Tips & Tonics
Over the years, I've answered
thousands of questions on just about every gardening topic under the sun, and I've found that
most folks have the same problems at one time or another. So to make things easy for you, I've
put together the following handy, helpful guide to the most frequently asked questions I
receive. They're arranged by topic in alphabetical order, covering everything from slimy slugs,
to beautiful roses, to giant pumpkins. So check out the answers below; chances are, you'll
find the solution to whatever's bugging you. And, I urge you to always follow safety first when using my tips and tonics.
All-Season Ingredients | Bugs & Slugs | Critter Control | Flowers | Houseplants | Lawns
Trees, Shrubs, & Evergreens | Vegetables | Odds & Ends
Here's a quick review of the major ingredients in my
tonics and the role each one plays in your efforts to green up and clean up your
AMMONIA is actually a readily available source of nitrogen that'll help
encourage leafy plant growth. The ammonia you buy at the grocery store is a
solution of ammonium hydroxide. It's a clear liquid with a very penetrating
odor. Watch out—this is very potent stuff! To avoid burning your plants, never
apply it right out of the bottle; always dilute it as specified in my tonic
recipes. Ammonia can burn you, too, so always wear gloves when you work with it,
and don't get it anywhere near your eyes. And never, ever combine it with
vinegar or bleach (or products containing either one). The resulting chemical
reaction releases toxic fumes.
ANTISEPTIC MOUTHWASH does the same thing in your garden that it does in your
mouth. Yep, it actually destroys those nasty germs that cause big-time trouble
if you don't get after them. But don't waste your money buying fancy flavored
mouthwash for your tonics. The plain stuff works just fine, and your plants
won't mind having "medicine breath"!
BABY SHAMPOO and DISHWASHING LIQUID help to soften the soil and remove dust,
dirt, and pollution from leaves, so important functions like photosynthesis can
take place more easily. These simple soaps make other sprays stick to leaves
better, too. And bugs hate the taste (especially of the lemon-scented types), so
they head for the hills in a hurry! Just make sure you never substitute
detergent for these soaps, and in particular, don't use antibacterial detergent,
because it can damage your plants.
BEER serves as an enzyme activator to help release the nutrients that are locked
in the soil and puts 'em to work making your plants grow stronger, healthier,
and better able to nip any problems in the bud. It also wakes up and energizes
organic activity. Foreign or domestic, stale or freshly opened—whatever you
have on hand will work just fine.
CORN SYRUP and MOLASSES stimulate chlorophyll production in plants, and they help
to feed the good soil bacteria, too. (I'll bet you didn't know that your garden
has a sweet tooth, did you?)
TOBACCO is pretty nasty stuff, no matter how you look at it. So you must be very careful when using it in your garden. It poisons bugs
when they ingest or come in contact with it. The same thing
happens to some of the germs that cause plant diseases.
I use a very diluted form called tobacco tea. To make it, place half a handful of
chewing tobacco in an old nylon stocking, and soak it in a gallon or more of hot water until
the mixture is dark brown. Label the container, then use the tobacco tea whenever
one of my tonics calls for it.
BUGS & SLUGS
Q: Ants! Ants! Ants! Their hills
are everywhere! How can I evict them from my property without resorting to toxic
A: You can try either of the
- Make your own ant bait by mixing 1 tbsp. of bakers' yeast and 2 tbsp. of sugar in
1 pint of water; spread this mixture on pieces of cardboard, and place them around
- Pile up instant grits or corn meal in and around their hills; once eaten, the grits
expand inside them, and they soon go to that big anthill in the sky!
For more quick and easy insect controls
like these, check out my Critter Control & Pest Prevention book.
Q: I have box elder bugs
all over the side of my house. What do I do?
A: These critters
especially seem to like to hang out in the fall on the warm side (south or west)
of light colored houses, especially when there are female box elder trees nearby.
Outdoors, it's a good idea to spray and cool off the sides of the house daily with
water. You can spray the bugs with ¼ cup of laundry detergent per gallon of water
to kill them, just be careful because the detergent mixture can harm or kill any
plants that may be growing below. You can also get some temporary protection around
windows and doors by using an insecticide containing pyrethrin around these areas.
Be sure to follow label directions.
If the critters are indoors, the
best way to take care of them is to vacuum them up. Then check to see that the seals
around your doors and windows are good and tight. This'll make it tougher for the
pests to get in.
Q: Do you have a remedy to
keep fleas off dogs? I have a terrier, and he is a house dog, but every time he
goes outside, he gets loaded with fleas. Please help!
A: There are
a number of things you can do to get rid of fleas. First off, outside, you can get
rid of them by spraying your yard with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon
hose-end sprayer, followed by an insecticide containing pyrethrin at the recommended
rate. Or for an all-natural control, check local garden supply centers or online
for beneficial nematodes. They'll go after the flea larvae in the soil.
Q: I live in the Southwest,
and the grasshoppers are out of control here. What do I do?
A: A great way to
control 'em long term is to use a product called “Nolo Bait™”. This is a bait made
with a biological, natural-occurring spore that infects the 'hoppers with a disease
once it's eaten. The spores are not harmful to people, pets, birds, or the environment,
but cause havoc to the 'hoppers. Infected 'hoppers don't immediately go “belly up”
but they will become slow, lethargic and begin to eat less and less, reducing vegetation
loss. Those that don't die in 3-4 weeks become food for the healthy 'hoppers that
continue to migrate in. These then become infected, and so on. Egg laying is affected,
too, which helps reduce populations for future years. When quick, immediate “belly
up” control is needed, apply an insecticide containing pyrethrin at the recommended
rate. Then create a buffer zone around the perimeter of the treated area with Nolo
Bait™ for long-term control.
Q: There are ladybugs all
over the inside of my house. How do I get rid of them?
A: What you have
are probably the Asian lady beetles. Generally, ladybugs are good guys, and Asian
lady beetles were actually imported to gobble up bad bugs like aphids. Unfortunately,
unlike our native ladybugs, these swarm in the fall looking for niches and crooks
to hibernate in for the winter, and all too many of them find their way indoors.
