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Allium Leaf Miner

    Date Posted: Sun, May 28 - 8:55 pm


  • I think I might have allium leaf miner in a few of my overwintered leeks. I took pictures, video and saved a sample in a ziplock bag containing the reddish brown egg. I’m not particularly worried about the crop but wasn’t sure if I should contact you since it’s a relatively new invasive pest. It seemed like covering and exclusion measures will be my best bet going forward. Thanks!
  • Answer

  • I'm sorry to hear your leeks have been hit by the allium leaf miner. There are a few prevention techniques to consider going forward. 1. Solarization. The garden bed can be covered with clear plastic for four weeks over the summer, being sure to bury the edges so heat is trapped. Solarization will kill allium leaf miner pupae, decrease soil pathogens, and increase beneficial microbes. 2. Rotation Planting. Refrain from planting members of the allium family in the same bed for one year or longer since the pupae will overwinter in the bed. 3. Cover crops. Consider planting members of the cabbage family in the bed prior to planting allium. The sulfur produced by the cabbage crops will transfer to your allium making them more pungent and less desirable to the fly. Another benefit is that brassica plants decrease the amount of nitrogen available in the soil which is beneficial as flies are more drawn to high levels of nitrogen in plants. 4. As you have already mentioned, row covers. Cover the plants at planting time in the fall (September/October) and remove for the winter. Plants will need to be covered again for the spring (March/April) before overwintering pupae emerge. Since the allium leaf miner is very small, it's important to be sure the edges of your covers are pinned down well or buried. Thank you for reporting this finding so the spread of allium leaf miner can be monitored and best of luck with your future plants!

Lawn alternatives

    Date Posted: Wed, May 03 - 4:23 pm


  • I want to find an easier alternative ground cover to grass that is native to Virginia. I was thinking clover, but I worry because in some cases it can be more invasive. Any low maintenance ground cover plants that help improve the soil would be welcome!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Of course, plant selection depends on many things, exposure (north, south, east, west and combinations of those), soil type and structure, hours of direct sun, etc. I'm guessing since you have a grass lawn you are getting a good amount of sunlight. There are really no plants that are low maintenance before they become established. I've had good luck with white clover though I use it in relatively small areas and I don't have a problem with it wanting to take over the garden. If you have a large area you might want to get more creative and use a variety of plants as your ground cover (which the birds and insects will appreciate). There are a couple of native violets you could use, also phlox subulata which is evergreen and mat forming. I'm attaching a link to a website that has good information on what native plants can function as ground cover locally. Here it is- I think you'll find some nice options there. Happy gardening!


    Date Posted: Wed, Apr 26 - 4:28 pm


  • Hello. Poison ivy has started filling one of the beds in the front of my house, and it is coming up with the azalea bushes along the side back fence. Is there a reliable company that can remove this for me? Thank you for any advice that you can provide!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Poison ivy seems to be everywhere. However, there are some plants that look a bit like poison ivy. Virginia creeper is one of them and is not toxic, so it could be pulled or dug up easily. The are a couple others, Your best bet is to take good photos and go to the Help Desk that is manned by the Master Gardeners at your local library. Contact the library and find out what day and time the Help Desk session is held. Once you have a definite ID, then you can proceed with an appropriate method. I don't have any removal companies to recommend. You could also try one of the homemade sprays for killing the vine but, again, you need to know what you are dealing with first. Best of luck.


    Date Posted: Wed, Apr 26 - 3:24 pm


  • I have several rhododendron bushes in my front yard. They usually bloom once a year. I would like them to bloom more often. I don’t understand why one of the bushes leaves turned completely brown and died. Will this bush come back? Should I pull it up? What can I do?
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Rhododendrons bloom once a year, in late winter into spring depending on variety. You could add other varieties with different bloom times to extend the show. You could also add some azaleas (which are in the same family). Some of those do bloom twice a year. The variety Encore comes to mind. As for the browning of the leaves and leaf drop, a number of issues could be causing that. Poor drainage, leaf burn from too much sun, winter burn, nutrient deficiency. It's difficult to diagnose in this manner. But you can try this practice - if you give the plant plenty of time to begin spring growth—waiting until late spring—you can then scratch the bark on dead-looking branches with your fingernail. If there is green wood underneath, the branch is still alive. Leave it be and it may very well leaf out. If it's brown underneath, the branch is dead and you can prune it off. Also, you can visit one of the Master Gardeners that man the desk at your local library. Call the library to see when the Help Desk is in session. Any information you have about the plants-photos, samples, will be helpful. But sometimes you need to assess the planting environment to narrow down the problem. You can also get a soil testing kit and the results will help you improve the nutrients and condition of your soil to ensure future plant health.

