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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

There’s a lot of work if you’re going to harvest your own fruit

      A Bay Weekly reader bragged to me that he’d created an apple orchard by planting a single tree.       “So you purchased one of those trees with four to five varieties of apples,” I replied.       He was crestfallen at failing to fool me.

Some of what you see is too good to be true

      Seed catalogs fill my mailbox every day. If you’ve ever ordered seeds or plants, I bet yours is filled, too. Every picture and possibility looks good this time of year. But can you trust everything you read in these appealing pages?

Break, don’t prune the branches

     Make attractive, long-lasting holiday decorations from boxwood and you’ll be keeping your plants both healthy and good-looking.      The woody European native here since the mid-17th century is best pruned when near-freezing temperatures make the boxwood branches very brittle.

Buy fresh evergreens and treat them for longevity 

     Wreaths, roping and swags sold in box and grocery stores may have been made in far-away Oregon and Maine, starting back in September, then stored in large coolers under high humidity. If the greens were harvested before the plants were exposed to freezing temperatures, they may well drop their needles before Christmas.       Purchase local Christmas greens, on the other hand, and they are most likely freshly harvested and have acclimated under our growing conditions.

How to buy and treat your tree

      A fresh-cut Christmas tree is not necessarily a safe Christmas tree. An evergreen tree loses water from its needles as soon as it is cut. It will lose more water after you tie it to the roof of your car and drive 50 miles per hour. If you don’t care for that tree properly after you arrive home, it can rapidly become a fire hazard by the time you bring it indoors and decorate it.

Watering to keep your plants happy 

     More houseplants are killed by improper watering than by any other practice. Here are three faults to avoid in growing indoor plants year-round or over winter.   Fault 1: Too little water       If you add only enough water to wet the surface of the soil, the soil in the middle and at the bottom of the pot will be as dry as the Sahara dessert.

Hurry! Frost is expected Friday night

     Some houseplants have to be repotted every six months, while others can stay put for two or three years. Frequency of repotting also depends on container size, quality of care, productivity of the rooting medium and frequency of nutrient applications. 

Prevention is the surest cure

     Several Bay Weekly readers have contacted me lately concerning smelly fluid oozing from the trunks of older trees. One noticed it after seeing a large cluster of flies covering about a square foot of bark at the base of an oak tree.

Mulch now, and let the flowers form

     If you sheared your azaleas any time after August 15, expect very few flowers on those plants next spring. Flower bud initiation, which begins at the tips of the new growth, happens in late August into early September. Shearing the plants too near that time will not allow sufficient new growth for flower buds to develop. As daylight hours shorten, plants are shutting down to prepare for the cold winter months.

Mulch, mowers and weed wackers can be murder on trees

     I was recently called to diagnose the cause of death of some large dogwood trees. While visiting the site I also noticed that several maple trees and an ash tree were exhibiting dieback of branches. Closer examination of the stems near the ground indicated the bark had been destroyed.