Garden Plot: Yes, you can save those unplanted tulips

If they\'re not already planted, you can\'t plant them now. But there is a solution for your forgotten tulips. (Getty)

Editor’s Note: Meet Mike in Fredericksburg on Saturday, March 22, and Sunday, March 23. Mike will be at the Home & Garden Show at the Fredericksburg, Va. Expo & Conference Center.

It is not yet time to weed and feed

I promised to stay on top of local soil temperatures. That way, I could tell you the correct time to apply corn gluten meal to your lawn to prevent the maximum amount of crabgrass seed from germinating. That magic window of time is when soil temps approach 55 degrees – roughly 12.7 degrees Celsius – as measured four inches down.

Right now, area soil temperatures are hovering around 40 degrees, so we still have a good long ways to go. By all means, get your supply of corn gluten – you’ll need around 10 pounds per thousand square feet of turf to give your lawn a safe, natural and legal feeding and pre-emergent treatment. But don’t apply it yet – its active, seed-killing period would be over long before our soils could reach that magic number, which last year occurred in early to mid-April. And that was after a very warm winter.

Same for seed-starting: Get your gear together by all means, but don’t actually start any seeds for another couple of weeks. Mid-March is ideal for mid-May plantings.

Can corn gluten stop weeds in flower beds?

John, on the South River in Anne Arundel County, writes: “For the past three years, I have been applying corn gluten meal to my lawn and have been successful in defeating the weeds that float in from my adjacent neighbors’ neglected lawns. I also have eight perennial gardens. Can I treat them like my lawn and apply corn gluten to control weeds?”

I don’t advise it, John. In addition to preventing the germination of weed seeds, corn gluten meal is a fertilizer that supplies pretty much only nitrogen, which is great for grass, but not fruiting and flowering plants. It would produce good- looking greenery, but there’s a real good chance it would also reduce the number of flowers on those big, green plants. And it would definitely prevent the appearance of any desired flowers that spread by self-seeding.

Boric acid the answer for indoor ants

Paul in Severna Park writes: “I’ve been looking around for ant control information. Some sources say that borax will stop and kill ants, but I have tried this with little success. Instead, I use Raid to spray the ant trails, and I only have ant problems maybe once a year.”

Spraying chemical insecticides inside your home – where you end up inhaling the nasty things 24/7 – is a sucker bet, Paul. And it’s unnecessary. Just cleaning the areas they’ve traveled with soap and water works just as well, without you inhaling toxic fumes. Worker ants create invisible ‘trails’ for other ants to follow, and disrupting these signal paths is an old and effective technique.

And you were close with borax. It’s boric acid you want, specifically as the active ingredient in ant bait traps. The workers are attracted to a sugary bait, take the (very low dose) boric acid that’s been mixed into the bait back to the nest and it slowly kills the queen. Just put out the traps, let the workers come and go unmolested for a few days and you’ll wipe out the whole nest.

Can these (unplanted) spring bulbs be saved?

Ryan in Purcellville writes with a question we have received every single one of our 15 years here on ‘TOP: “My wife was too lazy to plant her tulip bulbs in the fall and now they are sprouting in the garage. Is it too late to plant them for a spring bloom?”

Well first, Ryan, a gentleman would have stepped in and planted them FOR her back in November. Ahem.

Now, it’s too late (and too frozen!) to plant them in the ground outside. And sprouts alone don’t mean anything positive, as you need good root development, as well as a long chilling period, for those greens to be able to produce viable flowers.

But you might be able to force some blooms to appear, like the pros do for flower shows. Pot the bulbs up in plastic containers with excellent drainage that you have filled with a mixture of potting soil and compost; saturate them thoroughly with water (only this once) and chill the pots for another two months. If the temps in your garage mostly stay in the 40s, it’s perfect.

Then place the pots outside around May 1 and water them normally. If they were able to grow decent roots and the garage was around the right temperature, those sprouts just might produce some flowers for you.

And next year – well, you know.

Above-ground tree roots can be safely covered

Catherine in Wheaton writes: “My front yard is a disaster area due to the above- ground roots of a maple that was planted about 50 years ago. Some of the roots protrude about 2 inches high, with a lot of smaller ones and little grass in between. This area takes up about half of my 80-foot-wide front yard. Any suggestions?”

Yes, Catherine. The type of erosion you describe is perfectly natural, and it won’t hurt that old tree one bit for you to slowly add topsoil to the area until all of the roots are once again underground. Add the soil slowly over the course of the summer so it can settle in evenly, then make it all nice and level and sow matching grass seed in the area mid-August – or after leaf fall if the shade is really dense.

Whatever you do, don’t sow grass seed in the spring. It just don’t work.

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