Frequently Asked Questions

Vegetables and Gardening

When can I plant my vegetables?

There are 2 types of vegetable crops, cool season and warm season vegetables.
-Some cool season vegetables are lettuce, the cabbage family, onions, radishes, peas and
broccoli. These vegetables can be grown when there is no longer a threat of hard freezing, these vegetables can handle a light frost only – consider covering if you are unsure. Radishes and lettuce can also be planted late in August for a fall harvest.
-Warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, should be planted when there is not longer a threat of frost, normally mid May or later. This is Iowa so be prepared to cover them if there is a sign of frost.

Why do I get black spots on the bottom of my vegetables?

The black spots that develop on the bottom of your vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons are called Blossom End Rot. This condition is caused primarily because of a calcium deficiency. There are sprays you can use to help correct this but the best solution is prevention. We carry many products that are organic and can add calcium to your plants.

What is the best way to keep weeds out of my garden?

Stop weeds before they happen. We carry pre-emergents that can be applied after you have
planted that will prevent any weed seeds in the ground from germinating. It will not kill existing weeds so you will have to remove those. Do not apply to areas that you planted with seed because pre-emergents will keep those seeds from germinating also. You can use paper or wood mulch to reduce weeds. Perennial weeds will have to be pulled or controlled with a non-selective herbicide.

How do I keep insects from eating my vegetables?

The control of insects eating your vegetables is essential to a good harvest. Many times you are about to harvest only to find that something has damaged your vegetables. Application of chemical or organic insecticides will reduce damage to your garden. Insecticides should be applied early and be water based, not in the hot sun. Dusts work best if dew or moistures exists.

Can I use my grass clippings in my garden?

You should avoid using grass clippings in your garden if you have used any type of chemical
herbicide on it. Grass clippings can add nutrients and reduce weeds.

How often and when should I water my vegetable garden?

A lot of problems with your vegetable garden, like growth cracks on your tomato, can be avoided by proper watering. Most problems like this are a result of hot weather, drought conditions followed by heavy rains or watering. Consistency in watering habit is the key, maintain even soil moisture with regular watering. Watering should be done when the soil 2 inches below the surface is barely moist. This will minimize wilting of your plants.

Do you have ways to keep deer and rabbits out of my garden?

We carry many different means to limit damage due to animals in the garden. There are several effective organic and non-organic repellents offered that may be used.

Annuals and Perrenials

Anything special I need to do when planting my flower garden?

Annuals and perennials do not like heavy, wet soils. They prefer moist, well-drained soils that are rich in organic materials. We would suggest you amend your soil prior to planting. Smitty’s Greenhouse carries many soil amendment products to adjust the pH if needed and to add organic material, many with beneficial fungi to improve root growth.

When can I plant my annuals or perennials?

-Perennials can be planted as soon as they arrive at our garden center, normally late April.
Perennials are not as sensitive to cold weather or frost like annuals, and can be planted all season, well into fall.
-Cold weather/frosts can adversely affect annuals. Cool season annuals such as pansies, dianthus, and snapdragons can be planted in April/May after the threat of a freeze has passed. All other annuals are considered warm season plants and should be planted after the threat of a frost has passed, normally mid-May, but be prepared to cover just in case.

Do I need to fertilize my annuals/perennials? How often?

-Your plants will look and grow better with balanced fertilizing. We carry granular slow release season long fertilizers and water soluble liquid fertilizers.
-When you use slow release granular fertilizers you should side dress the plants by putting the fertilizer next to your plants, not on stems or leaves. If you use the shake and feed types, rinse it off the leaves and stems with water to avoid burning.
-Liquid fertilizers are fast acting, they absorb through the foliage/roots and will get into your plants quicker but they need to be re-applied every 10 days. You may also use liquid fertilizers later in the season to give your plants a boost, if you have used a slow release granular fertilizer.

How often should I water my annuals/perennials?

