Trampled perennials should recover in the spring

BACKYARD Q&A

January 28, 2001

Q. My teen-age sons "helped" me this Christmas by putting up and taking down our outside lights. I now see that they tromped down and broke the stems of many perennial plants. Should I plan to replant in the spring?

A. Not to worry. If your plants were well established and healthy, they will come back just fine in the spring. Pull soil up over any crowns or roots that may have become exposed during the decorating and undecorating process.

Q. I've really had it with the squirrels in our neighborhood. This past year they stripped the bark from branches of my favorite trees, they gouged the kids' jack-o'-lanterns that were sitting on our front step, and, needless to say, they are growing fat on bird seed. Is there anything I can do to make them go away or start behaving?

A. Your squirrels are at home and behaving naturally. Yes, squirrels can become pesky, but the goal should be peaceful co-existence. Fill your bird feeders with safflower seeds, which squirrels are not crazy about. Surround the stems of young woody plants with hardware cloth to protect them from squirrel feeding. If the squirrels in your area are increasing in number, be sure to prevent them from entering your attic. They can be destructive and difficult to remove.

Q. I'm confused. I always read that plants were vulnerable to root rots if the roots sat in wet soil. Now I see that different seed catalogs are pushing trays and chambers for growing vegetable transplants indoors that are self-watering -- the plant roots wick up water from a reservoir. Is this a good idea?

A. Plants grown in saturated soils outside are more susceptible to various fungal rots. But this risk is greatly reduced indoors when one uses clean plastic trays and soilless growing media. These new systems are convenient and allow the transplants to pick up the precise amounts of water required.

Q. I live in a 100-year-old house. On one side I have a very old grapevine on a simple arbor -- I believe it is Concord. It used to make a lot of good fruit. In recent years, however, the foliage is good, but I get no fruit. I do nothing to this plant but fertilize with 10-10-10 in the spring. Any suggestions?

A. Your vine will benefit from aggressive renewal pruning this winter. Remove all of the older, thick canes that produce little fruit. Keep no more than four healthy one-year old shoots that are covered with buds. Scatter only 1 to 2 cups of fertilizer around the plant in early spring.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Avoid the temptation to fertilize houseplants during the winter unless they are being grown under high-light-intensity conditions.

2. Keep compost bins covered to prevent waterlogging and leaching of nutrients from the compost.

3. If you started feeding wild birds this fall, offer them a continuous food supply through the winter. They're depending on you.

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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