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Question and Answers with Doug

Our resident horticultural expert, Doug Hensel, is here to provide expert advice on all of your lawn and garden questions. Browse the collection of questions below, or if you’d like to send Doug a question tap the Ask Doug button below.

Ask Doug

You can learn a lot from other peoples questions. Here are some of the ones that have come into Doug in the past.

Question: Doug, I was wondering when is the best time to plant potatoes. Will the Great Big Greenhouse have seed potatoes this year? If so what varieties will you have? I have never tried to plant potatoes and need some advice.

  • Answer: Yes, we do carry potato starts. We have five varieties: Russett Burbank, Pontiac Red, Yukon Gold, Russett Banana, and Kennec. We have a free information sheet on how to plant potatoes. Or, you can talk to our vegetable buyer/expert, Bonnie Pega, for more information.

Question: My Bermuda grass is still really brown (as of today, March 28)I’m wondering if something else is wrong with it. Shouldn’t it be green by now?

  • Answer: Bermuda grass has not started to green up and grow yet. We are still too cold for it to break dormancy. Bermuda grass will start to show new growth sometime in April, once the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees and better. So, be patient and I am sure your Bermuda grass will start to green up soon.

Question: I have an 11 ft ficus tree that is 18 years old and has only been re-potted once. It’s been dropping is leave for several months now. But there is new growth. Should I re-pot it in a larger pot? The pot it’s in is 14″ and I have not moved it.

  • Answer: You must be doing something right in order to have an 11 ft. Ficus tree. If the leaves that are dropping are coming from the lower part of the plant, this is a sign of drought. If the leaves are coming from the interior part of the plant, this is a sunlight issue. Thirdly, if the leaves are dropping from the top of the plant (the newer growth), this is a sign of overwatering. If the leaves are from the lower part of the plant, you have two options. You can either re-pot now and move up to a 16″ pot or you need to water more often.

Question: Do I cut back my “knock out” roses? Thanks

  • Answer: Most people with Knockout roses have already pruned them back and are now having a lot of new growth coming. With this said, you can still prune your roses back. In the future, be sure to prune around the end of February or the first of March. By pruning now you will not hurt the plant but you will delay the blooming time by a few weeks. In addition, now is the time to give your roses their first feeding of the growing season. I recommend using Espoma Rose Tone.

Question: Yesterday I noticed that the foliage was thinner on our compacta hollies. They also did not look healthy and dark green as usual. Upon closer inspection, it looks like the leaves have been stripped from the branch. Any idea what this could be, and how to treat it?

  • Answer: I would like to see some samples from your compacta holly in order to be more exact as to what may be happening with your plants. It is hard to be correct in diagnosing over the internet. Is it possible for you to stop by the store sometime with samples?

Question: I live in the Briarwood subdivision. Would you be willing to take a look at our yard (which is in rough shape) and give us some suggestions about improving it?

  • Answer: I have a good suggestion. Chesterfield County has a program called Grass Roots. For only $20.00 a master gardener will come to your home and take soil samples and send it off to Va. Tech for a complete analysis. A soil analysis is the first step I always recommend when someone wants help with their lawn. Once you have the report – it takes two to three weeks – come to see us and we can help you with reading the report and filling your needs. The phone number to Chesterfield Extension Service is (804) – 751 – 4401.


  • Answer: Wisteria needs to be planted near a strong structure so that it has something to climb up on, such as a fence. The best time to plant is now, while the weather is cool and the soil temperature is cool. Again, thank you for taking the time to send in your plant question. Happy Spring to you, Doug

Question: There is a plant located in the median of Brookland Park Blvd in front of the Walgreens at the corner of Chamberlayne Ave and Brookland Park Blvd. could you tell me what this plant is. when it is in bloom it has large white flowers.

  • Answer: From your description, I am going to assume that it is in bloom right now. If so, I would say that it is either the Bradford Flowering Pear tree or the Star Magnolia. I use to live in Chamberlayne Farms so I know the area but I haven’t been there in a few years. If you could take a picture and send it to me then I would be able to be more exact.

Question: Do you recommend pruning off the red berries on Nandina.

  • Answer: Yes, I would recommend trimming off last years’ berries. I have a few Nandina plants and this is what I do with any berries. The plant is ready to put out new growth and then flower later this spring.

Question: Hi Doug…can Saucer Magnolias like ‘Jane’ and ‘Anne’ be pruned to stay within a manageable size (10 feet or so) without sacrificing blooms?

