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Volume 15, Issue 12 ~ March 22 - March 28, 2007

Spring Clean Your Garden

Take it easy for best results

With a little time and modest effort, your garden will be a fertile bed for your desired plants. Most home gardeners think that dead plants must be pulled up by their roots and discarded, the soil must be spaded and the land raked smooth. These are all backbreaking chores that waste time and that work against your plants. If your garden produced bounty last year, follow these Bay Gardener tips for an even better garden this year.

If your garden yielded mostly annuals and/or herbaceous perennials last year, the first thing to do is to raise your lawn mower blade to the highest position and mow all of the plants down. The mower will grind the tops into particles less than a half-inch long, making a light mulch. This trick, called recycling in place, leaves the roots in the ground to decompose, providing tunnels for new roots to grow into. By not spading or rototilling the soil, you’ll increase the organic matter within the soil, making it more fertile. You’ll also reduce your weed problem by not disturbing the soil, an action that exposes millions of weed seeds to light and stimulates them to germinate.

To divide perennials, dig up each plant — disturbing as little soil as possible — divide and replant in the same location or in a new one. If you removed more soil than necessary, replenish with compost. After you finish dividing the perennials and before you plant annuals, mulch with compost such as LeafGro, Orgro, Chesapeake Blue or Chesapeake Green. A compost top layer gives the garden a finished appearance and feeds plants in the coming year. Then transplant the annuals by planting through the compost; the technique is called no-till gardening.

The Value of Paulonia

Q The empress tree you described [Vol. xv, No. 10: March 8] is, as I recall, also known as the highly sought after Paulonia, also known as the princess tree. I believe there is a very old specimen on the grounds of Monticello. This is such an interesting tree and is often stolen because of the value of its wood, that it would be great to see a whole column on it.

Thanks so much for your fine column.

—Paul Foer, Annapolis

A The wood of the Paulonia tree is only valuable if the growth rings are 12 to 16 per inch. Paulonia trees with wide growth rings are not worth much except for carving and making pallets. The specimen at Monticello is not as most people think. Several years ago, I was told by the horticulturist who works there that it was about 80 years old and had a severe case of heart rot.

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

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