SINCE SOMETIME IN MID-JANUARY — long before the first spring bulbs began poking up through the soil -- gardening catalogs have been providing Maryland residents with tempting visions of warmer months ahead.
Whether you purchase seeds and plants from these catalogs or simply use them as a source of inspiration is a personal decision.
"Most mail-order plant companies make a sincere effort to provideyou with plants that look like those in their catalogs," says Raymond Bosmans, a horticulture specialist with the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service, Maryland Institute for Agriculture and National Resources. "Many of these companies havebeen around awhile and have a reputation to uphold."
Still, it doesn't hurt to follow a few precautions to ensure your chances of a satisfactory transaction:
* Read catalog plant descriptions carefully so you know what to expect in terms of size, color, packaging, etc.
* Look for a botanical name. "Mystery" plants are usually a bad idea.
* Evaluate the price. Check with gardening friends, other catalogs and local suppliers.
It may be that you can get the plants you want from the garden center across town for a comparable price.
* Be realistic about what -- and how much -- you buy. Don't buy roses if you have a shady yard, for example. And don't order more plants than you can get in the ground in a timely fashion or care for properly. Also, make sure that plants you order are suitable for the hardiness zone in which you live. Most catalogs include a plant hardiness map and indicate hardiness zones with each plant description.
* Order early to make sure you get what you want. Information: 1-800-342-2507.
Plant a tree
Do something nice for yourself, your community and the environment this spring. Plant a tree.
There's no betterway to celebrate Maryland Arbor Day on April 1 or National Arbor Day, April 24.
In addition to their obvious aesthetic value, trees provide a variety of environmental contributions, said Raymond Bosmans,horticultural specialist at the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service. Included in the advantages, trees:
* Use carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.
* Cool the environment by providing shade and releasing water vapor.
* Decrease storm water run-off.
* Reduce noise pollution.
* Help cut home heating and cooling costs.
* Remove pollutants from the air.
* Attract and shelter various kinds of wildlife.
These qualities are what make trees important in terms of environmental health on a global scale. The world's tropical forests are being damaged or destroyed at a rate of 40 million acres a year -- an area about the size of Tennessee.
For every new tree planted in the average American city, fourdie or are removed.
Individual efforts to help reforest communities by planting and caring for trees properly are more important than ever, said Bosmans. He offers the following tips for successful planting of trees, purchased at garden centers.
* Prepare the site by loosening the soil in a wide area -- five times wider than the actual plant hole. Do not dig deeper than the root ball, or the tree could sink in the ground too deep as the soil settles.
* In heavy clay soils, plant the tree with the top of the root ball higher than the existing soil line. Grade the soil out gradually from the root ball to keep it secure and to prevent it from drying out.
* Remove the wrapping cords and cut the burlap loose from the root ball. Most trees come with their roots in burlap. The cords used today on balled and burlapped roots are usually made of plastic and the burlap often is treated to retard decay while in the nursery. If not removed or at least cut loose, both the cords and the treated burlap could interfere withthe normal growth of the tree's trunk and roots.
Trees, which come in plastic containers, should be removed from those containers and inspected for roots that spiral around the pot. If not spread out or cut, these roots can become girdling roots as the tree ages.
* Do not stake the tree. Contrary to gardening books and popular practice,a properly planted tree does not require staking. Research has shownthat the natural movement of the trunk by the wind stimulates root growth and increases trunk caliber. However, in extremely windy locations and soft soil, staking may help to keep the tree upright until its roots get established.
* Do not prune back the tree after planting. It was once thought that a tree's primary food reserve was in theroots and that pruning a tree after planting was important. Today, we know trees store a great deal of carbohydrates in their branches that are needed to help promote new root growth.
Therefore, it is nolonger considered necessary to balance top growth with root growth after planting.
* Do not add soil additives, such as compost or peat moss to the planting hole. When these materials are added directly into the planting hole in heavy soils, the planting hole frequently becomes waterlogged and roots die.