  • Answer: 10 Ft. is right at the lower end of the size that they will grow. So, keeping either Magnolia Ann or Magnolia Jane at 10 ft. or so should be no problem. Keep in mind that the time to prune will be right after they finish blooming.

Question: Was hoping you could tell me about the Bougainvillea plant. I had never heard of them when I lived in NY. I am looking for something to put in a hanging basket for my front porch and wondered if I might try this plant.? It would get mainly afternoon sun. Thanks!

  • Answer: Bougainvillea plants do make beautiful blooming hanging baskets. And, the afternoon sunlight should be ample for it to perform well for you. We will be receiving bougainvillea hanging baskets around mid-April, when our temperatures should be more stabilized and warmer for these tropical baskets to be outside.

Question: I have 2/3 of an acre which is on a 35-40 degree hill, mostly clear. What kind of fruit trees would you recommend planting in Chesterfield clay soil?

  • Answer: You have a good size area to grow a small orchard. In Chesterfield, you can grow apples, peaches, cherries, pears, and more. I would recommend that you first do some homework on fruit trees so that you understand their cultural needs, such as sunlight, soil, fertilizing and you need to understand that some fruit trees need to be cross-pollinated. We have a fantastic selection of fruit trees AND they are on sale. I would suggest coming to see us and our selection.

Question: We transplanted a Knockout rosebush last November. It looks like it survived because it has a lot of new growth. When we transplanted it we used Rose-Tone in the hole. I was wondering if I should add more Rose-Tone at this time? Thank you! What a beautiful day to be out in the yard!

  • Answer: You are welcome. We love the gardening questions. Yes, it is a beautiful day today. Spring is just a couple days away. I would suggest adding more Rose Tone again, now that the rose is beginning to put out new growth.

Question: This spring I have wonderful foliage on my daffodils, but less than 1/2 the blooms of previous years. I’ve noticed the same condition on my neighbors. Is this hopefully a temporary condition because of last summer or permanent damage because of last summer?

  • Answer: My first thought as to why daffodils do not bloom is because they have multiplied and have become crowded. And they need to be dug up and divided. Overcrowded daffodil bulbs will stop blooming. The time to dig up and divide is later this spring when the foliage begins to turn yellow. Also, be sure to add some Espoma Bulb-Tone with the replanting of the bulbs.

Question: We have a few issues with our yard. First, it is very shady and contains a lot of moss. Second, our backyard is not quite as shady but has a lot of crabgrass and clover. Our questions on these are: what type of grass seed/fertilizer/weed killer is the best for our lawn. Our last issue is that coming up our drive there is really dark mulch on the bank. and we have planted Hosta and Azaleas, but they have all died. What do you suggest planting here that will survive? Keep in mind, there is not much sunlight here.

  • Answer: Let’s first talk about your lawn. My first suggestion is to have a soil test done. This analysis will educate us as to what you need to add to your soil in order to be successful in growing turf. Having moss tells me a lot about your soil. Your soil is very shaded, very compact, and very “sour”. To be successful in eradicating moss you need to correct these issues. There are moss killing products but unless you correct these issues moss will come back. I urge you to aerate the soil in order to loosen the compaction. This will also allow oxygen to get into the soil. Secondly, you need to lime your soil in order to raise the pH. Thirdly, and this could be tough, can you trim or remove any trees in order to allow more sunlight? You may want to come to see us in person so that we can talk further about our recommendations. As for your second question about planting azaleas and hostas…both azaleas and hostas like a cool, shaded environment, which is what you have for them. I don’t think the plants were the problem. They could have died for other reasons. Again, I hope you can stop by the store and let one of our horticulturists talk to you about planting.

Question: I cannot get hydrangeas to grow in my yard. I have bought them from you guys and other places with the same results.

  • Answer: I would like to have you visit the store so that we can talk in person about your history in trying to grow hydrangeas. We have our Spring Gardener’s Fair event this Saturday. This would be a good time to talk to me and some of our professional guests that will be on hand during the day.

Question: When should plants be fertilized and what type of fertilizer should you use for rhododendrons and osmanthus (? spelling) bushes, and azaleas?

  • Answer: The proper time to feed spring blooming plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, and osmanthus is after they have finished blooming. The type of fertilizer that I would recommend is Holly Tone. Holly Tone is a natural food that works with the soil and is formulated to do well with acid-loving plants.

Question: I have several stands of daffodils that have only been in the ground for 3 -4 years and are not blooming well at all this year. What is the best procedure and timing to revive or should I just dig up and start over?

