Ask the Garden Guru

Lawn Fertilizer

Dear Garden Guru,

What type of lawn fertilizer do you recommend for spreading now for winterizing? I am looking for a more or less "Weed and Feed" but I have a dog so I am wary of fertilizers with harsh chemicals. My lawn is a dwarf fescue

Devi in San Francisco

Hi Devi,

Thank you for your question. At the moment the best option for you in terms of a “Weed and Feed” is to actually use two products that our stores currently carry. The first is an all-natural corn gluten based product called Weed Prevention Plus. This is a pre-emergent weed killer that is not loaded with harsh chemicals. It targets the seeds that eventually become weeds in your yard.

Additionally, to feed the lawn, I recommend Nature’s Green Lawn Food, which is another all-natural product that provides vital nutrients for you lawn.

These two products should take care of all of your winter lawn needs. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging which will help you decide how long to wait between applications of these products, as I do not recommend using them at the same time.

I hope this helps get you started. As always our experienced staff at the stores can answer more specific questions for you too.

Let's talk Loam

Dear Garden Guru,

Is it possible to order loam from you and if not where could I find it? My soil is very sandy and I remember my mother always used to purchase bags of very rich loam and almost anything would grow after mixing it in with fertilizer.

Victoria in San Francisco

Hi Victoria,

We sell a wonderful product called Loam Builder. A 2 cubic foot bag sells for $5.99. It is especially nutritious and is designed to be mixed into your native sandy soil. Not only is it rich, it will improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture.

Help with composting

Dear Garden Guru,

I am a new gardener and started a compost pile. If I recall right, I believe it should contain 1/3 green stuff, 1/3 brown stuff, and 1/3 other stuff (not sure)..... But my question is this, is it still ok to compost only kitchen scraps if there is no brown stuff going in? It does seem to still break down into wet stuff not quite dirt...... let me know.

Bruce, your faithful gardening dunce in San Francisco

Hi Bruce, your faithful gardening dunce,

Many people do as you do and only compost their kitchen scraps. The result does tend to be moist but is still quite beneficial to houseplants and gardens. Should you want it more crumbly you will need to add some “brown”. This “brown” or high carbon element can be shredded paper, napkins, coffee filters with grounds. If your compost seems too wet, try adding some shredded pages of an old phone book. It does not have to be leaves, sawdust or wood chips.

Growing flowers from seed

Dear Garden Guru,

I am planning to start some of my favorite flowers from seed for Spring/Summer season. I have built a small greenhouse in my garage where I get lots of afternoon sunlight. I have three questions: 1. When is a good time to lay the seeds for April transfer? 2. Do I have to use any special soil? 3. What temperature do I need to keep? Regards.

Zubair in

Hi Zubair,

To give you the best idea of when to plant your seeds, you want to know the approximate last frost date for your area and then count back based on the information provided on the seed packet. Your location in Danville has frost as late as 3/27. Most of your seed starting should occur from mid February on, depending on the varieties you choose.

You will want to use a light soil mixture that is moisture retentive yet airy. The EB Stone Seed Starting Mix is ideal or you can mix 50/50 vermiculite and Sloat Organic Potting Soil.

The best results will occur if you can keep daytime temperatures at about 72 degrees with nighttime temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees. Even though you have good afternoon light, I advise you to supplement the lighting with grow lamps. The seedlings require between 12 and 16 hours of light a day to grow strong.

Using kitchen composters

Dear Garden Guru,

I do not have a compost in my yard due to limited space but I would like to turn kitchen scraps (veggies, potato peels, orange & apple, banana peels, used tea bags, coffee, egg shells, rotted fruits, etc. into compost. Can I just cut them into small pieces and bury them in the soil for a few weeks, then use them to enrich the soil? Good idea? Or bad?

Theresa in San Mateo

Hi Theresa,

The method you propose does work and it is a fine idea. It is also possible to compost your kitchen scraps in a small (with lid), metal waste can either kept in the garage or outside your back door. It works best if you can poke a few holes on the bottom. Adding some garden earth to the bottom will help stimulate microbial activity. You can also add leaves and small clippings once in a while. Sloat also carries an electronic kitchen composter that can be kept inside the home with no smells.

Shredded newspaper in compost?

Dear Garden Guru,

Recently I notice my neighbor throwing shredded newpapers into their compost. How safe is it to do this? I was under the impression that the ink used in printing wasn't safe if you grow vegetables. Thank you.

