Ask the Gardener: Deer issues, starting seeds and grape problems

Posted on: February 15, 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.)

deer issues

Question 1: Deer issues

Lois: I would appreciate your thoughts on a problem I am having with deer eating my arborvitae trees. They are over 20 years old, and I have never had this problem. They eat some of my flowers, love my daylilies (which I have given up on ever seeing a bloom) but now my trees. I actually thought they were dying until I saw the deer feasting. I know there are things I can spray, and a local nursery even told me they have pellets, but I have a dog that I don’t want to find them and eat. My other question is, do you think they will get new growth where I am seeing brown? The tops still look green.

Doug: The only way to keep deer off the shrubs is by using a physical barrier, like deer netting or following the advice of the team at your nursery. The granular repellents won’t be of any interest to your dog, and you could also use a spray like Bobbex (available here). It works!

Question 2: Starting seeds

Maria: I’m starting seeds inside and want to get a grow light. I read different things — regular fluorescent vs. LED grow lights. I’m not sure of best wattage either. It will be for a small amount, about 80 to 100 plants. Any idea of wattage? I found 32, 40 and 80 watt bulbs.

Doug: I’d go with LED, because it’s more energy efficient and will provide the light you need. When I used lights, I’d leave them on for at least 18 hours and often times run them 24-7. I’d go with the highest wattage you can find. The fluorescent I used to use was 40, but brighter is better.

Here’s some interesting information about how much total light is needed, dependent on the size of the growing area.

Question 3: Grape problems

Tom: I have concord grape vines and have never harvested fruit. Two years ago I trimmed them and last year in early summer had a huge crop. By late July they seemed to be turning ripe but they weren’t.  They turned purple, then black and tasted terrible.  What can I do?

Doug: The first issue for the grapes is pruning. Grapes are pruned in late winter, and it’s important that it’s done right. About 90 percent of the old growth is removed. You’ll get more grapes if the vines are pruned annually.

There are two types of pruning: spur and cane. You just need to worry about cane pruning. For cane pruning, look for about four new fruiting canes per vine. Leave about 20 to 30 buds per plant if you’re making wine, with twice as many for table grapes. Leave one or two bud spur canes near the fruiting cane with one or two buds each. These “renewal spurs” will produce the fruiting canes for the following year and thus maintain fruiting close to the trunk. All other cane growth should be pruned off.

The next issue is something called black rot, and it’s a heartbreaker for grape growers, I think even more so for you after finally getting fruit. It’s a fungal issue, but it can be dealt with by applying an organic fungicide like Serenade (available here) to the plant as soon as it leafs out and continually every 21 days or so through the season. The disease is especially bad during wet seasons, like the past three.

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