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FAQs / Ask the Expert

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Gardening (609)

Hello. I had a container garden last year that did very well. I am wondering if I have to replace all of the soil that is still in the containers or is there something I can mix in to reuse it? Thank You. Pam

No need to replace the soil unless you had disease problems. You can renew the nutritional value of the soil by blending in some Espoma Garden-tone or Flower-tone. I do this in all my large pots and planters every year….works great!

Mark as helpful. 49

I planted a Hydrangea plant 3 years ago and it has yet to bloom. It will produce the green leaves.

There are many differnt hydrangeas and several reasons why your hydrangea isn’t blooming…the first that comes to mind is: ‘Not enough sun’ Since I don’t know what type of hydrangea you have nor enough clues to answer your question, I’ll direct you to this website…great information: http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/index.html

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We recently dug up some daffodil and tulip bulbs to redo our garden — can we plant them now or do we need to dry them and plant in the fall?

By now the bulbs have stored as much energy for next year’s flowering so it is up to you whether you want to replant now or in the fall. You can replant now if the space is available or later if it is not. I like to see bulbs like daffodils, tulips and such planted as early in the fall as possible so they have a chance to root in and grab some nutrients before winter. By early in the fall I mean late September or early October. The later they go in, the less chance they have to set roots which help keep the bulbs from being forced up but frost.

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do I remove the leafs from my perinnel garden or do I rake if in the spring. Thank you for your help.

I leave the leaves on my perennial bed. They will protect the crowns of the perennials from drying sun and wind over the winter. This is important especially if we have a snowless winter…snow is the best protection leaves second best. Resist the urge to rake the leaves out too early in spring. The layer of leaves will help keep the sun from thawing out the beds during any early warm weather we might get in late February and March. A week of warm weather and sun can thaw the soil and bring our perennials out of dormancy too early. When the cold returns, it can damage or kill perennials that were lured out of dormancy too early. I’d leave the leaves on the beds until mid to late April or so. Peter Bowden

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When lilies are done blooming and go to seed (big pods at top), do we need to keep them 6 feet tall or can we cut them down? Will cutting them prevent the little baby lilies from forming below the soil?

You should cut off the top of the lily stem to remove the seed pods that are forming there after the flowers finish. The plant pumps a lot of energy into those seeds while we’d rather that energy be sent to the bulb below to be stored for the next flowering cycle and to create new baby bulbs below the soil. The remaining leaves should be left to gather sunlight (food) as long as they are green. Once they turn yellow they can be cut off. The longer you can maintain those leaves, the faster your lily bulbs will reproduce.

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Peter,I have been planting my tulips bulbs in late Sept, early Oct, and the moles or something are eating them. always in the same spot on the left side of my house, the ones on the right front they leave alone, what can i put in that is healthy and natural to repell, what I think is moles, eating my bulbs

One of the most common problems folks run into is having their bulbs dug up or eaten by mice, chipmunks, squirrels and voles. In the past this has been dealt with by adding black pepper to the planting holes or, in extreme cases, by surrounding the bulbs with wire mesh. Thankfully there’s a product that has come on the market in the last few years that makes those techniques obsolete and unnecessary. I’m talking about MoleMax. MoleMax is an extract of Castor Beans and the presence of it in the soil keeps moles, voles, and any burrowing rodents away. Just to keep the record straight, moles are NOT the culprit when your bulbs are dug up or eaten. Moles only eat insect larvae (like grubs) and earthworms but not plants or bulbs. Usually chipmunks are the real culprit but their cuteness seems to earn them immunity from blame. I’ll take a mole over a chipmunk any day. Here’s the directions from the package for using MoleMax when planting bulbs: For Bulbs: After placing bulb in hole, apply one (1) tablespoon of product into the hole, making sure granules surround the bulb, then backfill with soil. I’ve used MoleMax and it works great. I’ll apply it again in the spring to the area as a follow up. In reality I apply MoleMax to all my flowerbeds in spring to discourage the moles. If I can keep the moles out of the flowerbed then my dog won’t be tempted to try to dig them out. The mole damage is minor but the destruction the dog can do in a few minute of digging is something I’m glad to avoid.

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I have some Stella D’ora daylilies that I planted about five years ago. The plantings have become quite large. I know I need to separate them, as they are not blooming as abundtantly as they had been. What time of year is the best time to separae and replant them? Should I wait until the fall after they have bloomed, or can they be separated now, when they are just starting to form flower buds?

If there is no hurry to do this, I’d wait until September to divide them.  While daylilies are robust and can probably handle summer dividing, they’ll be all floppy and beat looking for the rest of the summer.  Why not enjoy them for the summer and divide them at the end of the season?   Summer dividing is so rough on them (and any plant) that there is nothing to be gained by dividing them now.

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Hi Peter!I bought one of those new variety Peony plants this Spring. Awesome, huge yellow flowers. But, after the flower falls off, am I supposed to deadhead? And, do I cut to the ground in the Fall?Thanks!

Yes snip off (deadhead) the flowers when they finish to stimulate reblooming.   Yes, cut then to the grown after hard freezes have killed the foliage.  A light covering of evergreen boughs will help keep the soil from thawing out during winter warm spells that may occur.  Resist the urge to uncover them until late March.

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My flower gardens are covered in moss. I did a PH test (thank you for the “how to” on your blog) and surprisingly they all came out in the 7.0 to 8.0 range. They are fairly shady areas, but they do get at least 4 hours of sun and they are not kept overly wet. Any ideas as what I should do to solve this problem?

