cracked tomatoes, growing rhubarb in hot spots, asian jumping worms, stiltgrass: q&a with ken druse

CRACKED TOMATOES, growing rhubarb in hot spots, Japanese stiltgrass, and the dark side of earthworms are among the subjects you asked Ken Druse and me about this month, that we tackled on the Urgent Garden Question segment of my public-radio show and podcast. Once the topic of Asian jumping worms came up, we got into a long chat about other non-native earthworms, and then the Japanese stiltgrass Ken’s been waging war with, and speaking of invasives:

We’d love to hear what aliens of any description you are battling, whether weeds, insects, you name it—perhaps for subjects for future shows. Be sure to add a comment at the end of the story to let us know, and please say where you located. Any questions you have of any nature are also always welcome here as a comment or via the contact form, or on Facebook—not just ones related to invasive species, of course. You can also find Ken directly at his website.

For answers to other questions, you can browse the archive of all our monthly segments.

Read along as you listen to the podcast version of the August 14, 2017 edition of the show using the player below, and don’t forget: Keep the questions coming.

august urgent garden question q&a with ken druse



from IPMImages.orgwhy do tomatoes crack?

Q. So many questions have been coming in, because of course it’s that time of the garden season really no matter where people are in the country. Lots of pest questions. Are you fighting anybody there right now?

Ken. [Laughter.] Well, the cat’s about to scratch me.

Q. That’s not a garden pest.

Ken. I know we have talked about it a little bit, but I have some Japanese stilt grass, and I have some horrifying worms, and I don’t have too many Japanese beetles. That really is amazing.

Q.  Of course I am getting Japanese beetle questions, something we talked about on the June Q&A, and of course lots of animal questions, too—furbearers. I wish I had the ultimate answer to that last one, as I am now on my third woodchuck “relationship” of summer 2017, and also seem to be spending time with a cottontail. [Laughter.]

And of course there are tomato-trouble questions coming in galore.

Ken. Always.

Q. There is one especially, a recurring one, but I’m going to grab the version from Theresa that came in via email, who says:

“My tomatoes are splitting. It’s been very humid; would that be the culprit?” So she has cracking. Do you get that? I know you do your tomatoes in the driveway, in pots.

Ken. Do you mean the cracking around the top that’s sort of circular, or the splits down the side?

Q. Hers had the split down the side.

Ken. I think that’s water, don’t you?

Q. It’s another one of what I call the “mechanical” problems; it’s not a disease, and not a pest. It’s a stress problem. And you are right:  

Cracks in the fruit [whether radial like this reader, or concentric] often develop when soil moisture is uneven—so say it has been dry, and then it rains, or if you don’t water evenly. Suddenly lots of moisture becomes available after the plant hasn’t been getting a lot of moisture. Fruit swells too quickly for the skin to take. A stress thing. [Photos above from IPM Images dot org.]

Another thing: When you read the seed catalogs, some varieties say they are less prone to cracking. So they have a slightly tougher skin, I guess.

Ken. Although that may not be something we want.

Q. [Laughter.] Within reason you want that, but not too much.

Ken. And cracking, as long as you get there before the wasps get in, you could still eat the fruit, don’t you think?

Q. Totally. I agree. Another thing that I think can influence it is too much Nitrogen—if you feed too much. I know everyone says tomatoes are “heavy feeders,” but there is a limit to that. I think it can cause things to be more susceptible as well. But even moisture–and isn’t that the case with plants in general, that they grow best without extremes?

Ken. And I always tell people: “More water, less often.” And they don’t know what I am talking about. So many people with their houseplants give it a little bit of water every day, and the plants don’t really like it. They like to get some oxygen through the roots, more like nature frankly—like nature used to be.

Q. Right, before it had a nervous breakdown. So a deep, thorough watering hoping to really wet the soil.

Ken. I don’t know if we have time to get into this because we have so many other things, but what about all that Calcium stuff that people talk about with tomatoes?

Q. Right, and some of the ailments are from not being able to uptake Calcium, but I’d have to sit and really concentrate to think that through. In my brain about tomatoes—the mechanical problems I always understand, but when you get into the chemistry and the soil science, I have to sit and think. I might be too overheated right now for that. [Laughter.]

  • [Read about Blossom End Rot (photo above), the most common result of inadequate Calcium uptake by tomatoes, from Maryland Extension.]

Ken. So I shouldn’t have put antacids in the soil?

Q. No, don’t do that. [Laughter.] Do you think we should dive into a caller’s question, Ken?

Ken. Sure.

growing rhubarb, especially in the hot south

Q. I think we have Marsha on the line. Where are you calling from?

Marsha. I’m calling from just outside of Washington, DC, from northern Virginia.

