Free pruning seminar at Soergel's on Saturday 3/1

Written by Doug Oster on .


blog pruning tightPruning is best learned by watching an expert. That's what you'll get at Soergel Orchards and Garden Center this Saturday.

Reed Soegel taught me how to prune and the folks who work at Soergel Orchards and Garden Center can teach you too.

It's hard to learn pruning from a book, it's important to see an expert work the tree or shrub.

The class is free on Saturday March 1, 2014 at 1 p.m. There's no registration, just show up and bring some pictures of your plants that need pruning.

Here are all the details and how to find Soergel's.

If you can't make it, here's a video I made all about pruning.


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Heinz History Center’s 16th annual Poptastic! event

Written by Natalie Bencivenga on .

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Pittsburgh POPS!

Over 1,300 of Pittsburgh’s young professional crowd (yes, there are that many of us) enjoyed a night of grooving, drinking, and networking at the Heinz History Center’s 16th annual Poptastic! event on Friday night. The lively evening encompassed all five floors of the History Center, with everyone talking about the excitement of the “fifth floor.”


As I meandered through the impeccably dressed crowd, I overheard several people saying “how the fifth floor is where you want to be.” “Everyone will be on the fifth floor.”


Putting my immediate curiosity aside, I chose to build the suspense leading up to the fifth floor by taking in the scene through the rest of the exhibits first ...


 pop2 490 Burton Morris' Poptastic exhibit. Natalie Bencivenga/Post-Gazette photos


The first floor had live music, food, and was your designated meet-and-greet area where plenty of people were texting, mingling, and trying to locate their friends before heading up. The invitation encouraged guests to dress up like their favorite pop icons, it seemed at first that no one was encouraged. But then, I spotted Amber Fitzgerald and Jamie Moore dressed as Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball. They looked fantastic and were happy to pose for a picture.



The second and third floors had plenty of interesting exhibits to take in. As Andy Masich, the president and chief executive officer of the History Center said, “You can enjoy the party, the food, and the music, but if you need to take a breath, come chill out and walk around the exhibits.” I took his advice to heart, and when needing to catch my breath (mostly from choosing to take the stairs in stiletto heels) I wandered off to check out the newest exhibit: Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris, which was, I must say, colorful eye candy.



The fourth floor was packed with people networking, taking some candid shots in the photo booth, rejuvenating with organic juice shots from Steve Bland’s Savasana Juice Bar (to balance out the vodka, of course!), or indulging in tasty treats from restaurants like Donato’s.


Correction/clarification: This post has been updated to reflect an attendance figure of 1,300 for this event.


Yet, the fifth floor kept calling my name. Organic juice shot in hand, I headed up to see what the fuss was all about. Upon entering, I noted Massage Envy had set up a station to assist tired patrons who must have needed the pampering after experiencing the excitement of the fifth floor. I was intrigued. I could hear music coming from my left and so I headed in that direction, stopping briefly to chat with others who were also excited to experience “the fifth floor” as well.


pop6 490Fifth floor dance party!


Who knew this existed in the History Center? The area had been transformed into a New York-style club, complete with a DJ, dance floor, and plenty of couches to lounge. There were food stations set up with sandwiches, so you could nosh while dancing.


Smiles abound, I had found the heart of this incredible party. The Heinz Center brought the fun, and it was indeed Poptastic!


pop4 490George Jones, Rebecca Mix, Juan Pablo Rubiano #bestspecs

 pop5 490Amber Fitzgerald and Jamie Moore channel pop icons Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball

pop7 490Eloho Ufomata and Teresa Walker bringing fabulous pops of color!

pop1 490Andrew Masich (left) and the "Uncorked" committee.

(Top image: An aerial view of the party.)

Correction/clarification: This post was updated to reflect an attendance of 1,300 for this event.


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Spring Gardening Seminar with Doug on Saturday 3/1

Written by Doug Oster on .


I'm thrilled to be the keynote speaker at the Penn State Cooperative Extension Washington County Spring Gardening Seminar this Saturday March 1, 2014. I'll be presenting "The Steel City Garden." The lecture is all about creating a garden in black and gold.

After that, I'll be leading a breakout session called "Tomatoes Garlic Basil." It's all about growing and cooking with all three. It's going to be so much fun to talk about gardening after this long winter.

The event runs from 8:15am until 12:30pm at Trinity Middle School, 50 Scenic Dr. Washington , Pa.

Registration is $20 which includes the keynote address and your choice of a break out session which are listed below and refreshments too. Proceeds support the Washington County Master Gardener Program and Master Gardener Community Service Projects. There are also some very cool garden exhibits too.

Hope you can join me to get excited about this year's garden and to help the master gardener program in Washington County. The school is only a 40 minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh.

Here's a link to all the details.


Registration and Exhibits: 8:15 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. 

Keynotes and Workshops: 8:45 a.m.– 12:30 p.m.