I’m glad you pH is good but, as you see, moss can still grow in neutral soil.   I’d rough up the area and consider mulching the area between the plants.  You can tear brown paper leaf bag up and fit the pieces among the plants then cover the paper with a 2″ layer of cedar mulch.  This will smother the moss over time.

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Correct watering of hydrangeas

Hydrangeas like evenly moist soil but not wet soil.  It is best to water deeply but only when necessary than wait a couple of weeks and check the soil.  If you even think it felt moist, don’t water it and check again in a few days.  They need less water than most folks think…nothing kills a plant quicker than over watering.  Water by soaking the soil but keep the leaves dry.  NEVER SPRAY WATER.  Spraying you hydrangea or any of your landscape plants shocks them with cold water and promotes fungal diseases.   It would be a good idea to feed your hydrangea and all your other Shrubs, trees and perennials right away.  More on that here. 

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Lawn (490)

How do you get rid of “creeping charlie” in your lawn?

The best weed killer to use for creeping charlie is Bonide’s Chickweed and Clover Killer. Just like all liquid weed killers, Bonide’s Chickweed and Clover Killer is absorbed through the leaves of the weed. It kills the roots too but is absorbed through the leaves. Because of this you need to apply it when rain isn’t expected for the next 24-48 hours. Naturally you won’t want to water it in so you’ll need to shut your sprinklers off for a couple of days. You also need to know that no weed killers should be used on a lawn when temperatures are expected to go above 85° of it will also kill the lawn. Adding a drop of dish washing liquid to the spray will help it coat the weed’s leaves for better contact.

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To get rid of moles from your yard you should apply the repellent Mole-Max. It is a granular product that you apply with a lawn spreader and then water in. Once the active ingredient is in the soil, the moles can’t stand it and leave the area. This is a good time of year to use it since young moles have been kicked out by the mother mole and ore out exploring the world for a place to set up a burrow. Moles like to stay in one place so, once they leave, they’re gone. Of course the Mole Max’s effect wears off by spring so a new mole might set up shop. One application in spring and another in late summer/early fall should keep your yard mole free. Most weed killers do fine with dandelions and plantain since they have individual roots systems. Ground ivy is, of course, a vine so it is a little harder to kill and a stronger herbicide is needed. I’d suggest Bonide’s Poison Ivy and Brush Killer . You can use it on the lawn without harming the grass if you follow the directions. This is a good time to go after the ground ivy since the temperatures have backed off from summer’s heat and the soil is moist..perfect conditions for weed killing. You can find both Mole-Max and Poison Ivy and Brush Killer at your local Hewitts.

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I recently purchased a home that literally has no grass in the yard what-so-ever. I would love to grow some, but I don’t know which kind would survive in our soil. I did a soil test and got a 9.0 on the pH, low levels of Nitrogen, medium levels of Phosphorus, and high Potassium. Our property has pine trees on it. It is even possible to grow grass here?

Congratulations on the new home Jade. The good news is that you can grow a lawn in just about any soil including yours. . . . The results of your pH test are a little confusing though. One would expect a yard with pine trees to have a low ph (more on the acidic side) than you 9.0 which is quite alkaline. There are a 3 reasons I can think of that would lead you to get such a high reading. The first is that the soil is clay which is very alkaline. If the soil isn’t clay then the previous owner might have been spreading lime or wood ash on the lawn without checking the ph and has overdone it. The third reason you might have gotten such a high reading is that you used tap water instead of distilled water when you performed your test. Tap water will contain minerals and chlorine both of which will make your reading come out higher than it should have. Distilled water is neutral and won’t affect your test. If you used tap water or well water then you should redo your pH test using distilled water. . . I like blends and of the blends we have at Hewitt’s, I like the Sandy Blend the best. It has 3 types of deep rooted tall fescue grass types. Tall fescues will have the best chance to grow and thrive in your difficuly area. . . . The next step in starting a lawn from seed is to turn organic matter into the area to be seeded. The more organic matter that is turned in, the thicker and more drought resistant the lawn will be for years to come. Peat moss is the easiest form of organic matter to use for improving the soil before seeding. Peat moss is capable of holding 20 times its weight of water. In very sandy soil, the addition of one 4 cu. ft. bale of peat moss per every 100 sq. ft. turned in to a depth of 6” will be necessary. This sounds like a lot of peat moss (and it is) but it is well worth the effort. For a large area, you should rent a roto-tiller to blend the peat moss and lime (if needed) into the soil to a depth of 6”. Once the soil and peat are blended together, the area should be raked smooth. This is easier to accomplish with one of those extra-wide aluminum rakes. If you can’t borrow one, a metal bow rake will do but it will take longer to get the contour you’re looking for. Next you’ll need to roll the soil with a water-filled roller to compact the soil. If you can’t borrow one, rent one. Again, if you skip this step, the project won’t come out as you’d hoped. After you’ve rolled the soil, take another look at the area to see if it is nice and smooth and has the proper contour. If not, rake and roll the area until you’re satisfied. You’ll be looking at the results for many years so take the time now to get it right. Once you’re satisfied, lightly rough up the surface of the soil with your metal rake. Finally it’s time to broadcast the seed. Consult the folks at your local garden center to determine the best grass blend for your particular soil and light conditions. For late–summer seeding, avoid cheap blends that contain annual ryegrass. Broadcast the seed evenly over the area at the recommended rate. Then roll the seed with the water-filled roller to press it into good contact with the soil. If it is a large area, you’ll want to cover it with straw. A smaller area can be covered with burlap or horticultural fabric. The reason you cover the seed is to help keep the sun and wind from drying it out while it’s germinating. After all this is done, you can start watering and watering and watering. This is the trickiest and most important part of the project. No matter how high the quality of the seed used, it won’t germinate unless the area is kept moist CONSTANTLY. It can’t be allowed to dry out, even for an hour. IF THE AREA DRIES COMPLETELY, THE SEED DIES AND CAN’T RESTART. Premium blends of fescue and bluegrass will take 2 weeks just to sprout so be diligent about watering and be patient. If you use a blend that has perennial ryegrass in addition to bluegrass and fescue, be aware that the ryegrass will sprout a week or more earlier. Even after the ryegrass sprouts, continue watering as if nothing has happened to ensure the germination of the desirable fescue and bluegrass seeds. After the young grass is up, apply a slow release winter or starter type of lawn food to stimulate quick root growth. Look for a starter food with a higher middle number (phosphorus). When the grass finally grows to 4”, mow off an inch (and no more) to promote even more root growth. In spring, apply another shot of the starter lawn food to insure that the young grass develops a mature root system

