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Q & A with Our Experts

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.

Q.What can I do for migrating and overwintering Birds?

A.We all feel that leaving our bird feeders filled in the fall and winter help the wild birds that stay around through the winter and those that use our yards as stop-over place in their seasonal migrations. Don’t forget that birdseed is not the only thing we should make available to these birds. Fresh water is always needed and leaving a birdbath with a heater on is a welcoming sight to many a weary feathered wanderer. Think about leaving small brush piles that can be used for shelter and may harbor live insects for birds whose diets rely on them.

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