Is Fall a good time to prune back my shrubs and trees?

Fall is not the best time to prune these plants, especially plants that are evergreen (they keep their green leaves through winter). These plants keep their leaves for a important reason and removing them in the fall is not a good thing. They continue to conduct photosynthesis and make food all through the dormant winter period. The best time to prune all plants is in the spring. For plants that bloom only in the spring, prune them right after they are through blooming, but do not prune them after mid-July. Plants that bloom only in the summer (crape myrtles, butterfly bushes, etc.), prune back in early spring (March-April).

You recommend mixing Bio-tone to the soil when planting. Why is that necessary?

Bio-tone Plus is something very special that will help your plant from day one until the end of its life. Bio-tone Plus contains strains of Mycorrhizal fungi, soil-dwelling fungi that have been helping green plants for probably 400 million years. They establish a symbiotic relationship which allows the fungi to be fed from their green host’s sap supply, in return for attaching themselves to the host plant’s roots and extending their own huge network of feeder roots, called hyphae. This adds about 70 times more feeder roots capability working to find and bring in water and nutrients than what the host could achieve by itself. Added to the backfill soil, the fungi make contact with the plant’s feeder roots, attach, and begin helping their host to quickly establish itself and grow faster, stronger and better for life.

When should I plant the Fall bulbs that bloom in the Spring?

The bulbs are available for planting from September to the New Years Day. They need to be in the cool ground early enough to receive 12 weeks of “chill”, that is a consistent period of soil temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This is absolutely necessary so the bulbs can received the proper stimulus that tells them winter has occurred and they may put out blooms in the spring. I highly recommend that you plant these bulbs as early in the fall as possible, as planting fresh bulbs is always better and waiting too long means that the selection of desirable types and colors of bulbs is much more limited.

Can I plant shrubs and trees in the ground now, even though it is mid-January?

It is not the ideal time to plant shrubs and trees. But yes, you certainly can. However, winter planting means that plants being planted then will not become established until spring. This is because the soil is too cold now to promote root growth. It also means that if we get any hard freezes (extremely low temperatures in the ‘teens or below) the soil will become too hard to dig. But this winter’s temperatures so far, have been rather moderate and digging planting holes now should not be a problem. Please remember to mulch the soil area around the plants with at least a 2 inch-deep layer of mulch to protect the surface roots of your plants.

Would it make sense to apply lawn food to my lawn even thought it’s winter?

Not really. Although your lawn is still green, it is experiencing little or no growth in winter. This low level activity means less energy is being used and additional nutrients needed to produce energy are not in demand by the grass. Therefore, lawn fertilizers should not be applied until the lawn soil warms in the spring and the grass is actively growing again. Also, the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 is now Maryland law and went into effect on January 1, 2012. One provision of this law prohibits a homeowner from applying fertilizer to lawns (only lawns) except between March 1 and November 15 of each year. The reason is that the lawn is where unused fertilizer can be easily washed from the soil by rain and is close to the walkways and streets. Since grass lawns will not be taking up hardly any fertilizer during this time of the year, much of it will likely end up washing into the streets or enter the groundwater, directly affecting the quality of the water flowing through Chesapeake Bay watershed system. You can purchase lawn fertilizer now, but do not put it down on your lawn until March 1st.

Is January too early to prune my shrubs and trees?

Shrubs and trees (woody plants) can be pruned now, but ideally, late-February and March would be the best time to prune most plants. Remember that spring is the period of the growing season when MOST new growth is formed; not in the summer. The best time is early spring or late winter; before buds begin to swell and open, and new blooms and leaves emerge. But it is import to know that certain woody plants need special pruning times during the spring. Spring-blooming plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs, forsythia, dogwoods, should be pruned as soon that all flowers are through blooming. Also, any pruning of new branches produced that spring should not be pruned after mid-July! If pruned anytime after the end of July, you will be pruning off flowering wood that is forming or has already formed flowers for the next spring. If this is done, the plant is not harmed, but you will have few or no flowers blooming in the spring.

I have heard that March is the month to apply pre-emergent weed killers. Does this mean these products won’t work if applied these products after March?

The lawn weed preventers must be in place in the surface layer of the lawn’s soil before the seedlings germinate and break through to the sun.  Normally, if you apply the crabgrass and weed preventers, which include the chemical preemergent products and the organic in March, the ground is still cold enough that this will not yet happen.  These products DO NOT HAVE ANY EFFECT on any crabgrass or weed seedlings that have broken through (emerged). This is why it may not be as effective in getting the majority of the weeds if it applied in April or later when the soil is warm enough and many weeds have already emerged.

Should I apply fertilizer to my flowering shrubs that will bloom this spring now or should I wait until they finish blooming?

Wait until all the blooms have finished blooming.  This is when new growth starts and the plants will be actively taking up food to build green leaves and new branches.

I already have weeds coming up in my lawn, but am told that lawn weed killers will not work this early in spring because the weather is too cool. Are there any weed killers that WILL work now?

The magic number is 45 degrees F. or higher.  These are the temperatures at which all plants, including weeds, begin to become active and their sap transporting systems are fully flowing.  This is necessary for the systemic herbicides such as 2-4-D and Dicamba to be able to reach the roots where the killing action occurs. The only product that we stock that CAN work on weeds in soil temperatures down to 40 degrees is the Bonide Weed Beater ULTRA. This product contains an agent that allows the herbicides to reach the roots when similar products cannot.

I see summer flowering bulbs are now available at garden centers even though it is still very cold. Is it safe to plant these bulbs in the ground now?

