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Dig your Christmas tree hole

Friday - 10/29/2010, 9:48am  ET

Happy All Hallow's Eve Eve, all you merry ghouls and gardeners. Speaking of holidays, it's time for some of you to start thinking about Christmas.

No, I don't mean you need to get ready to inflate your giant Homer Simpson Santa for the season yet. But you should start digging if you intend to buy a truly live Christmas tree -- one with its roots still intact -- that you hope to plant outdoors. Dig the hole now, before the soil freezes hard for the season.

When you choose what you think is a good location, look around before shovel you shove. Be sure there's enough room for the FINAL size of the tree. It isn't going to stay a tidy 5 feet tall for long.

Be aware that all sides of an evergreen need to receive sunlight to prevent the bottom branches from turning brown. And, of course, make sure there's no underground wires or pipes in the area you've chosen before you dig.

Then dig a wide hole, not a deep one; cover the hole with something solid for safety and save the removed soil. You'll need that dirt at planting time.

Lawn Seed is Slow to Sprout Late in the Season

Neil in Greenbelt recently (Oct. 22 to be exact) wrote, "I was assured by the nursery that it was still OK to plant my new lawn with their seed. In fact, they said you can safely seed up until Oct. 30 or so. But it's been a week, and no new grass. I'm depressed, and feeling a little foolish. Should I re-seed in the spring?"

No, Neil. Spring seeding almost never delivers good results, and all the turf grass experts I've interviewed over the years agree that even seeding a little late in the fall is a much better idea. But you do have to be patient at this time of year, as the soil has become somewhat cool, and germination is naturally a little slower than around the ideal seeding time of Aug. 15 to Sept. 15.

Luckily, I suspect that our recent warm spell gave you some nice new green to look at. And don't worry; that new green will thrive in the crisp, cool air to come.

Make the Final Cut the Same Height as the First One

Lou Ann in Rockville writes: "How short should our new grass be after its final cut of the season? We have large oaks that shade most of our lot."

Whether its brand new or senior sod, cool season lawns planted in a shady situation should never be cut below 3 1/2 inches, Lou Ann. And your grass, which I'm hoping is mostly fine fescue with that much shade to contend with, is very tender; so the less foot traffic the better.

I'm more concerned with all the leaves you must have on it by now. Suck the first runs up with a blower/vac set on reverse (use these shredded leaves to make compost or to mulch perennials after the ground freezes hard for the winter). Mow the last thin layers of leaves directly into the new grass using a mulching mower with a super-sharp blade; the pulverized leaves will provide a nice natural late feeding and a little bit of early season frost protection.

Worried about Ants in Her Plants

Florence down in Bethany Beach writes: "I have several houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors. We have a lot of ants in our area and I want to be sure the pots are not infested before I bring them in. How can I treat them? I don't see any evidence of ants, but how do I know if ants are beneath the soil?"

Sounds like you've got a bad case of ant-a-phobia, Flo. I've been bringing plants inside for decades and have never had any such hitchhikers. The big danger is aphids and other small sap-suckers sneaking in, which is why you should blast the leaves repeatedly with sharp streams of water before the plants come inside.

If you see indoor ants at any time of the year, don't panic. Just set out some boric acid bait traps and the colony will be destroyed within a week.

Leave Landscaping in Place When Selling a Home

Condolences to Shelly, whose mom recently passed away. She wrote me for advice, explaining that she has to ready the house for sale and wants to save most of the plants in the garden, but she lives in an apartment.

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