What are the first
Spring yard projects to focus on?
Lawns will benefit from a light leaf raking to
remove any remaining fall leaves which may have matted down. Lawn areas showing
signs of snow mold (matted down grass like that seen in the photo on the right)
should be raked more vigorously to loosen and open-up the flattened-out grass.
Ornamental grasses (like Maiden Grass) and perennials that were not cutback in
the Fall should be cutback now. This is also a good time to sharpen your
lawnmower blade and ensure your lawnmower starts after sitting all winter. If
fuel stabilizer was not added to the gasoline in the fall, your fuel system may
be clogged and require service.
chewed the bark off my Burning Bush last winter and the shrub was weak this
year. How can I protect against more damage this winter?
type of damage often occurs on Burning Bush (Euonymus alata) during the
winter months. Rabbits are most often to blame, but this type of damage can also
be caused by rodents. Your best protection is a physical barrier of some sort,
and a hoop of wire mesh is often the easiest and most effective, even though
various trunk wraps will also work. Be sure the mesh has small enough holes to
resist all the various types of rodents you may be dealing with.
One important thing to keep in mind: Rabbits are
"elevated" when snow accumulates on the ground, raising them up to new heights
for their bark-gnawing activity, so be sure to protect your Burning Bush trunk
and branches higher than you might be initially planning. Most Burning Bush will
recover from some bark damage provided it isn't too extensive, and doesn't go
all the way around the trunk.
The tall grasses in my shrub beds are turning brown, should they be left like
The tall grasses you speak of are called "ornamental
grasses." These grasses have become quite popular over the past decade, and
include numerous varieties of varying heights. Probably the most common variety
we see is Maiden Grass (pictured) which tops out around 6-feet, with the plumes
extending another foot or two above that.
the variety, they should be cut low (12-inches for taller varieties) between the
time they go dormant (turn brown) and when they begin to green-up in spring.
Even though they need this cutback procedure, you still need to leave enough
height on the old stems for them to re-sprout the following year. While many
people enjoy seeing the brown foliage and plumes over the winter months, what
they don't enjoy seeing are the plant parts breaking off and blowing around the
yard over winter, adding to winter messiness and spring clean-up. Therefore, for
gardeners in the northeastern US, the best time to cut back ornamental grasses
is between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We use commercial grade gas-powered hedge trimmers to make quick work of cutting
back even the large clumps. It often helps to double-team the project if you are
cutting more than a few, one person running the trimmers and the other standing
by with a leaf rake to pull away the cut stems and see what remains to be cut.
Others like to "bundle" the grasses, with a strap or twine, to keep them
together for easier removal.
When you are just cutting a few smaller clumps, a sharp pair of hand shears like
the ones in the photo will work fine.
Is it a good idea
to knock heavy snow off my shrubs?
snow loads can damage trees and shrubs, especially those with brittle branches.
In one case, I've seen European White Birch trees get bent over to where their
tops were touching the ground, and then recover to an upright position the
following growing season while showing very little damage. On the other hand,
it's not uncommon to see fast growing trees split apart by ice and heavy snows.
The hardest part of removing snow accumulations from frozen plants is doing so
without damaging the plants. So, removing snow from plants is often a judgment
call. It is often best to remove some of the snow without overdoing things and
risking damage. A regular kitchen broom seems to work as well as anything else
we've found in the tool shed. When removing snow, remember that most branches
bend more easily up and down than to either side.
I was told my lawn is getting a thick thatch layer that will soon become a
problem, so what can I do?
first seven years with a new home lawn are usually problem-free, at least when
it comes to thatch build-up. But
if you have been following an aggressive
fertilization program with 4 or
more applications of nitrogen per year, you will soon start to build a thick
thatch layer. Once thatch exceeds 1/2-inch thick on lawns in the Northeastern
US, all sorts of problems will become more prevalent.
