Pine mulch will add nutrients, but it is not the same as compost

Backyard Q&A

October 06, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Q. I do not have a compost pile, but I would like to add some organic matter to my soil. Can I buy bags of pine mulch and dig it in as a source of soil organic matter?

A. Yes, you can. In fact, many potting soil mixes contain a large proportion of pine mulch. If you choose to dig in pine mulch, it will significantly improve your soil drainage and will also add some nutrients to the soil. However, pine mulch is not as well-balanced as compost and is very low in nitrogen, so you must treat it differently. Most important, you will have to add nitrogen to the soil. This will replace the nitrogen that is used up by bacteria and other soil microorganisms as they decompose the mulch. Therefore, when you dig in the mulch, be sure to also dig in a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer to replace the depleted soil nitrogen. Dehydrated cow manure will work for this purpose, as will cottonseed meal or blood meal. I would recommend that you use a fine-textured pine mulch. It will break down more quickly in your soil.

Q. I am going to plant several large beds of pansies this fall. Is it best to buy fall pansies in large 3-inch containers, or should I save money and purchase them in flats that contain 36 plants?

A. To get an immediate impact of color this fall, you will have to buy the 3-inch containers. However, if you spend the extra money on 3-inch containers, look for a nice full plant that has filled the pot with roots. I have seen a lot of 3-inch containers whose plants were only slightly bigger than those grown in flats. The only problem with planting small pansies in fall is that they rarely obtain a nice full look until mid- to late-April of the following spring. If you can wait that long for your plants to fill in, I would purchase your plants in flats. They are much less expensive than the 3-inch pots and can be planted in masses for a very reasonable cost. It is hard to beat the burst of color that pansies provide. The question is: How long can you wait to see it?

Checklist

1. Tulips benefit from deep planting. Plant them at a depth equal to three to four times the height of the bulbs. Be sure to dig in a balanced organic fertilizer before planting.

2. Place a netted cover over your backyard pond to keep leaves from falling in.

3. Harvest small ornamental squashes before the first frost. Clean them gently with a damp rag.

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.hgic.umd.edu.

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