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We use scotts products and do as the bag says, we still have CRAB GRASS and clover what should I do ?? The weed and feed didn’t work.We purchased Chickweed and clover oxalis killer on the clover from you and it didn’t work.First priority is the crabgrass. Thanks, Pt

The directions on Scotts products are kind of vague since they have to cover a wide variety of customers. Since Hewitt’s only has locations here in the Capital District of NY. I’ll assume that you are local and give you this tip for applying crabgrass preventer in this area. The most effective way to stop crabgrass is to apply crabgrass preventer right at the end of the blossom cycle of the forsythia bush right as the flowers are dropping off (just as the lilacs begin to flower). This stops the crabgrass seeds from sprouting and since crabgrass is an annual that grows from seed each year, it is a very effective control. Very often a customer will apply their crabgrass preventer just as soon as the lawn greens up. Since crabgrass only acts on crabgrass during the sprouting phase waiting a bit and using the timing I described above will give better results. Since the crabgrass preventer form a thin film on the surface of the soil it is vulnerable to getting eroded or washed away before it has a chance to act on germinating crabgrass seeds. The opportunity to use crabgrass preventer has passed for this season so the spray is your only option at this point. Repeat sprayings will likely be necessary. The chickweed and clover killer you used will work but needs to remain in contact with the LEAVES of the weed for at least 20 hours (and longer is better). If you watered or it rained within 24 hours of your application then the herbicide was washed off the leaves and it won’t work. Remember, weed killers are absorbed through the LEAVES of the weeds. They will kill the roots but must be absorbed by the leaves.

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As the snow melts there are many raised trails apparent on the lawn. What causes this and is there a remedy? Also there are crows pecking at the lawn–any connection ?

The trails on the surface are from voles. Those are trail that they used over the winter to search for food under the snow. They will disappear once you rake the lawn and it starts to grow. The mole repellent Mole-Max will keep the voles away as well as the more destructive moles. Crows pecking at the lawn is often an indication that there are Japanes Beetle grubs in the soil. Those grubs eat theroots of your lawn and can cause the lawn to thin out if there are enough of them. Here’s the scoop on grub control: Controlling Grubs As usual every spring, there’s a lot of interest in how to kill those nasty grubs that have had a hand in wiping out some lawns. And, as usual, I have to tell folks that, if they had treated their lawn before the grubs hatched last August and September, they could have saved their lawn from all this damage. There’s so much confusion about grub control that garden centers will sell a much larger percentage of grub control in the spring than in summer when, logically, it should be the other way around. I’m sure that much of this has to do with the fact that the damage that the grubs do in late summer and fall isn’t visible until the following spring. The first step is to understand the life cycle of the Japanese Beetle. Let’s start at the beginning. The female Japanese Beetle, after feasting on your beans and rose bushes all summer then lays her eggs into warm sunny areas of healthy grass. The healthiest grass around is probably the sunny areas of your beautiful lawn that you’ve worked on all summer. She won’t lay her eggs in the shade since soil temperatures are too low to keep the eggs alive. Each female is capable of laying a couple of hundred eggs. These eggs will all hatch within four days after they’re laid. Are you listening? There are no grubs hatching in the spring. None. They ALL hatch in late August or September. After the grubs emerge from their eggs in late summer, they must eat and what they eat are the roots of your lawn. They eat and eat and eat and eat until they are the size that you are familiar seeing when you find them in your garden while you’re planting. As the soil’s temperature drops in the fall the grubs must burrow down below the frost line to avoid being frozen over winter. Naturally, there is nothing for them to eat down that deep in the soil so they survive on all that body fat they put on by eating the roots of your lawn. Finally in spring, the soil’s temperature begins to rise and the grubs (who are ravenous after months in hibernation) burrow their way back to the root zone of your lawn. Now the feast begins all over again. After putting on another round of body fat (compliments of your lawn) they pause and pupate; that is: they form a hard shell and begin the transformation into the adult or beetle stage of their life. They will enter this pupae stage during Early to mid-June. In mid-July the beetles emerge from the soil and the cycle begins again. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve realized that by the time you get out there in spring with your grub killer three quarters of the damage the grubs cause has already occurred. This is a classic case of closing the barn doors after the horses have run off. There’s no way we’ll ever convince the Japanese Beetles to change their habits so, we must try to change ours. The best time to wipe them out is during the hatching period in late August or early September. If you have a severe grub problem you may need to treat this spring just to save your lawn from extinction but you should try to time your grub control application so you can prevent the situation from happening again. If you find that you need to apply a grub control as an emergency measure in spring, you should pick one that is fast acting. The best choice for spring applications would be Dylox (Bayer Advanced 24 Hour Grub Killer Plus). It kills quickly and on contact then breaks down quickly once it’s killed the grubs but, since there are no new grubs hatching in spring, it is of no concern. As with all grub controls, it is imperative that they get watered-in for a couple of hours IMMEDIATELY after application. DON’T COUNT ON RAIN TO DO THE JOB! Rainfall is never hard enough to get the chemical off the surface of the soil and down to the roots where the grubs are. You must realize that all grub control chemicals begin to break down as soon as they are out of their bag. Sunlight and air both begin to strip the chemicals of it’s potency the instant it’s out of the bag. Left on the surface of the soil, it will lose about 33% of its potency every 24 hours. As soon as you put your spreader away after you apply your grub control, get the sprinkler out and soak the area with an inch of water. Use an empty tuna fish or cat food can.

