There are no stupid questions…

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By Debra Knapke

Since 1997 I have been on the “hotseat” on radio shows where I’m the garden expert waiting to answer your questions. I am armed with a pen and a dwindling pad of paper that has served me for the last seven of those years. I started with Tom Wieble, host of Green Scene – WOSU 89.7 – on Friday evenings. I initially was just the plant person, but now I field questions on all-things-garden when I am on All Sides with Ann Fisher on 89.7 NPR Radio News.

I will admit to raising my eyebrows at some questions and comments that have come my way in the past 20 years, but every gardener has to start somewhere. That first question and how it is handled will either bring someone into the fold or will discourage an inquiring mind. You never know to whom you are speaking and my most important rule is to treat every question with respect. I will admit that my facial expressions and body language were less controlled in the early years. But six years ago cameras were added to the studio, so shows could be replayed on the local NPR TV station. Now I have to behave.

Questions from listeners fall into several groups:

  • specific plant problems – pests and diseases, and the control measure for those problems
  • how to grow a specific plant
  • mulch
  • deer and other garden visitors
  • weeds
  • the weather and its effect on plants

I don’t always have the answer. Social media has made it easy to get back to listeners with answers that I didn’t have in the studio. I’ve posted many follow-up comments to questions and have had interesting virtual conversations with guests. There is a parasitized tomato hornworm 10-5-05 cropdownside to this. Some listeners have come to think of me as their personal gardening help-line. Questions requiring complex answers appear through my website and I have perfected the response of: “this is a great question, but beyond the scope of an email. If you would like to schedule a consultation, my fees are… “

Here is a selection of the most common asked questions over the years.

Tomatoes – every season there are questions about tomatoes. In the spring: When should I start my tomatoes (asked in May)? Which types are best to plant? How do I plant a tomato?

In the summer: When should I water them and what happened to the leaves which were eaten overnight?! The tobacco hornworm (picture below) is often the culprit. I describe frass and gleefully recount how parasitoid wasp pupas materialize and decorate the outside of a hornworm.

Fall: clean-up; and what to do with green tomatoes?

Winter: When should I start my tomatoes?

Deer – there are very few places in the US that do not have a IMG_2376 crop resize 2.jpgproblem with deer. We all know the stock responses: Deer will eat just about anything if they are hungry. No one strategy will work on all deer over time; you have to switch up your techniques. I once made the mistake of saying – in a talk to a ladies garden club, no less – that the best deterrent is a gun with a good scope. This was an audible gasp in the room. Now I just say that it helps to know a hunter who can help you with your deer problem. I did stop complaining about my deer when I heard a story about elk in a Colorado garden and armadillos in Tennessee. “My” deer are easy in comparison!



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All Sides with Ann Fisher 8-28-17 in the studio

Being on the radio has honed my ability to think fast and has made me research so many questions and garden issues. However, people tend to think I am “on” all the time. I have answered questions at parties, the grocery store, PTA meetings, family gatherings, baseball games, and even funerals. But I can’t complain, well, not usually. As a garden communicator I love to talk about my favorite subject.


Meet the Author

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Debra Knapke is a teacher, lecturer, garden designer, consultant, and gardener who is looking for a functioning crystal ball. She has been a member of the Sustainability Committee for six years and is a contributor to On the QT. She has written five books and blogs at:   email:



Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

2 thoughts on “There are no stupid questions…”

  1. Having been on the radio for many years, I too have the same issue with answering questions all the time. I generally answer kindly stating, “and you know I’m a garden consultant, we can schedule a time to review all this if you’d like”, allowing the subject of fees to come up naturally. Its always a challenge to share—and then at some point, get paid. :-))


    1. Thank you for this post. I worked in the garden industry for many years. People asked all kinds of questions. As you said, beginners need to start somewhere and if they are discouraged from asking questions that seem basic or even silly to a seasoned gardener they may lose the interest and passion for gardening that is growing inside of them. Thank you for fielding their questions and encouraging their interest in gardening.


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