To keep them out, before they start to swarm, seal and caulk any cracks or other
areas where they might enter.
For some temporary control in the
fall when they are swarming, you can try spraying an insecticide containing pyrethrin
outdoors around the perimeter of windows, doors, and other areas where they may
enter the house. This will give some short residual, although not long lasting,
control. Once they come in the house, you'll have to vacuum 'em up. And remember
to change the vacuum bag after each use. There has been some research that shows
that the smell of camphor and menthol repels them. If you can find where they're
entering the house, you might find a way of using these smells to discourage them.
Q: Slugs are ripping my plants
and vegetables to shreds. How can I get rid of these pests?
A: There are many
effective ways to get rid of them. A few of my favorites are:
- Handpick them and dump them in water laced with dishwashing liquid or rubbing alcohol.
- Set out pie tins filled with beer or grape juice. The slugs climb in, and drown.
- Apply a barrier of diatomaceous earth, ashes, or gravel around your plants. These
items lacerate the slugs’ bodies, causing them to dehydrate.
- Wrap aluminum foil loosely around the plant stems. Slugs can't climb it.
- Sluggo® will stop them in their tracks—guaranteed!
Q: Creepy, crawly spiders
have invaded my flower garden. What can I use to get rid of them?
A: Don't forget
that spiders are generally good guys, gobbling up bad bugs like nobody's business.
But if they're really taking over your flower garden, you can spray the beds with
insecticide containing pyrethrin according to label directions. Overspray the area
with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer first for better
adhesion and more effective control.
Q: My yard is swarming with
mosquitoes. How can I get rid of them so I can enjoy my backyard again?
A. Remember that
any standing water in your yard or garden can turn into a mosquito breeding ground,
so get rid of any puddles around your yard. Then, overspray your yard with my Buzz Buster Lemonade: 1 cup of lemon-scented ammonia and 1 cup of lemon-scented
dishwashing liquid in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer
jar with warm water. Repeat this treatment 3 times a week in the evening, and the
little buggers will be history.
Q: Birds keep going after
my garden. Is there anything I can do to keep them away?
A: Sure! Slit an
old tennis ball and force it over the end of a 6-7 ft. piece of old garden hose.
Draw two eyes and a mouth on the ball, and place yellow strips of tape like Xs down
the hose to resemble a snake. Set this fake snake in the garden, and the birds’ll
be too spooked to stop in for a snack.
Q: How can I stop the neighborhood
cats from using my flower garden as a litter box?
A: Try mixing coffee
grounds, cayenne pepper, and/or orange peels into the top layer of soil, or try
one of repellents I have in my book, Backyard Problem Solver. You
can also stuff dried rue leaves, mothballs, or dry borax soap placed in the toe
of old nylon stockings, and hang them in various areas of your garden.
Q: Apparently, it's slim
pickings in the woods, because deer keep nibbling on my plants! How can I keep them
away from my yard?
A: There are many
different solutions, although a good, tall fence is probably the best (and most
expensive) one. For less money, try blood meal, thorny bushes, or my special Deer Buster Egg Tonic: 2 eggs, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp. of cayenne
pepper and 2 tbsp. of hot sauce in 2 cups of water. Let set for 2 days, then spray
your plants to the point of run-off.
Q: How do I get those darned
chipmunks to stay away from my garden?
A: Try sprinkling bloodmeal around
the garden, or scatter dog or cat hair around the area. That should stop ‘em in
their tracks. You might also want try my All-Purpose Pest Prevention Potion:
1 cup of ammonia, ½ cup of dishwashing liquid, ½ cup of human urine,
and ¼ cup of castor oil in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Then fill up the balance
of the sprayer jar with water, and you’re ready to go. Overspray any areas that
need to be protected, so long as you steer clear of food crops. To protect your
edibles, you’ll have to spray around the perimeter of your garden.
Q: The neighborhood dogs
are constantly digging up my flower beds. Is there anything I can use to prevent
this that won't harm our pet?
A: Sprinkle cayenne
pepper over and around the beds, and throw in a few orange peels for good
measure. Other repellents include tobacco dust, dried blood, and oil of mustard.
For trash can thugs, spray your garbage cans with a pine scented detergent and ammonia
mixed with an equal amount of water.
Q: Moles and gophers have
turned my lawn into their own personal condominium complex. What can I do to make
them go away?
First and foremost, you need to eliminate their major food source—grubs—from your lawn. The best way to do this is to apply Milky Spore Powder
at the recommended rate. In addition, you can:
- Plant daffodils, spurge, and castor bean plants, which moles absolutely
hate, in your garden.
- Place used kitty litter in their runs, which tells them that deadly
predators are lurking in the area. Do not use this in vegetable gardens or where
any edibles are grown.
- Apply one of my homemade mole or gopher repellents. These are all
included in my Backyard Problem Solver book.
- Insert unwrapped sticks of Juicy Fruit® gum, slit lengthwise, in their
Q: Skunks are digging up
my yard, and pawing through my flowers. What can I do to get rid of them?
A: The controls
for skunks are similar to those used for moles: if you eliminate their food source—grubs—they'll move on. If you can find their resting area, then you can use ammonia
and/or bright light to drive them away.
Q: I have squirrels all over.
How do I keep them out of my yard?
Keeping them out of an entire yard
is nearly impossible. But there are things you can do to keep them from causing
damage in specific areas. Try sprinkling dried blood meal as a border around the
planting area you want to protect. Or douse your plants with my Hot Bite Spray:
3 tbsp. of cayenne pepper, 2 cups of hot water, 1 tbsp. of hot sauce, 1 tbsp. of
ammonia, and 1 tbsp. of baby shampoo. Mix the cayenne pepper with the hot water
in a bottle, and shake well. Let the mixture sit overnight, then pour off the liquid
without disturbing the sediment at the bottom. Mix the liquid with the other ingredients
in a handheld sprayer bottle, and spritz on your flower buds and stems as often
as you can to keep them hot, hot, hot!
