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Garden Plot: Winter maintenance for trees, shrubs and lawns

HUNTINGTON, NY - AUGUST 24: A border collie mix plays in the tall grass on the north shore of Long Island at Coindre Hall on August 24, 2012 in Huntington, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)
Take advantage of unseasonably warm weekend temperatures

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 5:18 pm

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Save the Date: Mike will appear at the Community Home Show at the Universities at Shady Grove on Saturday, Feb. 9. Check here for event information.

Trees and shrubs need no sprays

Jessica in Annapolis, Md., writes: “I’ve decided to do my own tree and shrub care in 2013 instead of having a company do it for me. I’m trying to determine the value of spraying trees and shrubs before I see insects. Is there any value to such spraying? And if so, what kind of schedule do you suggest? And what do you suggest applying?”

I have nothing but good news for you, Jess. Most landscape trees and shrubs take perfect care of themselves on their own. In fact, the kind of “preventive spraying” you describe would only increase your chance of potential pest problems by killing the beneficial insects, birds and toads that keep healthy gardens pest- free.

Here’s the plan:

  • Make sure acid-loving landscape plants like azaleas and rhododendrons have the correct soil pH.
  • Don’t prune if you’re not sure what you’re doing.
  • Don’t feed your plants chemical fertilizers.
  • Don’t mulch them with wood or bark.

Follow that simple “schedule” and pests will simply stay away.

Rolling in the clover

John in University Park, Md., writes: “How do I get rid of white clover? The cursed stuff is indestructible. My soil runs acidic, and it seems it can never get enough lime. I switched to straight organic fertilizer two years ago and things are mostly good, but this dang clover is still challenging me!”

Clover has nothing to do with soil acidity, John. Clover in a lawn is a sign of overwatering and/or underfeeding.

Only water your lawn deeply but infrequently and no more than twice a week – and that’s only during really dry times. If rain provides an inch of water in a given week, don’t add any. And if you’re already watering wisely, be prepared to aerate your turf this September. Poorly-draining soil also keeps clover happy.

Continue the organic feeding. Use corn gluten meal in the spring and a bagged organic lawn fertilizer in the fall. Don’t feed in the summer. But do use a mulching mower to return your pulverized clippings to the lawn. It provides a gentle feeding every time you mow, and that “annoying” clover is rich in lawn- feeding Nitrogen.

Use ashes from a wood stove instead of lime to raise your soil pH this spring. People who burn wood are desperate to find good uses for their ashes. Wood ash has a lot of alkaline and the ashes will add nutrients that are lacking in lime.

Does purple plum pose a peril to pipes?

Jason in Gainesville, Va. writes: “We have a seven-year old purple plum tree in the front yard of our townhouse. The yard itself is quite small, and we regularly have to prune the tree to keep it from overtaking the lawn, the driveway, and the sidewalk. I’m worried about the roots damaging water lines underground, one of which runs right by the tree. Is there any way to tell what the roots are doing, and whether we would risk damage by digging?”

Ornamental purple plums do not have invasive roots like willows, Jason, so leave the soil alone. Your digging would be a true threat to the pipes.

Be careful pruning. These trees put on a great flowering show in early spring and poor pruning practices could ruin it. Wait until the flowers fade this spring, then do most of the pruning. You can continue to gently trim branches back through June, but leave it alone after that or you’ll diminish the following year’s springtime show


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