Bob in San Francisco

Hi Bob,

In most circles, It has been determined that using shredded newspaper in compost is not a problem. Use of toxic inks in newsprint has basically ceased not just for environmental reasons but for worker safety in printing plants. All lead, chromium and cadmium inks are no longer used for newsprint. The colored pages of newspapers can also be used as the copper in the inks used are not in levels high enough to pose a threat. Vegetables grown with compost containing newspaper are considered safe to eat . That said, there really is no way to know exactly where each piece is printed and to what it may have been exposed. My rule of thumb is…If there is concern, why bother if it is not essential. You can replace the use of newsprint with unprinted paper bags, hard brown leaves or other brown garden debris.

Gardening near the beach

Dear Garden Guru,

My garden is near Golden Gate Park in the Sunset... about 12 blocks from the beach. The area I need to plant is the shady south fence area. I have vegetables trying to grow in the sunny parts. I have sandy soil, possibly somewhat acidic since I also have a pine tree out there. I do have a couple of azaleas already that I have managed not to kill - despite neglect. What do you think? I'd like to find stuff that will not need a lot of attention or water.

Stephanie in San Francisco

Hi Stephanie,

Artemesia Silver Mound, Artemesia Powis Castle, Arctostaphylos (Manzanita), Armeria maritima, Ceanothus (many varieties), Sedums, succulents, Aeoniums and Echeverias, Fremontodendron, Erigeron glaucus, Erigeron karvinskianus, Festuca californica, Muhlenbergia (Deer Grass), Sisyrinchium (Blue-Eyed Grass), Zauschneria, Rhus integrifolia, Salvia leucophylla, Salvia clevelandii, Eriogonum (Buckwheat), Lavatera assurgentiflora, Mahonia, Myrica, Echium (not native but does very well)..

Keep in mind that not all plant material is available simultaneously. You may need to special order and stagger your planting depending on availability.

Plants for deep shade

Dear Garden Guru,

We have a north facing window box that is 6 feet wide, 2.5 feet deep and 6 feet high. It is sheltered from the rain, but is irrigated. The soil is 2 feet deep and has been amended. Nothing survives in the box except for star jasmine which must be cut back frequently. We just killed 2 rhododendrons! Help!!

Martin in Kentfield

Hi Martin,

Deep Shade is a hard spot. Rhododendron and Azalea require more light than we sometimes give them. Here is a list of plants that will perform (hopefully) better:

Aspidistra, Hosta, Sarcococca, Podocarpus, Aucuba, Camellia, Nandina, Acanthus, Ferns, Clivia, Helleborus, Lamium and Liriope

Ground cover options

Dear Garden Guru,

Hi I'm looking for a ground cover that will withstand a few hours of afternoon sun which matches the baby's tears which grow in the shady areas of the garden: low to the ground, non-flowering if possible, fast growing. I found dwarf thyme on line as a possibility. Do you have anything I could use? Thank you.

Beth in San Francisco

Hi Beth,

Your thought of dwarf thyme is a good one. Lime thyme, creeping thyme and elfin thyme will grow the lowest but they are somewhat slow to spread and they do flower for a short time in summer. Hernaria glabra (also known as green carpet) does not have a noticeable flower but is sometimes hard to obtain. Isotoma, the fastest grower, does have that blue-white flower in the summer. You might even consider planting baby tears in the sun. In your cool climate, with regular water, the baby tears should do just fine.

Should I rip out the lawn???

Dear Garden Guru,

My front lawn is about dead. It happens every summer, unless I water it a lot (and I don't want to for obvious reasons). It is a small plot, maybe 20 feet by 5 feet and has redwood trees that provide limited shade. In addition, it is a "mound" of sorts causing the water to run-off. My question is, what sort of grass can I put there that won't die every year? I am very willing to get away from traditional grasses and would like to explore more native, wild grasses that would look good without much mowing. I like the look of the blue fescue, but live in a fairly manicured home and neighborhood so have that issue to deal with as well. This area is southeast facing with intense sun all day. You can tell me to take it all out and put in rocks and succulents!! Help...

Margy in Alamo

Hi Margy,

I vote for removing the lawn, especially since you have a mound to contend with. The Blue Fescue or any other evergreen, clumping grass would not look messy if enough were planted. Other grass candidates would be Carex glauca, Carex Frosted Curls, Carex testacea and Festuca idahoensis. There are plenty of groundcovers that will tolerate that exposure and are drought tolerant too. Gazania, creeping thyme, trailing lantana, Myoporum parvifolium Putah Creek, Oregano, Duchesnia (Mock Strawberry) and Iceplants. And, it may look quite nice (and take up some space) if some large rocks were incorporated. Our store in Danville has a good stock of groundcovers and a very knowledgeable consultant, Dustin Stroebel.

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