Ask the Gardener: Shrub damage, dahlia tubers, rose issues and more

Posted on: September 3, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens 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.

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(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

shrub damage

Question 1: Shrub damage

Carol: I was shocked to discover that something literally tore apart two shrubs and threw pieces of them everywhere. One shrub was a forsythia which I had cut back. The other is this one that I don’t recall the name of. There is one untouched in the back left of the photo. Pieces were torn off and strewn about everywhere. One piece was about four feet away. Deer have decimated my day lilies around these bushes and are constantly in my yard. This damage is not the work of deer. Would a bear do this? There have been sightings in our neighborhood this summer. Any help would be much appreciated.

Doug: Wow, that’s strange to see shrub damage like that. I don’t think it would be bear. Deer might be the culprit. Try to find any signs of tracks or scat (feces) that might help you solve the problem. Another idea might be kids…

Question 2: Dahlia tubers

Jody: How do you overwinter dahlia tubers? Last summer was my first time planting dahlias — I’m not sure why I was so late to the party! I dug out the tubers, put them in a net bag and stored them in the basement. This spring, most of the tubers had dried into nothing but a husk.

Doug: Here’s how I do it: Wait until frost kills the top and cut them down to about two inches. Cover the hollow stems with foil to stop water from getting in there. Wait two weeks and dig the tubers. In that time their eyes, like potatoes, will swell. A tuber needs an eye to bloom next year. Don’t wash them off.

Put them in a dry place on newspaper for a day or two. I like to separate them in the fall and discard the tubers without eyes. Then I put them in a big plastic container filled with vermiculite. I’ll put down a layer of the material, then some tubers so they are not touching, then another layer and so on. The best place to store the container is cool, but never below freezing. Check on them once a month to make sure they are not rotting or drying out.

Question 3: Rose issues

Marci: I’m hoping you can please help me with my rose bushes. I have very old rose bushes — at least 40 years old — and I need to know what I can do this fall to help them. In the past, I have been negligent with them. I also planted creeping Jenny in with the roses and love the color contrast, but I am afraid that this may be detrimental to the roses.

Doug: I wouldn’t worry about the creeping Jenny, as it’s nearly impossible to get rid of anyway. It shouldn’t make much of a difference for the roses. One thing you can do as things get cooler is mulching the roses at the base. You don’t want the mulch to touch the base of the plant, just around it. This will keep the soil evenly moist and act as a blanket over the winter. I’d start in earnest in April by adding Rosetone to the base of each plant on a monthly basis. That will help immensely. Many roses also benefit from pruning as they begin to leaf out.

Question 4: Grass seed

Roy: I have an area ready to go for planting grass. What is the brand of grass you talk about? I think it is a dark green variety. The area I am planting will go from full sun to only high sun in between two houses about 30 feet apart. I plan to use mushroom manure to cover the seed.

Doug: I like either Black Beauty from Jonathan Green or Penn State mix for sun. How long will the sun be on the grass, longer than six hours? If so, choose a sun-loving seed. If it’s not getting that much, Shady Nooks from Jonathan Green and Penn State mix for shade would be my recommendations.

Question 5: Organic flea control

Debbi: Are there any products to get rid of fleas in the lawn that are safe and organic? A toddler likes to play in the lawn, which is why I need something safe.

Doug: This product from Wondercide uses cedar oil, which is a safe product for humans and pets.

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