Your best "preventative medicine" is core aeration: Once per year is standard,
but we would recommend twice a year (spring + fall) on lawns with 1/2-inch or
more of thatch. Leave the soil cores on the lawn surface to breakdown on their
own. If your soil pH permits,
apply a light application of lime
following aeration. Overseed bare spots with a similar seed mix -- the seed
landing in aeration holes will grow if the season and conditions are right. Bag
Is this (October 15th in Pittsburgh, PA) a good time to plant Chrysanthemums?
are great choices for fall color since they will weather a few spells of cold
weather and frost well. However, multiple frosts and freezes will begin to
diminish the flowers. Also, if you are planting Chrysanthemums with the
intention of having them survive the winter and bloom again next fall, it is best
to plant them as early as possible (early September) so they have a chance to
get rooted-in before winter weather arrives.
When you do plant Mums, pay close attention to keeping them watered, since many
Mums are grown in small pots with fast-draining potting mix and they dry-out
quickly. Chrysanthemums need to be pinched early in their summer growth cycle to keep
them bushy and compact, but pinching them too far into late summer will remove
the flower buds.
We have some sort of light green lawn grass that grows faster than the rest,
what is it?
Actually, that "grass" you are seeing isn't a
grass at all, it's a "sedge." Yellow Nutsedge is a common weed in
lawns and often arrives with topsoil that has been excavated from bottom ground
(near creeks and streams) since this sedge likes moist soil conditions. If you
pull one of these plants out of the ground, and roll it between your fingers,
you'll notice the base of the stem is triangular instead of being round. Its
other common name "nutgrass" refers to the small nut-like bulbs that form on the
tips of its root system, and the plant spreads by these nutlets and by seed.
Yellow nutsedge can be controlled by hand weeding or by using a lawn herbicide
specifically labeled for yellow nutsedge. It is best removed before it becomes
well established, since it can be a persistent weed.
Yellow nutsedge stands high above this dry
When should I trim my Pine trees?
This is a tricky question, since most people
intermingled the word "pine" with "evergreen." In other words, a lot of people
mistakenly call Spruce trees "Pines." While Spruce trees (think Blue Spruce) can
be trimmed almost any time of year, Pines should be trimmed at a specific stage
of growth, in order to allow time for new buds to form on the growing tips.
For Pine trees, the proper time to trim them is when the new growth (called a
"candle") has fully elongated and the needles are just starting to lengthen. For
those of you in the Northeastern United States this would be the month of June.
It's also a good time to trim Mugo Pines (a shrub form of pine) like the one
These Pine candles
are at the correct growth stage for trimming. Remove 1/2 to 2/3 of
the candle to help keep the pine compact and shapely.
If someone applies over-the-counter pesticides (that can be purchased in most
garden departments) for someone do they need a Pennsylvania applicator's
BOB: It has been my understanding that someone
who is applying pesticides commercially (charging you a fee) in
Pennsylvania, whether they
are over-the-counter pesticides or restricted-use pesticides, is required to
Pennsylvania Certified Commercial Pesticide Applicator's license for
the appropriate category. Below is a 2008 list of
- 00 Core
- 01 Agricultural - Agronomic
- 02 Agricultural - Fruit
- 03 Agricultural - Vegetable
- 04 Agricultural - Animal
- 05 Forest Pest Control
- 06 Ornamental & Shade Tree
- 07 Lawn & Turf
- 08 Seed Treatment
- 09 Aquatic
- 10 Right of Way
- 11 Household Pest Control
- 12 Wood Destroying Pest Control
- 13 Structural Fumigation
- 14 Weeds
- 15 Public Health - Vertebrate
- 16 Public Health - Invertebrate
- 17 Regulatory Control
- 18 Demonstation & Research
- 19 Wood Preservation
- 20 Commodity & Space Fumigation
- 21 Soil Fumigation
- 22 Interior Plantscape
- 23 Park/School Pest Control
- 24 Swimming Pools
- 25 Aerial
- 26 Sewer Root Control
Acquiring a pesticide license requires passing
an exam for the appropriate category (or categories). Maintaining the
annually renewed license requires proof of insurance and attendance in
approved update training sessions in order to acquire the set number
of continuing education credits.