The bulbs on sale in garden centers at this time of the year are not the same types you plant in the fall for spring blooming.  The spring-planted bulbs are for plants that bloom only in warm weather, starting in late spring. Many of them are repeat bloomers and will bloom almost continuously until the fall frost in November.  However, they can be killed off by a hard freeze (temperatures well below freezing) should the soil temperature drop to those levels. These are the bulbs that are “lifted” from the soil and stored indoors in a cool, dark and dry location to hibernate until next spring, when they can be planted in the garden again.

My hollies are showing brown leaves on some branches now. Should I be concerned?

The damage we see now to the leave of hollies and other broadleaf evergreen shrubs,  and trees may be from more than one cause. If the brown leaves are limited to specific branches and the die-back pattern shows that the browning restricted to the tips and edges of the leaves, it most likely is weather, not pest-related.  The strange weather patterns we have experience the last three winters, shows that we have a warming effect which is not a normal pattern for our region. This past winter we have had warming episodes between some very cold temperatures. This inconsistency of temperature norms causes water issues for plants that cannot predict the need for it foliage.  The brown leaf tips and edges indicate that insufficient water is reaching the farthest reaches of the plant’s water distribution system. This damage will pass as we go into spring and those damaged leaves will be replaced before summer.

Why is my crape myrtle not blooming?

If your crape myrtle is otherwise green and healthy, you may need to apply the nutrient phosphorus to promote blooming.

Are those small bags hanging from my evergreen responsible for the bare branches?

Those are bagworms, a caterpillar that lives in a bag made of bits of foliage. They are consuming of your evergreen plant’s leaves and may leave large parts of the plant with bare branches. You must spray the entire plant with an insecticide such as Sevin or Bug-B-Gone.

My lawn has brown patches all over it. What’s causing this?

The most likely cause is lawn fungus. Treat the entire lawn with a lawn fungicide as soon as possible. Use the Bayer Advanced™ Lawn Fungicide or if you prefer an organic fungicide, apply Serenade®.

Can I put fertilizer down now to green up my lawn?

You can apply fertilizer to your lawn in summer, but make sure it is low in nitrogen (below 10%) and contains iron. This will green up you lawn without producing excessive new blade growth that will increase water stress on your lawn. I recommend Milorganite or Espoma® Organic Lawn Food, either the All-Seasons or Summer Revitalizer.

The green leaves on my azaleas have pale yellow speckles on them and some leaves are almost all yellow-white. There are also brown spots on the underside of the leaves. Is this insect damage?

Yes, this is damage caused by lacebugs. They are sap-sucking insects that feed on the leave from the undersides of the leaves. Lacebugs also feed on other shade evergreen shrubs, such as rhododendrons and Japanese Andromeda. The best control is to use a systemic insecticide, such as the Bayer Advanced™ All-in-One Rose and Flower Care. One application of this product will protect your azaleas up to 6 weeks.

My flower plants and shrubs are wilting. I apply water to them and that seems to make it worse. What am I doing wrong?

Many people have been accustomed to dry and even drought summers in the past 8 years. We are having an unusual wet summer this year and people are still watering their plants even after a good rain. We now have cases of too much water, which shows up as wilting leaves, or yellowing and falling leaves. The signs of too much water are much the same as too little. So don’t water until you check the soil to see if it need it.

Why should I think about mulch levels in the fall?

Before the weather turns really cold, go out and check the depth of the mulch in your garden beds and around trees. Don’t replace old mulch; just put new mulch on top of it. The thickness of the mulch as winter insulation is important and you should maintain a minimum depth of 2 inches, maximum of 3 inches. And remember to keep the mulch pile away from base of tree trunks and shrubs.

What can I do for migrating and overwintering Birds?

We all feel that leaving our bird feeders filled in the fall and winter help the wild birds that stay around through the winter and those that use our yards as stop-over place in their seasonal migrations. Don’t forget that birdseed is not the only thing we should make available to these birds. Fresh water is always needed and leaving a birdbath with a heater on is a welcoming sight to many a weary feathered wanderer. Think about leaving small brush piles that can be used for shelter and may harbor live insects for birds whose diets rely on them.

How do I prepare my irrigation system for the winter?

If you have an irrigation system to water you lawn or garden beds, make sure that you clear out all of the water that may still be in the pipes. The best way to do this is to blow it out using high pressure air from an air compressor. Water remaining in there may cause pipes to burst if it freezes in them during the winter.

How can I keep my summer bulbs safe from winter damage?

The flowers you have enjoyed all summer that grew from bulbs will need to be dug up, cleaned and stored away indoors for the winter. Tender summer bulb plants such as dahlias, tuberous begonias, caladiums, cannas, elephant ear, and ranunculus, should be “lifted” after their green tops have died and stored in a cool (50° to 60°F), dark and dry location until replanted in spring.

What is “Heaving” and should I be concerned?

The term “heaving” refers to the pushing up out of the ground of newly-planted plants because of the shrinking of soil in very cold weather. The plants have no extended roots into the soil around them, so the plants are pushed out of the ground like toothpaste from the tube. This exposes the roots to super-cold air that “freeze dries” the roots and can kill the plant. Monitor any plants planted in late fall to spot heaving and to quickly replant the root balls back underground.

How do you suggest I protect tender plants from the cold?

Some shrubs can take our normal winter temperatures, but can be severely damaged if exposed to unusually cold temperatures. Such vulnerable plants, such as the Dwarf English Boxwood, can be protected from such damage if covered by branches of evergreens. The branches from cut up Christmas trees laid over these shrubs can trap warm air during the day and insulate the tender plants during the colder evening hours.

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