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what is the best time to control grub and which product I can use

The best time to apply grub control is once a year during every July.  The product we sell for this is Bonide Annual Grub Control.  It MUST BE watered in immediately with 1″ of water (a lot of water).  Don’t count on rain or a quick spray from the hose to do the job.  Left unwatered, the grub killer breaks down quickly and won’t work.  You put the spreader away and get the lawn sprinkler out.  Put a small tuna fish or cat food can in the area and, when it is full of water, you have properly watered in the grub killer.  If you have a large lawn, do it is sections to insure that the grub control gets watered in quickly after application.  Failure to properly water in grub control is the reason many folks don’t get it to work…always read the directions on the product package and, more important, follow them.

Mark as helpful. 10

Last year was my first spring/summer in my new house. Not ever owning a home before, I don’t know what to do when it comes to my lawn. Over the summer, a lot of crab grass took route. We applied a fertilizer in the fall. Right now, at the end of March, the snow is gone, the grass has not started to green yet, but I can just see all the dead crab grass and the lawn looks horrible. I know that I should wait to apply the crab grass preventer until when? Late April? Early May? But, what about the dead patches of crab grass that are there now? Should we plant some more grass seed? Will the new grass grow “over” the dead patches of crab grass from last season? If we should plant new grass seed, when should that be done? Thanks!

Crabgrass, unlike most lawn weeds, grows from seed that the mother plant produced the previous summer. The mother plant dies completely over the winter never to be seen again. In early spring the seed germinate and start to grow. Crabgrass preventer is an agent that dissolves and forms a coating on the surface of the soil. ANY seeds that try to sprout and push a root through that barrier are killed. The best way to time your crabgrass preventer application is to keep an eye on a forsythia bush that is growing in your yard or neighborhood. The best time to put your crabgrass preventer down is right as the flowers are falling off the bright yeallow forsythias (right as thelilacs are just opening). It is a convenient coincidence that crabgrass seeds germinate at the same time that forsythias are finishing flowering. Spring weather can be fickle but, if you use the forsythia as your clock, your crabgrass preventer will always go on at the right time. Remember that crabgrass preventer forms a thin film on the surface of the soil so make sure that all your raking is done before you apply crabgrass preventer. If you rake afterward, you will scratch up the barrier and crabgrass will be able to grow.

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My lawn has a lot of purple violets (I think that is what they are) What can I do to get rid of them? Thanks

Bonide Weed Beater Ultra will take care of the violets in the lawn. Here’s a link to my recent blog post that explains how to use lawn weed killers. http://ourgarden.freedomblogging.com/2011/05/11/waging-war-on-weeds-2/5705/

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When is the latest that I can plant grass seed in the fall?

The best time for this project would be mid August through the end of the first week in September. This will give the grass seed a chance to sprout in the last warm days of summer and get mature enough to winter over. While it can be done later you’re gambling a bit. It might be OK if we have a warm fall (and I beleave we will) but it still a gamble.

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When applying crabgrass preventer,do you water the lawn before or after applying,or doesn’t it matter.

Crabgrass preventer needs to be lightly watered after application. Rain ususally does the job. Weed killer which we apply in a month or so, wants to sit on the leaves of the weeds for a couple of days without watering. Folks get the two confused very often.

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Fruits and Berries (86)

When to transplant Raspberry Bushes

Raspberries are quite durable.  If I had to pick the absolute best time to transplant some, it would be in spring as soon as the ground thaws enough to dig.  Late fall after they are sent into dormancy by a few freezing nights would be my second choice.  Anytime while they are dormant. really.

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thinking ahead to next year! I have a strawberry bed and last summer chipmunks ate the berries faster than I could pick them.What can I do to keep them out of the bed. Thanks

Thanks for your question Pat, I’d suggest a perimeter barrier of the granular repellent Repells All form Bonide. Apply the barrier whent eh strawberries are in flower and re-apply every couple of weeks through the harvest period. By starting early the chipmunks will learn to avoid that area and will be less tempted to cross the barrier when the fruit finally appears. Peter Bowden

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what is the best way to prepare my soil. It is sandy. also 3 years in a row my tomato plants have grown very very tall and spindly with few tomatoes. What am i doing?

Sandy soil has very little nutritional value and dries quickly. Add lots of composted manure to the soil and I’d also get a bag of Espoma Tomato-Tone food. and be generous with that (according to the label of course). You say that the tomatoes “have grown very very tall and spindly with few tomatoes”. This is usually the result of trying to grow tomatoes without enough sun. Tomatoes need 8 hours of direct sun per day MINIMUM. 10 or 12 hours is even better. Perhaps you need to grow your tomatoes in a sunnier location?

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What type of cherry tree would you recommend for our area?