The 2007-2008 pesticide license fee was $40. In
conjunction with that license,
Pennsylvania landscapers were also required to have a
Nursery/Greenhouse/Nursery Dealer License which was another $40.
My flowering Pear tree has a large swollen area at the base of the trunk. Is
Various ornamental plants are chosen for their best characteristics, such as
beautiful flowers, sturdy branching or strong root systems. Since these
characteristics aren't always present in the original plant, nurseries use
'grafting' to combine various parts -- one plant part is surgically attached to
another, or 'grafted.' In the case of your flowering Pear, the swollen area at
the base of the trunk is where the trunk is grafted onto a different root
system. This is known as a 'bottom graft.'
Now that my daffodils are finished blooming, can I cut them down to the ground?
important not to remove daffodil leaves since they help the bulb 'recharge' for
next year. In Pennsylvania, it's safe to remove the foliage around the 4th of
July. Fertilize daffodils with a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) when they
are finished blooming.
My neighbor told me to do something to my lawn when Forsythia is blooming. What
Crabgrass germinates in the spring at the same time blossoms are falling off of
Forsythia (when the soil reaches 50-degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, the bright
yellow flowers should remind you it's last call for getting your crabgrass control
applied to your lawn. This is what's technically known as a "plant phenological
indicator." Another phenological indicator is the hatch of Gypsy Moth eggs when
Serviceberry trees are in full bloom.
Mulch: Should I worry about getting termites in mulch from Lousiana?
Hurricane Katrina, people have been concerned about Formosan termites arriving
locally in mulch products. After all they say, Formosan termites don't need soil
to survive, they only need wood and a source of water. On the other hand, most
experts feel the Formosan termites can't survive outside the southern climes.
Also remember that state agriculture officials in Louisiana and Mississippi have
quarantines in place for all wood products from areas infested with Formosan
termites, including all areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Still not sure? Most bulk mulch products used in southwestern Pennsylvania come
from saw mills in the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio). It
would be cost prohibitive to ship it much further and still sell it for a
reasonable price. Besides, we have an excellent supply of mulch here in the
tri-state area, so why ship it any further than you really have to?
Bagged mulch is commonly shipped from outside the tri-state area, but most
experts agree that handling and packaging of those mulch products would likely
destroy any termites that might by-pass the quarantine and processing.
For more on mulch see our Mulch
and Mulches web pages.
With the prolonged heat and drought this summer I'm confused about watering --
some people tell me to water every day and others say not to water at all. Which
frequency of watering during summer drought depends on the category of the
a) Annual flowers - Annuals planted in the ground should be watered every day or
two; hanging baskets daily.
b) Newly planted trees & shrubs - Most of these plants need a thorough watering
once a week, however, some shrubs such as Spirea and Barberry will require
watering twice a week.
c) Established trees & shrubs - Even established plants will benefit from a
thorough watering every 2 to 3 weeks.
d) Established lawns - Irrigated lawns being kept in a growing state should be
watered 2 to 3 times a week. Lawns that have been allowed to go dormant should
still be watered every 2 to 3 weeks to keep the root system alive.
Basic rules of watering: Early morning is the best time to water. Always
water plants thoroughly -- apply water slowly enough, and for a long enough
duration, that it has time to soak deep in the ground, applying the equivalent
of one-inch of rain. Remember that organic mulch slows the penetration of water
into the ground -- dig down in a spot or two to see how deep your water has
penetrated the ground. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well for
watering plants thoroughly.
lawn has raised ridges running all over it as if something is tunneling under
the sod. Any idea what it is and how to get rid of it?
sounds like a problem with moles tunneling through the soil looking for food.
One mole can eat 40 pounds of worms and insects per year! These raised tunnels
are called "runs" and even after being packed down the
"active" runs will be reopened. The active runs are where to focus
your attempts at "trapping" moles with one of these three traps: the
harpoon, scissor-jaw, or choker loop (check labels for safety precautions). Some
experts feel trapping is the only method for effectively reducing a mole
population. "Home remedy" mole control includes everything from Juicy
Fruit gum to half-buried Coke bottles to chemical grub controls. A few
homeowners have reported fair results from having battery-operated ultrasonic
emitters buried several places around their landscapes, but overall trapping
remains your most effective option.
