Doug’s mailbag: Larkspur, Chinese lanterns, moss and more

Posted on: April 29, 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: Larkspur

Muffie: My dad always had Larkspur in his gardens. He is gone now, but I want to be sure to keep it going. Is there such a thing as heirloom Larkspur? If so, are there seeds for it, or does one need to purchase plants? I believe there are different varieties of it — my Dad’s had sort of “feathery” leaves and tall stems with uniquely shaped blueish-purple flowers. I would appreciate any advice you can give.

Doug: Larkspur is usually started from seed and almost always direct sowed into the soil in early spring. They like a cool period to help germination. There are lots of different varieties including heirloom cultivars. Here’s a nice mix of heirloom seeds from Renee’s Garden online store.

Poke around online and look at some pictures, I bet you’ll be able to find something that looks like your dad’s flowers.

Question 2: Chinese lanterns

B.A.: My neighbor planted Chinese lanterns not knowing how invasive they are. We have been carefully pulling them out, but they keep growing back. Is there any other way to get rid of them?

Doug: It’s not going to be easy, but the only way to get rid of something like the Chinese lantern plant is continual top cutting. Put it on your weekly list of things to cut to the ground with a string trimmer and eventually you’ll starve the roots. Sometimes though with a plant as aggressive as Chinese lanterns, you might have to put up with them for several seasons, that’s how hard they are to eradicate.

Question 3: Moss

Sue: I am weeding my garden before I plow so that I don’t turn the weeds over and then they double in growth. While weeding I noticed a lot of moss in the garden. Can you please let me know what my soil is lacking that is causing the moss to grow? What can I use to prevent this?

Doug: Whenever we see moss, it’s often a sign of poor fertility or a pH issue. My advice would be get a soil test from your county’s Penn State Cooperative Extension. They are around $10 and will tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the soil in your garden.

Once you have the results, the test will also tell you what to add to the garden. I love the moss in my garden, and it doesn’t bother me as I add compost to the planting beds to keep them growing strong next to the moss.

Question 4: Protecting tulip bulbs

Ernest: Something got into my flower bed and dug up my tulip bulbs. It did not eat any of the bulbs. (Some of the bulbs were just getting ready to begin the blooming process.) Any idea what kind of critter might do this? Most important, can these bulbs still be used this year or later on or should I replace them? I would appreciate your take on this.

Doug: It’s hard to know what it was that pulled up the bulbs, but my guess would be deer. Did the pest eat the flowers? The point is moot though, gently put the bulbs back into the ground and now spray them with a repellent like Bobbex (available here) to keep any critters from attacking them again. Even though it’s labelled for deer, I’ve seen it keep bulbs safe from all sorts of other pests.

Question 5: Mole problems

Dick: Do you have any ideas how to kill the moles that are tunneling all over my front yard? I have a very thick green lawn that I treat five times per year. This past fall and over the winter I started noticing tunnels. I bought pellets that were to be put into the holes but it didn’t seem to work. Now with spring here I need to try something. Any suggestions?

Doug: I have something for you that will work, but it’s a repellent, not something that kills the moles or voles. Mole Scram (you can get it here) is a safe and natural way to get rid of moles, and it really works. The trick is in the way it’s applied. A band of the granular product is sprinkled on the ground. The moles and voles can’t stand the stuff and will move. Now another band is put down, pushing the pests further away. Continue applying until the moles are sent packing.

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Blackberry bush, garlic sprouts and a gardenia tree

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Memorial gardens, orchids and tomato advice

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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.”