Q. Has it been hot down there this summer?

Marsha. Actually it was, but this week has been beautiful.

Q. Oh, you have a respite. I know I have a relative in DC and she said they’ve been having some days.

Marsha. We had a few in the 100-degree range.

Ken. Aah!

Q. [Laughter.] Ken doesn’t like the heat, and I don’t like the heat. What’s your question?

Marsha. I keep a garden for a restaurant. Even though we’re in Zone 7a, in northern Virginia, the garden is actually in Zone 8 because it’s right near the Potomac River. It’s a little bit warmer.

They’ve been wanting me to grow rhubarb, and I’ve been trying two years to grow it, and it just seems to wither away. It doesn’t seem to be a bug or a fungus, but the leaves get brown around the edges and in a few days it’s just gone.

I’m wondering if maybe it’s too hot, because in addition to being Zone 8, it’s closed in; it’s got brick walls all around it.

Ken and Q. Oh.

Q. You heard us both say “Oh!” simultaneously. [Laughter.]

Ken. The most beautiful rhubarb I have ever seen in my life was in northern Quebec. Just saying. [Laughter.] It wants cold, it doesn’t like heat. What do you think, Margaret?

Q. Another thing about rhubarb, and it’s exactly why what Ken just said is true: It’s hardy to like Zone 3, and it’s native I think to Siberia—and I am not kidding, or using Siberia symbolically. It literally comes from Siberia; that’s where it is a native plant. It’s extremely cold tolerant and much less so on the other end.

So this walled garden may be part of the problem. Not only do you have the influence from the Potomac, which makes you a little bit of a microclimate, but then you’ve got the microclimate within the microclimate, right?

Marsha. I’ve never gone with a thermometer, but it’s just my sense that when I’m not there monitoring it, it probably gets really warm. But I have a friend that grows it successfully, in her yard, right near me. I remember your advice, Margaret, about why I should buy seeds from Southern Exposure, since I live in Virginia, so with that in mind I ordered the rhubarb from Monticello.

Ken. Oh.

Marsha. Yes, from the renovated Thomas Jefferson’s garden—thinking that’s in Virginia, and that’s even further south than we are. But it’s up on a hill, it’s in the mountains, and it’s probably cooler.

Ken. Right.

Marsha. So you think there’s no hope?

rhubarb in bloomQ. It’s interesting; you did the right thing. One of the steps everyone always says especially when trying to grow a plant that is marginally hardy in your Zone is to get a locally adapted variety. So you did that; that was smart.

I think the best you’re going to get is maybe a short-lived perennial, not like what I have [above, Margaret’s rhubarb in bloom]. When I got to my place there was rhubarb already there 30 years ago, and it’s even bigger now. It just grows and grows, like what Ken said about Canada.

Do you grow rhubarb, Ken?

Ken. No, I think I’ve actually killed it twice. Usually I do three strikes and then a plant’s out.

Q. Now what’s your soil pH, because that’s the other thing I was going to ask about?

Ken. My soil’s neutral.

Q. Around a 7ish pH?

Ken. Exactly a 7, which maybe is not acidic enough.

Q. I’ve read variously over the years that it can tolerate a little more on the acid side, a little acid, but ideally to have the best crop, it would like the high-5’s to mid-6’s, or I’ve seen recommended ideally 6.2 to 6.8. Somewhere like that. I don’t know about your soil because of course that’s another factor—and what we want to do is make as many of the factors in favor of your success.

Soil condition and pH, the heat factor, the locally or regionally adapted variety—we want to take away as many of the potential problems as we can.

Ken. I have a question. I was just wondering about your friend who grows it. Does it have good air circulation were she grows it?

Marsha. It doesn’t. She lives in a townhouse, and even the front yard, which is very small, is surrounded by a fence.

Ken. Wow.

Marsha. I don’t think she has good circulation, either.

Ken. I think the restaurant should start getting their rhubarb from her.

Q. [Laughter.] One thing: Where you are, it really wants afternoon shade. I don’t know if that’s something you could do, to move it to where it’s behind something in the later part of the day in the summer—on the shady side of an asparagus patch with ferns to shade it, or on the shady side of a tall crop like your bean poles.

Marsha. If I had planned this garden I would have done it differently. It’s a beautiful space, but it’s got raised beds around the perimeter and down the middle is a stand of fruit trees, so it’s kind of all shade or all sun.

Q. I see.

Marsha. In the late afternoon, it may not even get that much sun, because the sun goes behind the building.

Q. That was just another idea—again, if we could tease away some of the stressors. One of the other things you can think about doing is growing it as an annual, from seed. I know it sounds crazy, but even down into Florida people can do that. I think the variety is ‘Victoria’ that people do that with.

