THE COMMENTS ON ANY BLOG POST are the best place to catch my attention, particularly if you have a garden question. Sharing your question (and my answer) that way, rather than in a private email, means the information may help others, too, and it’s increasingly hard for me to answer every email, though I do try. But some topics are better for one-to-one conversation, so here’s how to accomplish that:

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  1. florentina says:

    I just discovered your podcast and enjoyed your interview with Matt. Also subscribed to your newsletter.
    I have seen a photo of Erythronium Denis Canis Purple King and hope to find a place to get some of those bulbs. Peonies are also on my list.

  2. Eric says:

    Hi Margaret!

    I love listening to your podcasts and find myself going back to reference your books as well. I have one question that I haven’t been able to find a clear answer on. This year I am doing more growing from seed with annuals, Perennials and my veggies of course. But what I am never sure on is when we start the seeds in a germination soil mix, at what point do we need to put it in another nutrient based soil mix to continue to grow, or do they go straight from that germination soil mix to outdoors in the ground preferably so it is a balance on seed starting time to your frost date? Help! :)

    Looking to take away some learning this next year, – Eric

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Eric. With vegetables and annuals that might be four or 6 weeks or so before transplant (from lettuce and tomatoes to zinnias and such) I just sow in germination mix then transplant the babies wit their little rootballs outside at the right time after hardening off gradually. With a perennial that might be nurtured for much longer, it will probably require potting up to larger quarters along the way — and for that I use potting soil. Likewise if I were going to grow a tomato seedling to a much larger size than the cellpack cell before transplanting, I might use potting soil (but I put my tomatoes out at 6 weeks or so, still smallish — other people grow them longer and larger). No matter what, I never buy potting soil (or germinating mix) with chemical fertilizers in them.

  3. Fred Boatwright says:

    Read your interesting article on deer-proof gardens on NY Times. Any advice on cats? I have desert landscaping in my yard which is basically just sand and small gravel. The cats make mounds all over the yard. The Phoenix area is so dry the turds dry out and stay there forever but the stink doesn’t go away. I have tried all the repellents at Home Depot and pet stores. They don’t work. I bought an expensive but cheaply made motion detector that works until the cats learn to dump just outside its range. Plus I have to remember to shut off the water and drain the pressure every morning to keep the hose from bursting. The cats only come around during the night.

    1. margaret says:

      They are impossible as you have found, and you have tried the recommended steps (other than resurfacing every square inch with some material they don’t like, which is impossible). Are they feral cats or someone’s pets? If feral maybe they need trapping and taking to a shelter; if a neighbor’s pets the neighbors might have to manage this behavior. Wish there was a good answer.

      1. Fred Boatwright says:

        They are both feral and pets. A neighbor traps them, has them fixed and lets them go. She also feeds them. I have found that cleaning up the turds and placing an obstruction to force picking a new spot helps some. It must frustrate them.

        1. margaret says:

          And I thought my local raccoons and their persistent urge to set up a “scat latrine” on my front porch was a nuisance!

      2. M L Whiffin says:

        I love my garden and my cats (we have two ferals outside that we care for). Feral cats definitely need to be trapped and fixed so they do not continue to breed and overpopulate (and in the context of this thread, make matters worse for gardeners). Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) is the accepted method by which feral cats are treated. The left ear is ‘tipped’ (the very tip of ear is trimmed) at time of surgery to show they have been sterilized. In my area–NW New Mexico–feral cats that are trapped and taken to our shelter are euthanized promptly. If the cat is tipped it is returned to the area where it was trapped. Please research TNR–there may even be a group in your area–to learn more. I don’t mean to go off on a tangent, but this issue is much larger than cats ruining gardens.

  4. Rose says:

    Margaret, I recently learned that neonicotinoids persist in plants they were used on. Will it also affect the seeds from that plant? For example, I have coneflower that was given to me by a neighbor. I have no idea if neonicotinoids were used. I leave the seeds for goldfinch and plant some of the seed to extend the coneflower garden. This neonic thing is freaking me out. All of my gardens may contain it! Should I start replacing everything? I’m starting to grow from seed now because so many plant sellers don’t know if neonics were used. Argh!

