Ask the Garden Guru



Help with Gophers!

Dear Garden Guru,

Gophers have invaded our yard – there are holes everywhere! How does one get rid of them safely and not harm other animals and birds?

Deborah in Pacifica

Hi Deborah,

The first place you might want to start is using a repellent like Bonide Mole Max (it also works for gophers ).  This is a castor oil-based repellent that is not harmful to animals or birds. Take extra care to apply more heavily around holes. This granular formula is easier to apply than a liquid spray. Apply the repellent gradually towards the direction you want them to leave the property, in other words, leave them a way to get out. Applying the repellent to the whole space at once will just “trap” them there.  If it is really very bad, you might consider a gopher removal/trapping service such as Smith’s Pest Management which focuses on trapping over poisoning.

Thanks for choosing to garden with us.


Squirrel deterrents

Dear Garden Guru,

Squirrels are destroying my vegetables and flowers. Does peppermint oil spray on leaves deter them?  

Robin in Pleasant Hill

Hi Robin,

Hello Robin,

Yes, peppermint oil can be effective in deterring squirrels. We carry a product from Messina specifically for squirrels called Squirrel Stopper.  The ingredients are putrefied egg, and oils of mint, rosemary, and cinnamon. It can be used on hard surfaces and perimeters as well as plants. We don’t recommend spraying this product on edible plant parts  — it’s best used as a barrier spray.

Fungus Gnats!

Dear Garden Guru,

I enjoy a window herb garden in my kitchen and every year we have a few gnats. This year there were so many more. Any advice on a safe way to address them in my home? Thanks for your help.

Claude and Ruth in the East Bay

Hi Claude and Ruth,

Fungus gnats can be controlled using beneficial nematodes. The product Pot Popper has small sachets of the nematodes designed for use in smaller indoor containers. They are simply watered in. The nematodes then prey on the gnat larvae in the soil, eliminating them. Another option for reducing the gnats is placing small, yellow sticky traps in the container. Lastly, the product Mosquito Bits which is a beneficial bacteria (Bt) is effective when sprinkled on the soil and watered in. All of these options are safe to use with edible plants and are organic controls.

Aphids on succulents: help!

Dear Garden Guru,

What is the best way to get rid of aphids from my succulents? They are only damaging a couple varieties but the ones damaged are pretty bad. Thanks

Hunter in San Francisco

Hi Hunter,

You can control the aphids with Bonide All Seasons Oil. This non-toxic oil spray will smother both eggs and adults. Water your plants prior to spraying and apply when temperatures are 75 degrees or less.

Mediterranean, bee-friendly fruit, vegetable and flower recommendations

Dear Garden Guru,

Can you recommend a list of Mediterranean climate tolerant herbs, fruits, veggies, and flowers which attract bees and hummingbirds? Any guidance will be much appreciated.

Wayne in San Francisco

Hi Wayne,

First tip is to take care of the soil. Don’t skip on the amendments that will help retain moisture and offer nutrition. Water regularly, especially the flowers and vegetables. Choose organic fertilizers that will not harm the beneficial soil organisms that help your plants’ root systems by improving nutrient uptake and guarding against disease. Actinovate is a wonderful supplement for any new garden plant.

Vegetables: peas, lettuces, chard, beets, cabbages, broccoli, mustard, spinach, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, arugula (actually all your greens), in the summer- cherry tomatoes too. Herbs- parsley, cilantro, rosemary, chervil, savory, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram

Fruits: raspberries, southern highbush blueberries, apples, pears, strawberries, loquat, pineapple guava, lemon, kumquat, Trovita orange

Flowers that attract beneficials and pollinators: white alyssum, cosmos, achillea, agastache, tulbaghia, Oenothera, Eriogonum (Buckwheat), Erigeron, Dianthus

Hummingbirds: Abutilon, Fuchsia, Agastache, Salvia greggii, Salvia clevelandii, Nasturtium, Delphinium

There is so much more, but this will get you started.

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.

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