Q. My daughter's boyfriend backed his car into my prized Japanese maple right before Christmas. The tree is still standing but the bark was scraped off. Is there anything I should paint over the damaged area to help it heal properly? Do Japanese maples die from such trauma?
A. The best thing to do is nothing. The tree will produce callus tissue to mend the wound. Research has shown that covering the damage with salves, tar or paint will interfere with the healing process. It is possible that disease organisms could enter through the wound and weaken the tree. If it's a healthy specimen, it is more likely that it will heal, given good care and protection from cars and lawnmowers.
Q. What should I do with the amaryllis given to me for Christmas? The blooms are gone, but I don't want to just throw it away.
A. Amaryllis will live and bloom for many years if given proper care. Keep your plant in full sun, keep the soil moist, and water in an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer once a month through the spring and summer. You can even keep it outside during the summer. Reduce water and fertilizer once the foliage dies back. Cut the old foliage back to within an inch of the bulb one month before you want it to bloom again. Make sure the plant gets at least four to five hours of direct sun. When it starts to bloom, move it out of direct sunlight to prolong bloom time.
Q. Is it absolutely necessary to mulch trees, shrubs and perennials in the winter? My wife and I are always fussing over this garden chore, which I think is unnecessary. She just likes the way it looks.
A. It depends on the plant. Trees and most woody shrubs will overwinter just fine without benefit of mulch. Mulch can, however, help to protect the crowns of tender herbaceous perennials from temperature extremes and rapid fluctuations. Mulch can also help to conserve soil moisture. Select pine bark mulch and pile it no more than 2 to 3 inches deep.
THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST
1. Remove and discard the egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar from the branches of crab apple and cherry trees. The egg masses resemble black plastic foam.
2. Avoid the temptation to fertilize houseplants during the winter unless they are being grown under high light-intensity conditions.
3. Keep compost bins covered to prevent waterlogging and leaching of nutrients from the compost.
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.