There are several varieties that are good in our area.  We stock North Star (tart), Bing (sweet),  Black Tartarian (sweet) and Montmorency (tart).  Remember, you need another tart cherry variety to pollinate a tart cherry and different sweet cherry to pollinate a sweet cherry variety.

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Hi Peter! I have an elderberry bush doing poorly this year, about half of it started leaf blossoms and then they just stopped…looks dead or severly stalled out.The other half is doing much better but I have noticed some new growth branch tips going limp. I’ve had the plant for 3 or more years now and it gets sun at least the first Half of the day. Any thoughts?

It sounds like verticillium wilt…not good.  HERE’S a link to more on that.  No chemical treatment.   Make sure that mulch hasn’t been piled against the stem of the plant.  Getting some Bio-tone food into the soil may also enhance the plant’s ability to fend off the disease.

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Hello Peter,i have a small Garden at my home with Tomato Plants. It seems as though my plants have started to get Septoria leaf Spot. It is starting to work its way up the plants. I always water from the bottom of the plants to avoid wetting the leafs. Are there any organic products I can get to slow this process down. Thank you Dave

You are not alone.   The weather this summer has been wetting the leaves plenty.  You can treat with copper or sulfur fungicides and that will the leaf spot from spreading but won’t cure the leaves already damaged…they should be cut off and disposed of into the trash…not the compost bin.  Pruning away some of the leaves will also improve air movement through the plant helping it dry more quickly and keeping it a bit healthier.  Don’t plant tomatoes in that spot for a couple of years.

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How should I prune my raspberry plants cut them all the way back or what and when?

Raspberries and blackberries produce fruit on 2 year old canes (stems/shoots). If you go look at your berry bushes, you’ll see the remains of the the canes that produced berries this year. Those cane grew last year and produced fruit this summer. They will look dried out and less vigorous. You’ll also see the new canes that grew over this summer. These are the canes that will flower and produce fruit next year so you don’t want to prune them off. Pruning can be done anytime after the fruiting period so go right ahead and prune of the old canes (the ones that made berries this year) since they will never make another berry. This is the annual cycle with blackberries and raspberries…always removing the canes that just finished making berries but leaving the fresh canes that will make berries next year.

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Peter, you did a show on channel six how to plant blueberry brushes. Could you send me that link. You allways do a wonderful job on your segments

HERE’S a link to a blog post about proper planting.   I’m planting a dogwood tree but the procedure is the same for blueberries or any woody tree or shrub.

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Do you have blueberry bushes for fall planting?

There are still some around but the selection isn’t as goo as it is in spring.  It would be best to call ahead to the Hewitts you plan on visiting to see if they still have them in stock.  They are on sale now though so that is nice.   HERE’S a link to the store phone numbers.

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Trees and Shrubs (684)

When is the time to prune hygerangea bushes? Should it be done in the fall or spring? Thanks

Thanks for your question Dave, Different types iof hydrangeas get pruned at different times. The best I can do issteer you to this great site. It will help you determine what type of hydrangea you vae and how to prune it. http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/pruning.html

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I’ve bought and planted a hydrangea about 3 years agon. It has never bloomed. I moved and replanted it at the end of last summer to a sunnier spot b/c I thought that was the problem. Still hasn’t bloomed. Any suggestions?

Hydrangeas and other woody plants take some time to get established. Now that you’ve moved it, I’d leave it where it is for a few more years. I always suggest adding bone meal to the planting hole to provide a slowly available source of phosphorus that lasts for several years. Phosphorus stimulates root growth to get you hydrangea established and also enhance its ability to flower. In addition I’d feed it with Espoma Flower-tone as soon as the ground can be worked in spring and again about 8 weeks later. This agressive (but gentle) feeding will hasten establishment of a good root system and shorten the time until the plant can spare the energy for a flowering cycle.

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What is happening to the rhodendrons this year? All the leaves are turning brown and falling off.

This last winter was colder, windier and longer than normal.  This was rough on broadleaf evergreens like holly and rhododendron.  At this point all you can do is cut off all the dead leaves.  Bend the small branches and, if they are brittle and snap easily cut them back to where you find living tissue.  You should feed them with Holly-Tone in the soil below (this should be done every year).  To stimulate some quick leaf growth you can use some Mir-Acid soluble evergreen food.  Mix with water in a watering can as the package directs.  Sprinkle this food all over the stems and remaining leaves.  This food can be absorbed directly into the plant without having to come up through the root system.  It is an emergency method of feeding and, if they is any life left to the plant, this will stimulate quick leaf growth.  Do this every week and a half until mid-June.  Also make sure you haven’t piled mulch up against the base of the tree.  This smothers the bark and slowly kills it.  Mulch is good but not against the bark of the plants, any plants.

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Hi there. I bought my lilac tree from Hewitt’s in 2007 (I think. I’m still looking for the receipt.) It was blooming when I bought/planted it, but it has not bloomed again. It’s growing, and is full of lush green leaves, but no blooms. What am I doing wrong?? Help! THanks.

A lilac may not flower while it is establishing a roots system. Once that is done it can expend the extra energy on flowering. A lack of sun and phosphorus can slow down this process. Feed your lilac each spring with Flower-Tone by pounding holes out away from the trunk and pour the Flower-tone into those holes. Do this in several place around the lilac so more roots can find and use the food. If you have been pruning your lilac in summer you have been cutting off the buds for the next season’s flowers. Lilacs form the buds for next spring’s flowers this summer. Always prune your lilac in spring right after flowering so the buds form on new growth. If it is planted in shade then it may never flower.