I’m glad for the call because it’s one of my favorite vegetables—or it’s not a vegetable, but you know what I mean.

Ken. It is a vegetable.

Q. Well you know what I am saying—we don’t use it as a vegetable.

Ken. [Laughter.] Yes.

Marsha. Do you think shade cloth might work?

Q. I do think anything that would take some of the sting of that afternoon heat away would help, yes.

rhubarb’s preferences

Asian earthworm in genus Amynthasinvasion of the asian jumping worms

Q. Ken, I have a question from Alissa in Wisconsin that came in via the contact form on A Way to Garden.  It’s kind of eerie, because within a week I had another person also from Wisconsin ask the same question as Alissa. She says:

“I have the jumping worm or Asian snake worm on my property in Wisconsin, which is composed of deep woods and savanna. I have the characteristic ‘coffee grounds’ soil and have noticed areas where the topsoil has eroded completely, partially compounded by the fact that my property is on a steep hill.

“I would love to learn more about maintaining a garden–and the land–with the soil changes that the worms bring. So far, I plan to mulch regularly to keep the remaining soil from eroding.”

She wants to know what else she can do, and is she just going to be feeding the worms further by mulching. She says that she is already seeing some “dead zones” where nothing will grow. [Illustration below from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources brochure; get the pdf of the rest of the brochure.]

Ken. Ugh.

Q. So earthworms—and what was the first thing we learned as gardeners? Earthworms are your friends, right?

Ken. Whenever I bring this up, I get the most incredible looks on people’s faces. And sometimes some hostility.

Q. I’m not going to yell at you, honey, I promise. [Laughter.]

Ken. [Laughter.] It’s blasphemy. Because I don’t think earthworms are all that good. There were earthworms here for hundreds of years, but [in the North] they’re not indigenous—not the ones who were here for hundreds of years. I guess there was a point in time when they turned over the soil, or helped aerate your compost 40 years ago, and that was OK.

But I only see damage from earthworms now, especially in the woodlands. Between the deer and the worms, and you can just see forever. It used to be that you looked in the woods and there was an understory. I don’t even see that anymore.

Q. Do you have passionate feelings about the subject?

Ken. It’s one of my “red” buttons, yes.

Q. You said earthworms, native, not native, whatever. She’s in Wisconsin, and talking about a particular type of worm. But the first point you made is that you’re not so sure if they’re your friend, like what I had said.

I think what experts would say, is that in a man-made environment for agriculture and horticulture, some earthworms can be a helper to a degree by accelerating the creation or processing of organic material into organic material in the soil that’s more usable and can improve the quality of the soil. Didn’t they come over with settlers and so forth in the ballast of ships?

Ken. And in plants, too.

Q. In the rootballs of plants. So in a man-made environment like a farm field they may be helpers, but in a natural environment and particularly a forest ecosystem there would never be this kind of earthworm that she is talking about. 

Ken. And you’re saying “this kind of worm she’s talking about,” and what you’re saying might have been true at one time, but we have all sorts of worms now. She mentions the Asian worm. And we have worms now that I didn’t see as a kid. I remember worms as a kid. But we have worms now that are churning up the soil so much.

I was in Ithaca at Cornell almost 15 years ago, and they were putting in shrubs in a new garden at their arboretum, and they said the shrubs were falling out of the ground. There was so much churning of soil that they just fell right over.

So we are dealing with new, yet again, alien, exotic, non-native problems. And I know people say, “Oh, you’re a native Nazi,” but really what do you do? I don’t like these worms. [Laughter.]

Q. And this is a very extreme one, a very extreme worm. You said something about native and not native. So there were no worms native to the Northern part of the United States and in Canada.

Ken. Right.

Q. There were and are native worms south of like Illinois or somewhere like that—there’s a line at the Great Lakes area, and above there weren’t any [since the last Ice Age ended about 11,000 years ago at least]. And all the ones that were there were ones that were brought from Europe, and more recently they have come from elsewhere as well, and used for purposes like fishing bait, and vermicomposting, and so forth. 

Like you said, alien creature gets out of control in a new environment. And what they really do is they reduce the soil to a mineral soil—there are no organics left in it, right? It’s a disaster. It gets very compacted and so forth.

Ken. Impoverished.

Q. Indeed, and it happens way too fast. So what she has, in more recent years, these Asian snake worms—Amynthas agrestis—they have been found in a number of areas and the Midwest is having an expanding problem with them now. And there have been pockets elsewhere—we have them in New York State. [The Smoky Mountains have them, too, for example, and parts of New England and elsewhere.] These are very, very active ones—and that’s one way you can tell them apart from others. That’s where they get that “snake worm” name—larger, more active, snakelike in their movements.

