Fertilizer can't cure all ills of injured tree

BACKYARD Q&A

October 24, 1999

Q. I have a Norway maple that started going downhill after losing half of its large limbs in the ice storm last winter. Leaves were off- color this summer, small branches drooped and died, and the leaves started falling in late August. Can I bring this tree back with fertilizer and pruning?

A. Fertilizer is not a magic bullet for severely stressed trees. In fact, it can hasten your tree's demise by encouraging soft new growth that would be susceptible to attack by insects and diseases. You should definitely prune out dead branches, though.

Watch your tree closely for further signs of deterioration. Keep it well- watered. If it continues to decline, you'd do best to replace it with a hardier species of tree.

Q. I have a 2-year-old oat grass plant that has done beautifully but is now outgrowing its space. I have no idea what to do with it now. Will trimming it keep it under control?

A. You need to divide your plant this fall or early next spring by cutting the leaves to the ground and driving a sharp spade or mattock through the crown -- the base of the plant. If the plant is very large, you may want to divide it into three or four pieces. Replant one piece and give the others to neighbors.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Plant garlic cloves 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart in fertile soil. Mulch heavily with leaves after the plants emerge.

2. Paint trunks and main branches of cherry, plum and peach trees with a white latex paint to prevent sunscald and frost cracks over the winter months.

3. Harvest green tomatoes to pickle, or store them in paper bags and allow them to slowly ripen at room temperature.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. 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.

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