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Gardening Season Is Here

There’s plenty to do; here’s where to start

Late March and early April is when most gardeners get the itch. Gardening generally starts by cleaning the garden of last year’s plants and grubbing out the weeds. The lawn mower is the simplest way. Set the wheels at the highest possible position, and run the mower through the garden. If you have a mulching shield or a mulching mower, all the better. The mower will do an excellent job of grinding the tops of the perennials and annuals and depositing them as mulch, which will improve your soil. The mower will also cut back those perennials to just the correct height.

If you grow ornamental grasses in your landscape, drag out those hedge clippers. Instead of cutting them down all at once, cut from the top in six-inch intervals. By the time you reach the bottom of each clump, you will have covered the ground with at least two inches of mulch. This practice eliminates the need to bring in mulch and carry out and discard the old stems, which can be a nuisance.

Don’t, however, roll your lawn. For reasons unknown to me, people roll their lawns with water-filled steel rollers; once I saw a cement roller. You do not need, as one roller told me, to push grass plants back into the ground. In 47 years in Maryland, I have never seen the roots of grass plants lying on my lawn, except where my dog tries to cover his residue. Rolling a lawn only increases your soil’s compaction, and we already get enough of that when we walk and mow the turf.

If you have not had your soil tested by now, shame on you. If you are applying fertilizer on soil that is either too acid or too alkaline, you are wasting fertilizer and contributing to the pollution of the Bay. Save the Bay and save money by having your soil tested. At, you will find the instructions on how to take soil samples and where to send them. For lawns and gardens request only MEL 1. If you are growing azaleas and related species request MEL 2. Please, readers, don’t request any fertilizer recommendations from me until you have your soil test results.

Next, cut back those roses and keep a close eye on cane borers. When I recently helped a friend prune his roses, I saw that every rose in his yard was infested with rose cane borers. If there is a hole in the middle of the rose cane you prune, keep cutting back until you no longer see a hole. Unless you cut out the borer, it will continue to burrow down the stem. Check each cane and continue pruning until you find solid wood. After you’ve finished, cover each cut surface with nail polish. Any color will do. If you don’t have nail polish, use thumbtacks, Elmer’s glue or Tightbond #2.

Now cut that butterfly bush down to the ground. Buddleia, as they are forrmally known, will produce more flowers and are more easily contained if you cut them to the ground every year.

As soon as the forsythia has dropped its petals, prune out all of the old gray stems down to the ground.

If you did a good job of composting your leaves last fall, they are ready to be used as mulch in your garden. For this, they don’t need to be totally decomposed. Spread compost mulch three to four inches thick without fear of suffocating the roots. Furthermore, the compost will add nutrients to the soil.

Don’t waste your time spading the flower garden. You will have fewer weeds if you simply spread the compost and plant your annuals and perennials through it.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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