill the grass. Then in the early fall you could replant some grass seed. This would be the way I’d prefer to deal with the grass.
  • You could also spot treat the Bermuda grass with an organic herbicide like BurnOut.

Question 4: Growing garlic

Jean: So I have never grown garlic. I have some bulbs, given to me last fall by a friend. The ones not eaten, stored in a brown paper bag, have sprouts. I stuck one clove in a bit of water and it has a couple 3 inch sprouts. What next? Into the ground? Do I separate the cloves from the heads and plant them?

Doug: Sounds like you’re in pretty good shape. The only downside to this is that the soil is not ready to be worked. Here’s what I would do. I’d buy a $5-7 bag of compost and spread it out over a garden bed. Take the heads you have and gently separate them. Push each clove into the soil, down a couple of inches and six inches apart. Then I would mulch with a one-inch layer of mulch. I have the best luck planting garlic in the fall, but spring will work. Let the cloves spout and leave them be until they send up a seed head called a scape. Remove the scape to force the plant into concentrating on making big bulbs. When half of the foliage has turned brown, pull the bulbs and hang them in a warm dry place for three weeks. They will last the longest over the winter if the stems are left on. Good luck!

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