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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

Why some oaks hold their leaves

Some oak trees retain their brown leaves all winter long, while others drop their leaves like all other trees. The reason is juvenility. It takes 25 to 30 years for an oak seedling to mature. Until it starts to produce acorns, the tree is in a juvenile state of growth and retains brown leaves all winter. As the oak approaches maturity, the ends of the branches near the top of the tree drop their leaves in the fall. The following year, the tree will drop more of its top leaves in autumn while retaining dry brown leaves in the middle of the tree.

Your evergreens will get a good pruning while you clip and snap

The tradition of bringing greens indoors comes from Europe and Scandinavia. The winters were long, and bringing greens in the house gave hope that spring would soon be coming. It must have worked, as we still do it today. If your evergreens are overgrown, now is the time to prune them back into shape and use the greens for decorations. Don’t be afraid to take the pruners and whack those evergreens. To be safe and to have a cleaner home, avoid using boughs of Norway spruce because they will drop their needles faster than you can vacuum them.

Not all Christmas trees are created equal

Not all evergreen trees are equally fire resistant. The Douglas fir is the most fire resistant tree, while the popular Fraser fir is the most combustible. Freshness has nothing to do with it. Douglas fir is a low-resin tree while Fraser fir is a high-resin tree.

Put out bulbs and bring in geranium cuttings

  Plant spring bulbs now before the ground freezes To help your tulip bulbs produce large flowers for several years, dig the planting holes at least eight inches deep so that the top of the bulbs are no less that six inches below ground. Plant in well-drained soils amended with at least one-third compost by volume. 

Composting returns all those nutrients to the garden

The soil in my first garden at Upakrik Farm in 1991 was mostly hard clods of silt. Because I have added liberal amounts of compost over the past 19 years, my soil is now loose, friable and highly productive. I attribute the change entirely to the use of compost.

They’re Mother Nature’s mulch

In the fall, I hate to see black plastic bags full of leaves lining streets. Next spring, I’m likely to see empty bags of mulch, peat moss and fertilizer waiting to be collected by the solid waste municipal workers. Of all the 42 years that I have owned a home in Maryland, I have never discarded leaves. Nor have I ever purchased a bag of mulch.

The Bay Gardener’s favorite side dishes

Like the Native Americans and the Pilgrims who learned from them, the Gouin family is sustained by our garden throughout the winter. I’m happy to share with you some of the ways we enjoy winter vegetables on Thanksgiving — and all season long.   Fall Vegetable Dishes If you had planted seeds or transplanted Brussels sprout seedlings in mid- to late-July …

He’s the 2010 Francis R. Gouin Scholarship winner

Brian Murphy, winner of the 2010 Francis R. Gouin Scholarship Grant, is helping solve the problem of storing peaches. With advisor Dr. Chris Walsh, he is conducting research on improving the quality of peaches in storage.

Let the stalks yellow before cutting

A Bay Weekly reader called asking when to cut back asparagus tops. Not yet! To maximize next year’s crop and to get early production of sprouts, delay cutting back the tops of asparagus plants until after they have turned completely yellow. You want all the nitrogen in the stems and foliage to migrate back to the roots in the ground.

Test and treat your plants before bringing them in

A friend told me the leaves of her Ficus benjamina are covered with black soot. I suspected that the plant had been infected with a soft-scale insect that exudes a honeydew substance that breeds sooty mold. However, upon examining the plant, I saw it was severely infested with spider mites. If you moved your houseplants outside for summer, there is a good possibility that they are infested with spider mites.