After a strange spring season in St. Louis, we answer your gardening questions | St. Louis Public Radio

After a strange spring season in St. Louis, we answer your gardening questions

May 17, 2017

Ah, finally, beautiful Missouri spring weather. Should last about five days, right? Let's use that time to get up to snuff on best gardening practices for the spring and summer.

On Wednesday's St. Louis on the Air, experts from the Missouri Botanical Garden joined the program to answer listener questions and discuss successful techniques for home gardening. Jennifer Smock, the supervisor of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, and Glenn Kopp, the garden's horticultural information manager joined the program.

Although the weather has been a bit unpredictable this year – early heat, mixed with a cold snap and torrential downpours – Smock said that gardeners still have time to plant almost anything they might want to plant (not lettuce, though). The cut-off? Mid-June.

Below, find summarized some of the questions listeners asked about their gardens during the live segment. Listen to the full conversation, including questions about cucumber beetles, hydrangeas, elderberries and more:

What is your advice for first-time gardeners?

Smock: Don’t worry. We fail too. As long as you are monitoring your water and you’re getting your plants nutrients. That’s the mainstays. It is kind of like taking care of children: Are you feeding them? Overwatering is a huge problem. Sometimes we kill plants with our kindness. Overwatering looks like under-watering. If your plant is starting to look droopy and yellow and you water it every day, back off for a bit.”

What about lawn care this time of year?

Kopp: The main thing now, if you have cool season lawns, is mowing and getting in there if you want to control pesky weeds like dandelions. We don’t recommend fertilizing now, wait until the fall. If you have warm season grass that would start to grow and that can be fertilized in the spring. Any sort of major pruning should have been done earlier in the year. Light pruning could be done any time of year.

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Any particular advice for urban gardeners?

Smock: We’re actually seeing a big trend in container gardening right now. If you have a small space, that would be good for you. This year at the Kemper Center, we’re going to focus on that and try to show you the fruits and vegetables and even some fruit trees you can grow on your patio. They’re also starting to breed a lot smaller varieties.

Kopp: If you have poor soil, you can try raised bed gardening. You can put good soil there, grow lettuces and tomatoes there. If you’re growing vegetables in the city, you really need good sun.

Is there anything you can plant to keep the mosquitoes at bay?

Smock: There’s some herbs out there to plant, most of them are the lemon-scented herbs or scented geraniums. You have to be sitting next to the plant for that to work.

Should people who live in neighborhoods with the Bradford Pear trees be worried about invasion or disease reaching their own yards?

Kopp: Bradford Pear is not a recommended tree for our area, they have a structural problem. There’s a real problem in native areas, you go out along highways and you’ll see them in the ditches and whatnot out there. As far as problem, they are rather disease resistant except for fire blight, you may see the ends of the branches turning black. That is a bacterial disease you can get. There isn’t too much you can do about that, except for to prune it. As they get older, they will split and you’ll probably have to remove the tree.

Can an average person with a large backyard grow all of their own food?

Smock: If you have a very large backyard you can probably grow most of what you want to eat. That’s one of the better problems to have. Most people have a tiny space.

Any suggestions for gardening with kids?

Kopp: You want to have a plant they can grow, something that comes up quick so they can see the results, like radishes.

Smock: Pick plants that seem kind of fun. Stacchus, for example, is fuzzy. Kids like to use their sensory. If you want to start small, with a dish garden and you can create a fairy garden.

Can you recommend the best book for answering gardening questions?

Kopp: It depends on the area you’re looking at. In regard to trees and shrubs, one of the standards is Michael Dirr’s “Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs,” we use that daily.

Does the Missouri Botanical Garden have the capability to answer questions off the air?

Yes, if you have a question you’d like to have answered you can go to gardeninghelp.org for help with plant identification, advice, guides, determining growing zones and plant bloom calendars.

You can also call the Master Gardeners through the Horticulture Answer Service at 314-577-5143 from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. There are also plant doctor services at the garden Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.