Ask the Gardener: Strawberry plants, cool-weather crops, pumpkins and more

Posted on: July 31, 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

• 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.)

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Doug's mailbag strawberryLynn: I have a 4-foot long rectangular planter filled with strawberries. These plants were in a neglected area of my son’s yard for three years, but they did produce some berries. I moved them into a planter after spring fruit this year. They are doing very well, none of them died, they have new leaves and runners … but I want to put them in his vegetable garden as their permanent home.The garden plot is small. He plants garlic, a lot of butternut squash and a few tomato plants. Will these plants work well together come next summer? I know they will be “safer” in the ground over winter, no one will take care of them (like protection from the cold or occasional water) if I have to leave them in those planters. Should I segregate them with some kind of garden edging/fence so they don’t run wild?

Doug: You’ve got a couple of ways to go here. If the containers are big enough, they would probably be OK over the winter as strawberries are tough. All you need to do is figure out a way to give them a little protection. If that can’t happen, then they need to go in the ground. Give them whatever space you can and let them do their thing. They’ll need room to sprawl as the runners become productive as the mother plants slow down with age. All those plants will grow well together.

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Rich: I have tried for several years to start kale and broccoli plants for fall plantings. Each time I have poor germination and the ones that sprout usually die. I follow the same process that I use for starting plants in the spring. Is there a trick to doing this? Thanks for your help.

Doug: Seed starting is no different for fall planting than spring. The main concern is light though. Newly sprouted seedlings need a strong light source, usually artificial. For germination, it’s important that the planting mix stays moist until germination. I cover flats with clear plastic until the seeds sprout.

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Tom: I planted four pumpkin plants this year. When should I see something other than green leaves?

Doug: Seeing any orange flowers at all? They should be flowering by now.

Tom: That’s what I thought, still no blooms. I never had luck with seeds so this year I bought four plants and still no luck.

Doug: They will flower eventually, that’s what they do. Maybe feed them a little liquid organic fertilizer to make them happy.

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Kathie: Just found three horn worms on my tomatoes. Should i continue to look for more? Do they lay eggs on the plants?

Doug: Keep looking for them. Yes, the eggs are laid on the host plant, which in this case is tomato.

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Leslie: Hi Doug … one added question regarding the burning bush. I have one and I trim it often, but can I do a drastic cut in the fall? It’s by my front steps and I hate to make it “ugly” (LOL) at this time since it’s in the front of my home.

Doug: You can trim it any time of the year that you want. It’s the toughest of the tough. Maybe cut it back early in the season before it leafs out and then let it go until it needs another haircut.

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Renee: Any ideas for growing any vegetables at this time of year?

Doug: Sure, it’s a good time to plant cool weather plants like lettuce, radish, arugula, other greens, beets, turnips, Swiss chard and a bunch of others.

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Ginger: What weed and grass killing spray do you suggest? I live in Delray Beach, Fla., and I have grasses and weeds growing in my gardens and under tropical bushes. But I do not want to use Roundup. I have tried some environmentally friendly spray and they did not work.

Doug: OK, take a look at Burnout. It’s natural and as effective as the chemical choice. Apply on a hot sunny day. We don’t have those in Pittsburgh!

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