-As with most plants, they benefit from regular watering. It is recommended that watering should be accomplished in the morning hours, before 2:00 p.m. Avoid night time watering as it can lead to fungal problems such as powdery mildew. Certain annuals like begonias, dahlias and perennials like bee balm, phlox and delphinium are prone to powdery mildew.
-When watering these plants you should water the roots, avoiding the leaves. We recommend treating plants with systemic fungicides to reduce powdery mildew during wet, cloudy periods.
-Hanging baskets, flower pouches and planters are going to require more attention. They tend to dry out quickly in hot or windy weather. We suggest plant mixes with products that hold moisture to help with your watering.
-The key to watering is to not let your plants get too wet or too dry. Consistent, regular watering is the key, approximately 2-3 times a week is adequate, depending on the weather and how your soil drains.

What do I need to do to prepare my perennials for winter?

In late fall we recommend you cut back any perennials that had fungal problems and discard the foliage. Plants that have turned yellow, like hostas, can be cut back to the ground. Ornamental grasses and other taller perennials, like black eyed susans and cone flowers, can be left alone until early spring. They have winter interest. If you are not sure, contact us with your questions!

Plant Care

When can I plant trees/shrubs/evergreens?

You can plant most trees, shrubs or evergreens when the soil is no longer frozen and you can dig in the ground. You should avoid planting large trees when the temperature is hot or windy.

How deep do I plant my trees/shrubs/evergreens?

-When planting trees and shrubs be sure not to plant them too deep. The root flare should be exposed. Generally the top 1” – 2” should be above ground level.
-Remember: Plant it low it won’t grow, plant it high it shouldn’t die.

Is there anything I can do or use to help my plants grow?

-We recommend you amend your soil with a planting mix. In addition, you can use a rooting
stimulator to help your plants establish even quicker. After covering up the roots with soil we
recommend covering the area with a wood based mulch to help keep the roots cool and hold in moisture.
-With newly planted trees, you should consider using a staking system to keep your tree from shifting due to wind – this will reduce damage to the feeder roots and allow your trees to root in quicker.
-If your plant comes with burlap and a metal cage, you should leave these items on, they help maintain root ball integrity. Roots will easily grow through the burlap and cage and will
disintegrate in time. Remove any twine that is wrapped around the trunk once the plant is in the hole to prevent girdling and damage.
-With potted plants you should try to loosen up tightly bound roots by either teasing them out or cutting them so they will grow outward and not in a circle. Make sure you do not disrupt the soil mass around the roots.

How often should I water my plants?

-Newly planted plants should be thoroughly water at the time of planting. A key to watering is to be consistent with your watering. Initially plants require frequent watering, you should check the soil before watering, don’t water if the area is saturated and the water just runs off. Generally water 2-3 times a week. -The use of mulch will help the roots stay cool and moist. There should be 2-3” of mulch; plants need the equivalence of 1” of rain per week (for established plants). Try not to mulch excessively around the stem.
-Some varieties can be over watered, while others need more moisture. Please ask your
salesperson about specific watering needs.
-Certain plants need more attention when newly planted, especially barberry and arborvitae.
During the first growing season, barberry should be watered directly over the top of the plant
daily. After about the 1st month you may be able to go every other day. Once established,
typically 1 season, watering can be administered at a rate of 1” of rain per week. Most arborvitae crave a lot of water and it is virtually impossible to over water. All arborvitae and most evergreens need to be thoroughly watered. In late fall, they need to freeze in the ground wet.
-Roses and lilacs like periodic watering and well drained soil. To reduce fungus issues, avoid
getting water on the leaves and try to water in the AM. Mulch can reduce watering with these plants.

When or why should I prune my plants?

-Pruning should be for a reason such as maintaining the size of the plant, encouraging desired growth habits, removing dead wood or to rejuvenate the plant.
-In most instances flowering plants should be pruned after blooming. This is especially true with lilacs. In other plants it may cause the plant to bloom again. Plants that flower late in the season, like hydrangeas and rose of Sharon, can be pruned in early spring.
-Rose pruning can be accomplished in early spring by removing any black canes and reshaping the plant to the desired size. Dead heading (removing spent blooms) will encourage re-blooming.
-Some plants may need to be controlled, either they are too tall, wide or woody. A rule of thumb to correct this would be to remove a third of the old wood each year until you have rejuvenated your woody shrub (not for evergreens). This encourages new growth and can prolong the life of the plant.
-Tree pruning needs to be done at certain times. Maples and Birch need to be pruned in late
summer otherwise they can bleed badly. Other tree pruning should be limited to dead and
diseased wood. Before you prune you should stop in for guidance and suggestions on tools for pruning. Avoid late winter and early spring pruning.