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I have a few rose plants, which we planted on the east side of my home, that are approximately 20 years old.They started out small and manageable and we put a trellis behind them, up close to the house for them to grow on…I didn’t think they were climbing roses but, the branches & canes now somewhat resemble a climbing rose plant…From a second story window frame, several years ago, I attached fishing line down to the longer canes to help support them because they were bending over, due to their weight, beyond the trellis.They always produce lots of roses when the first bloom occurs.The canes, have never been taken care of or pruned properly, because I was afraid to damage or kill the rose plants…we just let the canes grow and as a result, when the roses bloom, they seem to have more beautiful flowering every year. However, the canes are now extremely long and out of control…some, are approximately 10 to 12 feet long and have outgrown the trellis……(Also, usually every year, sometime after the middle of the summer, a good portion of the leaves seem to yellow and fall off….but, that, might be another issue…) I’ve been told that the best time to prune roses, is in the spring, before they start to grow and flower.I’m looking for some expert advice on how to prune my roses so they continue to be/or become healthy/healthier…I’m concerned that because the canes are so long, if I prune too much off, they will die…Can you offer any advice?Thank you.

Yikes…those are some large roses.  They are probably getting leggy since they get mostly morning sun but not a lot of the stronger afternoon sun.  I’d get out there now and do some aggressive pruning…like about 1/3 of the total branch structure…to get them back under control.  That way the new growth will be lower and branch sideways.  you can also do pruning in season to keep it under control.  Roses respond well to pruning.  Get to your initial pruning soon so the new growth goes where you want and it will set buds for flowering on the new growth…expect more flowers due to the pruning you’re about to do.

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I’m looking for a non flowering green shrub for in front of my house to replace an arborvitae that has gotten to large. It should be about 2 ft wide and would like it to stay under 4 ft in height. Any suggestions? I’ve seen these twisty looking things with tiny leaves but can’t seem to find out what they are. Thanks for your input. Paula

You are probably thinking of corylus contorta.  It can get larger than you want but isn’t particularly fast growing in out region.  You can control the size with annual pruning.  Another option would be the weeping varieties of Japanese Maples which stay small and isn’t fast growing at all.  We have both in our nursery…come check them out and you may find others that fulfill your requirements.

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Can you tell me if lilac bushes have to be pruned? They didn’t bloom this year on the same branches that they did last year. If i cut off the old dead flowers will it kill them or make them bloom there next yr. It was there when I bought my house 4 yrs. ago. It is about 7ft. tall. & just as wide. I would say it is pretty old.

No, pruning off the old, dead flowers (that have become seed pods by now) won’t hurt the lilac. A better time to do this would be right after the flowers finish up in spring. This prevents the lilac from putting any energy into producing seeds and that energy will then be put into growth and more flowers the following season. Since we know that you have an old large, well-established lilac, it may be time to rejuvenate it with some heavy pruning. You’re going to need a pruning saw for this. You probably have some very large, older trunks coming out of the middle of the lilac that are not producing many flowers. These older trunks may be 10 or 20 years old and no longer have the vitality to produce flowers the way they used to. Get in there and cut them off as close to the base as possible. Make sure that you don’t remove more than 1/3 of the total branch structure to avoid shocking the plant. Remove all these older trunks and the energy that they were using will now go into younger shoots that will produce the most flowers. Ideally you should have done this in spring right after the lilac bloomed. Lilacs form buds in the summer after flowering. Those latent buds winter over and produce flowers in spring. If you had pruned the lilac this spring, you’d have lots of new growth with buds ready to go. There’s nothing wrong with cutting your lilac back now but you won’t get the big benefit until the spring after next. People are often shy about pruning heavily but, as in this case, it is the best way to get the most out of your lilac. Once you remove the old, unproductive trunks, it will be several year before you need to do anything more than light pruning.

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We bought a house a few years ago and never paid any attention to the perennials and shrubs until now. We have 4 HUGE rhododendron bushes that do well every year, despite no care given. Since I’d like to attempt gardening, was wondering ab out some basic care: when is it ok to prune them? What type of mulch is the best to put around them? If they need fertilizer, what type? Thanks!

Thanks for your question Jen. It’s great that your rhododenrons are doing well on their own. That tells us that they are planted in a location that suits them and that’s half the battle right there. You should prune them right after they flower in spring. Rhododendron, azaleas and other broadleaf evergreens form their flowers buds during the summer and fall. Those buds must winter over and then open in spring. If you prune them late in the season, you’ll be removing the flowers you wish to enjoy. As always follow the pruning rules of 1/3. Never prune off more than 1/3 of the branch structure. Usually that isn’t necessary but if it is, prune it partway back then wait a year to do more. It is also a good idea to snip off the remnants of the flowers in spring. If you remove the seed pods then the energy the rhodos would have put into those seeds will go instead into more flowers the following spring. I like cedar mulch but and good bark mulch will be fine. You can mulch 4″ deep but make sure that you don’t pile mulch up against the trunk. That can smother the bark and cause more harm than good. I really like Espoma Holly-tone. It is a granular food that you should apply as early in the spring as you can. I like to pound hole with a small length of pipe down about 8″ and then pour the Holly-tone down the holes. That gets the food to the roots that can absorb it. You’ll need several holes and they should be made out away from the trunk of the Rhodo about as far as the outermost branch tips. Scattering the food on the mulch is wasteful since the nutrients have a hard time making it through the mulch into the soil where the roots are.

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what is needed to plant a cherry tree?

Click here for a blog post that will give you step-by-step planting instructions for your cherry tree or any other tree or shrub for that matter.

