Colorful autumn foliage displayed by several kinds of shrubs

BACKYARD Q&A

October 07, 2001|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Q. We have a small yard but would like to add a few shrubs with colorful fall foliage. Can you recommend some small trees or shrubs that grow well in the Baltimore area?

A. There are a number of shrubs that will provide excellent fall color, and many of them also have nice flowers or fruits. Several large shrubs you could plant are serviceberry, witch hazel, crape myrtle, viburnum (some species), and small Japanese maples. Some good medium-sized shrubs are oakleaf hydrangea, chokeberry, sweetshrub, compact burning bush and beautyberry. Good small shrubs include cotoneaster, Japanese barberry, kerria shrub and dwarf nandina. This is just a partial list; there are many other shrubs that could be added.

Q. I am having problems with several plants in my yard that may be related to poor soil. Where should I go to have a test done, and what does a standard soil test include?

A. Most soil tests are taken by homeowners and then processed by the University of Maryland. You can call your local extension office or the Home and Garden Information Center number listed below for assistance. A standard soil test includes information on your soil pH and its level of magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It will also make fertilizer and liming recommendations. The cost is $5 plus shipping. The same service can provide many other tests at an additional charge. For example, it will test your soil's organic matter for an additional $2.

Q. We are planning on composting all our leaves this fall and would like to have them available for use by next fall. What will help them to decompose more quickly?

A. There are several things that can help speed their decomposition. First, I would chip as many of the leaves as possible. This can be done when mowing the lawn or with a chipper. Second, I would add some other things to the composted leaves. Grass clippings are an excellent addition because they are high in nitrogen, which is important to the decomposing process. Third, be sure to turn the pile regularly. This will add oxygen, which is also important to decomposition, and will help the breakdown to occur evenly through the pile. Finally, I would wet down the compost during dry spells. These suggestions will help keep the organisms that decompose your compost healthy and happy.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Are all your houseplants indoors? They should be brought in when night temperatures dip into the mid-50s.

2. Planning to compost your fall leaves? Now would be a great time to prepare a composting area or compost bin.

3. Leave the heads on sunflower plants through the fall and winter as food for birds.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www. agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.

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