[More on this topic: Ohio
State University fact sheet with photos]
Our Magnolia tree has black-colored leaves and some of the branches are losing
their leaves. What's wrong with it?
sounds exactly like an insect infestation of Magnolia Scale [photo].
A black substance on the leaves indicates the presence of a sucking insect
excreting honeydew. Black sooty mold grows on the honeydew giving the leaves a
blackened appearance. Bees are attracted to these areas. Learn more about
Magnolia Scale on our Pests
What steps need to be taken to prepare my lawn for winter?
final steps will help your lawn in late Fall (November in Pennsylvania) --
your grass is cut short enough (but not scalped) to prevent it from
"laying over" under deep snow cover. A 2 to 2-1/2 inch cutting
height should be sufficient. It's actually best to gradually lower your
cutting height over the final three cuts of the year, instead of trying to
do it all in one final cut. Shorter grass is less likely to suffer from snow
mold disease. [More about
any last minute leaf accumulations that may smother your grass.
lawn soil test calls for lime, late Fall is considered the best time of year
to make a lime application. Retest your lawn soil every three to five years
is the time to apply "winterizer" fertilizers -- these are usually
high in potassium, which helps winter hardiness and disease prevention. Even
though top growth of your lawn has ceased, the roots remain active to
"pick up" the nutrients. If you're applying both lime and
fertilizer, it's best to separate the applications by two weeks. [More
about: Fertilizer and Lime]
final cut, service your lawnmower: Add fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and
run the engine for 5 minutes to stabilize the fuel system (better yet...
follow this step by draining the fuel tank and the carburetor). Perform all
scheduled lawnmower maintenance such as oil change and lube, cleaning the
air filter, replacing worn out or damaged parts and sharpening the blade(s).
This is also a good time to install a new spark plug.
I planted a Hydrangea bush 3 years ago and it still hasn't bloomed! What's
than likely, your Hydrangea is getting trimmed at the wrong time of the year,
whether it is by deer browsing or summer pruning. As with most flowering plants,
only trim Hydrangeas within one month after they bloom -- that way you
won't remove any flower buds. (This would be early fall in SW
Pennsylvania) [More on shrub
Someone told me a gas can can catch fire if it's filled while sitting in my car or
the bed of a pickup truck. Is that really true?
BOB: YES! -
The danger is related to the buildup of static electricity from the flowing
gasoline and the likelihood of a spark. Below are some tips from the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
hazardous practice of leaving the portable gasoline containers in pickup
trucks or cars when refueling!
filling, always remove the containers from the vehicle and place them on the
ground at a safe distance from the vehicle (provides path to dissipate
static charge to ground).
container with the gas dispenser nozzle before removing the container lid
(provides another path to dissipate static charge to ground).
nozzle in contact with the container inlet when filling (to dissipate static
charge buildup from flow of gasoline).
Turn off your
cell phone while refueling.
[More landscape safety practices]
I always thought Springtime was the best for lawn seeding and improvement, but
someone told me Fall is the best time.
Which is it?
and Fall are both good, but Fall is the best. We consider September to be
"Lawn Month." This is true in regards to seeding since 1) there is
less weed competition in fall plantings, and 2) the young grass has two cool
growing seasons before facing the heat of summer. It also applies to broadleaf
weed control since weeds are starting to store reserves for winter and
herbicides tend to be more effective. However, do not attempt to seed and
control weeds at the same time -- in most cases the herbicide will adversely
affect the young grass. With
Springtime plantings it is best not to apply crabgrass controls and seed a lawn
-- most pre-emergent chemicals also inhibit grass seed germination. Be sure to
read the entire label of any herbicide you use! [More
on planting a lawn]
Now that I've identified the insect that is damaging my shrubs, how do I know
what insecticide to spray with?
