When soils are exposed to wind and water erosion, they lose their nutrients, which is bad for the Bay and for the land. Dry topsoil is easily blown away by winds. Heavy rains wash away valuable topsoil. Nutrients that remain in the soil following the harvest of a crop leach deeper into the soil and eventually find their way into ground waters and the Bay. The age-old thinking that cultivated soils need to rest open and undisturbed is just not true. Plants should be kept growing in the soil at all times.
In cultivated soils this means planting a winter crop as soon as the summer crops have been harvested. The roots of these crops not only prevent the soil from eroding, but they also absorb those nutrients left behind by the summer crops. A good gardening soil is biologically active with a rich population of beneficial microorganisms. Compost and living plants keep your soil biologically active.
In the flower garden, consider planting bulbs, pansies or sweet William. These perennials and winter annuals have roots that remain active all winter and absorb available nutrients. Bulbs or corms of tulip, narcissus or daffodils, hyacinths and crocus planted in October and November will root quickly and begin absorbing residual nutrients from the soil. Pansies and sweet William planted now will also absorb available nutrients.
If deer are a problem, don’t plant tulips. If rabbits are a problem, either cover the pansies with poultry wire or scatter moth balls under the foliage. If you have children, wrap the mothballs loosely in aluminum foil and cover them with a thin layer of mulch.
Pansies provide a wide range of color and they will bloom off and on all winter long. Come spring, they will produce an abundance of blooms in late April lasting through May. Sweet William is bi-annual, but if you plant it this fall, it will flower well in the spring of 2006 and will flower even more profusely in the spring of 2007.
Q We have bananas on our banana plant in our front yard. Is that unusual for Calvert County?
— Ray Selke, Owings
A Banana trees generally produce small bananas their second year. The bananas will not ripen before the first frost; they can be made to turn yellow by placing them in a plastic bag with a red delicious apple. The banana plant will die after it has produced a cluster of bananas, but before it dies, it will produce sprouts from the base, which can be removed and grown as daughter plants. Store banana plants overwinter wrapped in plastic in a protected area where they will not freeze.
Q My wife and I have bought a new house that needs a tree. We have our hearts set on a Japanese maple. Leaves are falling here, and we’re a little further into autumn than where you write for Bay Weekly. Can we still plant a new tree this year?
—Nathaniel Knoll, St. Louis
A Japanese maples can be transplanted in the fall. Mulch with about four inches of new mulch soon after planting so as to keep the ground as warm for as long as possible so that new roots can grow this fall. Next spring, remove all but one inch of mulch to avoid suffocation of the extremely shallow roots.
Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.