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Gardening

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.

You’re never too young to garden

As a child in west central Florida, I was lucky to have a father and grandmother who were into plants. Dad introduced me to the bottlebrush shrub that lived beside our neighbor’s constructed pond. The sharp scent of its leaves, its fuzzy, flouncy red flowers and the way its seedpods all clustered together like rock candy on a stick fascinated me.

Use this summer to grow big bulbs for fall harvest

I like to plant onions in early April. But if you have not ordered your onion plants yet, there is still time.     Forget about those onion sets that only produce green onions, or scallions. Grow some real bulbing onions like Copra, Candy, Big Day, Super Star and Sweet Spanish. If you want to grow onions this summer, make certain that you order long-day or intermediate onions. Do not order short-day onions because they will produce only green onions during summer’s long days.

This New England transplant finds our warm summers and mild winters great for growing a wide variety of plants

From where I come from, I wonder if you properly appreciate all of your Maryland gardening advantages. I lived and gardened in central New Hampshire, where summer includes the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August, and where winter temperatures can drop to 30. So I know that gardening in middle and southern Maryland is heavenly.

Make a bed or make way for stalks now pushing up

Time to turn your attention to asparagus. One of spring’s earliest crops, asparagus is typically ready for cutting in Maryland between April 25 and June 15.