For more great squirrel-repelling strategies, check out my Backyard Problem Solver book. It includes the recipe for my Squirrel Beater Tonic,
as well as instructions for spicing up (and squirrel-proofing) birdseed, making
your own squirrel baffle, and much more.
Q: Voles have invaded my
lawn, and are causing quite a mess with their runways. How do I stop them?
A: There are a few different things you
can do. First, you may want to try trapping these critters. Use regular mousetraps
baited with cookies, apples, corn or any other small grain, or a mixture of rolled
oats and peanut butter. Set the trap in an old milk carton or coffee can to protect
children and pets from harm. Because voles are most active in early morning and
early evening, set traps by mid-afternoon. Check them the following morning, and
if you have caught one, reset the trap in the same location. Continue this until
no more voles are caught. Then relocate the traps 10 to 15 feet away in another
surface runway. Continue this practice until you have covered the entire vole habitat.
After they're eliminated, clean up any hiding/nesting areas up so they won't come
Q: How deep should I plant my bulbs?
A: That depends on what you're planting. As I discuss
in my Year-Round Bloomers book, small bulbs like crocus, muscari,
and scilla will do just fine if planted 3 inches deep. On the other hand, tulips,
hyacinths, and daffodils need a bit more room, and should be buried 6 inches deep.
After planting, sprinkle a little bonemeal over your bulb bed to help your bulbs
get off to a flying start.
Q: Should I remove the dying
leaves after my daffodils and tulips fade?
A: Absolutely not!
Go ahead and remove the flower stems after the flowers fade, but leave the leaves
alone. The bulbs need the leaves to develop strength and energy for next year's
flowers. So leave them on as long as possible. You might try rubberbanding them
in place, or planting daylilies around them to hide the dying foliage.
Q: I have a beautiful fern
that's been growing great for years, but lately its leaves are turning brown. What
am I doing wrong?
A: Your fern is
probably suffering from scorch, which occurs when the soil dries out, if it just
gets too darn hot, or the fern's exposed to a lot of windy weather. Your best bet
is to keep your fern in a moist, shady area that's protected from strong winds.
Be sure to water it frequently and deeply to keep the soil from drying out.
Q: How can I protect my geraniums
from the cold winter ahead?
A: My Grandma Putt's
solution was to jerk 'em out of the soil when they turned brown after the first
frost. Then she wrapped each one in a double layer of newspaper, and put them in
her cold cellar until March. (If you have a damp basement, I suggest hanging them
upside down, and spacing them well apart to allow air to circulate. Otherwise, they
may rot.) In the middle of March, she unwrapped them, cut off a third of the roots
and two-thirds of the tops, and repotted them in clay pots. She gave them a light
feeding, and slowly brought them back to life.
Q: How can I treat hollyhock
A: First thing,
you'll want to destroy all the infected leaves that you see. Then you'll need to
treat the plant with sulfur. To prevent rust from breaking out in the future, be
sure not to get the leaves wet when you water them. Hollyhocks also need room to
breathe, so if they're getting too crowded, divide some of the clumps to allow air
Q: All of the leaves on my
hostas are getting brown edges. What's causing this, and what can I do?
A: Hostas get brown
edges when their roots get too dry or they are in an exposed location. They do best
when they are kept out of a lot of direct sun or wind. Whenever the weather gets
dry, be sure to give 'em lots of water.
Q: For some reason this year
my peonies are not blooming. Is there something wrong with them?
A: If the peonies have been in the ground
for many years, I suspect they might need to be lifted. The "eye" of the roots shouldn't
be planted any more than 1-2 inches below the soil. If they're deeper than this,
(which can happen over time) then they won't bloom. Lift and replant them to the
proper depth in the fall. Another possibility is that some of the trees in the area
have grown since the peonies were put in, causing them to sit in the shade all day
long. They need full sun (afternoon shade in the south). Feed them with a balanced
fertilizer such as 8-8-8 and bonemeal after they would normally flower and again
in the fall. This should do the trick.
Q: What should I do to protect
my roses from the freezing temperatures this winter?
A: Most roses are
fairly hardy, but they still need a bit of protection to do well. To start with,
you need to make sure you clean up all the leaves and debris under your roses and
dispose of it. After the first killing frost, but before the ground freezes, pile
up 8” to 10” of soil around the canes. Then pile hay, straw, or leaf mulch over
the mounded canes, and add a half-cup of crushed mothballs per bushel of mulch.
Mix it all up well, mound over the canes, and then throw a few shovelfuls of soil
on it to hold it all in place. You can find lots of other tips for keepin' those
roses healthy and beautiful in my Year-Round Bloomers book.
Q: My roses have big, beautiful
blooms. When should I prune them so that they look just as good next year?
A: It will depend
on the type of roses that you have. My book, Year-Round Bloomers gives
information on when and how to prune the different types such as climbers, ramblers,
bush, or tree roses. For regular bush type roses, you'll want to do your pruning
in the early spring in order to get good growing shoots. When the buds begin to
swell in the spring, prune back any dead or diseased wood. Stop when you hit healthy
green wood and an outward facing bud. Then you'll want to sterilize all of the cuts
you made with a mixture of 2 tbsp. of ammonia and 2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid
per quart of water. Once the pruning is done, lay a few tea bags on the soil under
each bush. The tannic acid in the tea bags gives the roses a little acidic pick-me-up.
Q: How do I get rid of black
spot on my roses?
A: The first thing
you need to do is cut off and destroy all of the infected leaves. You don't want
any trace of the disease hanging around. Then, when you first start to see the spots
appear, apply a fungicide that is safe for use on roses, and is labeled to treat
black spot. This should heal your roses, and help prevent future outbreaks.
For a homemade control, spray them
with a mixture of 1 tbsp. of baking soda, 1 tbsp. of light vegetable oil, and 1
tbsp. of dishwashing liquid in 1 gallon of water. If all is lost, and you can't
save your plant, next time, try buying a black spot resistant rose. Your local nursery
should be able to point you in the right direction as far as which roses grow best
in your state.
Q: When is the best time
to separate and divide my perennials?