  5. Bill says:

    The terms pesticide and herbicide are commingled in your NYT article. They are two very different things. Herbicides kill plants, pesticides kill bugs.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Bill. Actually the EPA considers herbicides one type of pesticide; that is the scientific definition. They says it is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest–bacteria, fungus, insect, other animal, plant pest etc. More on that.

  6. diane says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Have you touched on the topic of trying to find peat-free horticultural products? I have been binge-watching Gardener’s World and the UK is trying to go peat-free in the next few years. Has it become an issue in the horticultural world in the US? I normally obtain potting mix for a good number of containers from a local farm and garden nursery. The brand I have been using contains primarily Canadian peat. They did some research but could not find a source for a comparable peat-free product.

    Thank you, diane

    1. Jan Hersey says:

      Hi, Diane, Randi, and Margaret, I’ve begun using a relatively new peat-free soilless growing medium called Pittmoss (it’s made near Pittsburgh), hence the name. Pittmoss, which Margaret may now be familiar with since the original post here is almost a year old, is made from recycled paper products. It’s available in both certified organic and traditional versions. I’ve successfully started vegetable and flower seeds in PM this spring and used it mixed with organic pottimg soil to pot up the same; I’m even using it in combination with other materials to fill two new raised beds. Results are impressive. You can find a podcast interview with Dr. Charles Bethke, PM’s soil scientist, at It’s podcast #259 on May 5, 2022. Now, if there would only be enough demand for it on the West Coast I wouldn’t have to get it shipped! No more peat for me.

  7. Randi Scher says:

    I’m also searching for peat-free soil mixes, for myself and my local gardening group. It’s very hard to find here in the US. The only solution for now is to blend my own mix, but this is not easily doable for most. Any insight you have would be most welcome!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Randi. I actually took your cue to ask the guest for this coming weekend’s podcast. Lee Reich (who has a degree in soil science and mixes his own potting soil) what he’d suggest. The interview (about fall prep) with that at the end of it will be live the 23d of October. He suggested coir or compost or leaf mold as possibilities and explained the basic idea of how it all works, and how a bit of garden soil or sand may also work in the mix. I will delve into it more and see what other people say. I see U of Minnesota has some recipes. I also see some companies are starting to offer bagged peat-free mixes but do not know first-hand about any of the brands.

  8. Kim Newell says:

    Hello Margaret, just a quick message to let you know how much I enjoy your podcasts, particularly those with Ken Druse. You both appear to have a lovely friendship and great enthusiasm for gardening and plants and that all comes across so beautifully in your podcasts.

    I am based in Australia and get great ideas from your shows regarding plants and design eg structure of plants, shade ideas, container planting. I then try to convert those ideas using plants that are either native to this area or that can grow in this climate without becoming environmental weeds.

    Thank you both for providing such enjoyable and informative podcasts.

    Kind regards Kim

  9. Erynn says:

    Hey Margaret, So cool that you have been able to make a career out of your passion. That is so rare! Thanks for sharing your talent. My grandma would have loved to have met you! This is right up her alley. She recently passed, and during one of her last days on earth, my aunt, uncle and I took her to a garden that she helped plant and picked her oranges from her favorite Hawaiian orange tree. She passed away in Hawaii and she would make leis with the plumerias that her neighbors planted.

    Thanks for sharing your passions and reminding me of my dear sweet grandma!

  10. mary nash says:

    I am writing to thank you for Backyard Parables. I read many gardening books and this quickly became a favorite. Your lovely writing style, complete with humor and pathos, as well as a wealth of information, is wonderful. I admire your willingness to persevere in keeping your garden going despite so many climate challenges. I live on a small island off the coast of northern Washington state and enjoy (almost) ideal gardening conditions.

  11. Jeff says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Since it’s a holly-jolly time of year, I’m curious about Ilex verticillata. In a small garden, I find it somewhat tedious to devote some of my winterberry real estate to the male since I only have four plants all together. Is there any way I could graft a stem or two of the male onto a couple of branches of the females to create self-pollinating plants? Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      I don’t know, Jeff. I have maybe one male to each group of about 8 or so females, sometimes planted at a slight distance out of the way or otherwise hidden in the midst.

