Doug’s mailbag: Poison ivy, amaryllis troubles, tomatoes and more

Posted on: February 8, 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 askdoug@535mediallc.com
  • 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.)

poison ivy

Question 1: Poison ivy and grapevine

Carol: What will kill grapevine and poison ivy? Both are next to impossible to pull.

Doug: Not much. For both I cut them at the ground and keep doing it until they can’t keep going anymore. Be careful if you are allergic to poison ivy.

Question 2: Amaryllis troubles

Dianne: I have amaryllis troubles, Doug. I have one I’ve kept alive four years now, but it’s “stuck.” Got it for Christmas, got it to bloom late Jan-early Feb. The next year I forgot about it until even later. And later next year. This year I read up on them and decided to try to get it back on track. It spent late spring and summer in front of the house (south facing) and getting periodic doses of plant food. I took it inside and began the benign neglect Sept. 25, then began watering again Dec. 27. Pretty sure it’s not dead, but it’s still just a green stump of about 2 inches.

Advice? Do you think a shot of Schultz’s liquid would jump-start it? Will it simply take more than one year to get it to a Christmas blooming schedule? Also I never took the bare bulb out of the soil. Is that so bad?

Doug: My first advice is to buy another bulb. It’s hard to make the older ones bloom consistently and nearly impossible to get them to flower near Christmas. You’re doing the right thing with the bulb you have. Keep it on the dry side and watch it. It will start to grow for you. Put it outside again in the spring and feed it periodically and then let it dry out. I treat mine all as houseplants, and they bloom every couple of years when they are ready.

Question 3: Tomato fungus

Dee: Last year my tomatoes got eaten alive by fungus at the end of the season. I suspect the huge amount of rain had something to do with it. So I plan to not plant tomatoes this year because of an unusual travel schedule. I won’t be around for a few weeks to care for them. Another gardener suggested I put down sheets of clear plastic on my tomato beds for the whole summer. The theory is the sun will heat the ground enough to kill the fungus. But won’t the plastic keep the fungus from drying out? Please advise.

Doug: Most gardeners struggled with fungal diseases last season, but not planting tomatoes? That’s crazy! I know you won’t be around, but they will take care of themselves if planted in the ground. I’ve added a link that gives you all my tips for fungal-free tomatoes, but even using all of them, if the season is like last year, there’s no way around it.

The technique covering the bed with clear plastic is called solarizaton, and it’s usually used to combat the worst diseases out there and as a last resort. The process only needs to be about eight weeks long and is done during the hottest months of the summer. It can be effective against the two most prevalent fungus problems, early blight and septoria leaf spot. The problem is the process is probably going to kill beneficial organisms in the soil, too. Those fungal spores are always around and could be imported into the garden on the tomatoes themselves.

If we get a more “normal” season, the tomatoes should be fine, especially if you follow the instructions in the link.

pink flower

Question 4: Flower viability

Sherry: Can we grow these in Pittsburgh? They had lots of different color ones at Phipps today.

Doug: I’ve only grown them indoors. I grow them as a houseplant, but they would be fine as an annual out in the garden. They like full sun and dry soil to be at their best. Very easy and fun to grow.

Question 5: Windowsill planters

Rebecca: Do you have recommendations for sill planters? Everything that I find is either too flimsy or leaks (and I could not locate a corresponding catch tray that was long enough to keep the moisture off the wood).

Doug: Check out your local nursery.They should have a faux terra cotta version with a built-in tray. That’s what I use.

Previous mailbags

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

Skunks, pawpaws and a memorial tree

Mushrooms, harlequin bugs, fall planting and more

Beautyberry, nematodes, tomatoes and more

Pokeweed, bug identification and voles/moles

Caterpillars, mystery flower, onions and more

Seeds, leaf gall, bulb sale and more

Praying mantis, tomato issues, crabgrass and shrubs

Dogwood relocation, tomato issues and garlic soup recipe

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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.”