A: I devoted a section
to this subject in my book Perfect Perennials, along with my Steps
to Division Success to walk you through it. The best time to divide perennials is
when they're not actively growing. For most, this means early to midfall, although
there are exceptions. The temperatures are cooler, and a gentler sun allows divided
plants to recover quickly. For this reason, it is also important to start digging
in late afternoon, after the hot morning sun has cooled down. To avoid having to
redo all of your perennial beds at the same time, plan on dividing only a few at
a time. This way, you'll always have beds in bloom.
For an extra special "perk-me-up,"
saturate the area with my Perennial Perk-Up Tonic: 1 can of beer,
1 cup of ammonia, ½ cup of dishwashing liquid, and ½ cup of corn syrup in a
20 gallon hose-end sprayer after planting.
Q: How often should I water
A: If the weather
is hot, sunny, or windy, water the plants at least once a day; twice a day is even
better, so long as the soil is dry to the touch. Do this until the plants have adjusted
to their new surroundings, for about a week. After that, water thoroughly to a depth
of 6 to 8 inches, once a week in cool weather, and every three or four days during
the hot summer months. Never let your plants wilt; it will seriously weaken them.
Q: I have an African violet
that's healthy, but it has no flowers. Can I make it bloom?
A: You sure can!
The difference between a greenhouse and an ordinary living room is often the reason
for non-blooming plants. It's the amount of light that they get. They need bright
light. Ideally an east or south window in winter, and a west window in summer. They
should be protected from strong sunlight. For winter bloom, it can help to provide
some artificial light in the evenings. You can purchase grow lights at your local
hardware store and put them in a nearby lamp. African violets also flower best if
they are kept standing on moist pebbles which gives them a lot of humidity. You
must remove faded flowers promptly to prevent seed formation, which is a deterrent
to further bud development. Plenty of indirect fresh air is also important. Repotting
may be necessary, but other factors should be considered. An African violet plant
food may be applied according to the label directions when buds begin to appear.
But do not feed during the short periods when plants are resting and producing no
Q: I recently got an amaryllis
bulb as a gift. How do care for this plant so I get big, beautiful flowers?
A: Plant your bulb
in a pot that's about 1 inch larger in diameter than the bulb. Leave the top 1/3
of the bulb exposed. When it's in full growth, water regularly, and feed the plant
once a month with a balanced fertilizer. Your amaryllis will do best with full sunlight
during this time. When summer rolls around and the leaves dry out, cut it back to
3 inches and store the bulb in the pot in a cool, dry, dark location for at least
2 months. When it show signs of growing, or about 8 weeks before you want it to
flower, bring it out and repot it in fresh soil and larger pot if needed, and begin
watering. Remember to keep it between 60-70 degrees.
Q: How can I get rid of aphids
that are all over my houseplants?
A: Aphids hate soap.
Give your plants a good soapy bath using 1-2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid per gallon
of room temperature water. Spray the plants thoroughly making sure to get the undersides
of the leaves, too. If you can, wipe the aphids away with a soft cloth. Repeat weekly
or every other week as needed until you don't see 'em anymore. For something with
an even stronger punch, you can use my All-Season Clean-Up Tonic at a rate of 1 tsp. of tonic to a quart of tepid water. Give your plants
a good dose of this every 2 weeks and those aphids will be history.
Q: Is there a way to grow
avocados from seeds?
A: Avocado seeds
are great fun for planting indoors. First remove the thick brownish hide that covers
the seed and then wash the seed well. After soaking a 4-inch clay pot, plant the
seed in it with 1 inch of the pointed end above the soil. You can use any commercial
potting mix. Water it with a solution of 1 tsp. of Epsom salts per quart of water,
and put it in a dark place for one week. Then, move it to a nice, bright location.
When it's 6-8 inches tall, cut it in half to encourage branching.
Q: Why can't I get my Christmas
cactus to bloom?
A: Here's what you can do to get
your Christmas cactus bloomin' again. This plant needs a temperature range of 55-70
degrees F. Anything higher or lower, and you'll have blooming problems. The amount
of light (or more specifically darkness) it gets also affects blooming. If you want
it to bloom for Christmas, you'll have to keep your cactus in an area that's cool
and on the dryish side during mid-September to mid-November until flower buds set. During
this time, it should not have more than 11 hours of light during the day. It needs
to be in a spot that gets bright light with no direct sun during the day and uninterrupted
darkness at night. Watch out for any artificial light sources that can interfere
with the dark period. Put a box over it at night—say from 7 pm to 8 am, if you need
to. Water it normally when it's in flower and during periods of growth. You'll also
want to give it a rest period after blooming, which means watering less frequently
during February and March. Then in April, begin treating it normally again.
Q: Our ficus tree seems to
be going through shock ever since a recent move. The leaves are yellowing and dropping
off. What can we do to save it?
A: Weeping Figs
(Ficus benjamina) don't like changes. They drop their leaves to adjust
to changes in light and temperature. Put it in a bright spot and water with care.
Let the soil dry out between waterings, particularly in the winter months, and make
sure you don't overwater it. If it's happy with its new home, it should put out
new foliage and adjust.
Q: My potted gardenia is
dropping its flowers all of a sudden, some even before they open. What am I doing
A: Bud drop is common in gardenias.
This occurs because of uneven temps and moisture. Your gardenia should be kept at
72 to 78 degrees by day, and not less than 60 degrees at night. It needs plenty
of bright light, humidity, and good air circulation. Mist it regularly, but make
sure the plant isn't damp at night. Keep the soil moist, but not wet.
Q: There are little flying
bugs that look like gnats all around my houseplants, especially around the soil.
What are they and what do I do?
A: It sounds like
you've got a problem with fungus gnats. These pests look a whole lot like fruit
flies and hang around the soil at the base of the plants. They often occur from
using unsterilized soil or from keeping the soil too wet. The adults aren't harmful,
but they sure are a nuisance! It's the little baby larvae that hatch in the soil
that are the problem. Treat the soil with beneficial nematodes according to directions
to get them in their larval stage. This should wipe 'em out very effectively.
Q: What can I do for my hoya
plant that has no blooms?
A: It sounds like
it might not be getting enough light, or it might have been pruned incorrectly.