And the other way to tell them from other earthworms including the, um…

Ken. Nightcrawlers?

Q. Yes! You know that different-colored band in a sexually mature worm? They have that band, the clitellum around their body, sort of near the head. In this jumping worm, it goes all the way around—it’s not like a saddle that doesn’t go all the way around on the others, like the nightcrawlers. The band is entire, around the whole body. That’s one of the ways you can tell if you have them.

So what Alissa wants to know, and the other person who wrote in from Wisconsin wants to know is: What do I do? And that’s where it gets super-tricky. So what do you do?

Ken. And also she was saying how to keep the ground from eroding. I was thinking about that because rather than just have mulch down, to maybe have more and more plants—more groundcovers in the woodlands. But then the leaves would fall off those; probably the leaves would be deciduous, and then the worms would go after those, and you’d be back where you started.

Q. For instance, from the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, where they are very alarmed—I read an interview a couple of years ago, where an expert from the DNR said this can be “a game-changer,” this species, because it’s so active. And they can such density; their populations are so dense.

They were advocating, if you have them in your garden to remove them—and I know this sounds gross—to remove them and put them in a plastic bag in the sun and let the worms be killed. To remove them so none of the eggs survive, either, and then to put it all in the trash.

In other words, you can try to reduce the spread of them in your little world. But as environmental problem it’s much more serious.

What I did is. I thought, what do golf courses do? Those finely groomed courses.

Ken. You’d be stepping in the castings all the time.

Q. Since golf has been happening, the greens keepers have been dealing with the castings. You don’t want to have to rake and roll the courses all the time, the turf. They’ve always experimented with using fertilizers, which can make the soil inhospitable to worms, and have used a lot of chemicals over the years—but don’t do that any longer. But I found out from the United States Golf Association

Ken. [Laughter.]

Q. …that an organic fertilizer for golf-course use has been developed by a company called Ocean Organics Corporation of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and also in Waldoboro, Maine. They’ve developed this organic fertilizer from tea seed meal (an extract of the tea plant), kelp extract, and composted poultry manure. It’s Early Bird™ 3-0-1 Natural Organic Fertilizer, and right now it’s just being used for golf courses, but this is one thing they are doing to try to minimize this problem and have fewer worms—and they’re not talking about just this particular species of worm.

overtime minutes: worms continued

Q. Jumping worms, huh, from Southeast Asia?

Ken. I was thinking it would be a great teaser-segue for the last segment, to ask you the question how come there are no native worms in the northern U.S. and the rest of our northern continent?

Q. I’m not the greatest scientist over here, but I know the glaciers—what is it, going back 11,000 years? When you scrape down the soil to a certain level, it isn’t going to be hospitable to worms, I guess, and there’s the issue of cold. [Map of “last glacial maximum vegetation;” see map larger on Wikipedia.]

Glaciers that covered north American and reached as far south as where Illinois and Indiana and Ohio are now, and wiped out native worms, and we talked about how ones from Europe and Asia and elsewhere have been brought in in ship ballast and on plants and spread around. But farther south than that there are native species, yes?

Ken. And they probably have fossil evidence of worms having been here 50,000 years ago or something like that.

Q. So I want to say to people: If you have a “small” problem, and you see these worms, it’s good to report it and you can check with your state Extension. Or get in touch with Great Lakes Worm Watch no matter where you live in the country, and there is a Canada Worm Watch as well.

They want to know where different and unusual worm species—especially now these Asian jumping worms, these Amynthas agrestis and other species—are. So we can sort of help as citizen scientists and also get more information, especially about how damaging they have been in the forest environment in particular.

Ken. You’re making me feel that people aren’t going to be staring at me like I am crazy, or wagging their fingers at me when I say that worms are not always the best things in all situations—and, leave the moles alone.

Q. And I agree: Moles are insectivores, and are good creatures that help. We’ve talked about them on previous shows.

fighting japanese stiltgrass

Q. I did want to ask you about another invasive species. I know that you have been battling stiltgrass in the past. How is your one-man campaign over there going—and tell us what stiltgrass is first, I guess. [Above, Ken’s photo of weeded-out stiltgrass.]

Ken. OK. I’ve had a lot of things happen here on the island garden, including floods. And I have lived through the floods, and some of the floods have been really bad, but I have been really lucky (knock wood) for the last six years.

But when stiltgrass came to this garden [Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum], it was the first time I thought I would actually hang up my trowel. And it’s all over the roadsides, it’s all in the open areas—talk about the woods, it’s in the woods, because it grows in the dry shade, it grows in the sun.

It’s a grass, and was first seen in Tennessee in the 1920s and was believed that seed was brought over. The whole thing, dried, was used as packing material from Japan—hence Japanese stiltgrass. I think I got it from someone in Pennsylvania, but that’s another story. Now it’s everywhere here; I can’t imagine that you don’t have it.

