Currants and gooseberries do grow here in Maryland

BACKYARD Q&A

May 23, 1999

Q. We just arrived here from England and haven't seen any currants or gooseberries growing in our neighbors' gardens. Can we grow them in Maryland?

A. Yes, all types of currants -- white, red and black -- and gooseberries can be grown. You might also want to try the jostaberry, a cross between the two. Be aware, however, that the jostaberry is much larger than either parent, measuring 4 feet to 5 feet high and 6 feet to 8 feet across.

If you plant these berries, don't be alarmed if they defoliate by the end of summer because of hot, humid weather and disease. They will come back vigorously in the spring. If possible, plant in a location that receives afternoon shade.

Q. I'm concerned that my beds of rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurel are looking worse each year. The new leaves are small and yellowish. I mulch them heavily every spring with hardwood bark mulch to keep the soil cool. What could be going wrong?

A. Remove all of the accumulated hardwood bark mulch and don't ever use this type again. It robs the soil of nitrogen and releases toxic amounts of manganese, which can cause leaf yellowing and eventual plant death.

Any heavily applied mulch can deprive plant roots of the oxygen they need for growth. If you must use a mulch, apply a shredded pine bark 1 to 2 inches deep.

Also, your soil pH may be too high; these plants grow best at a low soil pH (4.5-5.2). High soil pH will prevent roots from taking up iron, leading to leaf yellowing. Have your soil tested and amend it accordingly.

Q. We moved to Baltimore last year. At the back of our property are some prickly bushes with purple stems that make small, red, tart berries. We enjoyed these berries very much. What could they be? I'm certain they are not blackberries or raspberries. Are they invasive?

A. Rubus phoenicolasius, or wineberry, is a Far East introduction that one can find growing wild throughout the region. Few people plant it, even though, as you discovered, it is a very attractive plant with excellent fruit. It will spread by tip rooting, but it is probably less invasive than blackberry or raspberry. Contain it with a lawn mower or string trimmer.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Pinch back leggy annuals and perennials to encourage the growth of lateral stems and give your plants a fuller look.

2. Divide perennial plants that are outgrowing their allotted space. Share thinned-out plants with friends.

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: 05/23/99

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