BOB: A great
tool is available on the internet -- the NPIRS (National Pesticide Information
Retrieval System). Extensive information is available for hundreds of
pesticides. See: http://state.ceris.purdue.edu
[More on plant pests]
A neighbor said there is a 'correct way' to shape my hedges when trimming
them... what is it?
The key to trimming hedges and other ornamental plants is to ensure sunlight can
reach the lower branches. Many plants tend to grow wider at the top, reducing
the amount of light reaching the lower branches and causing them to thin-out or
trim hedges the 'correct way' keep the bottom branches as long or longer than
the top branches.
We installed some landscape lighting in the garden and have ongoing problems
with the wires being cut by bed edging and digging activities. What can we do?
you install garden lighting we recommend 4 things:
1. Bury the wires at least 12-inches deep (check local building codes for
2. Put the wires in plastic conduit to protect them from sharp digging
3. Draw a diagram of where wires are located and file it away for future
4. Show contractors working on your property where these wires are located
For digging projects beyond the scope of planting a few flowers it is very
important to know the exact location of utility lines on your property. Contact
the PENNSYLVANIA ONE CALL system at least one week prior to any major digging!
Each utility will come out and mark the location of their lines. This service is
free to homeowners.
This spring we need to locate an existing sprinkler head on our front lawn to
plan a new shrub bed. How can we find it with the irrigation system still turned
off from winter?
Sprinkler heads can be very difficult to locate, especially in the spring of the
year. Grass has usually covered them over and their dark color makes them very
difficult to see.
The best thing to do if you have an irrigation system is make a sketch of your
lawn areas and mark where the sprinkler heads are located. Then use a 100-foot
measuring tape to mark down at least two distances of how far the head is from
specific objects. For example, a sprinkler head in the middle of the front lawn
might be 25 feet from the front wall of the house and 38 feet from the driveway.
This sort of pre-planning will save you a lot of time some day!
Now that Spring is near, newspaper ads say Zoysia grass
greatest thing going. The photos look beautiful! Why don't
more people plant Zoysia?
the midst of all that great advertising is the key objection -- Zoysia completely
loses its green color after a hard frost and doesn't green-up again until warm
weather returns. In Pennsylvania, this translates into a pale,
straw-colored eyesore 6 months out of the year!
Most of our clients want to get rid of Zoysia... now! We've also
seen problems develop between neighbors when the highly invasive grass crosses a
property line... then both neighbors want to get rid of it!
eat my shrubs more in the winter. What can I do to protect them?
continue to overrun our residential landscapes, homeowners must be more
concerned about protecting their ornamental plants, especially during winter
when heavier browsing occurs. There are 3 ways to protect your plantings, and we
feel proper plant choices and exclusion are the two that work the best in the
long run. Here are your 3 choices:
- Through the use of fencing or mesh, keep the deer away from plants. Effective
deer fencing needs to be 6 to 10 feet high, depending on the exact location.
There are also some plastic meshes available to drape over top of plants. Some
of the newer meshes and fences are difficult to see, adding to their
desirability in the home landscape.
- There are several commercial products and "home brews" that can be
sprayed on plants to discourage deer browsing. The biggest disadvantage is
sprays need to be reapplied on a regular basis, and even more frequently during
choices - Deer have "food favorites" just like us. Lists are usually
broken down into categories of desirability. However, it's important to remember
that deer will eat ANY PLANT during a severe winter when other browse is scarce.
[More on Deer]
Most Arborvitae, Taxus (Yews)
29. Do my
trees and shrubs need to be fertilized during the summer months?
Fertilization of woody ornamentals should cease around mid-July so plants have
time to harden-off new growth before winter. Late summer fertilization can lead
Fertilization of annual flowers and vegetable plants should continue throughout
the growing season. When using liquid fertilizer (scoops of soluble fertilizer
granules added to water) it is best applied to moist soil. If necessary, water
your annual flowers first, then apply the liquid fertilizer solution.
[More on fertilizers and tree
and shrub fertilization]
ornamental grass clump in our back yard still has alot of brown in it from last
year. What should we do to get rid of it?
