Ask the Gardener: Soil testing, protecting bulbs, fig tree care and more

Posted on: April 12, 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.)

soil testing

Question 1: Soil testing

Kathy: I was hoping you could direct me for soil testing in Allegheny County. I’m planting at my home and would like to get my soil tested.

Doug: That’s a great idea, because getting the soil pH and fertility right will give you the proverbial green thumb. It’s available through the Allegheny Penn State Cooperative Extension (at this link).

Local nurseries like Soergel’s also carry their test. It’s always quicker to send the test in early before the lab gets busy. You’ll get your results sooner.

Question 2: Protecting bulbs

Veronica: Yet again this past winter, some critter has dug up and ate my crocus bulbs (at least they left me a few this time — they cleaned me out totally last time). Any ideas on how to protect the bulbs over the winter? I suspect the same critter of eating the couple flowers I did get (but at least I got a few days with them) and eating a nearby tulip down to the ground a few days ago.

Doug: So let’s start with the bulbs themselves. I got a tip from Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs to soak tulips and crocus in deer repellent. I used Bobbex (available here), and the bulbs were safe. Some gardeners add crushed oyster shells into the planting area as many critters don’t like to dig through them. You can find those at a feed store. For the flowers, it’s probably rabbits or deer. I would use the same product to spray on the flowers to keep them safe.

Question 3: Fig tree

Judy: I have a 3-year-old fig tree that’s approximately 4 feet tall. It did not produce figs the first year and 15 figs the second year.
It was my intention to repot the tree this spring but happily it is FULL of small figs. Should I wait until fall so as not to shock the tree? It seems healthy now.

Doug: I wouldn’t try to repot that fig. Just feed it with a good, organic liquid fertilizer like Grow (available here) about once a month. You’re lucky to get those figs on there, as those early figs are what’s called the breva crop. Many plants will put on two crops of figs. If you want to repot, do it after the first harvest and then hope for a second … then bring some of those figs to my house!

Question 4: Amaryllis care

Sue: My amaryllis just got done blooming, and the stem is dying like they do … but it is not growing leaves. Does this mean that my bulb is done? My plant is 10 years old.

Doug: No worries, that’s what they do. Just remove the flower stalk and keep the foliage going like a houseplant. Feed it with a good organic fertilizer like Grow from Espoma (available here). In August, stop watering and fertilizing and the plant will go dormant. About eight weeks later, start watering again and the process will begin again.

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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.”