QUESTION: I thought you’d like to see what we’ve done with a patch of clover that just appeared in the middle of our lawn over the past two years. I was hoping for more flowers for the bees, but the sculptural effect is fun, too. What do you think?

ANSWER: Thanks for sharing the creative way you’ve incorporated clover for the bees and minimized the amount of mowing in your Fan District garden. It shows how a little imagination can turn a very small garden into a beautiful, low-maintenance landscape. Sharing your idea might inspire others to explore inventive ways to attract pollinators to their yards, regardless of the size.

QUESTION: For the last few years, my peonies have had lush foliage but fewer blooms. Any suggestions on gaining more blooms next year?

ANSWER: Several things can prevent peonies from producing lots of blooms. Could the tops have been cut back too soon? The tops store food for next year’s blooms right up until late summer. It’s important to allow the foliage to stay in place at least until late August. Are they mulched too deep? Too much mulch or the rhizomes being buried too deep will prevent them from blooming. Lastly, they could need dividing. If the clumps are large, you can split them in the fall. You can replant some in your garden or share them with friends. If you keep them, be sure to have only a thin layer of soil and mulch over them.

QUESTION: My lawn looked great in the spring. I put down crabgrass preventer with a little fertilizer in early March, and my yard was beautiful. The problem is, by early June, I started getting brown places scattered throughout the lawn. My neighbor said it’s a disease called brown patch. Is he right? How did I get it, and how can I get rid of it?

ANSWER: I’ll assume your lawn was primarily fescue. If so, your neighbor is probably correct. Rhizoctonia brown patch is a fungal disease that is quite common in well-managed fescue lawns in central Virginia. This disease thrives with high humidity and high temperatures, particularly at night. It also likes moist conditions at night. Watering the lawn late in the day or our evening rainstorms leave fescue lawns wet and in the dark, perfect conditions for fungal growth.

What can you do? Go easy on nitrogen fertilizer in the spring; it can stimulate lush tender growth that will be more subject to the infection. If you water your lawn, do it early in the morning rather than in the evening. Obviously, there’s nothing we can do to affect temperature, humidity and rain, so doing everything right can still result in occasional infections from brown patch. Fungicides can help stop the spread of the disease, but they don’t cure the spots that are already infected. The good news is, this disease only affects the grass blades, not the crown or roots. Once the environmental conditions that stimulate the fungal disease are gone, the grass will recover.

QUESTION: Several years ago, we went back to planting heirloom tomatoes instead of the hybrids. We love the flavor of the old standard varieties. However, we have a few plants that basically wilted overnight — not just the ends of the branches, but the whole plant, top to bottom. Any idea what’s causing this and what we can do about it?

ANSWER: I love the heirlooms, too. German Johnson and Cherokee Purple are two of my favorites. However, the open-pollinated varieties are subject to two life-threatening diseases: fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt. Both can cause the symptoms you’ve mentioned. There is no treatment for either of these conditions once they show up. You can try avoiding tomatoes in this section of your garden for a few years. Some experts say not to replant tomatoes in the same area for five years. Another option is to switch back to some of the VF-variety hybrids for a couple of years. VF indicates that these plants have been bred to be resistant to both diseases.

Richard Nunnally is a freelance writer and is retired from Virginia Cooperative Extension. You can reach him at

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