Hoya need bright light, but be sure to keep them out of hot direct sunlight. They
bloom on vines that are about 3 feet long. If you cut the vines back, or cut off
the short leafless stems that grow toward the end of the vines, you lose its flowering
ability. If you need to keep those vines in check, a good way to do it is to wrap
the vines around a wire loop or trellis rather than cutting them off. After flowering,
remove the dead flowers, but not the stems that produce them, so that they will
flower again for you.
Q: What should I do for my
potted palm that has some brown leaves?
A: It's natural
for the lowest leaves to turn brown on a palm. Just cut them off. If, however, the
browning is more widespread, and there's some rotting, then you're probably overwatering
it. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the root system. If all of the roots
are brown and mushy, you may not be able to save it. If you still have some firm,
white roots, wash away the soil from the root ball. Cut away the brown roots and
any stems or leaves that are showing rot. Then repot it carefully using a new pot
and fresh, sterile potting soil. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from
direct sunlight, and be careful not to overwater it.
Q: My peace lily has developed
brown tips. What's wrong?
A: Peace lilies
just love humidity, and brown tips are usually caused by air that's too dry for
them. Fluoride in city tap water can also be the culprit. Mist the leaves often—once or twice a day. You'll also want to set the plant on a pebble tray filled
with water. The plant sits on pebbles above the water level. This helps increase
humidity around the plant, and should perk your lily right up. If your water is
treated, water instead with bottled or rain water.
Q: How can I get my poinsettia
to bloom at Christmastime?
A: In order to get
a Christmas bloom, place the plant in a dark closet for 12 hours each night, say
from 8pm to 8am, starting in early October. Keep the plant in a sunny window for
the other 12 hours of the day. Keep this up until it starts to turn color. This
should get your plant turning as red as Santa's nose just in time for the holidays.
Q: There's a crusty white
substance covering the top of the soil in all of my houseplants. I can remove it,
but it keeps coming back. So, what can I do?
A: It sounds like
you might have an accumulation of salt in your soil. This can be caused by a few
things, such as watering your plant from the bottom, using liquid fertilizers, or
from watering with hard water. When you see it, it's a good time to repot with fresh
soil. If the plants are so large that you can't repot, change the soil in the top
of the pot. Then in the future, be sure to water well from the top (until it runs
out the bottom) with unfertilized water once a month. This helps leach the salts
out of the soil so that they don't accumulate.
Q: My houseplants have been
invaded by whiteflies. How do I get rid of them?
A: Be sure to isolate
the plant from any other houseplants. Give the plant a good bath with 2 tsp. of
dishwashing liquid in a quart of tepid water, making sure to wash all parts of the
plant. This will help to get rid of any eggs and nymphs on the plant. Rinse it with
the same temperature water, and spray with a weak tea solution. Retreat weekly until
you get them under control. You can also place yellow cardboard strips coated with
petroleum jelly near, or in, the plant to trap the adults. Replace them when they
Q: I have brown spots popping
up around my lawn. What's causing them?
A: Brown spots can
be caused by a lot of things, including insects, disease, water stress, fertilizer
burn, dog spots, etc. I've given some handy descriptions of the symptoms for many
of the common insect and disease problems for lawns in my book, Green Grass Magic, along with my recommendations for treating different problems
that should help you out.
Q: Where I live, we've been
going through one heck of a drought! What should I be doing for my lawn to help
A: Your question
is a good one, and we seem to be hearing it a lot these days. One of the best things
you can do is to cut back, or stop fertilizing altogether during periods of drought.
By reducing the amount of available fertilizer, you'll slow down your lawn's growth
naturally and safely, and it will need less water. Another thing you can do is add
a light coat of compost to your lawn—maybe about ½-inch spread evenly over the
area. Compost helps retain moisture, releases nutrients, and conditions the soil
all at once. If you are able to, water the area thoroughly after applying compost.
My book, Green Grass Magic, also includes other tonics and tips
for drought including my Drought Buster Brew and Drought Recovery
Q: How do I get rid of grubs
in my lawn?
A: Apply Milky Spore
Powder any time the ground is not frozen—it’s a biological powder that is very effective
at controlling Japanese beetle grubs, and starts killing these grubs immediately.
As each one dies, it releases even more Milky Spore disease into the soil, helping
to protect your lawn for 10 years or more. Then follow up every 2 weeks throughout
the growing season by overspraying the area with a mixture of 1 cup of dishwashing
liquid, 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, and a 1 cup of tobacco tea, in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer until early August.
Q: Help! I can't grow anything
because of my hard, clay soil. How do I get a great lawn?
A: You need to condition the soil before you do anything else. So, apply gypsum at the recommended rate twice a year until things get going. Also, overspraying the area regularly with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer will do wonders for softening the soil. Check out my book, Green Grass Magic, for
more tips, hints, and helpful recipes for growing the greenest grass on your block.
Q: I pull weeds till I'm
blue in the face, and they always come back. How can I eliminate them?
A: The most basic
requirement for weed control is proper lawn maintenance. Thick grass actually crowds
out weeds! So make sure that you're mowing your lawn properly, and that there is
good soil and adequate fertilization. If you're still having problems, then you've
got to haul out the heavy artillery—chemical controls. Be sure to always purchase
weed killers that are labeled specifically for the type of lawn that you have. For
best control, shampoo your lawn first with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and then apply the control at the recommended rate. Next
year, before weeds pop-up, apply my Preemergent Weed Control Tonic:
1 cup of dishwashing liquid, 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide, and 2 tbsp. of instant
tea granules in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer
jar with water. Then follow up with a commercial preemergent type control to help
prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
Q: My lawn has a lot of doggie
damage spots. How do I get rid of them?
A: To repair and
help prevent the damage to your lawn, overspray the turf with 1 cup of dishwashing
liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and then apply gypsum over the area at
the recommended rate. One week later, overspray the turf with my Turf Builder
Tonic: 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, and 1 can of regular cola in
your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer.
Q: I've got a serious crabgrass
problem. Please help!
