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Q.Is Fall a good time to prune back my shrubs and trees?

A.Fall is not the best time to prune these plants, especially plants that are evergreen (they keep their green leaves through winter). These plants keep their leaves for a important reason and removing them in the fall is not a good thing. They continue to conduct photosynthesis and make food all through the dormant winter period. The best time to prune all plants is in the spring. For plants that bloom only in the spring, prune them right after they are through blooming, but do not prune them after mid-July. Plants that bloom only in the summer (crape myrtles, butterfly bushes, etc.), prune back in early spring (March-April).

Q.When should I plant the Fall bulbs that bloom in the Spring?

A.The bulbs are available for planting from September to the New Years Day. They need to be in the cool ground early enough to receive 12 weeks of “chill”, that is a consistent period of soil temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This is absolutely necessary so the bulbs can received the proper stimulus that tells them winter has occurred and they may put out blooms in the spring. I highly recommend that you plant these bulbs as early in the fall as possible, as planting fresh bulbs is always better and waiting too long means that the selection of desirable types and colors of bulbs is much more limited.

Q.Can I plant shrubs and trees in the ground now, even though it is mid-January?

A.It is not the ideal time to plant shrubs and trees. But yes, you certainly can. However, winter planting means that plants being planted then will not become established until spring. This is because the soil is too cold now to promote root growth. It also means that if we get any hard freezes (extremely low temperatures in the ‘teens or below) the soil will become too hard to dig. But this winter’s temperatures so far, have been rather moderate and digging planting holes now should not be a problem. Please remember to mulch the soil area around the plants with at least a 2 inch-deep layer of mulch to protect the surface roots of your plants.

Q.Would it make sense to apply lawn food to my lawn even thought it’s winter?

A.Not really. Although your lawn is still green, it is experiencing little or no growth in winter. This low level activity means less energy is being used and additional nutrients needed to produce energy are not in demand by the grass. Therefore, lawn fertilizers should not be applied until the lawn soil warms in the spring and the grass is actively growing again. Also, the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 is now Maryland law and went into effect on January 1, 2012. One provision of this law prohibits a homeowner from applying fertilizer to lawns (only lawns) except between March 1 and November 15 of each year. The reason is that the lawn is where unused fertilizer can be easily washed from the soil by rain and is close to the walkways and streets. Since grass lawns will not be taking up hardly any fertilizer during this time of the year, much of it will likely end up washing into the streets or enter the groundwater, directly affecting the quality of the water flowing through Chesapeake Bay watershed system. You can purchase lawn fertilizer now, but do not put it down on your lawn until March 1st.

Q.Is January too early to prune my shrubs and trees?

A.Shrubs and trees (woody plants) can be pruned now, but ideally, late-February and March would be the best time to prune most plants. Remember that spring is the period of the growing season when MOST new growth is formed; not in the summer. The best time is early spring or late winter; before buds begin to swell and open, and new blooms and leaves emerge. But it is import to know that certain woody plants need special pruning times during the spring. Spring-blooming plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs, forsythia, dogwoods, should be pruned as soon that all flowers are through blooming. Also, any pruning of new branches produced that spring should not be pruned after mid-July! If pruned anytime after the end of July, you will be pruning off flowering wood that is forming or has already formed flowers for the next spring. If this is done, the plant is not harmed, but you will have few or no flowers blooming in the spring.

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