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Gardening with George Weigel

Answers to your gardening questions and other tips by George Weigel.

Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 13:25:02 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2016

Protect hydrangeas, dig tender bulbs, lime the lawn: This Weekend in the Garden

Sat, 10 Sep 2016 13:00:54 UTC


This weekend's yard jobs include protecting tender shrubs for winter, digging the tender bulbs for winter storage, and liming the lawn -- if the lawn needs it. Helping those hydrangeas It's been three years now since the Harrisburg area has had a consistent, full and widespread bloom of the so-called "mophead" hydrangea - that ball-flowered, blue-blooming beauty that's one of our favorite landscape shrubs. Colder-than-usual winters froze the flower buds off of many of these hydrangeas in 2014 and 2015, then a sudden April nosedive this spring zapped them again after an earlier warmup enticed them into awakening. If you're worried about four in a row, erect a screen of burlap around your plants once the leaves drop and dump fallen leaves among the bare branches as insulation. A longer-term game plan is one recommended by horticulturist Tim Boebel on his Hydrangeas in the North website. Through years of experimenting, Boebel believes the key is a two-step pruning process along with mulching the hydrangeas over winter with their own cut stems. Step 1 is cutting all of the stems in the interior of the plant down to about 2 inches in July. Step 2 is pruning all other stems to the ground after the season's first frost (which some gardeners just north of Harrisburg already had last week). Those stems are then placed over the stems of the shoots growing from the stems that were cut back to 2 inches in July. Step 3 is waiting until after danger of frost in spring to remove the mulch of cut stems (sooner if there's an earlier, sustained warmup). Then fertilize with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, water if the ground is dry, and wait for those winter-protected flower buds to pay off. More details and a video of the technique is on Boebel's site. Any tender bulbs to retrieve? These dug-up gladioli bulbs are ready for winter storage.George Weigel  Mid to late October is the time to dig and save tender bulbs that don't survive our winters in the ground. These include species such as cannas, callas, dahlias, elephant ears, caladium, tuberous begonias and gladioli. The ideal time to dig is once frost browns the leaves. You'll know then that the leaves have maximized their job, which is capturing sunlight to energize the production of bulb-stored sugars that fuel future growth. You can dig before then if you want, but it'll slightly short-circuit the recharging. Either way, cut off the foliage and dig up the buried bulbs (or corms, tubers or rhizomes, as the case may be). Let the dug bulbs dry for a couple of days and then store them over winter in a cool, dry place - preferably packed in peat moss, sawdust, perlite or similar material. The key is to keep these bulbs dormant but not so damp that they rot and not so bone-dry that they shrivel. Check them every few weeks over winter and lightly mist the storage medium if it's too dry or replace it it's become damp. Remove any rotted bulbs immediately. Lime for the lawn? If the lawn needs lime, fall is a good time to apply it.George Weigel  Some people apply lime regularly to their lawns, assuming it's just something that all grass needs on a regular basis. Not true. Lime is a good source of calcium and is the prime ingredient for correcting overly acidic soil. But if your soil already has enough calcium and isn't overly acidy, it's unnecessary. The only way to know for sure if you need it - and if so, how much - is to test the soil. Do-it-yourself, Penn State, mail-in kits are available for $9 from county Extension offices or online at Penn State's soil test lab. Many garden centers also carry them. Lawns generally do best in close to neutral soil - 7.0 on the pH scale. Most weeds prefer it on the acidy side, so correcting pH can be a weed-fighting tool. If you need lime, October and November are good months to apply it. Look in garden centers and home stores for bags of pelletized or granular limestone. If you use the ground or pulverized types, you'll end up powdered and [...]

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