How to make a good bed for shrubs and perennials

BACKYARD Q&A

November 04, 2001|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Q. We are planning to remove some lawn area and plant a bed of shrubs and perennials. How should we prepare the area for planting?

A. In spring, the lawn area can be treated with a herbicide like Roundup and then tilled under after it has died in one to two weeks. Or, you can remove, or strip, the lawn. Whether you strip the lawn by hand or machine, you should take about 1 inch of soil and roots along with the top of the grass. I prefer to prepare beds in late fall; however, herbicides are less effective at this time and it is often necessary to strip the sod.

After the lawn is killed or removed, the soil should be amended with organic matter and then tilled. The organic matter should be added in bulk. In most cases, I spread at least a 3-inch layer of organic matter over the area. This is an additional expenditure, but it will pay off long into the future. Adding organic matter is the most important thing you can do.

Q. We have a very nice pink dogwood that I would like to propagate. Can it be grown from cuttings?

A. Yes, but you will need a place to grow the cuttings through their first winter. Pink dogwood is best grown from softwood cuttings taken in June. Plant propagators recommend taking a 5- to 6-inch tip (terminal) cutting and treating it with a 2 percent solution of the rooting hormone IBA. The cutting should have two terminal leaves and may have up to four additional leaves. After treatment, the cuttings should be grown through the following winter in a mixture of half peat and half perlite medium. Do not disturb the cuttings. They can be transplanted after growth ensues in the spring. There are many variables involved in plant propagation. I would recommend that you do some further reading on this topic.

Q. A landscape contractor recommended that we have our soil pH tested. Why is soil pH so important to growing plants?

A. Soil pH is critical to growing healthy plants because it can drastically affect the relative availability of nutrients in the soil. It all has to do with soil chemistry. When the pH is too high or too low for a specific plant, critical nutrients become chemically "locked" in the soil. Though the nutrients are generally present, they are not in an available form. After a soil test, the soil can be treated with lime or sulfur to adjust the pH up or down. This adjustment in pH "unlocks" the critical nutrients in your soil.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Did you put straw over your newly seeded lawn this fall? When the grass begins to grow, remove the thick clumps. The remainder can be left and mowed along with the grass.

2. Wait until spring to divide your perennials. New divisions will not have time to get established before winter.

3. Tree planting season is here. This is a great time to plant a new tree.

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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