It’s really been the big monster—until the worms. [Laughter.]

Q. [Laughter.]

Ken. And I’ve done a lot of reading, and I think I am sort of getting ahead of it a little bit.

Q. And your tactic has been…?

Ken. Well, it’s very easy to pull out. But there is so much of it; it is the lawn. Mowing is great. Its grows sort of like a segmented bamboo-y type thing, and you just pull it and it pulls right out. In the spring, when I first see the seedlings, I just rub them on the soil surface. Weed-whacking is great, but you can’t weed-whack a garden bed with all sorts of plants in it. You’d be killing everything.

But they do recommend, whenever you read something, they always say weed-whack to get it, to knock it back, and you do that now—in mid-August, before it goes to seed. But when it’s mature enough that the seeds in the soil—which will last up to seven years—don’t have time to set seeds themselves.

So if you weed it now, which is what I have been doing, just pulling it out wherever I can (and as I said, it’s very easy to pull out) and then new ones might sprout, but they don’t have time to set seeds. The season isn’t long enough.

Q. Oh, OK.

Ken. You don’t get another generation.

Q. This season, before winter in the North.

Ken. So if you keep doing that for several years—and again, I’m knocking wood—I see very many fewer of them, although there are still plenty. It’s amazing. And it also has an allelopathic chemical so it inhibits the growth and germination of other plants, and it also sort of lays over other plants and shades them. It’s horrible. [Laughter.]

Q. We could go on and on about how many people have Japanese knotweed, or the horsetail rush, or Equisetum, that has come into their garden. Those are a couple of really hard ones to get rid of. But you are saying you have been able to in your garden environment, with a deliberate and consistent program, you have been able to mechanically, safely tackle this. Not in the greater environment, but in your garden.

Ken. Well, on more than 2 acres; it’s happening.

Q. That’s encouraging.

Ken. I’m against lawn in general but having a lawn is one of ways I have reduced the area where this plant can spread.

Q. Because you’re mowing, mowing, mowing, right?

Ken. Right, right, right. [Laughter.] Especially this year.

Q. So invasives—we could go on and on. How about a question that’s not about invasives?

when to plant a peach tree

Q. Susan on Facebook wants to know about her peach tree-to-be. She asks: “When is the best time of year to plant peach trees?” She heard fall, not spring. What’s your 2 cents? I have my own prejudice about all this when-to-do-what stuff.

Ken. I generally recommend and do plant deciduous trees in the fall—in general. She’s not going to have peaches the first year after that.

You can plant in the spring, when it’s at the garden center and has lovely flowers—as long as you water it that first year, it will be OK. But I think generally deciduous trees are great in the fall, and even after they drop their leaves, because they’re never going to have stress from not getting enough moisture. But the roots of deciduous trees will continue to grow until the ground is really frozen, because they’re down like 2 feet.

Q. So you like to take advantage of that settling-in time before the ground freezes, and then again early the next spring when it’s generally moister and cooler, and less stressful for the plant to get acclimated.

Ken. Right. If you plant in the spring and it has to go through the summer, it’s going to have leaves and it doesn’t have new roots and it is more stressful for it.

Q. Of course I am like: If it’s standing in a pot at the nursery, and that’s the peach tree you are going to buy, anytime is a good time—as long as like what you said, that you give it a hospitable environment, and consistent moisture.

I’d rather do it early in the season or late in the season—and I love the fall, too, for deciduous things, because it’s easier on me, too, frankly.  I don’t have to be running out every day in the summer, which is imminent if I plant in the spring, to keep it happy through that potentially hot summer.

But I think it can be done anytime if you’re vigilant—and I wouldn’t do it in the hottest part of summer if I didn’t have to.

Ken. You know a lot of fruit trees, sometimes you get them in the mail and they are bare root.

Q. And those generally arrive in the early spring.

Ken. Generally. But also choosing the variety especially with peach trees—that’s a big part of it. There is such a range, and some varieties really want to be in the South and some don’t have to be.

when a pruned-back grape will fruit again

Q. Paula, also on Facebook, has some fruit questions. Someone cut back her grapevine to the main trunk two years ago. “It’s been making new vine for two years,” she says, “but when should it fruit again?”

Ken. Where is she located?

Q. She didn’t say.

Ken? She lives in Facebook? [Laughter.]

Q. No she does not; Paula does not live on Facebook. But I think this thing just really got a real walloping.

Ken. I think it’s just time.

Q. It’s got to set up an armature sort of to support fruit. Isn’t it the one-year vines that then sprouts come off them that become your fruiting spurs or shoots or whatever they are called.

Ken. I think it’s three years.