  • Keynote 8:45am The Steel City Garden, how to create a garden in black and gold
  • Workshops
  • Tomatoes, Garlic and Basil
    Doug Oster (Doug is an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer) will speak about the simple pleasures of growing and cooking your garden’s most versatile veggies. Breakout session 10 a.m. - 11a.m. only.
  • Garden Rooms
    Making landscaping decisions about your yard can be a challenging task for any gardener. Why not consider easing the process by designing a garden room or series of rooms within your landscape? This presentation will provide you with practical tips and all of the information you will need to get started.It is much easier than you think!
    Betty Robison, Washington County Master Gardener
  • Diseases of Plants
    Plants, like all living organisms "get sick" also. What kinds of diseases do they get? Viral, bacterial, fungal are the main diseases as well as environmental factors will be discussed at this meeting. Symptoms of each, and management controls will also be discussed. The presentation will be accompanied by pictorial presentations of each.
    Dr. Mary Joy Haywood, Carlow College
  • Quick Nutritious Dishes
    Come and learn some quick dishes you can make using your vegetables and herbs from the garden. Limit 25 per session.
    Laura Delach, Master Gardener Coordinator
    John Chopich, Chef and Master Gardener in training
  • Garden Design 101
    Creating interesting new layouts in your yard including raised beds, boulders, fencing and interesting choices of plant material.
    Paul Hauber, Owner /operator of McMurray Nursery
  • Succulents
    Itching to get your hands in the soil? Come and plant succulents. We will provide the soil and plants. YOU bring a container. Be creative. Bring boots, shoes, cups, glass or metal. Size limit 8 inches diameter. Limit 20 per session.
    Linda Schwartz and Colleen Roberts, Washington County Master Gardeners
  • Berries for Pennsylvania Gardens
    Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and others. Nothing can beat the flavor and character of fresh homegrown berries. Berries are easier to grow than tree fruit and more easily fit in small spaces. Presentation will cover berry growing from preparing the site, ordering varieties, planting, pruning, pest management and harvest.
    Eric Oesterling, Retired Penn State Extension Agent, Westmoreland County


Take Route 18 south from Washington past Gabby Heights Market.  Turn left onto Scenic Drive. Trinity Middle School is on the left. ENTER school at the door by flag pole.

Contact Information


Laura Delach



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Oscars red carpet countdown: The women to watch for fabulous fashion

Written by Sara Bauknecht on .

Can you sense it? Oscars excitement is in the air!

With the awards show just a few days away on March 2, Stylebook is counting down all this week with daily blog posts about the stars and trends we hope to see on the red carpet (and the styles that should be left at home). Stay tuned!

Today, we salute the ladies we anticipate will be the night's style standouts based on their fashion picks at past awards shows. 

In no particular order, here are five women to watch on the red carpet:

Lupita Nyong'o

She's fashion's new *IT* girl. Vogue named the "12 Years a Slave" actress one of the rising style stars to watch. Plus, she was spotted making the rounds earlier this month at New York Fashion Week (even sitting next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour at Calvin Klein's runway show). So far, she's impressed in vibrantly colored gowns with minimal embellishments by such designers as Gucci (pictured below), Ralph Lauren and Dior.

SAG Lupita400 

Cate Blanchett

She's showed off several iterations of elegance this awards season, from the black lace-and-sheer J. Mendel gown at the Golden Globes to the softer blush halter-style dress by Givenchy (pictured below).

 SAG CateBlanchett400

Angelina Jolie

We haven't seen much of this style star this awards season, but she will be a presenter at the Academy Awards. Will she pull out a Hollywood glam look like the white Versace gown with the swipe of scarlet across the collar from the 2012 Golden Globes (pictured below)? Or will she bring sexy back with her signature skirt slit and show some leg? 

AngelinaJolie 400

Jennifer Lawrence

Being the face of Dior, it's a done deal that J-Law will be wearing something couture from the French fashion house. She's tends to stick with full silhouettes, such as the pale strapless look from last year's Oscars (pictured below). In January her white Golden Globes gown inspired a meme where people started comparing the dress to Disney characters or snapping photos of themselves wearing white blankets held on with black bands or cords. It would be fun to see her try something a bit different, such as a column dress with a pop of color.

Oscars2013.Jennifer Lawrence 400

Anne Hathaway

Like Ms. Jolie, Anne Hathaway's red carpet style made a splash last awards season but has been largely out of the spotlight this year. But she will be making an appearance as a presenter at the Academy Awards. At last year's Oscars, she opted for soft sophistication in a powder pink silk Prada gown (pictured below).



Who are you excited to see? Tweet your thoughts and fashion predictions to @SaraB_PG(Photos courtesy of Associated Press)


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Grafted vegetable plants offer vigor and disease resistance

Written by Doug Oster on .


Nearly 15 years ago on the island of Crete, Alice Doyle discovered grafted tomatoes. She was there to meet a brand-new extended family when someone pointed out a field of plants where a nematode infestation had devastated crops in previous seasons. The grafted tomato varieties were impervious to the pests.

"I really didn't think about it as important for the home gardener," she said. But it stuck in her mind, and over the years she began to think about it more and more.


A.P. Whaley Seed Co.: 1-608-437-9081.

