Ask Avis



Honey bee in borage

Here’s chance for all of you far flung fans to ask me questions about gardening. No question is too simple. Gardening is a wonderful, yet perplexing activity.  Why something works once and then the next time it’s a total bust can be frustrating. Nature will have her way, but there are methods that work to ensure  success in the garden.  After 40 years with my hands in the dirt, I’ve probably made as many mistakes as you could imagine, but trust me, I haven’t given up yet.  And you can be the beneficiary of my experience.

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12/16/2013 - janet asks: pruning pineapple guava "My 22 year old pineapple guava is about 10 x 10 and has never been pruned. My husband wants to prune the lower limbs today but I\\\'m afraid it may be damaged by cold weather this winter. We\\\'re in zone 8b coastal NC. When is the best time to prune it?" Answer:
Wow, considering the unbelievable cold weather the south is having, I hope you waited to prune your Pineapple guava. Early Spring is the best time. Then you don\'t have to worry about frost damage on the limbs. The shoots will start to grow quickly after pruning it.
12/06/2013 - Lynette Ivory asks: Feijoa Sellonia "How tall and how wide does this shrub grow? I have a small garden and don\\\'t want something too big. Thanks Lynette" Answer:
Hi Lynette, Feijoa can get up to 15 ft tall, but it can also be pruned heavily to stay smaller for a small garden. Generally, I recommend putting in shrubs that fit the site, but Feijoa has so many great qualities, including the fruit, that it is probably worth planting, even if you have to prune it each year.
10/20/2013 - Sandie asks: White Star Jasmine Died "Hi! Avis\\r\\n I had a large (12\\\'w by 14\\\'tall) beautiful white star jasmine vine on it\\\'s own custom made for it, trellis in a perfect location. It grew happily & lush for about 20 yrs, then began dying. A section of the leaves would turn brown then die along with the stems, at once. Then another...etc! I pruned the dead sections out. The rest of it looked green & healthy! I found no bug infestations, no visible diseases, nothing that showed why it was dying. \\r\\nI inspected it many times. It took about 4 mts. There was one thing wrong but I don\\\'t know if it is related. A family of gophers had moved in with tunnels under it. The Jasmine\\\'s root system had to be very large and it was always well nourished with compost.\\r\\nWhat do you think killed my beautiful White Star Jasmine?\\r\\nIs it possible to plant a new one in the same place?\\r\\nOr do I need a gopher hated plant, if one is evergreen with fragrant abundant flowers? \\r\\nThe gophers cannot be eradicated as they are abundant in all the surrounding homes, for miles. But I would be glad to do whatever it takes to replant this area again.\\r\\nThanks very much for your expertise.\\r\\nSandie \\r\\n " Answer:
gophers can damage even well established plants. It\'s very possible that they killed your plant. You could put the new plant inside a wire gopher basket. A wire called hardware cloth is what I recommend. Chicken wire baskets rust out too quickly. Good luck.
05/27/2013 - Brenna asks: Pineapple Guava bush "I finally identified this bush in our yard. It has not grown much in the 2 years we have lived here. We are in the heat of Red Bluff in Northern California. We have a drip system on it. It just seems kind of spindly...not a nice full bush. We did have a few flowers this year, but have never seen fruit. It is about 4 foot tall and in about 1/2 shade 1/2 sun. Would I consider transplanting it, pruning it, or what? Sounds like a great bush, but mine needs help! Thanks!" Answer:
Hi Brenna, There may be several reasons why your bush hasn\'t grown much. Even if you have a drip irrigation, it might not be getting enough water. You need to have 3 or 4 drips of 2 gallon each around the plant. If you only have one or two drips it doesn\'t give water to all the roots around the plant. You also need to keep the water on for at least 20 minutes. The best way to check for moisture is to dig down 6 inches with a trowel. Surface moisture doesn\'t mean that soil is reaching deeper roots. I also encourage you to fertilize around the plant with compost and then mulch around the base to retain moisture and also to keep the soil from getting compacted. Older gardens have very compacted soil and this inhibits moisture, air and nutrients from going to the roots. The final thing to do for a spindly plant is to prune it back. Pineapple guavas do well with pruning and will send new strong branches from the stems. You could cut it back half way if it was very spindly. Let me know how it goes. Avis
05/04/2013 - Diane Strachan asks: Sowing wildflowers in Northern California "Hi Avis! This is great! Hope you are doing well. I am sending your blog onto my super gardening friend.My question.When is the best time to plant a bunch of wildflower seeds. I am up Zone 1. Is it too late?Is fall better anyway?Love didi" Answer:
HI Di, Great question. Wildflowers in nature drop their seed at the end of summer and stay in the ground all winter. They come up in late spring in your zone, while the soil is still moist but warmed up after the snow has melted. To mimic nature you can sow in spring, but will need to water your seeds in case there is no rain. We\\\\\\\'ve been a little short on rain this year. To keep them blooming longer you might want to give them a little water now and then. It also helps to choose wildflowers native to your area. What catalogs sell as wildflowers are usually from somewhere else and they have different cultural requirements. Check out Peaceful Valley Farm Supply at for wonderful collections of California wildflowers. Good luck and happy growing. Avis
05/04/2013 - carol asks: row covers "Do you know where to find a new type of row cover? It is a woven type that has fibers arranged together in a mesh-like fashion. Evidently, it is much stronger and will last from year to year. This appeals to me, as the standard cover doesn\'t hold up well. I live in the PNW, but would order online. My climate is pretty temperate, as we are surrounded by water on three sides here in WA state on the Quimper Peninsula. But we do have a lot of cool, gray weather during the summer months. " Answer:
Hi Carol, Thanks for the question. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply carries this row cover. You can find it here. Just remember, the thicker the weave the less light it lets through. It is good for extreme weather fluctuations like late or early frosts. Avis

