Dear Bonnie

  1. Johan V. of Gillette, WY asks “What kind of material would you recommend to cover the ground of a dog run? Gravel? Barkdust? Other?

Bonnie says, “My go-to for dog runs is always cedar chips.  They have an inherent aromatic fragrance which discourages fleas.  They do not splinter and do not change the PH of the soil. Look for a medium size wood chip (the large chips are rocky to walk on and the small chips break down too quickly).

  1. Isabelle T. of Bennington, VT writes, “I have a powdery white coating on the leaves of my roses. What is it and how do I get rid of it?

Bonnie says, “What your roses have is powdery mildew, which is not uncommon to roses especially if a plant does not have much air circulation around and through it. A very organic treatment is to spray the leaves with a dilution of milk and water (approximately 1/3 milk to 2/3 water) until the spray drips off the leaves. You may have to repeat this 2-3 times about every 3-4 days to clear the plant of mildew.  It is the lactic acid in the milk that helps to prevent mildew from returning. And then early next spring be sure to prune the rose and open it up so this doesn’t continue to occur.

Have you got questions about gardening as well that you’d like me to answer? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Melissa S. of Oklahoma asks “My front yard doesn’t get much direct sunlight, thanks to two giant oaks. I’d like to plant some shrubs around the front of the house, but don’t know what will grow in the shade. Any suggestions?

Bonnie says, “You don’t say exactly what kind of oaks you have in your yard which might help to better understand how deep the shade is there.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite plant combinations for open shade environments is a Japanese Maple named Acer palmatum Sango-kaku or Coral Bark Maple paired with an evergreen grass named Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’ or Japanese sedge.

The Coral Bark Maple is a fabulous plant giving you 4 seasons of interest. Fresh green leaves in the spring maturing to a deeper green in the summer, followed by brilliant fall leaves and coral colored bark on the newer branches in the winter.  With the lime green sedge planted at its feet it is a knock out combination both for texture and color all year round.

Both plants will need some summer water even once established but they are not water hogs. Hope that helps!”


Sandra O. of Idaho writes, “I see fall crocus blooming everywhere!  When do I plant them?”

Bonnie says, “Actually, what you are seeing in bloom is a family of bulbs named Colchicum autumnale.  They resemble crocus but unlike crocus they are NOT edible (crocus provide the spice saffron). All fall blooming bulbs are planted in the spring so look for Colchicum in your garden centers and nurseries in March.”

That’s all for now folks. Don’t forget to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening hacks as well.

If you’ve got questions about gardening, feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Judy A. of Staunton, VA writes: “Dear Bonnie, when is the best time to mulch your garden?”

Bonnie says, “Many folks think mulching the garden is for weed control but it is just as useful to keep plants dormant during the winter months.  I recommend applying 11/2” to 2” of organic mulch once the ground starts to get cold. In my side of the world that is just after Thanksgiving.  Using that timing, the mulch keeps the plant cold so if there is a false spring in February they will not break dormancy and get hit by a killing frost.”


Andy L of Billings, MT writes: “Dear Bonnie, some of the branches on my Japanese maple are dying.  What could be the problem?”

Bonnie says, “Die off of selected branches could be the first signs of verticillium wilt. Maples are particularly susceptible.  I’d recommend taking a cutting to your county extension service for a clear diagnosis. IF it is verticillium wilt, there is no cure and the disease will remain in the soil.  You need to remove the infected plant, do not compost it but dispose of it in the trash. And do not replant another plant in the same spot which is susceptible to VW.”


Alice M. of Nampa, ID wonders: “Dear Bonnie, we are thinking about removing our lawn but still want something green in that spot. Something that doesn’t require constant mowing and needs less water. Any recommendations?”

Bonnie says, “Yes! Green spaces can take many forms. There is a whole world of very cool ground covers in the plant world.  Picking just one will be your challenge not finding one you like. If you want a grass look-a-like without the maintenance of turf grass there is a little, dwarf mondo grass that works well (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’).  It has short, blade like, green leaves. It requires less water than turf grass and NO mowing. Planted 6-8” apart it will grow together and create a mat that will resemble grass.”

Have you got questions about gardening as well that you’d like me to answer? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected].


