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Volume XVII, Issue 46 ~ November 12 - November 18, 2009

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The Bay Gardener

by Dr. Frank Gouin

We Don’t Call Them Strawberries for Nothing

Get your berries ready for winter with straw

The best time to mulch strawberry plants is after the ground has frozen. In Southern Maryland, this means the first or second week in December.

Straw mulch for strawberries has several purposes:

1. to protect plants from being pushed out of the ground by the actions of freezing and thawing;

2. to provide light shade to the plants while the ground is frozen and water is not readily available;

3. to delay growth of the strawberry plants in the spring by keeping the soil cool;

4. to cover the ground so that when the strawberries ripen, they will remain clean and easy to harvest.

To minimize a weed problem, only clean straw should be used; never hay. Hay is likely to contain seeds from the species being made into hay, while straw’s grain has been harvested separately. Furthermore, who has ever heard of hay-berries? We don’t call them strawberries for nothing.

When spreading the straw, do not suffocate the plants. A light layer two to three inches thick is generally adequate here in Southern Maryland. Since you are most likely to purchase the straw in bales, separate the bales into flakes, pull apart each flake with your hands, throw handfuls of straw into the air and let it drift onto the plants until you have covered them with a couple of inches of loose straw. When viewing a good mulching job, you should only be able to see a few strawberry leaves through the straw layer.

If your strawberry beds are in a very windy location, you may have to hold the straw in place by rolling chicken wire over it. However, the straw on most strawberry beds will remain in place after settling for a few days. Help the straw stick by lightly wetting it immediately after applying it.

In the spring, if you did a uniform job applying the straw in the fall, most should have settled between the plants and the new plant growth should sprout through the layer of mulch. If you applied too much, you will need to carefully remove the excess mulch before growth starts. Delaying the removal of excess mulch could result in the loss of plants.

Keep Your Shears off Evergreens Until Spring

Q Several of my azaleas need rejuvenation pruning after removal of encroaching evergreens. To expedite regrowth, I am willing to sacrifice next spring’s blooms. Can they be pruned hard after first frost or should I wait until late winter? Would that be a good general rule of thumb for other evergreens?

–George Lambert, Annapolis, via email

A Don’t prune your azaleas until late March or early April. The same applies for all evergreens.

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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