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours in the joy of gardening,



  6 Responses to “Ask Avis”

  1. On your self-watering- pots webpage, you show a self-watering pot which has a cage. I have not seen that brand / model before. Can you advise to me name of manufacturer.


    • Hi Mike, The containers with the cages come from The Gardener’s Supply catalog. They have a lot of great tools and supplies.

  2. So Avis, I have this basil plant I bought at Trader Joes. It was a great bargin and I’ve been using it for cooking for months now. It is on a window sill facing North, if that makes a difference. It now has millions of little white spots under the leaves which, if I shake the plant, take off in a cloud of little white flying bugs. Do I need to replace the plant? Or is it salvageable? I forget to water it regularly and it wilts, but a little water brings it back. I usually kill plants, but I’ve tried extra hard to keep this one alive because it is so expensive to buy fresh basil leaves and only use a few in a meal. Any suggestions?

    “After all, what is adventure, but inconvenience properly regarded?”
    C. Donahue

    • Hi Dave,

      Despite your ability to kill houseplants, you’ve obviously done something right to keep them alive so long. Don’t give up now. You’ve got white fly on your basil. It’s harder to keep plants healthy inside the house where there are no predators. Since you’ve gotten your money’s worth on this plant, I suggest you move it into the garden and let it toughen up in the real world.

      There are ways to treat whitefly. The whitefly is a tiny winged insect that gather in groups, usually under the leaves of plants, and suck plant leaves until they turn yellow and fall off. They also transmit plant disease. If you brush up against your plant and see a small cloud of white flies move away then this is your problem.

      You can use Safer Sticky Stakes insect traps or spray them with an organic insecticidal soap, like Safer Soap. These are lethal to the insects, but harmless to everyone else.

      It might be time for a new basil plant. Give it plenty of light and if possible, try to remember to water it before it wilts. That keeps it a little stronger and less prone to insect infestation.

      It’s great you’re using fresh herbs.

      Thanks for your question.


  3. I sowed my vegetable seeds in pots and they didn\’t grow. What did I do wrong?


    • Hi Galen,

      Thanks for your question. Sowing seeds can be a little tricky. When you get the seed packet be sure to read the directions and notice what season your plants will grow in, how deep to sow the seed and how long they take to germinate. Your problem could have been any of the following: seed was old and not viable, your seed dried out, it was either too hot or too cold for the seed to germinate or you have to give it a little more time. There’s no simple answer to your question, but try the following suggestions.

      Generally the smaller the seed the less they need to be covered. A big seed like pea or bean can go 1/2 inch to 1″ under the soil. A lettuce seed just needs 1/8 inch of soil covering. Then be sure to keep the surface moist. But not so wet that green algae grows on the surface.

      Once the seeds germinate they will need plenty of light. Be sure to read my post on getting seedlings started for more information.

      Good luck and let me know if this helped.


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