Q. To grow back from nothing, right. You don’t have anything the first year to train up, to get your basic structure.  I would think next year, maybe.

Ken. Yes, next year, maybe.

when will my fig tree fruit again?

Q. And another fruit question: How long after cutting back my potted fruit trees will it fruit again—from a hard cutback? To me this is one that partly depends on whether it’s a variety that fruits on new wood or not.  [Above, the early or “breba” crop forming on overwintered wood on a potted fig at Margaret’s.]  

Ken. That was my first question besides where does she live.

Q. What fig? [Laughter.]

Ken. What kind of fig? Most often people grow ‘Brown Turkey’ because it’s dwarf and it’s one of the best ones to grow in a container. But I know people who have fig trees and they schlepp them in and they are 6 feet tall or even taller…

Q. I know, like our friend Lee Reich [my interview on how to grow figs, with Lee Reich].

Ken. If it stopped fruiting, well it’s hard to tell.

Q. I think it needs either more time to rebound, if it was a really hard cutback—and especially if it’s not one that fruits on new wood. Probably next year it will be fine.

Ken. And it likes heat, and I don’t know where she lives but it may be another situation of this cool, wet spring and summer we’ve had [if she is nearby]. Most things have loved it, but some things have been adversely affected, especially fruit. This year there was heavy, heavy set—I have a friend who is losing many of his limbs in his old apple tree because he couldn’t thin them, and then sometimes the fruit is watery…so why do we do this? Let’s just go to Whole Foods.

Q. Between that and the stiltgrass, I think we should just give up—throw in the trowel as you said. [Laughter.]

prefer the podcast version of the show?

MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the August 14, 2017 show right here.

  1. Gretta Wing Miller says:

    hog peanut is just going crazy around my house! We have had lots of rainy periods and the mosquitos are fierce, so getting into the overgrown areas is difficult. I think the only way to control it is to keep it from going to seed. Will the legume grow again next summer if I only break off the stem?
    Madison WI

  2. Mulch is one of the causes of the spread of the jumping worm. All of us in southern Wisconsin have them. Please check with the University of Wisconsin Arboretum which is doing ongoing research and has some info. Also Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wi has some info.

  3. Pat Griffin says:

    We are having a big problem with insects identified by the lawn man as cicada killer wasps. They are nested under the soil and they bring up mounds of dirt in the grass and gravel from the side of our front brick path. We have tried spraying but that hasn’t helped.

    1. Sharon says:

      But they kill cicadas which will chow down on your lawn too, so isn’t that a good thing? Yeah, they look big and scary, but they’re harmless. Live and let live!

      1. Pat Griffin says:

        But, Sharon, don’t cicadas come only once every 17 years? We had lots of them in their recent cycle, in the lawn, on the shrubs and in the trees but our wasps have been here for about three years so far and they nest around the front door – not very inviting. As far as harmless goes, the wasps will sting if agitated.

  4. Suzanne McAuliffe says:

    I’m battling horsetail and losing! The roots are like dental floss and run very deep. Weeding by hand apparently has exacerbated the problem. In researching a solution I see cutting it at the base and layering over cardboard and mulch- for years- may eradicate it. Yikes! I garden in Zone 5b.

  5. Robin Ritterhoff says:

    Love your sessions answering listeners’ questions – always good practical advice. On rhubarb, my small Maryland garden is maybe a dozen miles north of your Virginia correspondent. I adore rhubarb, and have killed a half dozen plants of it in the past few years. I’m wondering whether putting up shade cloth over my surviving rhubarb (morning sun, afternoon shade) during the 2-3 hottest midsummer weeks might help. This is what we’re now doing with tomatoes, to bring down the temperature a few degrees, so maybe it would work with rhubarb as well?

  6. Gayle Jamison says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I live in Woodstock N.Y. and my newest invasive is black swallowwort, a nasty spreading, vining plant I’ve been trying to battle in a once-a-year mowed field for a few years. Staying on top of seed formation by weedwhacking the flowers is mostly what I’ve been doing.
    Thanks for your conversations.

  7. Rose says:

    I first started seeing Japanese Stilt Grass in my part of central suburban MD about 7 years ago. Since then it has taken over all the woods and creek edges behind my house. It’s aggressive and grows everywhere. It grows in shade, sun, wet and dry conditions. Even comes up in the sidewalk cracks. Like Ken, my only recourse is hand pulling (instant gratification for me) the short rooted invasive annual from my garden beds and diligently mowing the lawn before the weed sets seed in late summer. This helps my immediate yard somewhat, but it’s a no win situation because stilt grass spreads rampantly from growth in the surrounding county park land. Mid to late August, and the stilt grass at the edge of the woods grows taller by the day as it prepares to set seed. Not even the deer will eat it.