A: To get crabgrass
after it's already up and growing, you need to overspray the area with 1 cup of
dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, followed by a good post-emergent crabgrass control. Crabgrass dies in the winter, but will come back unless
you take action! So to prevent crabgrass plants from sprouting in the first place,
apply my Turf Builder Tonic in the fall, and a commercial
pre-emergent crabgrass control in early spring (before the temperature gets above
Q: Help! I recently fertilized
my lawn, but I accidentally used too much. It looks like the fertilizer has burned
the grass. Is there anything I can do?
A: Treating your
lawn for fertilizer burn will depend on what type of fertilizer you used. If a dry
fertilizer burned the grass, wash the area down with plenty of water for several
days. Then apply gypsum at the recommended rate. The grass should return in anywhere
from 1 month to 1 year depending on how much fertilizer was used, and how well the
leaching process was done. Spot seed large areas to speed up the process. If your
lawn was burned by a liquid fertilizer, wash it down thoroughly immediately
afterward with water to help dilute it and rinse away any residual product. Keep
the grass watered normally and out of stress, and with any luck, the grass will
grow out of it. If it doesn't, you may need to overseed.
Q: Is there anything I can
do to rid my yard of moss?
A: That troublesome
moss likes to grow in acidic soil, and in shady, damp areas. Often you'll find it
where there's a problem with drainage. You might want to get a professional soil
test and add lime to sweeten the soil somewhat if this is what the test calls for.
It will also help to get more light into the area by pruning trees. And improve
drainage in the area, if possible. You can manually remove moss by raking or dethatching,
or you can treat the areas with a commercial moss killer. But remember: Unless the
environmental conditions are changed, the moss will continue to come back.
Q: Mushrooms are popping
up all over my lawn. How do I kill them?
A: To eliminate
the mushrooms, first walk all over the area with your Aerating Lawn Sandals to poke
a lot of holes in the turf. Then overspray the area with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid
in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and give the mushrooms a light dusting with
dry laundry soap. That should do it.
Q: How can we get rid of
nutgrass in our lawn?
A: The best way
to combat nutgrass is to keep a good, thick healthy lawn. This helps crowd out nutgrass
and keep it under control. It's also important to know that nutgrass thrives
in wet areas. Make sure you aren't over-watering and aerate and/or improve drainage
if needed. To help with this, you might want to check out my Aerating Lawn Sandals.
If the nutgrass is just now starting to crop up and the weeds are young and small,
try digging them out and getting the nutlets.
Q: How do I get rid of thatch?
A: There is a whole section in my
book, Green Grass Magic, devoted to this very question! It is important
to open up your lawn to air, water, and nutrients by fertilizing, watering frequently,
and mowing your lawn with a sharp blade on your mower. This can be tough if the
thatch layer becomes so thick that it prevents water and fertilizer from reaching
the soil. You can remove the thatch layer with a manual dethatching rake, or by
renting a power dethatcher (available at many equipment rental centers).
TREES, SHRUBS & EVERGREENS
Q: I've got a problem with
bagworms all over my favorite evergreen tree. What should I do?
A: Picking off the
bagworms is your best bet if you've got just a light infestation. However, for heavier
infestations, you'll want to use a biological control containing BtK. This is best
used when the worms are small. If the worms are larger and you find that you do
need a chemical control, you can use an insecticide containing pyrethrin to get
rid of ‘em. Keep in mind that it's best if you can get to 'em before late August,
which is when they begin to pupate. Once they pupate, they will be protected from
Q: I'm having problems with
black, sooty mold appearing on some of my trees. What can I do about it?
A: This is actually
an indication of an insect problem. Black, sooty mold often appears when there is
a problem with sucking insects such as aphids, scale, whiteflies, or leafhoppers.
They secrete a "honeydew" substance that encourages the mold growth. Taking care
of the insects is the best solution. Spraying with a horticultural spray oil can
help for scale. Using a good liquid fruit tree spray, or an insecticide containing
pyrethrin, may help for the others depending on the type of tree and bug that it
is. The folks at your local garden center can steer you in the right direction.
Once the insects are gone, the sooty mold will eventually wash away. To speed it
along, wash the trees down with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer.
Q: What is dormant spraying,
and how do I do it?
A: Many bugs survive
the winter by hiding in tree and shrub cracks and crevices. They hatch in the spring
with an appetite that would make a hibernating bear proud! To kill the bugs before
they hatch, you should dormant spray in late fall, as soon as the leaves of your
fruit, nut, and other trees have fallen. You can use a dormant/horticultural oil
from your local tree nursery or garden center to nail them in their tracks. First,
mix up a batch of my All-Season Clean-Up Tonic, and douse
your trees with it to the point of run-off. Then apply the dormant/horticultural
oil over the top. Repeat these steps in early spring, before the buds swell up and
open. The results will be the happiest and healthiest trees and shrubs you've ever
Q: My evergreen tree sometimes
sheds some areas of brown needles it develops during the winter. Come spring it's
always looking great again. Is this normal?
A: If you don't
see any signs of insects or other problems, then this sounds pretty normal. Needle
browning and shedding of older needles is normal with many types of evergreens in
both spring and fall. In the fall, it's similar to what happens to deciduous trees
when they shed their leaves. The browning that occurs in spring is usually due to
moisture loss from the winter winds and/or from sunscald in areas of snow. As long
as the tree greens up later, it's not a problem. But to minimize the browning, you
can wrap small trees with burlap for the winter. Make sure the burlap does not come
into contact with the foliage of the tree. Giving your trees a good, deep watering
just before the ground freezes in the winter helps, too.
Q: How should I care for
A: Gardenias really
do like a lot of attention. They need full sun or light shade, acidic soil, regular
water and feeding, and warm day temperatures with cool nights to bloom. Feed them
with fertilizers for acid-loving plants unless the soil where you are located is
Q: We have had a beautiful
lilac that's grown well for many years. All of a sudden though, it's not blooming.
What could be the problem?