  • Answer: The main cause for daffodils not too bloom is because they need to be divided. They have become too crowded. The time to dig and divide is later this spring when the foliage begins to yellow. Be sure to feed your newly divided bulbs with Espoma Bulb-Tone at the time of replanting.

Question: Do you do soil tests there? I recently moved to Powhatan where the dirt is all red and clay-like. I am used to seeing brown soil as good. I need to do landscaping here ( grass and shrubs). Do I need to bring in topsoil or is this dirt actually good?

  • Answer: We can test your pH level for you here at the store, for free. For a complete soil analysis, you will need to send soil samples off to a laboratory. I would suggest that you contact the Powhatan Extension Service. The phone number is 598 – 5640. I believe Powhatan is providing a service through their Master Gardeners whereby they will come to your home and take soil samples for you. The cost is only $20.00. They will send the samples off to Va. Tech for analyzing.

Question: My question is about tulips. Two years ago in the fall, I planted the tulips in my flower garden. The first spring they were beautiful. The second spring there were no blooms. This spring no bloom so far. What am I doing wrong? Can you help me? Any suggestions? Thanks.

  • Answer: A couple of things come to mind pertaining to your tulips. First, tulip bulbs can be tough to grow in our area. True perennial tulip bulbs need to be the Darwin Hybrids series or the Botanical Bulbs series. Tulip bulbs have trouble with our summer heat. They need to be planted, at least, 10 to 12 inches in the ground so that they can stay as cool as possible during our summer months. A second thought could be that your area stays too wet. Tulip bulbs staying too wet tend to rot and decrease in their performance over the years. Another thought is on feeding your bulbs. You may want to consider feeding your tulip bulbs with Espoma Bulb-Tone this spring. I am sorry you are having issues with your tulip bulbs but hopefully, I have enlightened you as to what the problem may be.

Question: Do you carry the Black Cow brand of soil amendments, such as mushroom compost and cow manure? If so, what are the prices?

  • Answer: We do carry the Black Kow in a 50 lb. bag for $9.99. We don’t have the mushroom compost.

Question: Is it too early to spot seed bare patches in lawn and if so when should that be done?

  • Answer: A quick answer to your question is that it is too early to spot seed your lawn. I did a soil temperature test and our soil temperature is 42 degrees. We need the soil temperature to be 50 degrees for germination to occur. I would project that our soil temperature will be 50 degrees in about 10 days. We seem to be having some warm days now that will help.

Question: Can jonquils which have ceased to bud and bloom be divided and replanted now?

  • Answer: As for your jonquils…you don’t want to dig up and divide your jonquils at this time. The best time to dig up and divide is to wait for the foliage to begin to turn yellow and wither (usually sometime near summer). One reason why jonquils will stop blooming is that they have become too crowded and need to be divided. When you do this gardening chore be sure to add some food, such as Espoma Bulb-Tone.

Question: I’ve started from seed, regular chives, and garlic chives. I know it takes 15-21 days to germinate but was wondering how many days to actually grow full term. Please advise.

  • Answer: As for your question on chive seeds…I checked the packages of seeds and the package does not indicate a maturity date. But, in talking to our seed buyer, Bonnie Pega, she thinks that maturity on chives would be around three months. And, Bonnie wants me to remind you that the proper way to harvest chives is by cutting the outer greens and not by giving the whole clump a “flattop” trim. I hope I have answered your vegetable gardening question. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to send me another question. I want to extend an invitation to you to join us next Saturday, March 19, for our Spring Gardener’s Fair. One of our guests will be Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Co., a seed vendor.

Question: Is it too late to prune back my tea roses?

  • Answer: It is NOT too late to prune your tea roses. I see that you live in Richmond and in this area roses are beginning to break dormancy. I would trim back your tea roses as soon as possible. As you prune, keep in mind that the proper method of pruning is to cut the canes on a 45-degree angle. Also, this would be the time to remove any weak or crossing or weak canes. Finally, this is the time to give your roses their first application of rose fertilizer. We recommend using the Espoma Rose Tone.

Question: I would like to send a winter daphne in remembrance of a loved one. Do you deliver and if so, do you have a Daphne and what would be the cost?

  • Answer: We do have Daphne odora in a two-gallon pot for $49.99. We do deliver. The delivery fee depends on the zip code so we need to have you call the store (320-1317) and let’s talk to you further about the Daphne and setting up a delivery.

