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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

How to grow a garden to suit many tastes

Quite a few plants love acid soils. Andromeda, azaleas, blueberries, leucothoe, mountain laurel and rhododendrons, bald and pond cypress, deciduous hollies, false heather, heather, Japanese hollies, mountain silverbell, oaks, partridge berry and sour gum love acid soils.     Such plants demand soil with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5.

Time to transplant azaleas and other acid-loving plants

Mid-August to early October is the time to transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, andromeda, leucothoe and blueberries.     What do blueberries have to do with azaleas and these other landscaping plants?     By Aug­ust, all have stopped producing top growth and are now making root growth. Transplanting them at this time of year enables the plants to become well established before the ground freezes.

Garden in the evening cool

Gardening in the heat of the day is unhealthy. It’s one of those stresses those of us with gray or white hair in particular are told repeatedly to avoid during these hot muggy days when orange alert air pollution levels are anticipated.     But did you know that gardening in the heat of the day also promotes the germination of weed seeds and the growth of weeds?

You need bees to get fruit, nuts and berries

At a recent garden club lecture, a member complained that she was not seeing apples on any of the five trees she planted three years ago. The trees were growing in full sun and had a full compliment of blooms this past spring. All were of the Golden Delicious variety.     Were any flowering crab apple trees in her area, I asked.     She was not aware of any.     That’s why her trees have no fruit.

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.