Can't recycle? Burning Christmas tree is OK

BACKYARD Q&A

January 07, 2001

Q. Is it OK to burn our Christmas tree in the fireplace? It's a Douglas fir, and they don't pick up Christmas trees curbside where we live.

A. Any real Christmas tree is fine to burn. You can also use your fir twigs and needles for kindling. However, freshly cut soft-wood species, like spruce, pine and fir, will produce a lot of creosote, which could build up inside your flue if you burned them all the time. If you decide not to burn it, drag your tree into a wooded area to create a habitat for birds and small animals. In any case, be sure to first remove all ornaments and tinsel.

Q. I am determined to grow my own vegetable and flower transplants this spring. Last year I followed all the information I got from books and seed catalogs, but my plants grew so slowly. I grew them under fluorescent bulbs in the basement. The plants were close to the lights, which were turned on for 14 hours each day. What went wrong, and how can I do better in 2001?

A. Cool temperatures in your basement probably slowed plant growth. The temperature of the growing medium should be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure rapid root and plant growth. Most basements are cooler than that. You can cover your lights and plants with a plastic tent and place a small, thermostat-controlled, electric heater under your plants. Vent the plastic to keep air temperatures 75 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Or you can buy an electric grow mat or electric soil heating cables to use under your plant containers. This is a safe and effective way to raise the root-zone temperature.

Q. My 8-year-old found what we think is a praying mantis egg case. We've got it in the garage, but my daughter wants to put it in a terrarium in her room. What would be best for the little beasts?

A. Praying mantis egg cases are frothy-looking light-brown masses that contain 100 to 300 eggs. Imagine what you'd be facing when all those little predators emerged inside your daughter's little terrarium. You won't have to worry about feeding them, however, because they will start eating each other. Avoid this by placing the egg mass back outside in a protected area near a garden. If all goes well, come spring you will watch and enjoy these large beneficials in their natural habitat.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Have your soil tested by the University of Maryland's Soil Testing Lab. Many plant problems result from soil pH that is too low or too high. Lime to raise the soil pH or sulfur to lower it should be applied this winter if the ground is not frozen.

2. Prevent fungus gnat problems around houseplants by allowing the top of the potting soil to dry out between waterings.

3. Ticks remain active as long as temperatures exceed 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Check yourself and loved ones for ticks when hiking on mild winter days.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service 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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