Question: Can you tell me when vegetable plants will start arriving and when is the best time to plant them in a raised bed? I know some should be planted earlier than others. Thanks!

  • Answer: We do have a very nice selection of the cold crop vegetables available now – assorted lettuce, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, celery, etc. They come in a four pack and we sell for $1.49 or a flat (8 packs) for $15.99, which you can mix the vegetable packs to make a full flat. As for fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, etc., it is too early to be planting. We need to wait until mid to end of April when our soil temperatures are warmer and we are out of a threat of frost.

Question: Do you carry Yaupon Dwarf Hollies? If so, what size and price? Thanks.

  • Answer: We don’t have Dwarf Yaupon hollies in our stock this week. But, we do carry the plant in a three-gallon container and we sell for $24.99. We should have them available any day. If you like, give the store a call the first of next week to see if you have received our stock of Dwarf Yaupon hollies.

Question: I have a peach tree that I planted last year. It did really well and grew 8-10 beautiful peaches. However, when I cut into them they all had these little white worms in them. I think they were some kind of fruit fly larva. What can I spray on my tree this year to prevent pests? I try to keep my treatments organic if possible. Thanks!

  • Answer: Unfortunately, there is no way around the fact that you will need to spray your peach tree in order to keep insects from destroying the fruit. Since you want to stay as organic as possible, I suggest using the Espoma Earth-Tone Horticultural Oil spray while the tree is still in a dormant state. This organic product will kill the insects that have winter-over on the bark of the tree and limbs. In addition, you can use this same product during the growing season as well. For your convenience, this product comes in a ready to use a bottle that you hook up on the end of a water hose. We sell this for 32 fl. Oz. bottle for $21.99.

Question: Are you hiring – any job, including the golf course.

  • Answer: I can only speak on behalf of the Great Big Greenhouse & Meadows Farms Nursery in Richmond. We are accepting applications for employment at this time. If you still have an interest then I would suggest that you stop by the store and fill out an application. We keep applications at our register area.

Question: Do you have memorial stones for the garden to memorialize people who have passed away? If so, what are the size and the price?

  • Answer: First we want to thank you for visiting our website. We hope you found our website user-friendly and informative. Be sure to visit our website regularly as we have many wonderful events scheduled and weekly fantastic sales. As for memorial stones…we do have a selection to offer. I am not sure what exactly you are wanting in a way of a memorial stone. Our stones are from our vendor, Massarelli’s, and they come in different shapes and sizes and different price points with various scripts embedded on the front. I see that you are here in Richmond. I would suggest stopping by the store and seeing our selection of memorial stones. Again, we want to thank you for taking the time to visit our website.

Question: : Looking for a plant to prevent erosion on the riverbank on the Rappahannock River. Recently had hillside graded and drainage system put in. Would like something that will not attract snakes, rodents etc., and be fairly low. Wonder about liriope? Something low maintenance preferred.

  • Answer: Liriope is an excellent choice of plant. I would recommend the Liriope spicata which is sometimes referred to as “creeping Liriope”. Other choices of plant material to consider are Creeping Phlox (which is a spring blooming perennial and comes in white, pink, purple, & red). More choices of groundcover are the Vinca vine and the Euonymus coloratus. Let us know what we can do to help you further with this project. Be sure to take advantage of March as the perfect spring planting month.

Question: I have several wild animals in my backyard. Squirrels, deer, rabbits, and turtles. The deer and squirrels are eating all my apples before I can get one off the tree. Is there anything I can put down to turn them away?

  • Answer: You seem to have quite a native zoo going on in your backyard. Joking aside, I know the frustrations that these animals can cause. I do have some recommendations to make. Many of my suggestions come from feedback from other customers. One suggestion is to spread some Miloganite around your plants. Miloganite is an eco-friendly product that will add nutrients to your soil and, at the same time, add an animal deterrent. It is the smell that animals do not like. Another product to consider is Dried Blood. We sell this product in our Espoma line. It sounds gross but it does work as a deterrent. Another product is by Bonide called Shot Gun Repels-All. This is a granular product that you spread around your plants. The ingredients cause a mild irritation to animal’s nasal passages. When an animal touches, tastes or smells Repels-All, it triggers the natural instinct to escape and the animal simply leaves. Another product option is a topical spray on your plants. One product is by Bonide called Hot Pepper Wax. This product is made with hot Cayenne peppers. It leaves a hot taste on the leaves and thus becomes a deterrent. We have many alternatives for you to consider in our Lawn & Garden department.