Ilex glabra-Inkberry

    Date Posted: Thu, Apr 20 - 8:37 pm


  • We planted 5 ilex glabra bushes in October. One of them suddenly (within less than 12 hours) had it's leaves turn brown/black and fall off. The stalks and stems all seem fine, and it still has some leaves on one side. The other ones all seem fine, although they haven't grown much and have a few yellow/brown leaves. Do you know what happened and what we can do to protect the plants? Thank you!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Sorry to hear of your situation. Unfortunately, it's difficult to diagnosis from this distance. It could be soil, possibly chlorosis, maybe spider mites. First, I would contact the garden center where you purchased your plants. Often, plants are guaranteed for a year. So if you have proof of purchase I would definitely tell them about the condition of your shrubs, what they advise and what they can do for you. You could also check in with one of the Master Gardeners that man the help desks at the library branches. Check out your local library and find out what days and times the help desk is manned. It may still be difficult to diagnose without seeing the actual planting. Bring pictures and as much information about where the shrubs are situated. You can also get a kit for a soil test from the Master Gardeners, which may be helpful to ensure the future health of the 10 plants. There is also a plant clinic but again, I would start with the garden center where you made your purchase. And, of course, check in with a Master Gardener. They are a wonderful resource.

Container Gardens

    Date Posted: Sun, Apr 02 - 9:53 pm


  • Thank you so much for doing this! I have two questions. First, do you have any advice on what native plants grow well and look nice in containers? I'm hoping to make my small patio/balcony (full sun) as pollinator and bird-friendly as possible. Second, I'd like to include some milkweeds to attract monarchs. I have a small patch of mulched ground (16x20 inches) against a fence. Would swamp milkweed grow well there and/or in containers?
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Glad to be of service! I like your native container garden idea. If you want to attract birds, growing berries will make them happy. Blueberries do well in containers and they're beautiful year round plants. Be sure to plant at least 3 different varieties that bloom around the same time. Cross pollination improves the yield; and you need plants that are blooming at the same time to achieve that. The rabbiteye and the southern high bush should work well for you. Some varieties of southern high bush are: Golf Coast, Misty and Ozarkblue. Varieties of rabbiteye are: Powderblue, Brightwell, and Pink Lemonade. You'll need a good size container, maybe 18-20 inches deep and wide and a good acidic soil mix. Blueberries require an acidic soil. In addition to the blueberries, strawberries also do well in containers. You can seek out the native virginia strawberry. They are pretty easy to care for assuming you can give them all day sun. I like your idea of using the swamp milkweed. It's such a beautiful plant, has fragrance and attracts a wide variety of visitors. You could also use that plant in a container; just be sure the soil is moist. The orange butterfly weed is also quite pretty and attractive to pollinators. There is a publication you can download here: It gives many examples of native plants from trees to perennials. It's a very useful brochure. The website- plantvirginianatives. org has a wealth of information I think you will find useful. Good luck with this project. Happy gardening!

Starting an organic garden

    Date Posted: Tue, Mar 28 - 8:55 pm


  • Hi, I am interested in growing my own vegetable and herb garden. Ive done it before but am not skilled on the ins and outs of organic gardening. I have researched classes in the area but am not really finding anything. Do you have good resources to help me? I have started growing seeds this year with quite a few hiccups so far, and am doing raised beds to attempt to keep the weeds at bay. I've got a lot to learn!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, glad you'll be working on an organic garden. As with everything, it just takes practice. Starting plants from seed isn't as easy as one might think. After all, nature does it all the time. But you're not really working like nature when you start seeds inside. So you just have to mimic as best you can. Some folks that start seeds indoors will have a set up in a basement (or other free space) using an old table or two with shop lights above. The lights might be attached to the ceiling by chains and adjusted as the plants grow. And timers can provide the correct amount of light. Records should be kept so that you know which seed is which, the day it was planted, the maturity date, light and heat requirements, etc. So it can get complicated. But these days there are lots of varieties that are readily available as seedlings so you don't always have to do it yourself. That's a nice change. I usually recommend a book on permaculture--Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway. It may be more information than you want right now but if you could find it at the library the chapters on soils and building beds would probably be helpful. You'll want to test your soil first so you know where you stand. I highly recommend checking in with the library branch you like and seeing when a Master Gardener will be on duty at the help desk. They will have soil test kits and can explain the process and will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have. They love sharing information! if you go to the Main branch you may be able to pick up some free seed at the Seed Bank. Best of luck with your project. Happy gardening!

