Coming to defense of earthworms

GARDEN Q&A

February 11, 2006|By JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI | JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the most recent issue of your newsletter, you said compost encourages earthworms. What's the point of having more earthworms?

Earthworms are essential for good soil. When earthworms digest compost (or other organic matter such as lawn thatch), they excrete castings 10 times richer than average soil. Their tunneling creates avenues for water, nutrients, air and plant roots to reach deeper into the earth. (Often we don't think of roots as needing air, but they will suffocate without it.) Conversely, earthworms ingest deep soil minerals and bring them upward, making them available to plant roots in the top foot of soil, where most roots are.

I would like to plant wildflowers, particularly native ones. Can I plant seeds in the winter, when the ground thaws, that will come up in the spring? Any suggestions on some that would work well?

Wildflower seeds should be sown in the early spring. Columbine, New England aster, coreopsis, aruncus and eupatorium are some suggestions. Companies such as American Meadows (americanmeadows.com) and the New England Seed Company (neseed.com) offer native wildflower mixes for the Mid-Atlantic region. Before ordering a mixture, make sure it is a native mix; some wildflower mixtures contain plants that, while beautiful, can become potentially invasive (such as Dame's Rocket).

Checklist

Order seeds for spring salad greens now so they will be ready to plant in March and April.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, which offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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