Garden Q&a

April 16, 2009|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld

One of my neighbors got Lyme disease last year. Can I prevent deer ticks by clearing the undergrowth in my woods?

Exciting research on alien invasive plants is showing that they harbor more ticks than native plants. It may be that native plants provide a natural ecosystem that encourages predator insects that eat ticks. So hold onto your native plants.

Remove the alien invasive plants, e.g. garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, honeysuckle shrub and stiltgrass. To identify alien invasives, see the color photos in "Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas" at In any case, remove branches sticking out into paths, which you might brush against. Ticks hang there waiting to hitch a ride.

My soil is clay. While I'm slowly improving it, I temporarily planted my rhododendrons in planters with good soil. They keep dying back, and I don't know what to do.

Clay soil has a bad rap, but most plants grow in Maryland clay soil just fine. It is often rich in nutrients, and its tiny particles hold onto moisture for a long time. That said, amending it with compost makes it into a good topsoil. Compost's large particles increase the space between soil particles so rain penetrates more quickly and oxygen can get in (50 percent of soil should be air space!). Your rhododendrons are not happy in planters. Get them in the ground now. A soil with 5 percent organic material by weight is considered a good soil.

Checklist :

* Resist the temptation to drive on wet lawns. Roots need oxygen and water, and it takes years for compacted soil to recover.

* This is a good time to divide houseplants.

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 free gardening information. Call 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions at the Web site

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