Q & A

Q&AGot a gardening question? Ask Susan! What follows are the 10 most recent reader questions. Each time a new one comes in, I’ll add it to the top. To ask a question, drop me a note at Susan@susansinthegarden.com.

To view the Q&A by topic, click below: 


Q: I planted a trumpet vine 3 years ago. I unfortunately fertilized it in the first year, thinking that it would produce more blooms. Instead I got beautiful, thick green leaves. I have not fertilized it since the first year, but it still has not produced flowers. It is beautiful and has healthy foliage. Will it ever bloom or should I dig it up? PA

A: That’s frustrating about your trumpet vine not blooming yet. It’s true that if you put a nitrogen fertilizer on a plant that needs to bloom, it will encourage more leaves than blooms. As long as it’s in a sunny spot and is getting regular water, it sounds like you’re doing the right things. I did find information online that says a trumpet vine can take up to 5 years to bloom, so I would skip the fertilizer and see what happens in the next year or two.

Q: My wife and I enjoyed the recent video tour of your garden. I noticed you use a red weed barrier covering for one of your raised beds. Why red? And where did you get it? JP, Spokane

A: It’s called red plastic mulch, tomato mulch or “SCRM” mulch. It serves 2 functions: it is a part of the color spectrum that reflects the maximum amount of sunlight up into the plant, and it also increases the soil temperature. I primarily use it on my tomato bed, but also like to use it for growing melons, peppers, eggplants and winter squash. When I switched from using black plastic mulch to red, I easily had about a 30% increase in the plants’ productivity, which was very impressive! So I’ve used it ever since. This year, I’m also testing a green-colored mulch just to see how it performs. You should be able to locate the red plastic mulch locally, at a well-stocked garden center such as Northwest Seed & Pet in Spokane. Online sources include: Lee Valley.com, HarrisSeeds.com, JohnnySeeds.com and GardensAlive.com.

Q: Susan, do you know of any organic spray to stop leaf miner activity?  I forgot to put a floating row cover over the pony-pack of chard, and now the leaves are being eaten up one at a time. TM, Spokane

A:  That’s a shame! I don’t know of any organic spray that will work, esp. since the leaf miners are in between the cell layers of the leaves. Maybe you can pull off the infested ones, cover the plants, and see if they’ll do OK from that point on? And for next year, be sure to use a floating row cover as soon as you plant your chard (or spinach or beets, for that matter) so you won’t have to deal with those pesky insects.

Q: I just planted my tomatoes last week and have floating row cover on them.  How long should I keep it on? RM, Spokane

A: To give my warm-season crops a nice start, I like to cover them with floating row cover right after transplanting them into the garden. I leave it on for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on what the weather is doing. But for any of these crops (melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, winter squash and tomatoes), the cover needs to be removed when they start blooming so the pollinators can get to the flowers.

Q: I planted five plants in a 12 foot x 4 foot raised bed last year, ten
inches high.  This year they are growing out of the base ground around
the bed.  Why do they grow down, and move away from the bed and
reemerge in the gravel walk?  Darn plants anyway.  I am cutting them
at  the ground level outside of the bed to control them but I do not
know if that will help. SS, Spokane

A: No worries, this is what raspberry plants like to do! They send up runners here and there occasionally, I guess as a way of propagating their species. I get them, too, and I just pull them up out of the ground, roots and all. However, if you need more raspberry plants, you could gently dig them up and put them into your “official” raspberry bed!

Q: I don’t understand what half strength dilution means referring to the
fish fertilizer.  Could you tell me how much to use per gallon of
water? OLR, Spokane

A: When I fertilize young seedlings with fish fertilizer, I like to use it half-strength to avoid burning or overfeeding them. This means using half as much fish fertilizer from what is recommended on the label. So, for example, they recommend 2 tbsp. of fish fertilizer to a gallon of water for vegetables, bedding plants, bulbs and annuals. That means I will use 1 tbsp. of fertilizer to a gallon of water.

Q: Can you tell me where we can purchase a copy of your book? 

A: Thank you for asking! There are several places where you should be able to locate Northwest Gardener’s Handbook: 1) at the Spokane County Master Gardener’s plant clinic, located at 222 N. Havana St. (just south of the Indians Ballpark). They are open 9-3 Mon-Thurs, 9-1 Fri and 9-12 Sat. Their phone number is (509) 477-2181; 2) at Auntie’s Bookstore downtown; 3) at Barnes & Noble (either Northtown or east of the Spokane Valley Mall) and 4) On Amazon.com.

Q: One problem we have with the garden is weeds. Frustrating the amount of weeds we have. Can you suggest a product that will decrease the amount of weeds. Is Preen a good one or is there something more effective. JK, Spokane

A: I completely understand your frustration with all of the weeds! If only our gardens grew as readily as they do. As much as I despise weeds, I don’t like using any chemicals in my garden because I don’t want to handle them and I worry about the impact they will have on the rest of the ecosystem within my garden. You might consider a few other options:

1. If the weeds appear in your pathways, you might try using a landscape mulch (also known as weed-block) covered by a few inches of bark. We did that in our vegetable garden and rarely get any weeds growing there.

2. Try mulching around your plants with things like grass clippings, compost, shredded leaves, or weed-free straw. The mulch will inhibit weed growth while helping the soil to retain moisture.

3. When weeding, try not to rake through the top few inches of soil as that will bring other weed seeds to the surface.

I did just notice that there’s now an organic version of Preen, but I don’t know how effective it is. Here’s a link to some information on it: http://www.preen.com/products/preen-vegetable-garden-weed-preventer. I was unable to find out what the active ingredient is.

Q. I was wondering where you get all your seeds. I have looked at NW Seed and cannot find a lot of the seeds you listed in the paper. JD, Spokane

A: While I do order a lot of them online, I stay in touch with the gal who orders the seeds for Northwest Seed & Pet’s Sprague & Altamont store. She does a great job of ordering the ones I write about. If you can’t find them there, do a web search on the name of the variety to see who carries them.

Q. Do you rotate (the plantings in your) beds every year or use the same ones and amend the soil yearly?

A: Yes, I am very careful to rotate what’s planted in the beds (by plant family) to cut down on the chance of insect and disease problems. I also amend the soil yearly, based on what will be growing in each bed. For example, if onions or other root crops will be planted in a bed, I add bone meal to the soil to increase the amount of phosphorus to help with root development.