  8. Cindy says:

    I have these purple worms. Two came t the surface and popped out like they were looking at me. I have queen of the prairie, a very old anemone and golden gleam. All were field dug. The anemones came from Robbins Hunter from the I,fest part of Avery House, that he dated from the 1600s.

    I have perennial sunflowers in the front yard. Two kinds originally. One is intensely aggressive, it goes under the sidewalk. They have hybridized and there are other plants, one started blooming about three weeks ago. They were composted on junk.land by the railroad tracks and they were spreading like goldenrod. They are gone, the field is being developed. It used to be a shale barrens. They are all over the front yard and the parking lot garden. I have Mina lobata and a two toned ivy leafed morning glory growing up one plant. I will maybe cut some back one more time to get the latest bloom. They are too aggressive. I will have to get rid of most,

  9. Deb says:

    In central Pennsylvania, my worst invasive yard & garden plants are Tree of Heaven (we girdled; cut down; rototilled the roots-nothing works), Stilt grass, Mile-a-minute vine, Japanese Virgin’s Bower vine, Japanese honeysuckle. The Emerald Ash Borer has killed 5 huge, old Ash trees in the wooded edge, just over the property line. Some new bug or caterpillar, yet to be seen, has defoliated one of my four different, first time fruiting, Crabapple trees that I planted for the increasing numbers of over-wintering Robins. This summer of constant deluges of rain is not helping! On the other hand, my 3 yr old rhubarb plant and all my perennial flowers did great this year.

  10. tibs says:

    Saw Japanese stilt grass for the first time here in southeast Ohio. We were out looking at the Rover pipeline on a township road and I saw this monoculture of bright green stuff all along the road. It was very pretty and lit up the wooded area. Made my husband stop so I could see it. (After 3o+ years he finally does this when I screech stop I wanna see this plant).
    Japanese beetles not too bad this year. But the hostas lower leaves are turning yellow and fall off. Some small hostas have just disappeared. It’s been a wet summer.
    And I have more and more leaves looking like someone took pinking shears to them. Never see any insects, doesn’t seem to hurt the plants, mainly rhodies, I just would like to know what is chomping them.

  11. Lisa says:

    The bane that I have been battling for 20+ years now is Crow Dipper. It is just terrible stuff that looks like a miniature jack in the pulpit and spreads by corms. If you leave just the tiniest root fiber it comes right back. Have tried newspaper, cardboard and mulch and that helps some, but that darn Crow Dipper worms its way under the layers and springs up at the edges. Terrible stuff but I hope to defeat it one day. I’m in MD.

  12. Sharon Elaine says:

    I’m in NE OH and have a plague of Japanese beetles. Worst ever. Totally laced the leaves on my beautiful Littleleaf Linden

  13. Sharon Elaine says:

    I’m in NE OH and have a plague of Japanese beetles. Worst ever. Totally laced the leaves on my beautiful Littleleaf Linden tree. Hanging in clumps on shrubs and flowers. Help.

  14. Brenda says:

    So pertinent!

    I live just west of Pittsburgh, PA (zone 6) and I think I saw this Japanese Worm in my yard for the first time this summer. I noticed right away how jumpy it was, it was so long and had a very smooth looking body unlike any other worm I have seen. I have not seen any damage yet that I can say it has caused but it may be too new to see anything yet.

    This summer I lost my battle with “wilt”, probably from the Cucumber Beetle and it’s killed every one of my cucumber plants and half of my sweet peas. 4 years ago I had more cucumbers than we could eat but each year after I have lost more and more to wilt. This year I have only been able to harvest 2 cucumbers from about 16 plants. I currently only have 2 small plants left. I planted seeds almost every 2 weeks in a bed that had never had cukes before but they got the “wilt” just a little after they started blooming and died shortly after.

    I lost all my Sweet Peas to some type of wilt as well at about 5 feet tall, not sure if they were the same. Nothing I have done has stopped it. Next year I may have to grow under netting if I want any of these plants to grow .

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Brenda. I’m interested to see what success you would have with a genetically wilt-resistant cucumber like ‘County Fair,’ or one of the varieties that resists the beetle itself (that spreads the wilt). More tips on safely trying to outsmart the bacterial wilt of cukes (and the beetles) is at this link, and suggests skipping years between crops of course and other tactics.

  15. Gene says:

    I don’t currently have any of those problems; but what can I legally (or not) do about chipmunks?
    We’ve had an occasional family burrow here or there in the yard; but this year there are at least a dozen active sites … four are against the house and two are bringing up gravel from at least a foot below the surface.
    They are digging in my garden and seem to like anything I grow.