A: Usually, problems
with blooming occur for several reasons. First is light. They need at least 6 hours
of sunlight a day. If there is shading from trees or buildings, this can affect
how well it blooms. Next is improper pruning. Lilacs flower on the previous year's
growth. If they are pruned at the wrong time, such as fall or early spring, the
flower buds are cut off, and there will be no flowers in the spring. They should
only be pruned when they finish flowering. Lastly is fertilization—either too
little fertilizer, or too much nitrogen. Nitrogen can cause a lot of lush foliage
at the expense of forming flower buds. So if you fertilize, cut back on the nitrogen.
And if you don’t fertilize at all, you’d better hop to it!
Q: The leaves on some of
my trees turned yellow, then brown, and now they're starting to fall off! What can
I do to make my tree better?
A: There are a number
of things you can do. First, make sure they are getting plenty of water at regular
intervals. Then make sure they are mulched well. Regularly bathing them every 2
weeks with my All-Season Clean-Up Tonic will help eliminate
any natural enemies. To seal out dust, dirt, pollutants (including chemicals), sunscald,
winter burn, etc., thoroughly soak the trees with an anti-transpirant (can be found
at most tree nurseries) just before the real hot or cold weather sets in; it's better
than buying life insurance for your plants!
Q: What does it mean to root
prune a tree?
A: To root prune,
you push a sharp, flat spade in and out of the ground all the way around the plant.
This should be done at the “weep line” (the farthest point to which the branches
extend) for trees and shrubs. Sprinkle some Epsom salts into the cuts. Next, mix
2 tbsp. of tea, 2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid, and 1 can of beer in 2 gallons of
water. Pour this mixture into the cuts. If you would like to see how this is done,
you might want to check out my, Year 'Round Tree, Shrub & Evergreen Care DVD,
where I take you through this process step by step.
Q: We're moving soon, and
would like to take our favorite tree with us. When is the best time of year for
transplanting a tree?
A: Fall is the best
time of the year to transplant trees, shrubs, and evergreens because they've quit
growing for the year, and have some time to recover from the shock before the next
growing season. Early spring is the second best time. To get them off to a good
start, give each transplant a quart of the following tonic: 1 tbsp. of tea,
1 tbsp. of whiskey, 1 tbsp. of baby shampoo, and 2 tsp. of fish emulsion in 1 quart
of warm water. Then sprinkle a handful of Epsom salts over the soil, and say "nighty-nite"
for the winter.
Q: How do I get my trees
and shrubs ready for the long, cold, winter?
A: There are several
things you should do:
- Thoroughly soak the area around the plants before the ground freezes.
- Spread a deep layer of organic mulch around them to hold moisture in, and to prevent
the ground from freezing in the absence of snow.
- Wrap the trunks of all young trees with an all-weather tree wrap.
- Coat the foliage of evergreens to the point of run-off with an anti-transpirant.
- Where appearance is not a concern, set up burlap or other windscreens for smaller
trees and shrubs. You can find lots more helpful winter hints and tips in my Year 'Round Tree, Shrub & Evergreen Care DVD.
Q: I was shocked to discover
moss and mold on several of my shrubs. How can I get rid of it?
A: You need to spray
them to the point of run-off every 2 weeks throughout the growing season with a
mixture of 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, 1 cup of chamomile tea, and 1 cup of Murphy®
Oil Soap in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. For small areas on branches and trunks
only, a mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts of water should do the trick.
Q: We have a lilac bush that
is about a foot tall. It was doing great, then I caught the neighbor's dog urinating
on it. It turned brown, and lost its leaves. Can it be saved?
A: Yes—if you
act quickly. First, apply pelletized gypsum all around the plant at the recommended
rate. Then give it a good, thorough soaking with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in
your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Two to three weeks later, apply an anti-transpirant
to the point of run-off.
Q: I have shoots growing
up from around the base of a plum and a crabapple tree. How do I get rid of the
shoots without killing the tree?
A: If the shoots
are suckers, growing from the base of the tree or from the roots, you don't want
to use a weed killer. Just prune them out, preferably below the soil line. If the
shoots that are growing under the trees are seedlings growing from fallen fruit,
use one of the systemic plant controls containing glyphosate, like RoundUp®, at
the recommended rate. For super control, overspray the whole area with 1 cup of
dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer first—it won't hurt anything,
and it will help the control adhere better. Make sure you apply this chemical on
a wind-free day, and be careful—the glyphosate kills all that it touches, so spot
treat the shoots only!
Q: How can I get my asparagus
ready for the upcoming winter?
A: To put your asparagus
to bed for the winter, cut back the ferns once they have turned brown and brittle,
and burn them, or have them hauled away (you don't want to add these to your compost
pile). Test your soil's pH again to make sure everything is as it should be.
Then spread at least an inch of compost over the bed, and top it off with about
6 inches of chopped leaves or straw. My book, Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational
Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons. has lots more great tips like this
for growing absolutely heavenly asparagus.
Q: The broccoli I'm growing
seemed to develop small heads this year. What can I do so that I get big, beautiful
broccoli in the future?
A: The smaller heads
on your broccoli could be caused by a number of reasons. Broccoli may experience
stunted head growth if it didn't get enough water, especially when it's just starting
out. Cool weather can also do it. Spacing is another factor. Spacing them farther
apart will help give larger central heads, but fewer side shoots. Closer spacing
gives smaller central heads, but more side shoots. Be sure to follow the spacing
suggestions given on the label of the variety that you plant. You may also want
to consider the variety of broccoli that you have. There are several that will normally
grow smaller heads than others. This would mean that there isn't necessarily anything
wrong with your broccoli; it's just in their nature to grow smaller heads.
Q: My beans have been overrun
by Mexican bean beetles. What should I do?
A: Adult Mexican
bean beetles overwinter in plant debris, so make certain that you clean up and destroy
all plant debris after harvest to reduce their numbers for the following year. To
treat for these pests, you can use commercial controls such as Sevin. Be sure to pick off and destroy any eggs, larvae, and adult
beetles that you see.
Q: Do you have any information
on how to grow gigantic pumpkins? I'm thinking about entering a pumpkin contest
A: I sure do! In
fact, I give my 12 steps program for growing them in my Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational
Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons book. A secret I learned years ago,
too, was to remove all but the biggest two fruits from each vine and to be sure
to give them plenty of water—they can grow as much as 8 inches a day!
