Get nitrogen back into the soil

GARDEN Q&A

Garden Q&A

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

We had tree stumps ground up in February. Can we plant grass there this spring and, if not, what's the alternative? Usually a lot of sawdust and ground-up woody material is incorporated with the surrounding soil to fill the hole left by the removed stump. This organic material quickly begins to decompose, using up nitrogen in the soil. To grow grass seed successfully, you need to return that nitrogen by adding a nitrogen-containing fertilizer.

If there is a great deal of sawdust in the mix, consider replacing the top 3-4 inches with topsoil before seeding. If you wait until fall to plant grass, which is the optimal time, mulch the area over the summer to suppress weeds and rake the mulch off when you are ready to seed. By then, the finer wood particles will have decomposed.

Our lovely sour-cherry tree is a 20-year-old semi-dwarf about 15 feet tall. Its abundant cherries are now so high they are hard to pick. Can we prune it so cherries grow lower? You can reduce the height and overall size of your tree by one-fourth without harming the tree. A good sour-cherry framework is composed of three or four well-spaced limbs with wide crotches.

The best time to prune is right before or after bloom in spring. Generally, you can prune fruit trees during the dormant season, but cherry trees are susceptible to Leucostoma canker disease at that time. (An actively growing tree can wall off infection, whereas a dormant tree cannot. This canker makes delayed pruning a recommendation for all Prunus fruit trees, including peach, apricot and plum.)

Cut back the tree's leader (main trunk) to a large, outward growing branch. Either cut other large crowded branches back to the next limb (thinning cut) or reduce the length of these branches. Remember to open up the center of the tree to let in more light. The improved air circulation will lead to better fruit quality and reduced disease problems.

Checklist

Prune rose bushes back to healthy wood. Spread a little white glue on pruning cuts to prevent entry by cane borers.

Overseed lawns at the rate of 3-4 pounds of tall fescue seed per 1,000 square feet. Apply a starter fertilizer and water seeded areas daily to promote strong, early growth.

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 the center's "hotline" at 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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