Ornamental grasses should be cut back to low (6 to 12 inch tall)
clumps in late fall or early winter, every year. Use twine or a rubber
strap to wrap the dead bundles tightly together before cutting them -- this will
ease cleanup work.
New growth resumes
following winter cutback
new growth has already mingled with the old brown stems, it may be best to wait
until late this fall to cut them back. Ornamental grasses should also be
divided, or split, every 3 to 4 years.
pine shrubs (Mugos?) have branches that look like sticks! All the needles
are cut to stubble... what gives?
Sawfly caterpillars appear for 2 or 3 weeks in May and wreak havoc on
Pines if you aren't alert to their arrival.
don't stay long, but sure work fast!
are difficult to see, so you should scan the pines for areas where the branches
look thin, and the caterpillars will be close by. Handpick them or spray
with an insecticide labeled for sawfly on pines. [More
on plant pests]
trees in my yard have silky tents in them!
Spring brings Eastern Tent Caterpillars with it, and the smaller,
lower tents can be 'rubbed out' using a gardening glove, or sprayed with a
properly labeled insecticide.
biggest problem is getting the insecticide to penetrate the webs, however,
spraying still helps since caterpillars will come out to feed on surrounding
foliage. [More on plant pests]
READ THE ENTIRE LABEL
ON PESTICIDE CONTAINERS!
Eastern Tent Caterpillars arrive quickly in the spring
and are easily distinguished by their location in the "crotch"
of a branch. In stark contrast, Fall Webworm tents are formed at the branch
25. My White Pine trees have lots of inner needles that have just recently turned yellow.
Are the trees dying? (September question)
Pines commonly shed some of their older (inner) needles in late summer. With the
wet summer of 2000, this natural occurrence seems to have been delayed one or two months.
If you still have green branch tips all over the tree, the tree will be OK.
24. My son's shoes
are orange after he has been out playing on our lawn! Does this have something to
do with our late summer weather?
Turfgrass is one of the plants affected by "rust disease" in
late summer. The fungus has rust-colored
spores which easily rub off on clothing and shoes.
Rust is considered a "low fertility disease" and an application of nitrogen lawn
fertilizer in September should help suppress this disease. A fungicide application
probably isn't warranted.
Orange powdery rust spores coating a shoe
23. Some of the
twigs on my trees look "notched" -- like someone slit them with a sharp
knife. Some twigs have also died and broken off toward the branch tips. What's
These sound like the classic symptoms of periodical cicada
damage ("17 year locusts" -- remember their loud buzzing in 1999? Photo)
The notching occurs when the insect uses its 'ovipositor' to lay a row of eggs along a
branch. Most trees usually recover from the damage quickly... pruning out damaged
branch tips will help speed the process. [More
on plant pests]
hemlocks and azaleas look "bleached out" or bronze colored -- is this due to the
summer heat and drought?
Hemlocks are commonly damaged by cool-season spider mites, which can be
controlled with labeled sprays in spring and/or fall. (NOTE: Most other mites on
ornamental plants in Pennsylvania landscapes thrive in the hot/dry conditions of summer)
Azaleas we see in clients' landscapes are becoming more commonly affected by
lacebugs -- this
pest can be controlled with labeled sprays in late-spring and/or late-July. We're also
seeing lacebugs more frequently on Rhododendrons and Pieris Japonica.
[More on plant pests]
Trees bordering my backyard look like they have tent caterpillars. What can I do?
The webs you're seeing on the branch tips appear in mid to late summer, and are actually
caused by Fall
Webworms. These caterpillars differ from the Eastern Tent Caterpillars you see
in the spring, and really love 'Wild Cherry' trees!
Webs can be pruned out and destroyed. It is difficult to reach and penetrate the
webs with an insecticidal spray. Always READ THE LABEL on any pesticide you decide to
use! Also, make pesticide applications in the cool part of the day when there is no
wind (early mornings usually work well). [More
on plant pests]
tree I park my car under is dripping sap all over the outside. Why?
