Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Let the growing season begin!

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Apr 30, 2014 8:23 AM

What to look for on Smart Talk Wednesday, April 30, 2014:

garden 300 x 170.jpg

Are you ready to get the hands dirty and dig? 

Wednesday's Smart Talk is typically one of the most popular programs of the year.  Erica Jo Shaffer, the nursery manager at Highland Gardens in Camp Hill joins us to answer all your questions about gardening, planting, and maintaining your flowers, plants, and trees.

As we know, it has been a harsh long winter.  Spring got a bit of a late start too so the growing season is running 2-3 weeks behind normal.  The good news though is we are finally seeing splashes of color punctuated by the perennials that came up and leaves that are starting to come out on the trees.

Early May is a good time to think about annual flowers, vegetable gardens, trees, shrubs, and your lawn.

Pests that can take a toll on your plants are also starting to get rejuvenated too so you may need to think about your strategies for dealing with them as well.

Do you have a question for Ms. Shaffer?

Send us a photograph of your colorful flowers, plants, or trees and we'll post them on our website! Email them to

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:06


    I was wondering if you could suggest a family of plants, including vines that would thrive growing around my Goddess Face sculpture I purchased at Highland Gardens. I would like to permanently install her in my Gallery's new garden and the soil in Midtown Harrisburg is not particularly good. The space is right in front of my Gallery's window, a small urban square that from time to time may be subject to pedestrian traffic including doggies that are walked close by. I envision a magical plethora of color growing up towards the sun, could you suggest some plants?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:07

    I had problems with wilt on my cucurbits last year…cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash. Are there any insect resistant varieties of those vegetables that I should try this year?


  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:08

    I have cuttings from my mom's rose bush. I cut the ends and put them in water. Last time I did not get any roots. This is my 2nd time trying. What is a good way to get roots and how long does it take?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:09

    Great show! What is your guests opinion on rototilling an already established garden area? Do rototilling hurt or help?

    Also – what do you suggest to cut back on all the weeding in a garden? Putting down weed barrier, cardboard or just the “hoe of death”?

  • Mary Lou Sahd img 2014-04-30 08:12

    Help! Are there any flowers I can plant that Rabbits WON"T eat? They are horrible little creatures who eat all the typical annuals that we plant. ..sometimes in just hours! They've eaten a hybiscus and petunias et al. Is there anything we can do?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:19

    It was recently reported in the news that many of the pollinator-friendly plants being sold by garden stores are in fact pretreated with pesticides which cause long-term harm to pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Are there future plans for garden stores such as Highland Gardens to provide plants that will be safe for those of us who like to buy flowers such as salvia, asters and bee balms for pollinators?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:20

    Good morning,
    Can you suggest a variety of roses to plant in full sun, that won’t grow any higher than 4 feet, to form a hedge approx. 15 feet long by 4 feet wide. I guess some shade of red would be preferable.

    Thank you,

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:11

      Brian, There are a few red rose varieties that would work- you should try floribunda types to have a more shrub-like appearance. Another, 'Home Run', is more red colored than the Knockout types that have more of a pink overtone. :)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:28

    Are all dandelions edible? I noticed two kinds as I was weeding yesterday. Some were flat and the leaves were “sawtoothed” and those had more flowers. The other ones didn’t have any flowers and the leaves were just rounded at the tip and maybe a couple of inches long. I think I would rather eat those.


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:14

      Ann, Yes all dandelions are edible. Since they are such great seeders, there is quite a bit of diversity in the shape of the leaves when you get up close to see the differences! :)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:32

    So glad to hear Erica on the show. Do you have any advice for over-wintering small trees and shrubs in large pots? I planted Japanese pencil shrubs last spring in pots facing west. Most of the leaves appear to be deAd but the stems are green.


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:20

      Kathy, Some shrubs react better than others when overwintering in pots. Plus add this winter being harsher than usual. I would suggest you spray Sky Pencil Holly with a product called "Wilt Pruf" once a month thru the winter months. This coats the leaves so the wind can't dry them out as easily. Also, make sure the pot is sturdy thick ceramic or of a thicker type (not thin plastic) so the roots are insulated thru winter. If your pots are under an overhang, you may need to water deeper into the winter as long as a frozen water covering isn't happening on the top of the pot. Lastly, make sure you use good potting soil when planting (Gardener's Gold is excellent)so the roots have a good home.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:35

    How can I eradicate ornamental tall grass that I purchased from a nursery? It is invasive and I wonder why the commercial places sell invasive plants. It spreads via seeds and especially by thick tough roots. It produces tall tough bamboo shoots that have to be cut down each year. If you let it stand until spring the long leaves blow all over the neighborhood. Digging the roots out is difficult.


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:22

      Ann, Not all nurseries are created equal. Some places sell anything anyone will buy, without regard to the quality of the plant as a landscape addition. Highland Gardens carefully checks in to what we offer, providing only things we would plant in our own yards. Buyer beware kind of info! The larger places call it "product" and just want to see how many they will sell. We still call 'em plants! :) You will most likely only be able to get rid of the grass by using a total vegetation killer. Or perhaps higher a landscaper to come and dig it out for you if you don't want to use chemicals.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:38

    My lawn is being taken over by Japanese Stilt Grass. Probably 50%. What can I do?? It’s about 12,000 sq. ft.

    Thanks Much!!


