view counter


Help these fruit trees recover from two bad winters

The winter of 2013-’14 killed the stems of most of the figs in southern Maryland. However the roots were still very much alive and generated an abundance of new stems from the ground. The robust roots produced stems that were able to produce a few figs. But most stems produced no fruit. They would have this year, except for another killing winter this past year.     At the northernmost range for growing figs, we have to face the fact that extremely cold winters can mean no fruit.

It’s harvest time

If you planted garlic last fall, the tails should be at least 24 inches tall, and you should be seeing the tops of the bulbs by now.     If you, like me, planted elephant garlic, flower heads will now be developing at the end of its tall cylindrical stem.     Most German, Italian and other soft-neck garlics do not flower. 

There are better ways than mulch

Do you think the only method of controlling weeds is mulching?     If so, you’re likely to add another layer of mulch every time you see weeds growing through the last layer. From there on, mulching becomes a habit.     Mulches control weeds by suffocation and by shading the soil, thus denying the weed seeds the red waves of sunlight. The red wave band of the sun’s spectrum stimulates weed seeds to ­germinate.

What’s good and bad for what

Never use colored mulches near annuals, shallow-rooted trees and shrubs or herbaceous perennials. These mulches are made using raw wood that serve as a source of food for microorganisms once it comes in contact with the ground. Microorganisms are better able to absorb nutrients in wood than are the roots of plants. As a result of the competition, plants — including weeds — starve and die.      Use colored mulches only around well-established deep-rooted trees and shrubs, for making pathways, sitting areas and playgrounds.

It’s not there just to look pretty

Good mulch should be dark brown, persist for at least one growing season, be compatible with all the plants in the landscape and control weeds by suffocation only. Superb mulch does all that plus providing slow-release nutrients to feed the plants it is mulching.

Oh the harm it causes!

In 1976, I wrote “Over-Mulching, A National Disaster” for a national trade journal. Nasty letters came from as far as Oregon and California. Forty years later, over-mulching has become a monkey-see-monkey-do calamity.      Earlier this spring, I spent several days diagnosing plant problems for several landscape architects. In all but one, the problems were caused by excessive use of nutrient-robbing mulches.

Telltale signs, and how to fight back

That black and white bird with a red cap and yellow belly is not a traditional woodpecker looking for bugs hiding beneath bark. At work making numerous holes all in a circle around the trunk of your tree is a yellow-bellied sapsucker, who then sucks sap from those wounds.     In early spring, sap migrates to the phloem, the region just beneath the bark, and these birds are eager to suck those juices. Warm days and cool nights make the sap flow hard and furious, and the sapsuckers know it.  

How to plant spring’s flagrant bloomer and its similars

As you continue your spring planting and transplanting, remember that many popular species perform best in acid soils. Among them are the now-blooming beauties azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, andromeda, Japanese hollies, deciduous hollies and blueberries. Oak and sweetgum trees also like acid soils.     The best time to transplant these species is early spring and, even better, fall, when they’ve stopped growing new stems and leaves and are starting to generate and elongate roots.

Fruiting plants need feeding

As you move tomato plants into your garden, here’s some advice to help improve your harvest.     First, limit the amount of fertilizer and compost you apply when you transplant your tomato plants. Applying too much high-nitrogen fertilizer or high-nitrogen compost will produce extra-large plants and few late tomatoes.     It’s in the production cycle that tomatoes need nitrogen.

Prune buddleia, forsythia, weigela and privet with a heavy hand

To rejuvenate, some plants must have their stems pruned near the ground. The plants I’m describing each have a large root system, so the crowns will send up numerous new stems.       The butterfly bush (buddleia), for example, should have all its branches cut down to within inches of the ground every year in early spring. Severe spring pruning encourages the development of strong stems that will flower more profusely. I use a chainsaw to prune my buddleia at the beginning of March, which encourages the plant to flower sooner.