Gardening Question of the Day


I have some large poison sumac trees in my backyard. What is the best way to get rid of these nuisance plants?

Like its cousins poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac contains copious amounts of an oil called urushiol, which causes blistering, itching, and general misery in those who are exposed to it. Any attempt to cut down the tree and grub out the roots carries a mighty high risk of exposure. Old-fashioned ways of killing poison sumac include spraying brine on the leaves and shoots to kill them, or pouring kerosene or motor oil on the roots (not recommended, since the entire area would be contaminated). If you choose to cut down the trees and grub out the roots, be sure to do it in the cold season, when there are no leaves on the trees, and wear total protective gear. All saws and hoes must be washed in large amounts of water when you're done, to remove the urushiol. Don't burn the wood or roots, as urushiol can be carried in smoke. Maybe the best solution is to call your county extension agent and get advice on the best herbicide for poison sumac. Don't feel too guilty about using a herbicide; the tree wages its own chemical warfare on whoever touches it!

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Last 7 Days

I'd like to start some pansies by seed. When is the best time to do that?

Do it now! August is a great time to sow pansies for next spring. Pansies are easy to grow and hardy. Sow the seeds in flats in a cool, shady place, and keep the soil moist at all times. When the plants are large enough, transplant them into frames. Cover them with a coarse material for winter protection, then set them out in permanent beds in the spring.

Is there a natural way to repel or trap moths?

There are some herbs that repel moths, including dried rosemary leaves, southern wood, worm wood, lavender and cedar wood shavings. In addition, traps used for catching fruit flies may also be effective. These can be purchased from a local gardener supply store and hung in the tree, or near the area where the moths are gathering.

I'm having trouble with earwigs in my garden. Should I spray them with something?

Earwigs are attracted to hay, paper, or moss. Try hanging a small, inverted plastic pot on a stick or stake. Stuff the pot with hay, paper, or moss. The earwigs will crawl up into these materials and out of your garden. Rarely are there enough earwigs to cause your plants harm.

Any suggestions on growing kiwis?

Fuzzy kiwis (Actinidia chinensis) grow in Zones 7 through 9. Hardy kiwis (A. arguta or A. kolomitka) grow in Zones 3 through 9 (and, yes, the fruits taste as good as the larger supermarket varieties). Kiwis need full sun and well-drained soil with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5. Plant a male and a female unless the cultivar is self-fertile. Provide 200 square feet of trellis per vine, pinch back the vine when it reaches the trellis, and encourage some side branches to grow. Throughout the summer, when side shoots reach 8 inches in length, pinch them back to 4 inches. In winter, remove any side branches that are more than three years old. Expect your first fruits after two to six years. Fuzzy kiwis have fuzzy, egg-size, green-fleshed fruits. Hardy kiwis produce smooth, grape-size, green- or red-fleshed fruits.

What's the best method for dealing with poison ivy?

There is no shortage of remedies for poison ivy. Mild cases may be helped by calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone cream, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases may require prescription cortisone. Try using a barrier cream if you are about to venture into the woods or other areas that are likely to have poison ivy. If you have it growing in your yard, cover the plants with black plastic to kill them. Be careful, however; even dead plants can be infectious.

Is there a natural repellent for deer ticks and wood ticks?

We recommend crushed garlic. Rub it on your wrists, ankles, and exposed skin before heading out into tick country. Avoid putting the garlic on or near your face.

Some of my tomato plant leaves have turned dark brown and have rings on them. Is this blight?

Yes, you are no doubt suffering from early blight, which comes on in humid weather. It's a fungus that can last the winter on diseased plants. After you harvest the tomatoes (assuming you get fruits on these vines), destroy or discard all the infected plants. Meanwhile, you can spray them with a fungicide that won't cure the disease but will protect any new foliage. Ask at your nursery for the fungicide that will work best in your area.

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