Ask The Gardener: Tomato blight, reducing weeds, strawberries and more

Posted on: June 9, 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.

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.)

Question 1: Tomato blight

Nancy: What and how should I use a preventative for tomato blight? Thanks for your help.

Doug: The first thing is some mulch at the bottom of the plant. It will help create a physical barrier between the soil-borne fungal spores and the plant. Also, removing lower leaves will help too. Serenade is an organic fungicide that is perfect to use as a preventative against early blight and septoria leaf spot. (You can get it here.)

Question 2: Reducing weeds

Deborah: Do you recommend landscape fabric or black plastic for around vegetables to reduce/eliminate weeds?

Doug: Between the two I would prefer landscape fabric as it breathes and allows water through. Commercial farms often use black plastic but use drip irrigation below. My favorite weed control though is seven to 10 layers of newspaper covered with mulch. The only downsides to the landscape fabric are that it won’t break down and feed the soil and if left in place longer than a season, weeds will start to grow on top.

Question 3: Protecting strawberries

Jess: We have a small strawberry patch and every morning another one is half eaten. At this rate, they will be gone before they are ripe. Any ideas on what it is or how to stop it?

Doug: It looks like chipmunks or squirrels to me. You’ll need to cover them with fine screen like hardware cloth. I would want to see them eating though as slugs love strawberries, too. From the picture, it looks like a chewing critter though. I wish I had better news for you.

Question 4: Horticultural oil

Ruth Ann: I sprayed my azaleas and japonica two weeks ago with light horticultural oil for treatment of lace bugs that are a problem every year. Should I respray again now and when is better, early morning or evening?

Doug: The horticultural oil is best for early control in the egg stage. You can’t hurt the plant by applying again. I’d just keep an eye on the plant and see how they look. I think you’ll find that early control will really do a great job. I like to apply it in the morning on a day without wind.

Question 5: Indoor plant

Andrea: I’m hoping you can help me identify a plant. One of my co-workers gave me this plant, and it’s about 9 feet long. She let it grow upwards and kept tying it up the wall. As you can see from the photo, it’s lost all the leaves from the bottom part that’s rooted in the planter and only has leaves on the top two thirds of the plant. It doesn’t flower and has a sticky substance coming out in some parts. I wanted to cut off the bottom part that doesn’t have leaves if possible but I wasn’t sure if it would re-root.

Doug: That’s a great houseplant called pothos, and it’s very easy to grow. The only thing that will kill it is kindness, too much water or fertilizer. Don’t cut it, let’s bring it back to life. That stem will regrow leaves if happy. That plant needs a bigger pot. Get one with drainage that will also catch the water when you add some. I would say about 12-18 inches diameter. Use a good planting mix, not potting soil. It’s lightweight, absorbs water well and drains well, too. Get the mix moist, but not soaking and add it to the pot. Then gently lift out the old plant, roots and all and transfer it to the new pot. It will continue to grow and cover the desk. It provides oxygen and cleans the air of toxins.

Are you up for the challenge? Once it’s all planted, all you have to do is water it once a week or so.

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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.”