Starting a new garden

    Date Posted: Sat, Mar 25 - 4:25 pm


  • Hi! I live off of N 18th St. and my apartment building has a very large bed that has been empty for a while and that I would like to start growing in (herbs and vegetables). I plan to come pick up a soil kit to test the current soil in the bed. Is that a first step you'd recommend? After testing the soil, are there specific veggies and herbs you'd recommend for the climate/area we're in? Are there any recommended local places that I could get starters and/or transplants? I also have read that I'll likely need to turn the soil to loosen it up. Welcome suggestions. Thanks! - Marg
  • Answer

  • Hello Marg, Nice to hear you're interested in growing food. My first question/concern is if you have cleared this project with the owners or property manager of the apartment you're living in. That would be the first item on the check list. After that, testing the soil is a necessary step. Then, depending on the results, you would add any needed amendments. You can never go wrong by adding compost to the bed. Compost is a good addition because it can lighten heavy soils and enrich sandy soils. As far as what to plant, that would really depend on what you want to plant. I would make a list of desired vegetables and herbs and then see what zone they are appropriate for. Your basic tomatoes, zucchini, basil and parsley will do fine here. The important thing is to check the zone and maturity dates for whatever you are planting. If you want to plant spinach or lettuce or similar greens be aware that they like cool temperatures so they'll need a head start. When it gets too hot they will "bolt" or go to seed and be done for the summer planting season. You can pull them and replace them with a heat-loving vegetable. They can also be planted again as a fall crop when the weather starts to cool a bit. You can find seedlings at most garden centers. I think that Lowe's, Home Depot and similar stores offer some organic seedlings. I would check about both types of stores to see if they offer what you want to plant. Please check out the Master Gardeners who man the help desks at your local library. Check in with the library to see what days and times the gardeners are available. They will give you a wealth of information and advice. Also, if you go to the Main Library there is a seed bank (in an old card catalog) near the indoor entrance. The availability of seeds waxes and wanes but it's worth a try! Good luck with your project. Happy gardening!

Chamomile lawn

    Date Posted: Sun, Mar 05 - 1:28 am


  • Hi there! We live in the Museum District, and have a very small front lawn area, currently covered in mulch, in direct sunlight. We are interested in planting a chamomile lawn there. Do you know anyone who's done this in the area? Do you know where we could source chamomile plants, as opposed to having to sprout the seeds ourselves? Any suggestions in particular? We know that once we plant it, we can't walk on it for a few months. Many thanks!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, this is a nice idea. I'm thinking you're thinking of Roman chamomile, the perennial (the low growing version which is short lived but will self seed, which is a plus). Unfortunately, I don't have a source for chamomile plugs. However, if you have a nursery you like you could try calling them to see if they might be able to order some plugs for you so your lawn gets off to a quicker start. You may also be able to save some money by buying plugs. I know you have a small space to work with but I'm wondering if you wouldn't want to add another layer to the planting, to maximize the pollinator opportunities. It might be nice to have the ground covered with chamomile and some other plantings of echinacea or rudbeckia in a grouping or two. Either way, I think you'll be happy with the change. Good luck and happy gardening!

Camellia Pruning

    Date Posted: Thu, Mar 02 - 4:57 pm


  • We have a camelia bush in our front yard that is as old as our house. It’s probably 25 ft wide at its widest. It’s in desperate need of a trim, but I have no idea how to do that! I don’t want To harm the bush at all, but I know it needs to be trimmed. I can provide pictures if helpful!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, so you have a very happy camellia on your hands. I'm going to guess it's a japanese camellia, flowering from mid-winter to early spring. The other popular variety is camellia sasanqua, which flowers in late summer, fall or early winter (depending on selection) and is generally smaller and looser than the japanese varieties. Either way you want to wait until after the plant blooms to prune (otherwise you'll miss the bloom period). Of course, if that isn't you uppermost concern and you just want to get it under control, then anytime can work. I'm attaching an article from Southern Living magazine that describes a pruning method I think will work for you. The method basically treats the shrub as a tree which would decrease your time and effort of trying to prune such a large plant back to shrub proportions. Here is the article. The last paragraph is the key. As always use sharp clean pruners and pruning saws so disease isn't transferred to the new cuts you'll be making. Good luck and happy gardening!