Volume 14, Issue 12 ~ March 23 - March 29, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Color a Season-long Garden with Perennials

These yearly bloomers require little maintenance other than a spring mulching

The proper selection of perennials can provide your garden with abundant color all season long. Once established, perennials require little attention other than cutting them back after the foliage has faded and dividing them once every three to four years to prevent them from taking over the garden.

But not all perennials are so carefree. Some such as gladiolus, dahlias and calla lilies will be killed if left in the garden during winter months.

Such others as paint brush lilies, hostas, astilbe, daylilies, oriental lilies, pink fairy lilies, phlox and anemones are cold hardy and can stay in the ground year round.

If you intend to carry over the gladiolus corms, dahlia tubers and calla lily bulbs, you will need to dig them up in the fall after the foliage has died back to the ground. The gladiolus corms should be stored in an onion bag or a mesh bag in a cool dry place during the winter. Since mice like to eat gladiolus corms, it is best to hang the bags from the ceiling rafters in the basement or a crawl space. The dahlia’s tuber root, which resembles a sweet potato, and calla lily bulbs are best stored in a cool dry place in a perforated plastic bag plunged in dry peat moss.

All lily bulbs should be planted at least six inches deep initially. Make certain that you plant your astilbe where it can be irrigated, especially during periods of drought. Plant phlox where it will receive full sun. But you can plant those hostas in either sun or shade.

Avoid over-fertilizing perennials. I find a yearly mulching with an inch of compost provides all of their nutrient needs and keeps the soil biologically active.

Through April 15, buy summer-blooming perennial bulbs from the South Anne Arundel Lions’ Club. Pick up is May 6 at South River High School parking lot: 410-867-1640.

Of Wood Chips and Termites

Q Regarding your article in the March 9 Bay Weekly [vol. xiv, No. 10] and Formosan termites, I suggest you check out this legend at www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/termites.asp.

On another issue, we were thinking of getting a commercial wood chipper and taking branches downed from the last heavy snowstorm and just letting the chips fly loosely into the woods. Would this be harmful to the trees and plants in the wooded area? What if horse manure were also spread?

–Arnie McKechnie, Davidsonville

A I have received copies of that web site and others. Termites are still a possible problem. No one has addressed termite eggs. It is not uncommon to find termites in large piles of freshly ground demolition wood. Termite eggs can hatch in ground wood. If this freshly ground wood is placed near the foundation of a frame house, who knows what might happen?

Of more concern to me is mulching with raw wood chips. Blowing wood chips into the woods is okay, providing you spread them around. Adding horse manure will hasten decomposition only slightly as it has about the same carbon-nitrogen ratio as fallen leaves. If the manure is contaminated with lots of wood shavings or sawdust, it won’t do much.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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