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Other (308)

Hi Someone told me that he does not mix fertilizer such as miracle grow or any other to fertilize his perennial gardens, all he does is in the early spring before the snow melts he sprinkles 5-10-5 all over the areas of the beds.. Is this safe??? Is there another alternative if not to mixing all those buckets of miracle grow.. Thanks

Thanks for your question. I reserve the use of miracle gro for my annuals and for container plantings. Miracle gro is fast acting but goes away quickly. You need to use it every couple of weeks. I agree with your friend about using a granular food although I don’t use 5-10-5 since it is a quickly released food (although it lasts longer than M-Gro) and, being a chemical fertilizer, it can burn the leaves or even the roots if applied too heavily. I prefer gentler, longer lasting foods like Espoma’s Flower-Tone. I also like to get the food into the soil near the plants rather than broadcasting to food all over the surface. On the surface, the food ends up benefiting any weeds as much or more than your garden plants. Phosphorus especially has a hard time percolating into the soil so it needs to be blended into the soil to benefit the plants and to prevent runoff into streams and other waterways. Here’s a link to a video where I demonstrate how I feed my gardens in spring. http://ourgarden.freedomblogging.com/2010/04/23/feeding-our-grass-plants-and-trees/481/ Thanks, Peter Bowden

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I’ve purchased Miracle Gro potting soil for years to pot up my vegetable and herb seedlings. My bags last for a long time, at times, and all I do is roll the tops over to keep the bags shut so they don’t dry out. They’ve been fine. Recently we bought a bag at WalMart, I used some for a few seedlings and closed it back up with a clamp. Two weeks later I opened it up to transplant a few more and the entire top of the soil was molded over heavily. Have you ever seen that?

Well, how about purchasing your soil at Hewitt’s since this is where you go to get answers?  There are two types of Miracle-Gro soils…potting soil which is sterilized and garden soil which just a bag of topsoil with a fancy name and not sterilized.  The garden soil may indeed  have mold spores present and could grow mold as could any bag of topsoil.  Also a bag of sterile potting soil is only sterile until the bag is opened.  Don’t buy a ripped or damaged bag of potting soil (especially if it is being stored outside) since it is no longer sterile.  You pay more for sterile potting soil…make sure you get what you are paying for.

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Amaryllis– Actually, I have had my amaryllis (4) for many years. During the year i water them only occassionally. I’ve been cutting the green leaves back. Is that how you take care of them? I get flowers every year. Sometimes not as big as the ones in the stores. Also, Should i separate the bulbs in the pots? I missed the amazing amaryllis. Thanks.

It sounds as though you are doing well with your amaryllis. I’d suggest that you not cut off green leaves since they are gathering sunlight and converting it into food that gets stored in the bulb. They are like solar collectors and should be left to grow until they start to turn yellow on their own. Amaryllis love to be potbound and can spend a few years in the same pot. If you have some that have doubled, you could unpot it and gently break the bulbs apart. I’d wait until the dormant period (late summer) to do this rather than when they are actively growing. Peter Bowden

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ello peter, i have a hill in the back of the yard that is hard to mow every year . i would like to put some type of plant garden with little maintanace if any that will grow every year any help you could give me? im not much of a gardner so all the info you give me will be helpfull. if you have any pic ideas please send thank you ed

You could grow a ground cover like myrtle on the hill but that will require killing the grass off with Roundup spray before you plant the myrtle. Then you’ll need to keep the weeds at bay while the myrtle grows in. Whatever you plant there will be a project while it gets established which may take a few years. It may be less labor to continue mowing the area.

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I have a peace Lilly/anthurium plant I’ve had since 2007, it was a gift when my grandfather passed away. It was doing great till about sept it started dying. I think it was the period of heat/humidity. I tried moving the plant to an area with more light (not direct sun), still was dying. I noticed a white mold? On the top of soil, I replaced the top part of soil which didn’t help. I finally cleaned the whole pot and replanted plant in new soil. It still is not coming back to life, I hope there is something I can do to save it. I have a couple of photos I can email you of what it looks like now.

It sounds like you had a mineral buildup on and in the soil which can be mistaken for mold.  Repotting was a good idea.  Check to make sure that, when you repotted, you didn’t bury the stems any deeper than they were previously…the soil level needs to be exactly were it was before repotting.  It is also possible that it is getting overwatered…the soil wants to get fairly dry between watering.  If it has a saucer under it, there should never be water left standing in the saucer.  When you water, any water that drains into the saucer should be removed after no more than a few minutes.  You can send pictures to peterb@hewitts.com if you wish

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Whats a good floor plant for an office space

It depends on how much light the area gets but low light plants are usually the best.  Here’s a link to a great list of low light plants for indoors.

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My husband and I have an old wire fence and would like to grow vines on it to help with the privacy from our neighbors. Can you tell me what is the fastest growing, sturdy and privacy vine to grow on it? Thank you

A trumpet vine will do the trick. They grow fast but make sure the fence is strong enough to support it. Trumpet vine will provide quick privace and the flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Yes, we sell trumpet vines.

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I have a woodchuck under my deck. I have tried a Havahart trap with no success. I put out carrots, lettuce and tomatoes. Can you recommend a type of woodchuck lure that would help lead my little fella into the trap? Thanks!

The problem with catching woodchucksthis time of year is that there is so much food out in the world for them that it is hard to tempt them into that trap. If it has been eating something in your garden then that would be the first to try as bait. They tend to prefer food that can be found close to the ground since that is where they forage. Tomatoes and various melons will tempt them and I’ve heard that they have a preference for broccoli. Make sure that the bait is kept fresh so you might want to try different vegetables or even flowers every day. If all else fails the I’d also try peanut butter. Keep at it and you’ll find something that will tempt it into your trap.

