If you feed the birds, don't use weed seed

Backyard Q&A

September 27, 1998

Q.I don't know where they came from, but I've got several large, thorny weeds with pretty purple flower heads in the middle of my perennial bed. They're so big I can hardly reach my bird feeder. What are they and how do I get rid of them?

A.You've got bull thistle, a very nasty perennial weed. It probably came from your birdseed mix. Thistle seed is a favorite of goldfinches and other birds. Very carefully spray the thistle plants with a herbicide containing glyphosate. And switch to sunflower or safflower seed.

Q. I grew my first crop of Southern peas and was shocked to find many fleshy balls attached to the roots when I pulled the plants up last week. The plants grew like gangbusters all summer long. Is this a root disease of some kind?

A. Not to worry. You're seeing the nodules that enable cowpeas and all other leguminous plants to take nitrogen gas from the atmosphere and "fix," or transform, it into a usable form.

Cowpeas do this job much better than garden beans. In fact, cowpeas are grown as a nitrogen-producing summer cover crop by farmers. Next time you grow cowpeas, incorporate your plants into the soil when you're done harvesting, and you'll be adding free nitrogen for the next year's crop.

Q. I dug and planted a large perennial and shrub bed along one side of my property. My neighbor has an in-ground swimming pool on the other side of our fence, and when he drains his pool we get the overflow. Should I be worried about my plants?

A. Yes! Chlorinated water can damage plants, depending on proximity, the amount of water and how well-drained the soil is. Much of the chlorine will escape as a gas but not before it damages plants. Talk to your neighbor and ask that he drain the water away from your bed.

This Week's Checklist

* Control woody weeds like poison ivy, brambles and bamboo with a herbicide.

* Harvest small ornamental gourds before the first frost. Harvest luffa, dipper, bottle and other large gourds after a frost.

*Leave the heads of sunflower plants through the fall and winter as food for birds.

* Plant daffodil bulbs three times deeper than their width.

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: 9/27/98

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