  16. Gene says:

    I don’t currently have any of those problems; but what can I legally (or not) do about chipmunks?
    We’ve had an occasional family burrow here or there in the yard; but this year there are at least a dozen active sites … four are against the house and two are bringing up gravel from at least a foot below the surface.
    They are digging in my garden and seem to like anything I grow.

  17. Hi Margaret,

    I’m battling many pests on my property here in Sullivan County, both invasives (garlic mustard, stiltgrass, mugwort, and a tiny patch of knotweed) and unwanteds, like dock. And thanks to your podcast I now know I have snakeworms as well, yuck.

    I also want to mention that none of your podcast links seem to be working today, at least, not for me. In case it’s something on your end.

    Thanks for everything!

  18. Erin Edwards says:

    I live in Taghkanic, NY and my garden has been taken over by the invasive Asian worms. I first started noticing them about 4 years ago, but now they are so bad some of my plants are dying, top of soil is like crumbs, and formerly clay packed paths are now soft. Are any of the fertilizers mentioned available for home use? Thanks.

  19. Laurie says:

    Thank you for solving the mystery of the “what is wrong with these earthworms?!” for me. We recently moved to western North Carolina and have these jumping worms in abundance. When we first started to work the garden and they came bouncing and slithering out it was pretty horrifying. Now we know. Our chickens appear to be eating them (as are the moles) so it might be time to expand their forage area.

    And here I thought we just had to battle the Japanese Knotweed, the Kudzu, the stiltgrass, the multiflora, the honeysuckle… ;)

    1. margaret says:

      I am sorry, Laurie. I have some invaded areas (not sure which worm but I fear the worst) and am jealous of those chickens of yours…

  20. Adrienne says:

    On growing rhubarb: I live in Columbia County, NY, like you do, Margaret, and even though my rhubarb gets intense afternoon sun, and is up against a stone wall, one of the warmest places in my garden, it grows beautifully.

    One thing I read when I received the transplants was: don’t attempt to harvest it the first or the second summer, or it will think you don’t want it and die away. Maybe this is what happened to some of your readers who had bad results. It takes patience, but boy, has it been worth it! I have been harvesting it weekly for two months, and it is showing no signs of being finished. In fact, seeing your plant with the beautiful blossoms, I see I have another season to look forward to!

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, mine is in full sun, too, and really loves it — but that’s like you in Zone 5B. Down South, the sun is just too much! :)

  21. Evelyn says:

    Margaret–Thanks so much (she said sarcastically) for ruining my happy feelings about earthworms! Do I still mulch with newspaper, knowing that worms love the soy ink and seem to flourish by reading (I mean eating) the New York Times???

    I truly am glad to know about jumping worms, but really….

    Speaking of invasives, the first plant that comes to mind is our “lovely” fall blooming clematis here in Cary, NC. (Just outside Raleigh). We paid a premium price 25 years ago, a splurge to cover (another splurge) a lovely archway leading from one perennial garden to our woodland garden. (Note to self: when a catalog says “fast-growing,” RUN!!)

    Fast forward, we have FB Clematis everywhere. Sometimes we don’t spot it until it is covered in bloom on a 15 foot vine that has sneakily wended its way through a conifer, etc. In my book, to qualify as an invader a seedling needs to be a bear to pull from the ground. The roots on this thing are, to put it mildly, tenacious.

    So here it is mid-August and I spy–and smell–the noxious and beautiful vines I missed during spring clean up.

    Enjoyed, as always, your talk with Ken.

    1. margaret says:

      Very funny, Evelyn, and sorry to talk trash about worms. As for the Clematis, my friend Dan Long of Brushwood — the Clematis nursery — doesn’t even sell it because it’s so aggressive.

  22. Linda B Horn says:

    What about native Angelica, this is what we get with imported varieties when
    natives are good and similar. The native Angelica is not so colorful but a more subtle
    effect in many locations, wetlands, meadows,etc
    Also Dodder has appeared in my wetlands and a real bummer.
    Terrible parasitic plant so get it and the seeds early.

  23. Heather says:

    The idea of invasive worms feels like it’s crossing a line–I don’t know if I can deal! That does explain why whenever I weed or move mulch aside I’m seeing at least a worm or two. Really, how much of a problem is this in the average garden, and how aggressively should I try to get rid of them? OK to just pluck them up and put them in a bucket when I see them, or is a more intentional approach recommended (perhaps I will start giving my kids a nickel for every worm they collect). I notice them more in areas where I have created new gardens, and it makes me wonder if using cardboard somehow promotes their growth? I tend to do this a lot when creating new garden space or suppressing bad ground covers. Lastly, any suggestions for how to deal with red ants (the biting kind)? I am getting more and more of them and they are so insidious and nasty with their bites I can’t even work around them. Help!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.