Gardeining Questions

My goodness, readers do have inquiring minds, and the questions below most intrigued me.

• What are those flies around my potted plants?

• Can I put ashes from the fireplace in the garden?

• What gives snow such interesting colors?

My favorite question is the last one because it is unique and made me smile. (Thank you, Latisha!) I will answer the others first. (No hurt feelings, please, Robin and Dorothy.)


Shoo, flies

The flies around your potted plants are probably fungus gnats. They are associated with overwatering and poor drainage. To avoid fungus gnats on your houseplants, keep them on the dry side as the gnat larva live in moist soil at the top inch or so. Watering from the bottom also helps. To get rid of the gnats, remove the plant and soil from the pot. Really scrub the pot with water containing a bit of bleach. Carefully remove as much of the soil as is possible without damaging the plant. Repot with fresh soil.


Ashes, ashes

You can put ashes from your fireplace in the garden. However, do understand that a lot of ashes will raise the pH of your soil. If your soil is already “sweet,” which means that the pH is over 7, adding ashes may be a bad idea as many garden plants, especially vegetables, grow best when the soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.5. Some plants do benefit from ashes—garlic and stone fruit for example. I also like to toss ashes into my compost bin. Ashes contain potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and small amounts of other chemical elements, so if they are to go into your garden, please spread them out evenly and thinly. You can do that now if you like. Melting snow and rain will move the minerals down through cracks in the soil.


Snow show

Now, stop smiling about colored snow! We are not referring to yellow snow but to snow that is often rose in color. The color depends on the location. Cryoflora are algae that live in ice and snow. Red or pink snow is caused by the algae Chlamydomonas nivalis and by diatoms. It is toxic to people! Brown snow is caused by diatoms and desmids. Blue-green snow is caused by blue-green algae. Black snow is caused by Iscotiella nivalis. 

How about snow mold? It is caused by fungi and is either gray or pink in color. You will notice it in the spring because the grass looks “gooey.” It usually happens when grass is too tall in the autumn. Snow flattens it making a nice home for fungi to grow.

Thank you, dear readers, for your questions. I love hearing from you!  

Carol Ann Harlos is an award-winning retired math and science teacher, Master Gardener, beekeeper, writer, and speaker. She tends extensive gardens, including herbs, and loves learning from others and sharing her knowledge. Send gardening questions and comments to

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