What can I do about the damage caused by deer, rabbits or birds?

-Deer damage can be devastating to all types of plants. If you live where there are deer,
prevention is the best way to address deer damage. The use of fencing and repellents will reduce damage to your landscape. If damage has happened, try to minimize further damage by protecting the damaged area. Rabbits are nature’s pruners but sometimes they don’t know when to stop. In most instances plants tend to recover from rabbit damage. In some cases, if the animal eats completely around the base of the trunk, the plant will probably not survive. If the plant is an expensive lawn ornament, a protective barrier should be used around the trunk (hardware cloth, trunk protector, paper tape).
-Birds can be a problem if you are growing fruit trees or plants for harvest. There are no repellants; we suggest the use of bird block to drape over your plants after the fruit has started to ripen. This will prevent birds from pecking at your harvestable fruit; the bird block should be removed at the end of the season.

What can I do about the damage caused to my plants during winter?

-Damage due to snow or ice on upright evergreens (arborvitaes/junipers) – if the evergreens split due to heavy snow/ice you should let the snow/ice melt off to see if it returns to its original shape. Sometimes if the snow is fresh it can be knocked off. You can help the evergreens out by gathering the branches together and tying them up on the inside with stretchable plastic tape that doesn’t cut. Twine will cut into the bark and cause more damage.
-If your plant has split open before, you should probably tie them together in late fall or wrap them together with burlap or weed barrier. Do not use any material that doesn’t breathe, such as plastic wrap, prune out any broken branches.

Insects and Diseases

Why do the leaves on my crab trees fall off by mid-summer?

-In all likelihood your crab tree has been infected with apple scab, this fungus is normally brought on by a moist warm spring and it affects the leaves and fruit on your tree, then they fall off. Once the leaves have turned color and started to fall off its not possible to treat apple scab.
-To treat for apple scab, you will need to rake up the fallen leaves and throw away. Do not use these leaves in compost. The next season you should spray your Crabtree with a broad-spectrum fungicide. You can get pretty good results by following the manufacturer’s application schedule.
-We carry many apple scab resistant crab trees, but no tree is 100% immune and may need
periodic treatment in the future depending on the spring.

What is the white stuff that gets on my lilacs and perennials?

-The white powder on the leaves of lilacs and perennials is normally caused by a fungus called Powdery Mildew. -The control of powdery mildew is a lot like controlling other fungi. When you water, you should try to water in the morning and avoid watering the leaves. If your plant has had powdery mildew, we recommend you apply a fungicide once the new leaves have come out and turned their normal color prior to blooming. Follow manufacturer’s schedule. At the end of the season you should rake up the leaves of the lilac and remove dead foliage from your perennials, however, do no compost the debris.

What are the black spots on my maple leaves?

This is a fungus called Tar Spot and rarely harms the tree. To control Tar Spot, rake up the
leaves in fall and either burn or discard the leaves, do not compost them.

Why are my plant's leaves and flowers full of holes like lace?

This damage is normally caused by a Japanese beetle. They are about ½”, greenish with bronze wing covers. They eat many different plants, devouring fruit, flowers and leaves. They eat the tissue between the veins of the leaf. Normally they appear in June and live 30 – 45 days. Later females try to lay their eggs in the lawn and when hatched, become grubs coming out at beetles next Spring.

What are the red bumps on my tree leaves?

-The bumps themselves are called Gall, caused by a small mite. The mite feeds on the leaves and then migrates back to the bark of the tree around July. The next year they will attach to the leaves again. Once you see the red bumps (galls) on your leaves there is no treatment. -Gall mites do not do serious damage but if you want to prevent the unsightly leaves the following year,you should spray the trunk, branches and buds with an oil spray before the buds start to open.

Can Smitty’s help me with other disease and insect problems?

Yes. There are so many different types of insects and diseases that can have an effect on your landscape. Although we may not be able to answer all your questions or identify every insect, bring in a sample if you can and we can offer solutions to common problems.