Culprit could be the acid in soil

GARDEN Q&A

May 17, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld

My longtime vegetable garden has been going downhill for the past two years. I don't see disease or insects. Is something wrong with the soil? Should I fertilize more?

Check the soil pH with a soil test. When soil is too acid, it changes the chemistry of the soil so that even when nutrients are sufficient, plants cannot use them.

Vegetables generally like a pH from about 6 to a neutral 7. Below that is the acid range. Keep in mind that pH numbers increase or decrease exponentially by 10. In other words, 6 pH is 10 times more acid than 7. A pH of 5 is 10 times more acid than 6, and thus 100 times more acid than 7.

Because of acid rain and natural acidification of soil, it's important to check and correct the pH of your soil about every three to four years so the soil doesn't get too acid. Your soil test will tell you how much lime to apply. (Of course, acid-loving plants, such as blueberries and azaleas, are perfectly happy in acid soil.)

I'm afraid to go out my door, and my lawn man refuses to mow, because of the giant bees. They hang around the house and dive-bomb me when I'm on the deck. What can I do?

No need to be frightened. Those are carpenter bees. The male cannot sting, though he tries very hard to be intimidating, and the female is docile.

Carpenter bees are increasingly important as pollinators, because honey bees are disappearing. However, you don't want them to make tunnels in the wood of your home or deck. You'll want to spray each hole with an aerial insect spray.

Be sure to stand to the side of the hole, because a bee may come tumbling out. Our publication Carpenter Bees can help you deal with the insects.

Checklist

Use latex surgical gloves for precise gardening work (such as pulling tiny weed seedlings) when regular gardening gloves are too bulky.

Dig planting holes wider, but no deeper, than a plant's rootball, in order to keep your plant at the same depth it was in the container. Plants that sink in loose soil can slowly die from being too deep.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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