Why Are There Ants on My Vegetable Plants?

Ants on My Vegetable Plants

“I have ants in my garden, and they are eating my veggie plants. What is the best product to use on a vegetable garden that is safe for us to eat vegetables from?” Question from Jill of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

Answer: Ants are not vegetable garden pests. They may be attracted to the sweet juices of a split tomato or strawberry or drink the nectar from a sweet flower, but their peskiness ends there. But, that does not mean they aren’t a sign of a garden problem. Ants herd aphids like cattle so they can eat the sweet honeydew they produce, and aphids are a very obnoxious plant pest. If you get rid of the aphids, the ants will leave, and you don’t even need to use heavy chemicals.

Managing Aphids in the Garden

Aphids are delicate pests and quite easy to remove, believe it or not. When I have an infestation, I use these four methods of removal.

1. Spray them off with a sharp stream from the hose. This actually removes them fast and will kill quite a few. It’s a good first step for management.

2. Prune off really badly infested flowers or stems and spray the others with lightly soapy water (fill a spray bottle with water and add just a drop of dishwashing liquid). This will remove damaged parts of the plant and greatly reduce aphid populations.

3. If the two previous steps don’t get rid of your aphids, spray plants with OMRI Listed insecticidal soap to tackle any lingerers. The mild product is approved for organic gardening and works. If you are worried about it harming other insects, you can rinse off plants a few hours after application.

4. Nurture ladybugs and other beneficial insects that consume aphids. Refrain from using any harsh pesticides, and the beneficials will come. (Click here to read more about beneficial insects.)

I hope these tips help you better manage your aphid problems. They are annoying insects, but they won’t stand a chance if you continue with these methods.

If you ever have other ant problems, please click here to read an answer about removing fire ants. The methods of removal would apply to most ants.

Happy vegetable gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Tulips Rebloom Year After Year?

“Why is it that some years tulips just grow leaves and no flowers? I’ve planted hundreds of bulbs much to my disappointment to have so many of them never grow flowers.” Question from Linda of Middlesex, New Jersey

Answer: There are several reasons why tulips stop flowering. Many varieties are bred to bloom only for a year or two before their bulbs need to be divided. Without division, they will not bloom by year three or four. For this reason, pick tulips that reliably return year to year and even naturalize, or spread, over time. Here are five good types sure to keep blooming.

  1. Clusiana Tulips – These pretty, slender tulips come in various varieties that bloom in mid-spring and spread over time. ‘Cynthia’ is one with pale yellow and red-striped flowers.
  2. Bloemenlust Tulip – The bright red, mid-spring bloomer returns yearly.
  3. Cretian Tulip (Tulip cretica) – Species tulips like this are often the best perennials. Cretian tulip is multi-flowering, clump-forming, and has pink-tipped flowers. They will even spread when they are happy.
  4. Darwin Hybrids – Late-flowering Darwins are tall and come in lots of colors. Of the standard hybrid tulips, these are the most perennial. The orange and yellow ‘Daydream‘ is extra pretty.
  5. Fosteriana Tulips – These large-flowered, early tulips return year after year.

Another common problem with tulips is that many pests eat the flowers and bulbs. You would certainly notice if you had deer in your garden chomping on your tulip flowers, but you may not notice a vole eating your underground bulbs in winter. Some repellents will detur them.

I hope this information helps guide your tulip selection this fall. At planting time, it helps to amend the soil with Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum peat moss in addition to fertilizer for bulbs.

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Shrubs Have Year-Round Interest?

What Shrubs Have Year-Round Interest?

“What are some shrubs that add interest and color year-round?  For example, foliage that changes color in the different seasons.” Question from Alecia of Puyallup, Washington

Answer: There are loads of shrubs that remain attractive through the seasons. Here are four great selections for your region followed up by a video of my favorite shrubs that bloom all summer long. Many of these also look attractive through fall and winter.

Shrubs with Year-Round Interest

  1. Cardinal Candy® Linden Viburnum (Viburnum diltatum Cardinal Candy®) – Cardinal Candy has clusters of white flowers in spring and lustrous foliage and heads of greenish berries in summer that turn scarlet in fall and persist into winter. The fall leaves also turn beautiful burnished shades of dark red.

  2. Kaleidoscope Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’) – Beautifully variegated evergreen foliage and loads of flowers through most of the growing season make this compact shrub a real winner.

  3. Ruby Slippers Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’) – All oakleaf hydrangeas have all-season interest, but most become very large, which is why I like compact varieties like ‘Ruby Slippers’. It has beautiful oak-like leaves and clusters of white flowers in early summer that persist on the shrub into fall, turning shades of ruby-rose as they age. In fall, the leaves turn burgundy red and the flowers dry to tan. Through winter, the old flowers will remain and the stems have attractive peeling bark.
  4. Yak Rhododendron (Rhododendron yakushimanum) – For your region, yak rhodies are great garden performers. They bloom beautifully in spring with clusters of flowers in varying shades of pink and white, depending on the variety. They form lovely tidy, broad mounds of evergreen foliage with attractive felty new foliage. I just love them. To discover more rhododendron for your area visit the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden website. The garden is also a real treat to visit in spring.

I hope that some of these shrubs appeal to you.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Why Are My Verbena’s Leaves Pale?

Why Are My Verbena’s Leaves Pale?

“Most of the leaves on my verbena have become very pale.  Not yellow, just faded looking.  The plant is still blooming, but the foliage doesn’t look healthy.  Any thoughts on what’s going on?” Carlene of Conroe, Texas

Answer: Pale leaves are often a sign of stress, whether it be stress caused by excess heat, excess water, too little water, poor soil, a nutrient imbalance, or some other malady. Yours appear to be chloritic, but the discoloration is white and almost speckly, which is most likely spider mite damage. There also appears to be additional spotting. It is very challenging to provide a definitive diagnosis from a photo, so let me start with what Verbenas need for good growth and follow up with some additional suggestions for the possibility of mites.