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:26

      Steve, Unfortunately, you will have to use a total vegetation killer and kill off the area that is invaded, then re seed with desirable grass. You may need to even wait after the first kill and make sure you got it all before seeding the new stuff in. It may require a second spray to completely take it out.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:46

    Can I grow carrots and green beans in a container, and if so, how do I start?

    Thank you,

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:27

      Anna, Yes you can! You would start with containers, in both carrots and beans, plastic pots would be fine. Many are quite decorative now. Then most importantly, use good potting soil, such as Gardener's Gold. Cheap potting soil doesn't drain well. For fertilizer, you can use fish emulsion if you want organic (best) or Jack's Blossom Booster if you prefer chemical. Make sure to site the pots in a sunny area. :)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:47

    Do you have any directions for making a stringing tool for use in supporting tomato plants with the Florida weave? I've heard of using a length of pvc piping but can't find any directions for how to make one and how it works.

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:30

      Denise, No, I am unfamiliar with this technique. Maybe try Youtube?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:48

    Is there a way to protect our small tree from summer burn? So far it looks full and lovely but last summer the leaves burned.


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:33

      Bonnee, Your question has me curious if your little tree is one that would rather be in shade (which means it will always burn and you should move it to a shadier location) or if it was one just planted last spring and hadn't established yet. Once a week watering will help a young tree survive and thrive. Mulch only two inches deep, with a profile looking like a low bowl, not a volcano, is also necessary. But again, if it is a shade lover, it needs to be in the shade and no amount of protection will be helpful.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:49

    This spring I will be on my 3rd planting of Crepe Myrtle. I have enhanced the soil, and watered regularly. They are planted in Sunny spot – no luck. Any suggestions?

    The plants I have now are very brittle – are they dead, or may they still come back?


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:33

      Bill, My Crape Myrtle too looks quite dead. If the top died, they very often will regrow from the root system. Wait at least thru the 2nd week of May before taking them out. As for the no bloom aspect, your phosphorus level may be down, try applying FlowerTone spring and fall, and be sure not to prune them in late spring/early summer as you may be removing forming flower buds.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:50

    1) Can I plant a new tree on the stump of a former tree? To what depth does the old stump need to be grounded down (its currently about 6" below grade)? I don't have room to move over very much at all. The root ball of the new tree needs about 8" of depth.
    separate question:
    2) Installing a raised bed veggie garden over former landscape rock underlain by fabric: How deep does new raised bed need to be and do I have to pull up the fabric (I moved the rocks)
    Sue in Camp Hill.

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:39

      Sue, Yes, you can plant a new tree right over the old stump, but especially if it was a big tree, plant it a bit high to allow for settling as the old tree roots rot away. As the old roots rot, the microbes responsible for that consume a lot of Nitrogen to do their work, so be sure to fertilize your new one regularly to compensate for that action.
      Probably a good idea to pull up the fabric too, as it will most likely create a barrier making the drainage of the raised bed poor. If you are growing vegetables, the new raised bed should be at least 12" high, then as you add some of the soil depth to the box, it needs to be mixed in with the existing soil under the bed to create the proper transition for drainage. (impossible with fabric still there) Then fill it the rest of the way up.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:51

    I use cod liver oil pellets on my potatoes to keep out mice and voles and it works very effectively.
    Is it safe.

    Joe in Camp Hill

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:42

      Joe, That is an excellent tip!! We sell granulated Castor Oil, never thought about tucking the pills around. Thanks! :)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:52

    Hello! I live in Gardners, and have been trying to grow the native plant Goat's Beard from seed, with no success. Any tips? Does it, and other natives, need to winter outside?


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:44

      Would have to do more research on that. Some seeds really need some strange cold/warm or wet/dry timed periods to start- like the pines out west whose seeds need a wildfire to germinate. I am not familiar with Goat's Beards seed needs. I would suggest divisions.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-04-30 08:55

    We have a pin oak that was planted in our front yard when we moved into our house 3 years ago. The first year it was fine, buds on all the branches, but the last two years we noticed that the top third of the tree does not get buds and appears dead. I have fertilized the tree thinking it was not getting enough nutrients since we have poor soil but this year its still not getting buds on the top third.
    I am tempted to trim the dead branches away but i have heard topping a tree can kill it. What could be the cause of this and what are some solutions i could try?

    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:48

      Chris, I would nearly lay money on the Pin Oak being planted too deep. Or the mulch being "volcano"d around it. 2" too deep can kill trees. I suggest you use a hand claw tool and start excavating the soil away from the trunk until you find the root flare- the point where the tree stops and the roots start. That should be a ground level. When you discover how deep it is, you will need to dig the tree up, and replant it at the proper depth. Hopefully the bark that has been under the soil has not already degraded too far for recovery.

  • Deb Mickey img 2014-04-30 08:57

    I have volunteer trees growing in my shrubs. How do I get rid of the trees without ripping everything out?


    • Erica Jo Shaffer img 2014-04-30 09:50

      Deb, I use my hand trowel to scrape the soil back around the unwanted tree seedling, then my pruners pushed down as far as possible into the trunk/root system area and cut it off. You have to get the crown cut away so they don't resprout. Sounds like you have alot of birds spreading seeds! Mulching under the shrubs can be helpful in preventing future seeds from starting. I try to set aside time once a month to go out hunting for the "weed" tree seedlings to take care of this.