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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

But don’t expect an easy job

Rhododendrons are one of the most difficult ornamental plants to grow in landscapes. This year the rhododendrons did exceptionally well due to the cool, moist spring. Many growers noted that the ornamental plants bloomed heavier than normal and that their flowers lasted longer.     In their native habitat, rhododendrons grow in regions where the climate is cool, in soils that are well-drained but with ample moisture.

There’s good science to my advice

My annual recommendation for lawns is cut it tall and let it fall. To understand why cutting height makes a difference, consider that each blade of grass is a factory.     A tall blade of grass contains more chlorophyll and is capable of manufacturing more sugars and other metabolites than a short blade of grass. When you set your lawnmower to cut your grass no less than four inches, each blade remains a bigger factory, capable of manufacturing more of what it needs for good growth.

Not too much, not too little

Many home gardeners plant trees and shrubs only to lose them to improper watering. For instance, you do not need to water newly transplanted plants daily. By doing so, you are drowning the roots and killing the plants.

It’s not big plants you’re after

Last fall I met a Bay Weekly reader who had perfected the art of growing big tomato plants. Without testing the soil in his 1,500-square-foot garden, he spread half of a bag of 10-10-10, about 20 pounds. While planting his tomatoes, he added a handful of urea fertilizer, which contains 46 percent nitrogen. He used the same planting method for peppers.     His tomato plants grew to five or six feet tall, but they produced only a few small tomatoes late in the summer.

It’s a lesson for life

Children learn so much about life from working in the garden. Watching a seed germinate and develop into a plant, then watching that plant develop and produce flowers, fruits and more seeds teaches them the cycle of life. Sowing seeds of different crops and watching them develop into different shapes, flowers, fruits and vegetables teaches them that variability is as common in plants as it is in humans.

Early bloomers have been going wild; now’s the time to tame them

If you did not get a chance to prune your plants earlier this spring, you have a second opportunity, especially for pruning crabapple, cherry and shade trees. Pruning these trees now will lessen the heavy growth of suckers originating from the base of the plants and from around the large cuts you make to prune the plant to the desirable shape. After the tree has finished its first flush of growth in the spring, the food supply it has stored in the roots and in tissues surrounding the buds is nearly exhausted.

Are you guilty? Looking out from the window of my room at Heritage Harbor Rehabilitation Center, I see mountains of mulch suffocating the trees. The sight is enough to undo my promising rehab after falling off a ladder while cleaning gutters on May 13.     Over the 30 years I served as Extension Specialist in Ornamental Horticulture with statewide responsibilities, I concluded that most problems associated with landscapes were related to over-mulching.

But I have no pity for pruners who butcher this beautiful summer-flowering species

I am appalled at the way homeowners are pruning their crape myrtles. I can only explain it as Monkey See Monkey Do. Just because you see somebody else — even landscape maintenance companies — cutting crape myrtle like dock pilings, it does not mean that they know what they are doing.

If you can’t kill this prolific weed, you can eat it

If chickweed is a problem in your yard, you are not heeding my advice. Follow my two precepts — have your soil tested and cut your grass tall while letting it fall — and you will eventually conquer chickweed.     Chickweed is a winter annual weed, meaning that the seeds start germinating in September, and the seedlings grow slowly all winter. By the first day of spring, the foliage is bright green. The plants grow no taller than an inch or two, producing a carpet of growth clinging to the ground.

I was raised in the garden

My mother had three flower gardens, and my dad cared for the vegetable garden when we lived in Laconia, New Hampshire. The garden between the sidewalk and the foundation of the house was approximately two feet wide and 15 feet long. Here mother planted annuals that she started from seeds on the sun porch using discarded egg cartons. As the seedlings grew she transplanted them into Dixie cups that she rescued from the trash bin following church dinners. Petunias were her favorite followed by zinnias and large marigolds.