  12. Chris says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Recently you asked a guest about the peat situation and what else one could use. I’d like to re-listen to it but can’t remember who it was. Can you tell me?
    I have a perennial nursery and am currently researching peatless mixes, hoping to experiment this spring and come up with a go to recipe for 2023. I am also compiling all my info to share to my extension services growers listserve, as its becoming very clear that we all need to start transitioning away from peat (and coir, I might add).

  13. Christine Esten says:

    Ha! Just looked down your comments column and I see it was Lee Reich.
    Thanks Margaret, love you program and all that you do.

  14. Mary Di Gregorio says:

    I read your article in the Times about using fallen leaves to enrich soil. I have a small plot where I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, basil in Brooklyn, NY. I am new at this so please bear with me. I laid pine bark as mulch in the spring. They are rather large, brown nuggets. What are the steps: do I remove the pine nuggets and leave just the soil; put the leaves on top of the plot; how do you keep the leaves from blowing away? Thank you, Mary

  15. John Leydecker says:

    Good day to you Ms. Roach, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on “slow bird watching” in the Times. I really love birds, have several feeders of various types and a parrot named Annie to boot!

    I am going to put some of your suggestions into practice and thanks for a taking a fresh look at birding.


  16. Katy Jones says:

    Hi Margaret,
    A friend sent me the following link this morning and I thought of you and the enormous reach you have on social media, including your podcasts and NYTimes column. You’ve become my (boomer) generation’s guru; this info about pond cleanup and tadpoles-as-fish-bait was good to remember. Thanks for all you give to us.
    Katy Jones
    p.s. we love Ken Druse, too!

  17. Pamala Buzick says:

    Love your article about container gardening. Any insights on the most affordable large outdoor pots?

    Much appreciated

    1. margaret says:

      Don’t know, Pamala — except that I have gotten many, many years out of each of mine so the investment was worth it (and most nurseries have end-of-season discounts, when they are on sale which can help with the sticker shock).

  18. Dear Margaret,
    I love your essays, insight and advice about everything related to gardening. A few years ago I bought a small weekend house in Athens, NY and dove into the world of plants and flowers.
    We had a lightning strike two weeks ago and it felled a massive pine tree across the yard. I’ve wanted to let part of the 3/4 acre yard go wild (inspired by your essay), and instead of having the tree carted away or turned into mulch, I’m letting it lay where it fell. (Though I did clear a few hundred pounds of broken branches, pine cones, five small maples it took down with it, etc.)
    Two sides of my yard are woodland edge. I don’t use chemicals on the lawn and every spring I have wild chives, violets, tons of wild thyme and all kinds of neat weeds as the grass comes back. My goal is to let the grass behind the tree go wild and see what happens. But I’d love to plant a pollinator garden or something native around the tree to attract bugs and bees and wildlife of any and all kind.
    Where the tree fell, the soil is clay and can range from soaked to hard. I’m happy to amend it, but I can’t find any information on what might grow next to a pine in part sun in clay. I’m reaching out with the hope that you might direct me to a resource or the like so I can plan for next year.
    Thank you so much,
    Pamela Harris
    (I emailed you before I saw this option. I apologize for the duplicate.)

  19. connie says:

    Hi Margaret, thank you for the great post about asian jumping worms. I have them (Concord MA). UGH. I’ve been reading (on instagram) about various gardens built with rocky debris, grit and or gravel. For example, Tom Stuart-Smith described a garden in Mallorca planted into 150 mm of grit, and the plants don’t need irrigation. He thinks the plants develop a very large and resilient root system. I’m wondering if using more gravel, grit and rocky debris on top of the soil would be a partial work around to living with these worms. If you have any thoughts, perhaps you could comment on your next post! Thank you in advance, Connie (an avid gardener).

    1. margaret says:

      In theory I understand what you are getting at … but can your entire property be graveled (otherwise they will just move to the lawn or another bed that isn’t) and can all the plants you grow actually live in gravel-garden conditions? I would need to convert 2.3 acres to gravel. : )

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