Ask The Gardener: Squash plants, poison ivy, red thread and more

Posted on: June 22, 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.)


Question 1: Squash plants

Arwen: I had volunteer squash plants in my garden this year, but they seem to be sterile. I have lots of male flowers, but the female flowers fall off and don’t set fruit. It isn’t a pollinator problem as I have honeybee hives in my yard. Is it possible that seeds of squash plants from last year (likely a pumpkin) could be sterile?

Doug: That would not be my first inclination. I guess it would be possible, but unlikely in my opinion with squash. Those female flowers often fall off early in the season. Plus we have not had the best weather for pollination. There is a way to find out though. Go out in the morning with a small paint brush and move the pollen from the male to the female on as many flowers as possible and see what happens. I would just wait it out though and see if the bees get in there and do their job with the squash.

Question 2: Poison ivy

Jill: I have some patches of poison ivy mixed in with pachysandra and some large hostas on a small hill. I have heard that Borax, Dawn dish soap and water will kill the poison ivy. If that, in fact, works, I assume it will kill the pachysandra and hostas as well? And again, if the poison ivy dies, is the soil permanently contaminated even after I dig out the root? I never had an issue with poison ivy in the yard so I’m not sure how this surfaced.

Doug: I shy away from those types of homemade recipes. If it would kill the poison ivy, it would probably kill all the other plant material. If you are highly allergic to poison ivy, someone else will have to do this job. The best way to deal with it is to pull it or cut it at the base. Whoever does the job will have to be properly protected with gloves, etc.

Question 3: Red thread

Joan: I have what they call “rust” in my yard. The grass turns an orange-ish color, almost straw-like. Is there anything I can do to stop it? It seems to happen every year. The yard looks lush, green and beautiful and then this starts. It is so frustrating, since it looks so good and then this starts.

Doug: Red thread is a fungal disease on turf grass. It’s been especially bad for homeowners the past three seasons, and this one is starting out wet. The good news is that it’s just aesthetic and will be gone when the lawn dries out. Some people will treat it with an organic fertilizer to get the grass to outgrow the disease. If it stays wet though, that new growth will be susceptible to the fungal disease. Most people just wait it out.

Question 4: Late tomatoes

Lee: So I’m very disappointed and frustrated. I’ve spent more time, money and energy than ever before on my garden this year. Better soil, cages, care, etc. I couldn’t figure out what was going on as I was doing everything right. It seems my neighbors sprayed weed killer, and I’m assuming it drifted into my yard and onto my plants. Looks like I’m losing just about every tomato plant but one hopefully. Besides ‘Early Girl’ here in Pittsburgh under the circumstances and date in the year, do you have any other recommendations of varieties that would still yield me fruit. I would appreciate any help as I was looking forward to a big harvest this year. I had about half and half determinate and indeterminate

Doug: At this point ‘Early Girl’ would be a great option for you. Hahn Nursery in Ross has some nice looking plants that I’ll be putting in my garden. Other options would be cherries like ’Sungold’ or ’Sweet 100.’ Patio tomatoes, ‘Fourth of July’ and any other early variety you could find at a nursery. I’d recommend bigger plants if you could find them. Brenckle’s Greenhouse also has a great selection of tomatoes.

Question 5: Slugs

Becky: Is there something organic to deter slugs? I just planted zinnia seeds and want to make sure they are not eaten. Thank you!

Doug: Yes, it’s called Sluggo. It overdoses the slug on iron, but is safe for other creatures and us. You can buy it here.

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