Doug’s mailbag: Native grass, safe cleaners, garlic and more

Posted on: April 26, 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.)

native grass

Question 1: Native grass

Holly: I am wondering if you could suggest native grass seed that is low mow and low maintenance. (No cutting would be fine too.) I am trying to naturalize my garden to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

Doug: Most native grasses aren’t grown to be cut, they are used as full-sized plants. American Meadows has a great collection here.

But there is a trend of converting the lawn using native varieties not normally considered “turf” varieties. Red fescue is a cool season variety, meaning it’s good for our climate and will be green from spring until fall. Plants from the care family called sedges are also being introduced as alternatives to conventional grass seed. Check out this article about native lawn conversion.

Since no cut is an option, look at some images online of the grasses when they are left to grow, they are really beautiful. I see them in public gardens all the time, especially in Europe. I did a garden consult the other day and there was a steep bank covered with a type of grass. My suggestion was to just let it grow as opposed to trying to cut it or changing this huge area into a succulent garden.

Question 2: Safe cleaner

Becky: Can you recommend a good vinyl siding cleaner that won’t harm plants?

Speaking of plants, I should just leave my hydrangeas alone and not trim or prune them at all, correct?

Doug: Simple Green is a great, safe cleaner for siding and other surfaces.

Never touch those hydrangeas until June and then all you want to remove is deadwood. They put buds on right after blooming, so improper pruning will remove those buds and, in turn, next year’s flowers.

Question 3: Garlic

Don: About two weeks ago, I removed the leaves on my garlic, then all the scapes grew about 12 inches tall. I tried to pull them off with no luck so I cut them all down and piled the leaves on them again. Am I OK until July? There are 15 hardneck and 11 music.

Doug: You don’t want to remove all the garlic leaves, they give the bulb energy. They are harvested sparingly. The scapes are always removed, but those don’t appear around here until June. I would leave them be and hope for new growth. Bulbtone would be a good fertilizer to apply, too.

Question 4: Blueberry cuttings

Michael: I have taken blueberry cuttings and put them in Perlite, and the buds are starting to grow. When should I transplant them to a pot with potting mix in it?

Doug: Just gently pull on the cuttings. If they resist, they are ready to be potted up.

Previous mailbags

Yellow seedlings, wild onions, milkweed and more

Tithonia seeds, bulb auger, elephant ears and more

Soil testing, protecting bulbs, fig tree care and more

Peach tree, invisible bugs, lawn bulbs and more

Orange azalea bush, oak tree and more tree questions

Moles, grafting tomato plants, Southern plant and more

Rehoming daylilies, butterfly bush, amaryllis and more

Apple tree lichens, kiwi plant, growing pea sprouts and more

Planting grass, starting tomatoes, zinnias and more

Blackberry bush, garlic sprouts and a gardenia tree

Starting peppers, fungus flies and pear tree pruning

Poison ivy, amaryllis troubles, tomatoes and more

Memorial gardens, orchids and tomato advice

Unknown plants, Christmas cactus and raised bed gardens

Christmas cactus, gnats, shredded leaves and more

Leaf size, no-light plants and grubs

Canna lilies, elephant ears, daffodils/garlic and more

Hibiscus care, tomato seeds, daffodils and succulents

Early garlic, pencil holly, hydrangeas and tree locations

Bellflowers, sweet potato vine, deer/garlic and more

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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.”