Taylor H. Vermont asks ” We want to get rid of our lawn altogether and use that area for planting beds but we don’t want to use Roundup. Is there a good way to do this?”

Bonnie says, “Yes. The method is referred to as “lasagna mulching“. It is easy; all you need is lots of newspaper or cardboard sheets, water, and organic mulch. Cut the grass short so you have a somewhat level, even surface. Lay the paper (cardboard or newspaper) down on the lawn so each sheet overlaps another 4-6”. If you are using newspaper you will need to apply 3-4 layers of newspaper 6-8 sheets thick. Wet each layer down thoroughly (this is an important step so the paper will break down and not form a water-resistant barrier). Lay down 2″ of mulch on top of the wet paper and let it sit for 3 months or more. The grass will be smothered, the paper will decompose, and the area will be relatively weed-free, ready for the next chapter.


Farah J. of Nebraska wonders, “What is compost tea? Where do I get it and what is it good for?”

Bonnie says, Compost tea is the next best thing for your garden as sunshine is, in my book. Your grandparents used to dump a couple of handfuls of manure into a bucket of water, let it sit for a day or so and water their special plants with it. Today compost tea is made using an aerating blender, organic worm castings, a few nutrients, and water. By forcing air through the batch for 20-24 hours research has shown that the tea becomes super inoculated with microorganisms and is rich in nutrients that improve the health of plants. It can be sprayed on the leaves of a sickly plant or used as a drench. It is an organic, simple, “magic elixir”. Some of the better garden centers make their own compost tea and sell it by the gallon. but note: you must use it quickly because after the bubbles are turned off the microorganisms start to die over the next 24 hours.”

That’s about it for 2019. Michael and I both wish your homes to continue to prosper in the upcoming year.

Stay tuned for more “Dear Bonnie” answers and don’t forget to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening tips as well.

If you’ve got questions about gardening, feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Jackie A. of Vermont writes, “We have a hillside of English ivy which is encroaching into the rest of our yard. How do we get rid of it?” 

Bonnie says, “There are many things to thank the English for but one of them is not English ivy. This is one tough plant and invasive in many areas. Herbicides sold in garden centers rarely put a dent in the plant because its waxy leaves resist an herbicidal assault. There are a few commercial herbicides out there that do damage but you must have an Herbicide Applicators License to buy and handle those bad boys. And the plant is a challenge to eradicate by hand because it spreads by runners so there is back breaking digging involved.

My best recommendation is one word…Goats. Cute and social, a small herd of goats will beat back plants so you can get a handle on the field of ivy. And as they work, they fertilize as well! But please note, this is not a permanent solution it just buys you time to dig. Contact your local Goat herder to ask about rentals.”


Vivienne O. of Maine asks, “I just moved to a new property which has a nice, established garden (one of the reasons we bought the place). But I am seeing what I think are mole hills!!! Eeeck! If we have moles how do we get rid of them?”

Bonnie says, “You can recognize the difference between gophers and moles by their diggings. Gophers create hills that are crescent shaped and moles form mounds which are dome shaped and are evenly formed in all directions. Both do their share of damage in a garden but I consider the damage gophers do as intentional and the havoc moles reek to be unintentional. Gophers are herbivores that eat the roots of plants and have been seen pulling a plant down into their hill (a tragic sight for a gardener to watch!). Moles on the other hand are insectivores and eat grubs and worms around the root zone of plants and s they do create air pockets and disturb the root biome of the plant. Both kill plants. There are traps tailored to both nuisances which are lethal if you know what you are doing (best to call a Pro). There are subterranean sulfur bombs you can buy, which I have personally used and never seen evidence of a kill, but the bombs may deter the pest to move to our next door neighbor’s garden.

And then there is our cat who is 12.5 pounds of undeniable, unflappable, killing power with the stoic patience of a hungry lioness and a purr like an angel. Lima Purrrru brought in an all-time catch of 5 moles in one day, each one accompanied with a celebratory “cat dance!”

So you can choose to eliminate those pests by technical mechanical or chemical means or throw in a little rousing entertainment of the feline kind and still get the job done.”

There are more “Dear Bonnie” to come so stay tuned for future emails. Be sure to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening tips as well.

Got questions about gardening of your own? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


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