Q: How do you grow rhubarb,
and when is the best time to water and harvest it?
A: You should mound-plant
rhubarb in the fall in soil that has a liberal amount of human hair and oatmeal
mixed in with it. Feed it with fish emulsion every 3 weeks throughout the growing
season. Harvest in early summer before the stalks go to flower. During the winter,
I want you to emulsify all of your table scraps in a blender, and pour this liquid
"compost" on the rhubarb. They'll wake up in the spring rarin' to grow!
Q: My tomatoes have blossom-end
rot again this year. How can I help them?
A: Blossom end rot
can affect peppers, cucumbers and squash, too. It's caused by a calcium deficiency,
which can occur from insufficient calcium in the soil, uneven watering that makes
it difficult for the plants to take up the calcium, or leaching of the calcium out
of the soil by heavy rain or watering. It often appears after a period of rapid
growth, followed by dry conditions, or in periods of heavy rain. To help even out
soil moisture be sure to mulch well, and water regularly.
Q: Our problem—early and
late blight on our tomato plants. I planted disease-resistant seed and sprayed with
liquid copper, but I have had limited success. I still lose about half of my plants
by August. What can I do?
A: There are two things
that I want you to try—first, mix 1 tbsp. of bleach in 1 qt. of warm water, and
spray it over every 100 sq. ft. of garden area as soon as the temperature gets to
50ºF. Then wait 3 weeks, and plant. As soon as buds form, overspray the plants
with a mixture of 1 part skim milk and 1 part anti-transpirant to 9 parts of warm
water, or apply a commercial fungicide listed for use on tomatoes regularly at the
recommended rate. Try either one—both should keep the blight away.
Q: I had some watermelons
and cantaloupes die this past year. When I pulled the plants up, there were small,
white worms about ¼-inch long, inside the stems. What can I do to control them next
A: It sounds like
squash vine borers. They can attack melons and cucumbers in addition to squash plants.
With these bugs, the best chance of survival is to prevent, prevent, and prevent
some more. One way is to dust around the base of the plants with a vegetable dust
containing rotenone. With squash, you can also try either early or late plantings
to avoid them, or mound soil over the squash plants to the first leaf joint.
My favorite trick, though, involves
my favorite garden helper: panty hose. Wrap it around the stem to keep the borers
from attacking. If it's too late and the borers are already in the stems, slit the
infested stems open and kill the borers with a crochet hook. If the plant hasn't
died, cover the damaged stem with soil to encourage new roots to grow above where
the worm was. Then give it a lot of TLC for the rest of the growing season.
Q: Are there any vegetables
that are good to grow in a patch of my garden with a lot of shade?
A: Sorry, but most fruits and vegetables
need at least 6 hours of full sun during the 10 am to 6 pm hours. It's probably
best if you find another site if you want to grow vegetables. However, if you want
to try, leafy vegetables will do better than fruiting ones in the shade.
ODDS & ENDS
Q: What's the difference
between detergents and soaps when it comes to tonic recipes?
A: Actually, all
soaps are detergents, but not all detergents are soaps. Detergents that are not
soaps can be damaging to plants. When my recipes call for dishwashing liquid, you'll
want to use those that are meant for handwashing dishes. Do not use automatic dishwasher
detergents or anything containing antibacterial agents. The best ones are sometimes
the cheapest. These will often be less concentrated. Also remember not to use any
that say they contain degreasers or are antibacterial.
Q: What is a 20 gallon hose-end
A: A 20 gallon hose-end sprayer is a 1-quart sprayer jar with a sprayer head that attaches to the end of
your garden hose. The sprayer head will siphon and mix the contents of the jar with
20 gallons of water as it is passing through the hose.
Q: I've looked all over and
haven't been able to find a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer for your recipes. Where can
I get one or does it matter what type of hose end sprayer it is?
A: You're in luck!
You can find inexpensive 20 gallon hose-end sprayers right here. Using the right kind of sprayers for my recipes is important so that the tonics
will be properly diluted.
Q: Can I use my Miracle-Gro
Sprayer with your recipes?
A: Nope, sorry.
These types of sprayers do not deliver the correct metered dilution rate needed
for the tonics.
Q: Can I use my adjustable
rate, dial-type sprayer for your tonics, and if so, what setting should I set it
A: While some dial sprayers can be used, others will be labeled that they may be damaged if used with soaps. It's usually best to use the recommended 20 gallon hose-end sprayer with the recipes rather than risk damaging your sprayer. Make sure you read the label
and instructions for your sprayer before using it with my tonics. If you decide
you want to take the chance, the ratio breakdown for my 20 gallon hose-end sprayer
recipes is 1.6 oz. of tonic per gallon of water.
Q: How can I keep my Christmas
tree looking green and healthy for as long as possible?
A: There's nothing like a fresh,
great-smellin' Christmas tree to really spread that holiday cheer. To make your
tree as beautiful and long-lasting as possible, when you get your tree home, cut
1 inch off the bottom of the trunk to remove the dried sap. Then mix up 2 cups of clear
corn syrup, 2 tbsp. of bleach, and 4 multivitamin tablets + iron in a bucket of
very warm water. Set the trunk in the bucket, and let it soak overnight. Finally,
before bringing your tree inside, spray it with an anti-transpirant to help it retain
its moisture through the holidays. And be sure to keep your tree watered at all
Q: Is there a tonic I can
use to speed up the decomposition process in my compost pile?
A: Yes, there is—just spray on my Compost Starter Tonic: ½ can of beer, and
½ cup of ammonia in 2 gallons of warm water.
Q: I want to start a compost
pile, but don't know what to put in it. Could you start me out with some suggestions?
A: Making your own
compost pile is easy. Simply follow this list as a guide:
||diseased or pest-infested plants|
||weeds that have gone to seed|
||oils and oily products|
||fats and fatty products|
|used tea leaves
Cut all items into small pieces before putting them in the pile. Remember, a compost pile is a great way to improve your soil while recycling your yard waste.