Shiny flakes part of local color

BACKYARD Q&A

March 12, 2000

Q. I just moved into an older neighborhood and noticed that the soil has many shiny, flat particles -- something I've never seen before. Could it be a contaminant? Should I have it tested?

A. There is no cause for alarm. You're describing mica, a very natural and normal constituent of soils in our area. The various micas are minerals made up mostly of aluminum and silica and separate easily into small, thin flakes.

Q. My peach leaves are usually puckered and strangely colored when they come out in the spring. They drop off but the tree seems to recover. Is cold weather causing the problem?

A. No, the culprit is a fungal disease known as peach leaf curl. The fungal spores overwinter in the bud scales and immediately infect the unfolding leaves. The disease is favored by cool, wet weather. Prevent the problem this spring by thoroughly spraying your tree with lime sulfur before the buds swell. Never apply lime sulfur to green tissue.

Q. What's a good purple-skin potato I can plant in the city, and can I replant my new potatoes to get a second crop in the same season?

A. Caribe is probably the best purple-skin cultivar. It was developed in Canada in 1984, is a high yielder of medium to large tubers and grows well in Maryland. The skin color holds if the spuds are baked but bleeds out if they are boiled. New potatoes are not mature enough to produce buds and new sprouts. Your best bet for extending the season is to plant early, mid-season and late maturing cultivars this spring that will produce tubers throughout the season.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Prune grape vines. Don't be alarmed by the heavy bleeding or flow of sap. That's normal.

2. Sow seed of annual flowers such as dianthus, cleome, cosmos, gaillardia and poppies directly into the garden soil.

3. Sow lettuce, spinach, radishes and other fast-growing salad greens in fertile soil. Keep the young plants well-watered and fertilize with a balanced solution.

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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