Question: I am looking for a red rose named Don Juan and would like 2 plants. Will you have them this year? When will they be available?

  • Answer: Our container roses will start to arrive in a couple of weeks and we should have Don Juan in our selection. Our # 3-gallon roses sell for $24.99. If for any reason Don Juan does not arrive, we can try to place a special order for you.

Question: We brought 2 large potted hibiscus shrubs indoors to winter over after last fall. One has done quite nicely Lots of foliage and a few blooms. The other is unhappy and is heavily infested with very tiny black flecks and there is a film of clear sappy liquid on the tile floor. Are these spider mites. what and when should we do? thank you for your time and your advice.

  • Answer: I am impressed with your ability to get one of your hibiscus plants to bloom for you during the winter months. Most of us are barely able to keep them alive until we can get them back outside this spring. The one hibiscus that is giving you trouble does have an insect issue. From your description, it seems to be aphids. Aphids are usually black on hibiscus and will create a sappy secretion. A couple of things come to mind as to how to take care of your insect problem. One is to take the plant outside and give it a complete washing with Ivory soap and water solution. A second recommendation is to use a horticultural insecticidal soap and spray your entire plant. We do carry this product. It is very easy and very safe to use indoors.

Question: Can I plant tulip bulbs & daffodils I forgot to plant last fall? I thought I might try putting them in mulch deep enough to do this. They’ve started sprouting (they were in a garage).

  • Answer: I would plant these bulbs as soon as possible, even though this is not the proper season to do so. If you don’t get them into the ground, they will more than likely dry out and will be worthless to you by this coming fall. The bulbs may not flower this year but will get onto their natural growth cycle in 2012.

Question: I received 2 loads of mulch from a tree cutting service last year. I am asking if it is ok for it to be used now in my flower beds?

Question: OK. So my new Ficus has dropped most of its leaves and some new growth is beginning. When do I fertilize? Also, is now a good time to transplant some hydrangeas? I am planning to move them to a sunnier location. They are just beginning to get new buds.

  • Answer: Let’s first touch base on your ficus trees. Your ficus trees are new and they are showing typical signs of acclimating to their new environment inside your house. What is encouraging to me is that you say they are now putting out new growth. As for fertilizing…most new tropical plants have time release fertilizer pellets sitting on top of the soil. I would not recommend any additional fertilizing at this time. Secondly, you ask about hydrangeas. Do you know the variety of hydrangea? And, do you know how old, and how long they have been in their current location? Let me hear back from you again so that I can continue our conversation about your hydrangeas.

Question: I would like to plant some Russian sage this year. Do you have this plant? If so, when should it be planted? Thanks!

  • Answer: We don’t have Russian Sage yet but we will have a fantastic selection of perennials, including Russian Sage, in just a couple of weeks. Are you signed up on our email? If not, I would urge you to do so because we plan to do some fantastic things in March for our email customer base and we have some great scheduled events on Saturdays in March.

Question: We have a lawn full of weeds and would like to plant grass seed this year. What is the best way to get rid of the weeds and be able to plant grass this year. Thank you for your time

  • Answer: In any event, you want to use this spring to fight the weeds. The first thing I suggest is applying a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer the first of March. This product will help keep crabgrass and some other grassy weeds from ever germinating and growing. We carry a very good product in Pennington. The second phase in killing weeds is to apply a broadleaf weed killer. Again, Pennington has a Weed and Feed product. Or, you can use a Liquid Weed B Gon. Both of these products you want to use when weeds are actively growing. And, we do have some weeds that are growing now and we will have other weeds, such as dandelions, that will start to grow a little later. If you live near GBGH, I would suggest stopping by so that we can show you all these products and talk to you a little more about a program that will work in helping to eliminate the weeds in your lawn. We have some events coming up in March that you may find helpful and informative. On Saturday, March 12 is Coffee with Doug. My special guest is Mike Likins who is Chesterfield County Extension Agent. On Saturday, March 19 we have our Spring Gardener’s fair and we will have many experts on hand to help you with all your gardening questions. Maybe between one or both, we can help you come up with the best program for you.
  • Answer: It is recommended that mulch be allowed to age for a minimum of six months before using. If you are beyond the six month period, then the mulch should be safe to use now. Let me know if you have any further gardening questions. March is just around the corner and we have some great gardening events lined up for March. I hope you are on our email customer list. If not, I would urge you to sign up so that you receive advance notices and special offers from us.

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