Tips for Growing Verbena Successfully

Verbenas grow best in full to partial sun, and even though they are tolerant of hot weather, they should be provided partial sun during the hottest time of the day down in Texas. Plant them in average to fertile soil with excellent drainage. Once they are established, they will tolerate drought, but regular water makes plants happier. If they are in containers, water them daily and make sure the pots drain freely from the bottom. Fertilizer is recommended to keep them blooming all summer long. I recommend feeding them with Proven Winners Premium Continuous Release Plant Food because it is formulated for flowers, and you won’t need to feed weekly. If they become a little overgrown, consider cutting the old stems back to encourage new branches and flowers.

Identifying and Managing Spider Mites

These are tiny plant pests, and once you notice their damage, they are numerous and have already become a large problem. You will notice the damage when the tops of leaves look like they have little white spots across them. These are dead leaf cells that the mites have sucked dry. You might also see little webs on the leaves and tender stems of infected plants.

To see if you have mites, take a clean piece of white paper, hold it beneath the leaves, then tap the leaves onto the paper. If you have mites, lots of tiny specs will fall, and eventually, they will start crawling around. These are spider mites!

To manage them, remove the worst of the damaged leaves if you can. Then spray, wash, and wipe the remaining stems and leaves thoroughly. For potted plants, remove the top inch of potting soil and replace it with fresh. (We recommend using Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix.) It also helps to wipe the container down, in case any mites have strayed. Finally, spray the plants with insecticidal soap or Neem oil (especially underneath the leaves). Continue to do the tap test and wipe and spray leaves as needed. In time you will overcome your spider mite problem.

I hope that these tips help!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist



What Advice Would You Give a First-Time Garden Designer?

“What advice would you give someone (who has gardening experience) when it comes to redesigning a back yard. My parents recently bought a house that needs a yard makeover. What’s the best advice you can give someone who has only a little bit of experience with garden design and planning?” Question from Cassie of Wilsonville, Oregon

Answer: Before redesigning your parent’s backyard, determine what they want from the space. Do they plan to entertain outdoors, do they want to grow vegetables, will they need a play area for children? Then ask them how much time they want to commit to the garden. Are they interested in low-care landscape plants, or do they want to garden as hobbyists? Their expectations and level of commitment should shape how the gardens and outdoor living areas are designed and what plants are chosen.

Once you know what they want, you can consider the basics about bed placement and design, siting and choosing plants, and creating “outdoor rooms,” or usable outdoor spaces delineated by plantings, hardscape, an/or outdoor structures. When planning new gardens, consider the creation of functional spaces and how plantings can enhance them.

Garden Design Articles

Here are several excellent articles that I think will help you answer some of these questions and review some design basics.  Some are on the website of our sister brand, Fafard.

If you are interested in creating a vegetable garden, I recommend reading Five Steps to Creating a No-Till Vegetable Garden and 10 Essential Tips For New Vegetable Gardeners. (These are just a few of the hundreds of garden articles on our site.)

Siting and Choosing the Right Plants

What you plant will be based on your yard’s soil type and drainage level, light, and your USDA Hardiness Zone, which is 8b (learn more here) or Sunset Zone, which is 6 (learn more here). Sometimes is helps to reach out to your local OSU extension service for planting ideas for your region. We also encourage you to read our many gardening articles by Mike Darcy, who is a revered Portland, Oregon horticulturist. He is an avid gardener, and his plant suggestions are ideal for where you live. (Click here to see Mike’s articles.)

We also have loads of gardening videos that might help, like the two below about basic garden edging and flowering shrubs that bloom all summer long. (Click here to view our youTube channel)

I hope that some of these resources provide you with the inspiration you need for your design project!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are Good Shade Plants for Poor Soils?

Start by improving your soil!

“I have a shade area with poor soil…I need suggestions for plants, when to plant and how to improve the soil.” Question from Patricia of Knoxville, Iowa

Answer: Thank you for your questions.  I encourage you to read a couple of our garden articles that are sure to help you improve your soil and then fill your gardens with the right plants. Any of the plants suggested in the articles can be planted in spring or early summer. Shrubs and perennials can also be planted in fall.

Recommended Articles

How to Amend Clay Soils (The tips in the article work well for other poor-soil types.)

What Shade Plants Will Grow Beneath White Pines? (This is a list of generally tough shade plants.)

I Need Colorful Flowers for Deep Shade

If you are interested in resilient flowering shrubs, I recommend that you plant smooth hydrangea varieties (click here for some great options). They are tough, beautiful, very hardy, and grow well in partial shade. Kodiak® Orange Diervilla is another tough, top-notch option for deep, dry shade.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Can You Recommend the Best Soils For My House Plants?

Best Soils For My House Plants

“I recently purchased a few house plants and would like to know what soil is best for them that you sell. What are the best soils for my house plants?” Question from Amanda of Leduc, Alberta, Canada

Answer: Here are our potting soil recommendations for each plant.

Aloe (Aloe spp.): Black Gold Cactus Mix – ideal for all succulents and cacti

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) – Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend – holds moisture well, which is perfect for ferns

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) – Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend – holds moisture well, which peace lilies prefer

Money Tree (Pachira aquatica) – Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix – has just the right balance for money tree

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) – Black Gold Cactus Mix – a potting soil with good drainage is required

Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) – Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix

Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix – drains well and is OMRI Listed for edibles

I hope that this information helps!

Happy indoor gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist