Vegetables and cover crop can grow side by side BACKYARD Q& A

August 30, 1998

Q. I like the idea of improving my vegetable-garden soil this winter with a cover crop, but I want to let my peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and cucumbers produce until frost. Will any cover crops grow in November?

A. No. The hardiest cover crops are winter rye and winter wheat, and they must be planted by Oct. 1 to make a few inches of growth before the first hard freeze. There is a solution, however. You could plant a cover crop during the next few weeks by removing any mulch around your vegetable plants and sowing your cover-crop seed between your vegetable plants, and in walkways and other bare areas.

Lightly rake in the seeds or press them into the soil and water regularly until the young plants emerge. The cover crop will grow while you're still enjoying your vegetable harvest. Just pull up the spent vegetable plants after the first killing frost.

Hairy vetch, oats, winter rye and winter wheat are all good choices for cover crops, and can be mixed together before sowing. You'll need about 1 1/2 pounds of seed for 500 feet of garden area.

Q. We have a beautiful 8-year-old redbud tree that has one entire branch that has wilted and turned brown. What could cause this and is the tree in trouble?

A. The symptoms you describe are probably caused by verticillium wilt, a soil-borne disease that enters the root system. There is also a canker disease that girdles branches, causing the same symptoms.

Prune the affected branch back to the trunk. If the problem is verticillium, the tree may continue to decline and need to be removed. Poor site conditions and physical damage from lawn mowers and string trimmers are some stresses that redbuds face.

Q. A pink crust has developed on the top of some soil in my flower bed. Will this damage my plants? Should I have it tested?

A. Many kinds of algae and fungi live in garden soil.

Under the right conditions, these may grow and reproduce on the surface. The pink crust you observe is a manifestation of such growth. It will probably disappear on its own, but feel free to turn it under if it strikes you as too unsightly.

Have your soil tested if you haven't done so in the past three years. A low soil pH may be contributing to the problem.

This week's checklist

Add water to your compost pile during dry weather to keep the ingredients moist.

Divide, replant and transplant perennials now. Keep them well-watered during dry periods in September and October.

Prune evergreen shrubs lightly to maintain their shape.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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