Sap dripping from trees is usually due to an insect infestation like aphids
(plant lice). The insects excrete excess "honeydew" which drips onto
Aphids group around the growing tips
of plants and are 'herded' by ants
Honeydew will grow a sooty mold, making the tree branches look
Also associated with aphids are ants, who have a symbiotic relationship with the
aphids. The ants act like farmers, moving the aphids to the best feeding sites (near
the growing tips) and in return harvest some of the excess honeydew for their colonies.
Something has been digging in my mulched beds, and has even "turned over" some
sections of my lawn. What is it?
Sounds like a raccoon
problem. Raccoons browse nocturnally for insects and other food in this manner.
Skunks are also known
for this type of activity, and have been known to destroy large areas of golf course
fairways searching for grubs.
Solutions include trapping the animals (call your township's "Animal Control"
office) or treatment to reduce insect populations.
is there a big flock of Black Birds on my lawn all the time?
Chances are you have an infestation of Sod Webworms and the
birds are having a group lunch . You will also notice small round holes in the sod
where they have worked their beaks into the turf. You may want to treat your lawn
with an insecticide, following label directions.
What can I do to improve my annual flowers this year?
Good soil, nutrients and regular waterings are the 3 main ingredients for healthy flowers.
Try mixing some mushroom manure in with your soil, or use it as a mulch. Mix some
high-phosphorus fertilizer (phosphorus is the middle number "10" in: 5-10-5)
into your flower bed and follow-up with liquid fertilizer such as Peters 20-20-20 or Bloom
Keep flower beds watered --- especially new plantings. Morning is the best
time to water flowers, evenings are alright -- but the
earlier in the evening the better.
When can I plant my tomato seedlings outdoors?
our area (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) the last annual spring frost usually occurs around May
20th. This is why many local gardeners set out their tender garden plants on
Memorial Day. If you plant sooner, be prepared to protect plants from frost damage.
(See question #1)
there a good way to start flower and tomato seedlings indoors without buying expensive "grow" lights?
effective and economical way to give seedlings the artificial or supplemental light they
need is by using standard fluorescent bulbs. Using a 2-tube fluorescent fixture;
install a COOL WHITE tube (blue spectrum) in one side and a WARM WHITE tube (red spectrum)
in the other side. Try to keep the fixture within a few inches of the plants -- this
type of light won't burn the foliage.
IMPORTANT: When starting plants from seedlings, be sure to use STERILE growing
medium. There are many "soil less" mediums available -- usually consisting
of a Peat/Perlite/Vermiculite. DON'T reuse old growing medium -- you can introduce
plant pathogens, and seedlings are very susceptible to diseases.
ALSO: Proper soil temperatures are important for good seed germination. A 65 to 70
degree F. room should be fine. But in a colder room, look into using a soil heating
mat made specifically for use beneath "flats".
How can we minimize
plant damage from "de-icers"?
Gypsum [calcium sulfate] applied to soil surfaces bordering walks, driveways, and streets
at a rate of 50 lbs. per 1,000 square feet (in Pennsylvania) will help minimize damage
from Sodium Chloride. TIP: Gypsum is best applied in the fall, but spring
applications will also help.
The use of Calcium Chloride as a de-icer is a 'wee bit' more "plant friendly",
but too much can also harm plants. (Keep in mind that Gypsum will not counteract the
"salt effect" of Calcium Chloride)
REMEMBER: Any de-icer that increases the number of "freeze-thaw" cycles can
damage concrete. And that includes most of them.
THE SAFEST: Messy, but. . . Sand (or small gravel) is good for traction on ice. TIP:
Protect your stockpile from freezing.
should we handle our live balled-and-burlapped
(B&B) Christmas tree?
Try to dig a hole for the tree in advance of planting time, on a day when the weather is
decent. Cover your soil pile. Your hole should be no deeper than the root
ball and about 12 inches wider on each side. 2) Don't keep the tree in the house any
longer than necessary -- two weeks should be about the maximum. 3) Only water the
tree once or twice while it is inside. Remember - the tree is dormant.
