Ask the Garden Guru



Squirrels eating my Squash

Dear Garden Guru,

Squirrels destroyed my container squash plants last summer. Any suggestions for keeping them away?

Julie in Millbrae

Hi Julie,

If squirrels are a nuisance, you may have to cover your squash plantings with netting. Creating a tripod of stakes around the plants and then draping the netting should keep them out.  The netting at the base should be weighted down or secured to keep them from crawling under.  Spraying Messina Squirrel Stopper around the vegetables would be the second line of defense.

Getting ladybugs to stick around

Dear Garden Guru,

I released ladybugs in the garden Friday evening. I saw them about on Saturday; however they were nowhere to be seen on Sunday. Do they normally leave after a day? I assume they laid eggs. How long will it be until I see more?

Susan in Mill Valley

Hi Susan,

Yes, some of the ladybugs fly off but the majority will stay. They are not so noticeable once they disperse, but they are there. The first thing they do is lay eggs where the pests are a problem. You will begin to see baby ladybugs in about 10 to 12 days. They resemble small black alligators and are the real devourers of aphids. The adult beetles eat some pests but also rely on pollens for food. You should see at least 2 generations over the spring and summer. Pupa will hang from the undersides of leaves (usually at higher levels) before hatching out as adults.

Deer and gopher tolerant flowering shrubs and fruit-bearing trees

Dear Garden Guru,

Hi - I'm looking for deer and gopher tolerant flowering shrubs and fruit-bearing trees. I have a southwest facing backyard that's very sloped. Any ideas?

Cynthia in

Hi Cynthia,

We’vee found that what deer leave alone also holds true for gophers. Here is our deer resistant plant list.

Our picks for the steep slope in full sun are: Rosemary, Lavender, Euphorbia, Oregano/Marjoram, Salvia (including culinary), Thyme, Coleonema (breath of heaven), Grevillea, and Correa.

As far as resistant trees, most fruit trees would require protection when young with some type of fencing around them. Persimmon, Olive, Pineapple guava (Feijoa), and Fig are kinds that are considered the most deer resistant. Older citrus is usually left alone but young plants are fair game, especially when other browse plants are not available.


Rose Pruning

Dear Garden Guru,

I'm pruning my roses. Some are very tall. Is it true that if a branch of a rose bush has no thorns, it is a sucker? I've tried to get down to the bottom of the bush to see if the branch is coming from the base of the bush or from the ground. I can't always identify so I was wondering if the absence of thorns makes a difference. Any help would be appreciated. THANKS!!

Lorraine in Walnut Creek

Hi Lorraine,

Unfortunately, the lack of thorns does not indicate whether you have a sucker or a cane.  Many rose bushes will throw almost thornless canes occasionally that produce an umbel of flowers. They are difficult to prune in that they don’t always have a well oriented leaf bud scar to make a cut above.  You really do have to see if the origin is coming from beneath the bud union or the root zone. These thornless canes are often skinnier than there thorny sisters which makes it even harder to tell.  You won’t be hurting anything if you feel you must remove it just to be sure.

Do bulbs need to be refrigerated?

Dear Garden Guru,

I have dozens of bulbs for fall planting. I've learned I have to refrigerate the crocus, hyacinth and tulip bulbs, but I'm getting mixed messages on refrigerating daffodils in Northern California. Do daffodil bulbs need to be refrigerated in this area? Anything else I should or shouldn't refrigerate? (I know about not keeping fruits in the fridge with the bulbs.) Thanks!

Susannah in Kentfield

Hi Susannah,

You do not need to refrigerate Daffodils or Narcissus. Some people keep Paperwhite Narcissus in the refrigerator to “stall” sprouting so they can force the bulbs over a longer period of time. This is probably where you are getting a mixed message. While not necessary, some people like to chill their Freesias – it seems to make the stems sturdier.

What is the best time to plant bulbs?

Dear Garden Guru,

When is the best time to plant tulip bulbs?

Pat in San Francisco

Hi Pat,

Dear Pat,

Our selection of tulip bulbs is available in the fall. It’s best to have all bulbs in the ground by Thanksgiving Day. Bulbs are available at most Sloat Garden Center locations.

Read more about planting bulbs here:

Plants for sandy soil

Dear Garden Guru,

What plants would you suggest for sandy soil in the inner sunset?

Pat in San Francisco

Hi Pat,

Sandy soil and a tad of salt wind, nothing like it!

Perennials that work are: Lantana, Euphorbia, Centranthus, Erigeron, Santolina, Phormium, Pelargonium (Martha Washington and Zonal Geranium), Limonium perezii (Sea Lavender), Armeria, Artemesia, Agapanthus, Echium, Lavender and Argyranthemum (Marguerite Daisy)

Suitable shrubs are: Rosemary, Westringia, Pittosporum tobira and Pittosporum tobira Wheelers Dwarf, Coprosma, Cistus, Hebe, Escallonia, Rhus integrifolia (Lemonade Berry), Melaleuca, Leptospermum, Correa and Dodonaea.

Trees are: Metrosideros, Arbutus, Myoporum laetum standard. Eucalyptus will also work but you don’t need the mess.

Fall Fertilizer questions

Dear Garden Guru,

What is the best fall fertilizer to use for everything from fruit trees, roses, to flowers? How often should I fertilize over the winter?

Gary in San Anselmo

Hi Gary,

Fall fertilizers are not high in nitrogen. Historically, the use of 0-10-10 or Alfalfa meal has been recommended to provide a boost to plant’s immune system to combat the ravages of coming cold weather and subsequent fungal diseases. The best practice after this is mulching or top dressing with a manure or Forest Mulch Plus (the Plus is chicken doo). Do not apply a mulch to fruit trees as this will hold excess moisture in the ground around the tree which is harmful. Don’t feed plants over the winter as this encourages new growth that can be killed by frosts. The only exception would be annual flowers such as primrose, pansies and cyclamen which are actively growing in winter.

Planning an herb garden

Dear Garden Guru,

I am envisioning a small, kidney shaped herb garden right on our front lawn. I'm thinking about a raised bed, nothing too complicated, probably borders of some kind of stone or hardscape. What sort of herbs grow best in our climate? And can you offer any process insight in design?

Eric in San Francisco

Hi Eric,

Herbs that do well in your area are: Rosemary, Spanish Lavender, sage, parsley, Santolina, chive, and marjoram or oregano. Thyme and basil can be fickle. You may want to reconsider the kidney bean shape. A square or rectangle is more conducive to the classic herb knot and easier to work with. Choose plants that contrast in foliage color. After the size of the bed is decided, graph paper and colored pencils are very helpful. Each square could represent 1/4 ‘ so consider planting two 3″ pots per foot. Use a different colored pencil for each herb. In other words, 4 squares in a row would be colored the same. It might be worth looking at some of the DIY and HGTV links or calling our Design Department to schedule a consultation. The number is 388-3754.

Fruit Tree Planting in Winter

Dear Garden Guru,

I would like to plant fruit trees this winter but I live very close to the ocean, with lots of summer fog. Which fruit trees would you recommend for my microclimate?

Melissa in San Francisco

Hi Melissa,

For your foggy, coastal conditions consider Santa Rosa plum, Meyer Lemon, Persimmon, Asian Pear 21st Century, and Apricot.

For something more exotic, the Pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana, will work. You could also consider Blueberries!  Many of these will be available in January or by special order later in the season.

Curious if we have your favorite plant or product in stock? Call one of our locations directly and we'll be happy to check.