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Native shrubs

    Date Posted: Mon, Jan 09 - 5:37 pm


  • Hello, I am looking for a shrub to plant as a privacy screen. I will be planting along the south fence line of my property; however, the fence line itself is already planted with Chinese privet trees (ugh) that can't be removed, so anything I plant may get some shade from these trees. I'm looking for something 5-6 feet tall that will provide a sight barrier without getting too bushy (I don't want it to intrude too far into my yard). Native and/or pollinator-friendly would be a big plus! Any thoughts?
  • Answer

  • Hello there, too bad about the privet but your planting will help to bring some pollinators and wildlife into your garden. The first shrub that comes to mind is inkberry (Ilex glabra). There are many varieties of this plant out there with different mature heights. So when shopping be very careful to read the tag and ask questions about the ultimate height and width of the plant you are choosing. The plant is evergreen and has small white flowers (not terribly noticeable) in spring that develop into small dark blue to black berries. Other native choices are mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and evergreen bayberry (Morella caroliniensis). Mountain laurel can grow to 12 feet or more but can also be pruned to control height and create a bushier shrub. It has beautiful blooms in spring and is evergreen. It does like some shade so maybe the privet will help with that. It does not like clay soil. Bayberry is also evergreen and can mature around 7-10 feet. It's not too particular about soils and can take shade. It has small flowers that develop into those waxy gray blue berries most people are familiar with. All these choices are native and will attract pollinators and wildlife. Best of luck with your project!

Starting seedlings

    Date Posted: Fri, Jan 06 - 9:22 pm


  • I’m having trouble understanding when I should start planting certain plants. Also, if I have to do it inside or not. I wanted to plant native wildflowers all around my yard. This is my first time doing it and I’m unsure if I should just get a raised bed or use my ground. Where can I go to get help and is there a basic planting calendar for starting?
  • Answer

  • Hello there, The process of starting plants from seed can seem daunting. Different plants have different requirements. Your best source of information is on the seed packet. It should state whether the seed needs warmth to germinate (which would indicate that you should probably start those plants indoors, with sufficient lighting, but note that some plants don't need light to germinate but will need the lighting after germination). You'll need to know how long a seed usually takes to germinate (that will be on the seed packet). You'll need to know when it's safe (temperature/weather) to take any indoor-grown plants outside. Generally growing from seed takes labeling and record keeping. I used to grow plants that needed an indoor headstart in my basement under grow lights that could be adjusted to accommodate the increasing height of plants. It works well if you have the space. Having a check list of plant name, days to germination, date to set outside, etc. is incredibly helpful. Having the seeds labeled in their growing medium is also important. There is an alternative method that some people use called winter sowing. Which is basically making a mini greenhouse out of a container. You can use various containers (I find the large plastic bins that contained greens from the grocery store very useful but you can also use gallon jugs w/tops cut off or similar). My personal experience with winter sowing involved chard, spinach, lettuce-plants that like the cool weather. But I'm sure it will work for flowering plants as well. The beauty of winter sowing is that the light needed is easily provided by mother nature. If you have newly ripened seed, that could go straight into the ground but most people are working with seeds that have been harvested and stored and are thinking about planting in spring. Hence, things get a bit more complicated. You'll want to work backwards from the last frost date to figure out when to plant your seeds. You may be planting different seeds at different times. Richmond is between zone 7a and 7b, so April 15th seems like a reasonable last frost date (though it's possible we could have one a bit later). Keep your eye on the weather. There's lots of information online such as plant record keeping templates you can print out for your records and info about the process of winter sowing. You'll probably wind up doing a combination of indoor starts and winter sowing. Just remember, those plant packets are your best resource! Good growing !!

Pollen schedule

    Date Posted: Thu, Jan 05 - 12:55 am


  • Hello! I was curious if you have a pollen schedule for flowering plants in Richmond? Thank you, Taylor
  • Answer

  • Hello Taylor, Thanks for your question. I found a couple of useful resources. Both are aimed at beekeepers so if you are one, most of the information will be useful to you. Or, if your desiring to attract pollinators throughout the season, these resources will also be useful. I've included the links for them at the end of this message. The first website mentions the pollinator plants in the first sentence of each paragraph for the months Feb-Sept. That information is from VA Tech. The second one is from Clemson in NC but I think you'll find their timing chart would also be useful in Richmond. On the Clemson Honey Bee Timing Chart you can scroll down to the section headed - The Pollen Timing Chart - and click on that link. It will display a pdf of a spreadsheet with the various plants and the times of year they produce pollen. There are a few invasive species in their very long and diverse plant list but even so it's a great resource. #1--https://carroll.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/carroll_ext_vt_edu/beekeepers_year_va_apiary.pdf--- #2--https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/honey-bee-pollen-timing-chart/ Best of luck with this year's garden!


    Date Posted: Mon, Dec 05 - 4:49 pm


  • I planted two peony bushes late spring and they looked good until now. They appear to be sickly. What should I do? Are they blighted and must be destroyed? Thx
  • Answer

  • Hello there, What you are seeing is perfectly natural. Peonies are herbaceous perennials, meaning they die back every year in fall, re-grow in spring and produce those gorgeous blooms. So simply cut the stems back and rake up any debris around the plants and they will bloom for you once again in spring. They are one of the longest lasting perennials you can plant and pretty much carefree once their soil preference is met (fertile. humusy soil). Please do not destroy them. They will reward you with blooms for years to come. Enjoy!

Becoming a Master Gardener

    Date Posted: Thu, Dec 01 - 5:24 pm


  • Hello, I came across this web page and am wondering how do I become a Certified Master Gardner? Thanks, WJW
  • Answer

  • Hello there WJW, I'm so glad you are considering training to be a master gardener. We can definitely use more volunteers. If you are in the city of Richmond, there is currently no training program available due to the VA Tech extension agent position being open. But don't lose hope because Chesterfield has stepped in to take over the training. And the Richmond group is very active despite without an agent. There are some very tempting projects, If you are in another county you would need to check in with their extension agent. The contact information for all VA Tech extension agents can be found on their website along with all the information concerning training and regulations re: the Master Gardener program. You can find that info here: https://ext.vt.edu/lawn-garden/master-gardener.html. The website is chock full of useful information so becoming familiar with it will be helpful. Good luck with this endeavor!


    Date Posted: Fri, Nov 04 - 8:46 pm


  • I just moved into a house in North Chesterfield which has tons of trees - and therefore tons of dead leaves, needles and pine cones. I have read a lot of articles recommending to leave the dead leaves in place over winter to help beneficial insects, birds etc., but I'm worried about the potential of leaf litter giving safe haven to ticks as well. I haven't seen deer around at all, but we do get lots of squirrels, mice and birds. - To rake or not to rake?
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Oh, what a good question. I wish I had a simple answer. The reality is that ticks are pretty much everywhere. I've known them to show up in small urban yards and, of course, in wooded areas. They're found in parks in densely populated NYC as well as beaches. So just about every environment you can imagine. I know that cleaning up leaf litter is often touted as a deterrent. It may be, but I suspect there would still be some ticks left behind. I would opt for leaving the leaves where they fall and accommodating the good bugs. There are precautions to take when working in brushy, leafy areas. Wear light clothing, a hat, tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks. And give yourself a good look over when your done working. Keeping the area you want to spend time in or socialize in away from the wilder part of the garden is also helpful, if possible. You could keep a trimmed lawn and garden beds where you congregate and let the wilder parts of your garden take care of themselves. Here is a publication from VA Tech that you may find helpful--https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/2906/2906-1396/2906-1396.html. You will have to make your own choice regarding the leaves. Start with figuring out the pros and cons of raking/not raking, that may help guide your decision. Good luck and enjoy your new home.

Fig Culture

    Date Posted: Fri, Nov 04 - 4:59 pm


  • I'm seeking a book on the propagation planting and care of a fig tree
  • Answer

  • Hello there, I have a couple of suggestion for books on this subject. They have different 'personalities' so see which one suits you best. They are: Grow Figs Where You Think You Can't by Steven Biggs and Growing Figs in Cold Climates by Lee Reich. I would also suggest looking at the Edible Landscaping website. They sell all manner of edible plants for gardens and would be helpful in selecting a variety that you'll have the best luck with (if you don't already have a variety in mind/hand). And, of course, there is good information at the VA Tech website. I've included the link here: https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/spes/SPES-317/SPES-317.pdf. You'll want to consider site selection, preferably a micro-climate that will give your fig some insurance of getting through the winters, possible protection for winter (depending on site) and pollination requirements for starters. Good luck with your project. I think this will be a success!

Trumpet Vine eradication

    Date Posted: Fri, Oct 14 - 12:59 am


  • What is the best way to get rid of trumpet vine. It’s all over my yard
  • Answer

  • Hello there, As you probably know trumpet vine has several ways of spreading. I haven't had any personal experience at killing trumpet vines but I do know they require a lot of work to keep them under control. I don't know what methods you may have already tried so I'll pass along the ones I've come across. They all require a certain amount of vigilance. You'll also want to take care if there are other desirable plants nearby. You may want to consider moving them to a safe location while you try to eradicate the vine. If the plant isn't too large, dig it up. This means cutting the vine, or vines, back to a stump and removing what is a rather large root system. You will most likely miss a root or 2 so it is important to keep an eye out for any new plants sprouting from remaining roots. As soon as you see a new plant sprout--dig it out. Another method I've heard of is using boiling water on the root system. Again you would need to cut back the vines to a stump and then pour boiling water over the the rather large root system. You will have to repeat this process maybe once a week until you see some progress. And again, you will most likely miss some roots, so if you see new growth either dig it up or use more boiling water. Even if you use an herbicide you will still have to watch for new growth and re-apply. So while an herbicide might seem like an easier way to go you will still have to be vigilant and be ready to re-apply. The key here is getting rid of as much of the plant and roots as possible and then being sure to watch for any new growth in your garden and digging or boiling out that new growth. If you wait for all the leaves to drop it will be easier to trace the growth back to its origins and see where there might be ground contact. It will take some time and patience but I think you'll see results! Best of luck!

Vegetable pests

    Date Posted: Fri, Oct 07 - 9:01 pm


  • Pole Beans: I planted (for the first time) some cold hardy plants at the end of summer. My pole beans grew in strong, but are now being decimated -- the leaves are bubbly and stems are severed. Some leaves have been chewed. I have been out there multiple times at various points in the day and I can't see anything. I put some sticky yellow bug catchers out there and it caught some tiny little flies and a small Beatle, but something else is still killing my vegetable. Vine Borer - Squash - Yes I had them and they killed my zucchini and spaghetti squash. I hear they overwinter. I planted several other squash plants after the annihilation of my squash (before I found out they stick around). They got 50% -- the others survived only because I covered the stem with foil to prevent the critters from entering. But, how do I extinguish them? Last question: I had two tomato issues. 1. some look like Chinese paper lanterns, with nothing inside of them, just a fragile green shell of a tomato. 2. Lots of blooms, lots of pollinators visiting, no tomatoes. You are probably thinking 'just give up gardening' - but I'm hoping to learn, so I can do better next year. Thank you. Julie
  • Answer

  • Dear Julie, You've had a tough summer! Actually, the summer was pretty hard on many living things. I'm going to start with your tomato question first. I'm wondering what type of tomato you planted? I've never come across an issue like this so I have to wonder about the seed or transplant you used. It sounds like it's a tomatillo, rather than tomato. In regard to the non-fruiting issue, I have to wonder about when you planted the tomato, did you plant so that tomatoes would have enough time to mature? Some tomatoes require a longer time to mature and fruit. There are varieties like Early Girl which may be a better bet for you if you're planting a little later or you simply want an earlier crop when planted at the appropriate time. Those are my best guesses. Squash vine borers are tough to deal with. Organic controls for squash vine borers include growing resistant varieties-butternut or the italian heirloom summer squash-tromboncino (a vigorous vining variety), crop rotation is critical, using row covers, passive traps, and surgical removal. The beans may be affected by mexican bean beetles. It's hard to say and I'm not sure why the leaves are bubbled, could be a blight? I'm attaching a document from the VA Tech extension website. There is a good summary of tips on vegetable gardening. I think you will find it useful-- https://ext.vt.edu/lawn-garden/home-vegetables.html You seem like a very observant and dedicated gardener, those are the best qualities for good results. Do not give up!! Best of luck!

Powdery mildew?

    Date Posted: Fri, Oct 07 - 7:05 pm


  • Hi. We have a white film on the leaves of two poppy plants we transplanted over a year ago. Cosmetically, it's not pretty. But don't know if it's harmful. It is only in the last 6 months that the film has appeared. They're under a dogwood tree, didn't know if that affected them. Can you tell me if this is harmful, and if it will impact the blooms? I don't see any buds so I fear this is a problem for the plants.
  • Answer

  • Hello there, It sounds to me that you are dealing with powdery mildew. It's a very common fungal problem, heat and humidity aid its progress. It generally doesn't kill the plant, the plant just doesn't look it's best. I don't know which type of poppy you have but I'm guessing it's one of the oriental poppies (papaver orientale), that bloom in spring? You may want to consider transplanting the poppies to a spot in full sun with good air circulation. Cut back the foliage at the end of the season and dispose of it in the trash (not the compost pile). You don't want to be harboring the spores over winter. With some more sun and air, I think you will enjoy those poppies more. Good luck!