Squirrels drop by tulip bed for fall and spring snacks

BACKYARD Q&A

April 09, 2000

Q. Squirrels are the bane of my tulips. They dig up my bulbs in the fall and breakfast on the unopened buds in the spring. What can be done to keep them at bay?

A. They are just doing what comes naturally. Replacing the tulips with daffodils is one option. If you are attached to your tulips, try applying a combination of commercial and kitchen repellents (naphtha flakes, crushed red pepper flakes) to the tulip beds in the fall and spring. Some bulb growers have sprinkled composted sewer sludge products with success. And some go so far as to lay wire screening or fencing on top of tulip beds in the fall. This will discourage squirrels and cats.

Q. I haven't fertilized my azaleas in several years and want to know when I should do it and what fertilizer to use.

A. Azaleas should be fertilized lightly immediately after they bloom and again in July with a balanced fertilizer. If possible, look for a slow-release product that has more nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium (a 12-6-6 fertilizer). If you are an organic gardener, you can use cottonseed meal. Commercial fertilizers for acid-loving plants are also fine to use. Azaleas grow best in soil with a pH of 4.5-5.5.

Q. I usually have trouble growing green beans in the spring. They come up spotty and are rarely productive. I do better with late plantings. How can I do a better job this year?

A. Bean seed will not germinate well until the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Seeds sown in April just sit there and can be attacked by insects and diseases. Get a jump start on your first crop by sprouting seeds indoors. Place the seeds between moist paper towels, roll up the towels and keep them in a ventilated plastic bag on top of your refrigerator. When the seeds sprout, plant them in loose soil in a raised bed.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Monitor azaleas, rhododendron, laurel and andromeda for signs of lace bug damage. Lace bugs suck plant sap, causing leaves to appear bleached. Small, black tar spots (bug droppings) can be seen on leaf undersides.

2. Sharpen lawn mower blades to ensure a clean cut. Dull blades leave ragged, brown edges.

3. Cover broccoli, cabbage and other cole crops with a floating row cover to prevent aphid and caterpillar feeding.

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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