Doug’s mailbag: Peach tree, invisible bugs, lawn bulbs and more

Posted on: April 9, 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: Peach tree + shady area

Hilary: We have an area of our garden where we’re planning to plant a peach tree. I’d like a peach for the fruit (eating, canning, freezing), and I like the foliage. My mom has a Red Haven peach that produces every year. I’d be curious about other varieties, as well. Also, a preferred place to purchase the tree?

My other question involves shaded areas. I would love to put in a lilac, but both areas I’d like for one seem to be too shaded. However, both areas would benefit from something tall like a lilac. I am hoping for something tall and flowering. Any suggestions for this?

Doug: The peach tree would prefer sun. If you get at least six hours of sun, you should be able to get away with it. I would recommend getting a couple varieties for pollination. Even though they are self-pollinating, having another variety within 50 feet will help fruit set. Take a look at the website for Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchard, which has lots of good info about fruit trees.

Forget the lilac unless you have full sun. There are lots of shade lovers you could put in. For your tall flowering shade plant, here are a couple of ideas. Big rhododendrons, native dogwoods, Japanese pieris (slow growing), redbud and serviceberry. Take a look at them and see what you think.

Question 2: Invisible bugs

Dave: I have a problem with insects in my garden on an annual basis. Plants that are particularly hard hit are eggplant and kale. Something eats the leaves, starting with small holes and progressing until the eggplant leaves are left with nothing more than the veins left before they drop. The problem is, I have examined the plants in the early morning, daytime and late evening and have not seen any insects. Do you have any idea what I am dealing with?

Doug: Welcome to the world of the flea beetle. Their favorite food is eggplant. If the kale has the same exact damage, then it’s flea beetles, but cabbage worms love kale, too. Their damage looks different though and you would see the worms themselves.

Here are your organic options:

  • Floating row covers are my favorite control. The spun-bound translucent fabric is used to cover seedlings and then removed later in the season to allow pollination. The plants are big enough then to tolerate the beetle.
  • Remove garden trash and plow or turn under under weeds to reduce overwintering sites.
  • Yellow sticky traps placed around the garden will catch the adults.
  • Beneficial nematodes applied to the soil will destroy the larvae.
  • Apply organic diatomaceous earth on and around the plant. It’s made up of tiny fossilized organisms that are sharp at the microscopic level. DE kills by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder. If you want to go that route and are local, I’ve got tons of DE and you’re welcome to have a bag.
  • Kaolin clay forms a protective barrier film, which prevents damage from insect pests.

Question 3: Lawn bulbs

Lynn: I need to add more crocus to the lawn this year because I know those will work. I won’t put snowdrops in the lawn because they’re too “clumpy” so I’m trying to come up with some other lawn bulbs. I noticed the aconites moving slowly (from seed). They don’t seem so domineering . Can you think of any other early bulbs that will play nicely with the lawn? Would scilla overtake the lawn? I can remember a lawn from my childhood that was just filled with scilla every year. I was never close enough to see what the impact on the lawn was.

Doug: The first thing to know about bulbs in the lawn is that it can’t be cut until the greens of the bulbs die back.

Scilla would be a great choice for a “lawn bulb.” They would be blooming right now and would die back pretty quickly. There are two others I would recommend, glory of snow and puschkinia, which are also blooming right now. Both are deer resistant and will form a colony after a couple of years.

Question 4: Canna bulbs

Dorren: My husband wants to know when to plant canna bulbs.

Doug: You can put them in around the first week of May outdoors but could get them started sooner inside.

Previous mailbags

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

Lemon tree, Knockout roses, soil repair and more

Butterfly weed, tomato seeds, rose bushes and more

Roses, Japanese beetles, planting garlic and more

Artillery fungus, heliotropes, crown gall 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.”