GardenLife: No phone orders.

Johnny's Selected Seeds:, 1-877-564-6697.

Log House Plants:, 1-541-942-2288. (No retail sales to individual gardeners but has information.)

Mighty 'Mato: lists retailers of its grafted plants.

Territorial Seeds:, 1-800-626-0866.

Grafted tomatoes will be available locally at many garden centers and nurseries.

Ms. Doyle, who runs Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, Ore., wondered, "Why isn't the home gardener enjoying all the benefits that grafting brings?"

Here's how it works: A special seed is selected for vigor, disease resistance and/or other traits. It's called the root stock. It might be a wild species that wouldn't produce much of a tomato at all. Another tomato variety, called the scion, is selected for taste, size or other attributes. These are the varieties we're familiar with, such as 'Brandywine,' 'Jetsetter,' 'Cherokee Purple' and others. Any favorite tomato could act as the scion.

Seeds of the root stock and scion are planted. When the root stock is the right size, its top is cut off and the stem of the scion is attached to it with a grafting clip.

Under the right conditions, the two become one. There's no DNA exchanged. The scion benefits from the vigorous root stock that is resistant to soil-borne diseases and can be three times larger than a standard tomato's root system. Larger roots mean the plant can pull in more nutrients for the plant.

"You have these roots that are creating more mass, so they actually do more with less," Ms. Doyle says. These plants will use less water and fertilizer.

These tomatoes have other advantages, too. Even though they shut down like most tomatoes during extreme heat, the plants rebound quicker. When things cool off, the tomatoes last longer into the fall. When the plant is still covered with fruit as frost looms, Ms. Doyle recommends cutting it at the base and hanging the plant upside down in a warm place to let the fruit ripen.

Even though the rootstock can't prevent airborne diseases or fungal issues such as early blight, it can often fight them off more effectively because the plant is so prolific. Grafted tomatoes can also tolerate soils with higher salt levels.

In 2011, 1 billion vegetables were grafted around the world.

"Once a gardener plants a grafted plant, they will never go back," Ms. Doyle says.

Log House Plants, a wholesaler, became the first company to offer grafted tomatoes to gardeners in the U.S., originally offering them exclusively through Territorial Seeds. About the same time, John Bagnasco from GardenLife was also working with grafted tomatoes. The two companies teamed up with grower Tim Wada of Plug Connection to form SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables LLC. They charge around $7 per plant.

SuperNaturals has also partnered with Aaron Whaley of A.P. Whaley Seed Co. to add interesting vegetable varieties like the Indigo series of tomatoes. The fruit sports various shades of purple and is high in antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Mr. Bagnasco, who also hosts the popular radio show "GardenLife," saw a need for grafted tomatoes in the home garden. "People just love the taste of heirloom tomatoes, but you can't grow heirlooms everywhere in the country because you've got disease issues in the soil and you've got nematodes. Our root stock is resistant to all soil diseases and nematodes. Now you can grow an heirloom anywhere."

'Brandywine' is one of the most popular heirlooms. Gardeners are lucky to pick half a dozen in a season he says, but trials of a grafted 'Brandywine' produced 50 to 60 tomatoes on each plant.

The trick to successfully growing a grafted vegetable is not to bury the graft point, Mr. Bagnasco says. Doing so negates the positive traits associated with grafted plants. It's an easy mistake to make, especially with tomatoes because many gardeners place their transplants deep in the soil. Even professional growers made the error the first year the plants were shipped.

The company also offers seeds of the root stock, and I wondered why they would sell them. "Because we know how hard it is," he said.

In his operation grafts are nearly 100 percent successful; a novice will be lucky with half that rate. "If you had one [tomato variety] you wanted to do, you could do it yourself. It's kind of a fun project," he said.

Because he works with tomatoes for a living, I had to ask what some of his favorite varieties were. He loves 'Blush Tiger.' "It might be the world's best-tasting tomato," he said with a smile. The other tomatoes he's thrilled about are the Bumblebee series. These striped cherry tomatoes in purple, pink and orange are tasty and beautiful.

SuperNaturals has branched out from tomatoes to eggplant, peppers, basil and vine crops. Although the cucumber plants don't produce more fruit, they are highly disease-resistant and very vigorous. It's the cantaloupe and watermelons that really pack on the fruit.

"You get a minimum of double amount of melons and sometimes three or four times the amount of melons," Mr. Bagnasco said.

In fact he offered some grafted 'Ali Baba' watermelons to Portland, Ore., master gardeners. At the end of the season the local paper was out to photograph vines loaded with 35 to 40 pound full-sized melons.

After a little prodding, he revealed some of the fascinating plants on the horizon for 2015. The first two are not grafted: a sweet corn plant with red foliage, husk, kernels and tassels that is 30 percent protein and a blue edible podded pea. 'Ketchup "N" Fries' is a cherry tomato scion grafted to potato root stock.

Grafted plants might be the future for tomatoes and other vegetables as they use less resources and produce more fruit than standard varieties. It's something gardeners will be experimenting with for seasons to come.


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