4) Locate the tree away from a heat source. 5) Lift the tree by the root ball
when moving it. "Double team it" for safety and ease. 6) Water the
tree thoroughly following outdoor planting. 7) Remove constricting ropes and
synthetic wraps from the trunk area and root ball when planting. 8) Stake the tree
(if it is at all "wobbly") for the first growing season. 9) Plant the tree
where it will have adequate room to mature. 10) Water the tree once a week in dry
weather during the first growing season. [More about watering
What type of fresh-cut Christmas tree lasts the longest?
Fir trees are still our favorite. Their extra cost is really worth it when it comes to
their longevity, soft needles and that "fresh-peeled Orange" citrus aroma.
Douglas Fir is quite popular, but we like the Fraser Fir, with its thick needles
highlighted with silver undersides.
TIP: When you get your cut tree home, make a fresh cut at the base, and store the tree in
a container of water in the garage until it is placed in its stand.
What can we do to keep our Christmas tree, wreaths and greens fresh
recommend spraying them with an "anti-desiccant" such as "WILT PRUF"
before you bring them inside (follow label directions). This milky-looking substance dries
to a shiny clear coating that helps seal in moisture, keeping greens fresh longer.
Deer have been eating my vegetable plants and shrubs. What's a person to do?
There are several temporary solutions such as human hairballs and commercial deer
repellents, and we've had luck planting shrubs that aren't "preferred"
but it will actually take good deer-fencing to keep deer away.
Also see our Pests webpage
with a section on deer.
neighbor said it is best to water at night. Is that true?
You may remember the old adage -
"Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see"
Well. . . it definitely applies here!
Night and evening waterings can help promote fungus disease. Why? Because it
lengthens the "wet period" of foliage, creating an environment that fungi love!
Try to water in the morning if your schedule permits.
often should I water newly planted trees and shrubs?
there is less than one-inch of rainfall per week, thoroughly water new trees and shrubs
once a week during the growing season (spring and summer).
[More about watering new shrubs
and watering new trees]
Newly planted flowers, sod and grass seed will have to be watered more frequently;
[More about watering new lawns]
Should I only plant trees and shrubs in the springtime?
While there are a few trees (Oaks and "fleshy rooted" trees) that should only be
dug in the spring, most plants today are containerized or balled-and-burlapped
can be planted anytime of the year. [More about shrub
planting and tree planting]
Should I paint the areas where I cut off tree branches?
No! Extensive research has shown that trees have natural defenses in the
"collar" area if branches are properly pruned. Be sure to leave
the "swollen area" (collar) at the base of the branch. [More
about tree trimming]
should I prune my Azaleas and flowering shrubs?
The best "rule of thumb" is to prune them within 30 days after they finish
blooming. This will allow them time to form new flower buds for next year.
[More about pruning shrubs]
grass at the golf course is mowed very short and looks great. Should I cut my home lawn
the same way?
Golf courses use a variety of grass (bentgrass) that can withstand short mowing.
Your home lawn needs to be cut at 2-1/2 to 3 inches. Remember: The longer the blade
the deeper the roots. Also keep your mower blade sharp! [More
information about mowing]
new lawn looked great the first 7 years we lived in our new home. Now
it is starting to look bad --- Why?
The first seven years with a new lawn is called the "honeymoon period".
After that, you'll start to see problems mostly related to thatch buildup. Then
"the honeymoon is over!" Try to core-aerate your lawn once or twice a year from
the time it is planted --- that's good "preventive maintenance".
[More information on thatch
use a mulching mower will it produce thatch?
Thatch is most commonly produced by heavy fertilization with nitrogen, and some
naturally occurring causes. Mulching clippings is usually a good idea; just be sure
to mow more often and only when the grass is dry. [More
information about mowing]
can I protect my tender annual flowers from frost?
you plant sensitive flowers before Memorial Day in the Pittsburgh area, you may find
you'll have to protect plants from frost. We find burlap works the best, but an old bed
sheet or similar fabric will do just fine. Some people use newspaper or paper shopping
bags if wind isn't a factor. Remember: Covering plants won't protect them against a freeze
--- in which case they must be moved to area that will remain above 32 degrees.
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