With the right tools, you can tame grasses

GARDEN Q&A

Garden Q&A

February 25, 2006|By JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI | JON TRAUNFELD AND ELLEN NIBALI,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We have 8-foot-tall ornamental grasses planted too close to a fence. Now they grow on both sides, with the center of the 2-to-3-foot root balls under the fence. Any suggestions on how to divide them? A shovel's not doing the trick.

You'll need to ratchet up your tools. Mature ornamental grasses make incredibly dense crowns and root balls. People have been known to chain or rope the root ball to a truck to pull them out of the ground, then divide it with a chainsaw. We don't recommend that approach. Mattocks and axes prove useful.

Preserving the fence complicates your situation. It may be easiest to remove a small root portion from the outer rim to replant elsewhere temporarily, while you kill the rest with a vegetation killer such as glyphosate. Re-treat any undesirable re-growth.

What is a good variety of tomato plant that will stay in my small garden and not trail into the grass?

Tomato plants are one of two growth types: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants, such as Roma, Celebrity, and Bush Beefsteak, are characterized by stocky controlled growth that stops at about 4 to 5 feet. Very small determinate varieties like Patio and Small Fry are specially suited to containers. Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, keep growing all season and include such well-known favorites as Better Boy, Big Boy, Big Beef, Early Girl, Brandywine and most cherry tomatoes. Indeterminate types are still fine for small spaces, just direct the growth vertically with stakes or cages.

Checklist

Avoid the temptation to dig in wet garden soil. Premature tilling can cause long-term damage to your soil's structure.

Sow basil seeds in small pots under a shop light with cool, white fluorescent tubes. Keep the lights a few inches above the plants. Enjoy the basil leaves through the spring and re-pot the plants into larger containers as they grow. Plant in the garden at the end of May.

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 questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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