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Every year my clematis come back and bloom but then start to turn brown and the leaves fall off. Usually from the bottom up. The top of the plants stay the longest. What can I do? Thanks.

What you describe is ‘clematis wilt’, a fungal disease. The disease spores winter over on the old vines but doesn’t affect the root system. Make sure you remove all the old vine from the trellis and put it in the garbage (not your compost bin or brush pile) to get it out of your yard. Start spraying every 10 days with Bonide’s Sulfur Plant Fungicide. Sulfur spray is a preventative fungicide so you need to use it before you see the symptoms. Other than when you’re spraying on the sulfur spray, you should never spray your clematis (or any garden plant for that matter) with water since wet leaves are the perfect place for fungal disease to take hold. If the disease shows up in spite of your efforts with the sulfur spray, cut the clematis right to the ground. This will force it to regrow from the roots which are immune to the disease. Continue to use the sulfur spray as a preventative as the clematis reestablishes itself. Large flowering clematis are more likely to catch the wilt than smaller flowered varieties.

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Christmas (16)

I have a christmas cactus at home (I believe that is what it is called) and I cant seem to be able to get it to bloom. I water it so that there is just enough to moistion the soil and i leave it near a window so that it is not in direct sunlight but it gets some. What am i doing wrong?

Christmas Cactus are stimulated to bloom by shortening days so don’t expect to see flowers until late some or fall…at Christmas if you’re lucky.  In the meantime, water it heavily and then not again until it gest bone dry> Feed it with Jack’s blossom Booster about once a month during the rest of spring and summer then stop feeding in September…just water until late February.  Christmas Cacti are epiphytes…they don’t naturally grow in soil but clinging to the bark in the crotch of a tree.  They get water only when there’s a soaking rain then they spend long periods drying out in between…you want to simulate these conditions. Once you see flower buds forming..keep the soil just every so slightly moist.  Keeping it in a cooler location can extend the bloom time and heavy soaking during flowering will make the flower pass quickly.

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What do I do with my Amarillus now that it is dying?

After the flowers are spent, cut off the flower stem. By now leaves have probably started to emerge from the bulb. To get your Amaryllis to flower again, it’s important to promote this leaf growth. Think of the leaves as solar collectors that convert sunlight into energy that’s stored in the bulb for the next flowering cycle. Bright light (but not direct sun) is the source of next year’s flowers. Keep the soil lightly moist and feed with a soluble plant food like Jack’s Classic at half strength about every two or three weeks. Wait to until the flowering cycle has finished before you start feeding. The best way to strengthen your Amaryllis is to sink the pot in a semi-shady flowerbed outside when things warm up next summer. Sink the pot into the soil so that the exposed part of the bulb is almost covered. Before frost, bring your Amaryllis inside and allow it to dry out completely. Keep dry and store at 60 to 65 degrees for at least a month. This dry storage period is necessary to stimulate your Amaryllis to begin its next growth cycle. Remember, Amaryllis like to be potbound, so leave it in the same size pot for two or three years.

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Looking for artificial PERMANENT Christmas Tree Flocking Spray. A lot of the sprays I see say they are not intended to flock full trees. Do you have any advice? Does Hewitts sell flocking spray?

Unfortunately, when it comes to flocking an artificial tree, all of them that are flocked permanently have gone through a baking process in an oven to ensure that the flocking is set and dry on the tree. This is how we manufacture all of our flocked trees that we sell. We do sell the tree flocking spray however it usually only lasts about 1 season as it will rub right off of the tree after you put it back in the bag or box for storage. Most flocking sprays sold are more for light flocking, touching up pre flocked trees or for spraying on windows using stencils. If you do decide to try it with the available flocking spray, be sure to use thin coats to insure that it dries correctly and apply multiple layers.

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Is there anything with the tick scare surrounding Christmas trees? How safe are your trees?

The tick scare revolves around going out into the local cut your own lots where the ticks live.  There are a lot of ticks in our area this year.    Brushing through tall grass and crawling under a tree to cut it down is where the greatest exposure to ticks will come from.

Our trees come from Canada or N. Carolina where they are cut, wrapped and placed on trucks for transport.  Any tick that might be present would likely drop off the trees during the cutting and dragging process or are blown off during trucking .  We have never had a customer or employee tell us of getting a tick on them from any of our trees.

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we are looking for 7 volt 100 light strand for our lighted hallmark ornaments do you know where we can find them…

We do carry 100 light sets but I am not sure where the 7 volt comes into play. I have a few hallmark ornaments that I simply plug into my regular light set. If the ornament is requiring 7 volts, that would be a 15 or 20 light set. Maybe your best bet would be to call Hallmark and see exactly what is needed so that you don’t damage the ornament.

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Good morning, Can you please tell me the tupe of Balsam trees you have available and the cost& height? For pickup how are the packaged s.l. bo x, plastic, put together? please advise -Jamie S.

We sell “Fralsam Firs” a cross between Balsam and Fraser Firs.  They are 6′ to 9′ for $54.99.  We make a fresh cut and will tie them on your roof for you.  We sell a wide variety of artificial trees.  It would be best for you to drop by to see that selection in person.

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A year ago Christmas I bought a very strong, white suction cup hook at the Glenmont Store. It held a substantial wreath on our front window for a month. I have another us for it and can’t find it. Are they available now at Hewitt’s stores? Thank you.

Our Glenville store is the only store that still has them left in stock.  If you wish I could have some transferred to the Glenmont store just let me know how many.  I will take a week or so for them to get moved.  They are $4.99 each.


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