Some greens like it hot

BACKYARD Q&A

July 30, 2000

Q. I know it's the wrong time of year for growing lettuce, but I have room in my little garden for something green and tasty. Are there salad greens out there that can take the heat?

A. Quite a few, actually. Swiss chard, perpetual spinach and mountain orach are three summer lovers in the beet family. There are many good types of kale and turnips that can be sown and harvested when young for eating in fresh salads and left to grow through the fall. A number of Asian greens, such as komatsuna, mizuna and tatsoi, will add a mustardy kick to your late summer and fall salads. And leaf lettuces can be grown in shady areas, or they can be protected with shade cloth that allows 50 percent light transmission. However, lettuce seed does not germinate well when temperatures are more than 85 degrees, so you may want to sow seeds indoors and transplant them into the garden when they are 2 or 3 weeks old.

Q. I have a non-gardening neighbor who insists that my city compost bin will attract rats and spontaneously combust into flames. Is composting legal in Baltimore, and should I be worried about her predictions?

A. Yes, backyard composting is legal as long as the pile is not a public nuisance. Rats need food, water and harborage to live and reproduce. Uncovered garbage cans and strewn trash attract rats. A well-managed, active compost bin will not attract rats that are not already present. There are many gardeners in Baltimore City who successfully compost vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc., and have no problem with rats. Do not add cooked or prepared foods, meats, dairy, oils or other fatty foods to outdoor compost barrels or bins. In the past there have been instances of very large, poorly managed windrows burning at large municipal composting sites. There is absolutely no danger, however, of the contents of a backyard compost bin catching on fire.

Q. I have some horrible weed growing all over my flower beds and into my lawn. The leaves have scalloped edges and it makes little blue flowers. What is it, and what can be done?

A. Your invasive perennial weed is ground ivy, a.k.a creeping Charlie, a member of the mint family. This weed will quickly fill up a bare bed and can grow horizontally over grass and send out new roots where stems touch the soil. Hand pulling is the best method to quickly remove the weed, but it will grow back from any pieces of stem left behind. A thick mulch in the flower beds will also help. A number of chemical herbicides are available to control ground ivy in turf.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Start broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants in small containers for planting out in late August, or sow seeds directly in fertile garden soil. Cover seedlings with floating row cover to protect them from insect pests.

2. Keep all newly planted trees and shrubs well watered during periods of hot, dry weather. Trees that have lost leaves to disease or stress should also be watered.

3. Clean out dead plants from backyard ponds and fill ponds with fresh water if you notice a drop in water level

Backyard Q&A is by Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist for the Home and Garden Information Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension Services of the University of Maryland. 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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