Early May is the right time to hold coming-out party for...

BACKYARD Q&A

April 16, 2000

Early May is the right time to hold coming-out party for figs

Q. I was tired of losing the top of my fig bushes each winter to freezing weather, so I covered them with leaves, old carpeting and plastic sheeting. It's a real eyesore and I want to know when I can safely remove all of that ugly protection.

A. You can completely uncover your fig bushes during the first week in May in central Maryland, once you're past the danger of a hard frost (temperatures below 30 degrees). In the meantime, remove the plastic and loosen the carpeting to increase air circulation and allow new leaves to unfold.

Q. Over the past month I've seen very attractive, low-growing plants with deep pink and purple flowers in fields and in some gardens in my neighborhood. Is this some type of cover crop, like hairy vetch?

A. No, hairy vetch blooms later in the spring. You are seeing two very common winter annual weeds, henbit and dead nettle, both members of the mint family. They grow rapidly in the fall and early spring in moist, fertile soils. They should be dug up and composted before seeds are produced and dispersed.

Q. I've noticed that the landscape company hired by our homeowner's association is piling mulch 8-12 inches deep around shrubs and trees (I actually measured it). I know that mulch is supposed to be good for plants and it looks nice, but isn't that going a bit far?

A. Yes, indeed. One to two inches of mulch is all that is required. In fact, large trees really don't benefit from a mulch other than it may keep lawn mowers and string trimmers from damaging the trunk. The deep mulch you describe (also known as "mulch volcanoes") can be quite harmful. The roots of newly planted trees and shrubs will grow into deep, moist mulch rather than growing down into the soil. These roots may wrap around the plant crown (girdling roots) or simply dry out and die during summer drought. Deep mulch may also contribute to crown and bark diseases.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Plant the seeds or transplants of the salad greens you most enjoy every 2-3 weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh salads.

2. Allow the foliage to die back on spring flowering bulbs.

3. Spray grapevines susceptible to black rot disease with a protectant fungicide before and after the bloom period. A few early sprays will prevent the disease from causing fruit infection.

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