The Douglas County extension agent answers your garden prep questions

February 15, 2010

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Jennifer Smith

Planning your first vegetable garden? Or are you an experienced gardener who still has some nagging problems? Jennifer Smith, Douglas County Extension agent for K-State Research and Extension, will be taking questions during a live chat at noon Monday,


Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Christy Little, your chat moderator today. Jennifer Smith with K-State Research & Extension is here to answer your gardening questions. There are a lot submitted already, but we will get to as many as we can.

Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer Smith:

Hello, everyone!


Our first question today is from gabro:

Jennifer Smith:

Animals and insects are definitely problems! For animals, you could try using a repellant. There are several different products available with names like Liquid Fence and Repels All. Different products work for different pests, so you might try to determine what kind of critters are getting into your plants.
I'm not sure what kind of worms were getting into your cucumbers zucchini, but if it happens this summer, bring them into the Extension office (on the fairgrounds), this summer and I or a Master Gardener can help you determine what they are. With insects, its really important to properly identify before treating so that you can take the proper steps for control.


Sorry about that, folks. Grabro asked about pest control ...


The next question is from PopcoRN:


What is a good beginner's project for someone with no gardening experience? I have an area in front of my house that needs some attention and I'd like to involve my kids. Are there any particular flowers or plants that are foolproof? (I've managed to kill a cactus, so as you can see I don't exactly have a green thumb! lol)

Jennifer Smith:

If you'd like to try some vegetables, I recommend starting small, with maybe a few tomato and pepper plants, or some lettuce and spinach in early spring. There are lots of flowers that grow easily here, too, just pay close attention to how much sun/shade the area gets and make your selections based on that. Get the kids to help plant and water.


I have an area that I'd like to turn into a veggie garden. I know it gets good sun and has good soil, as there are lots of plants currently growing there, including a very aggressive viney rosebush (which doesn't really produce any roses-- just more vines), a very young maple tree and some other shrub-type-plants -- I also planted some tomatos and flowers there last year, and they did wonderfully. But this year, I'd like to clear it all out and start fresh and organized. But what is the best way to clear out everything currently growing there and prepare the area for a new garden? I'm especially unsure how to get rid of the rosebush, as it seems indestructable!

Jennifer Smith:

Digging them out and getting as much of the roots as possible will best. On the rosebush, I'd probably cut it back to the ground before digging out the roots to get those thorny branches out of the way. If there are stumps from the tree or shrubs that are too large too dig out, you could rent a stump grinder from one of the equipment rental places to get rid of them. Once the area is clear, till or turn over the soil with a shovel and add compost, rotted leaves, etc to improve the soil.


I moved into a new house late last year. It has some nice established herbs (lavender, sage, thyme, garlic chives) and some asparagus. I love the plants, but I want to move them to a different spot in the yard. Should I move them in very early Spring before they "wake up"? Or should I wait until the weather is a bit warmer so that they're not fighting the cold and struggling to reestablish themselves all at the same time?

Jennifer Smith:

I would move everything but the lavender in very early spring, before they start to grow or just about the time they start showing new growth. Wait until later spring for the lavender. Sometimes moving it or cutting it can stimulate growth too early in the season, and it can be damaged by subsequent cold temperatures.


Is (used) kitty litter OK to use for manure in my tomato garden?

Jennifer Smith:

We don't recommend using used kitty litter or dog waste in the garden because of the risk of bacteria splashing onto produce that you are going to eat. You could also get it on your hands/shoes/etc. when working in the garden and transport it inside.


We live just south of town. The moles have devistated our yard. When the ground thaws I plan on setting traps. How do you suggest repairing the hundreds of tunnel hills covering almost an acre of yard?

Jennifer Smith:

Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. Spring rains should help the dirt settle back into the ground, or you may want to use a spade to work the soil back down into the holes. It will take time.


When is the best time to till your garden?

Jennifer Smith:

Fall is best because it give the soil a chance to settle over the winter. However, if you didn't get it done (like me), early spring is okay, too.


Good morning! I just saw the city is getting ready to give away/sell compost, and I've never used it before and was wanting a few tips on incorporating it into our small gardens? Typically we grow tomatoes and a few pepper plants, and I'm thinking of adding green beans this year; we also have some small herb and flower gardens.

Also, do you have any suggestions for kid-friendly plants (i.e. safe and also fun for them?)? Our daughter is going to be one-and-a-half this Summer, and I'd love to have her enjoy the garden with us. Any suggestions are appreciated, thank you!

Jennifer Smith:

Add a half-inch to an inch of compost across the top of the soil, then till it in or work it in with a shovel or garden fork. The compost should be great for your garden! It provides nutrients and increases good microbial activity. For kid-friendly plants, I really like things that have interesting textures, scents, flowers, or fruit. Herbs have some of these things - woolly thyme is a good one, or some of the different oreganos. Miniature pumpkins or crookneck squash can be fun, but take up a lot of space. Outside the vegetable garden, you might try a sunflower or two for the giant flowers.


How can we get our plum tree to put out more fruit?

Jennifer Smith:

Do a little pruning to let more light into the tree. Light is essential for fruit production. You might also take some soil samples and submit for testing to see if additional nutrients are needed. Samples can be submitted at the Douglas County Extension office on the Fairgrounds, and right now homeowners can test up to 10 samples per year for free, thanks to a grant from the Conservation District.


I have a large flower bed that just turns to weeds each summer. i want to turn the entire bed to just grass. Do you suggest I just roundup the entire thing acouple of times , roto till then put down sod? Flowers are mostly daylilly, columbine, and an ivy that has taken over. When should I start roundup?

Jennifer Smith:

You'll have to wait until the plants are actively growing for a herbicide to be effective, but it will depend on how quickly spring comes this year. I'd wait until temperatures are above fifty degrees and you can see that the flowers are growing. You could also try seeding the area early this spring (before about April 15) with grass seed and then just mowing it this spring and summer. The grass will eventually choke out the flowers.


How can I get more worms in my garden and do you know any worm experts?

Jennifer Smith:

Incorporating compost and organic matter will make your garden a more favorable environment for worms to live in and they will be more likely to stick around and reproduce. Worms that are available for commercial purchase - mostly red wigglers - are good for the garden but cannot survive our winters. Nightcrawlers are sometimes a little too active for the vegetable garden. For worm experts, my favorite source of info is the University of Illinois Extension's Wacky World of Worms. They've got all kinds of worm facts, information about building worm bins, and links to additional resources.


Well, everyone, we are out of time for today's chat -- we got to as many questions as we could. Jennifer, how can readers contact you directly with additional questions?

Jennifer Smith:

E-mail me at or give me a call at 843-7058. Happy gardening, everyone!


OK, thanks, Jennifer. Everyone, you can read Jennifer's column, Garden Calendar, in Sunday's Journal-World. Thanks again for your questions.


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