Add manure, compost now while plants are dormant


QUESTION: “I enjoy your column and Web site and have learned a lot. I have a huge perennial garden and was wondering how you add compost, fertilizer, black dirt, etc when the plants are so close together and I can't work the soil for fear of disturbing the plants. – Mary Jo Warren

ANSWER: Late winter/early spring is a great time to do this as the plants have died back to the ground and you don’t have branches/leaves to contend with. Mix aged manure/compost (I really like the Black Kow brand available in 50 lb bags at most hardware stores.) into the top portion of the soil, not disturbing the root systems.

You can also follow with some mulch at this time to keep the weed populations down. Early spring (just before your perennials begin to leaf out) is good to begin with a first application of fertilizer (especially if not adding in aged manure/compost mixture). A mild 5/10/5 slow release fertilizer applied in a ring around each plant with an additional 2 applications at 6 week intervals. Late bloomers will need an additional application in late summer. Broadcasting the fertilizer will also work as long as it doesn’t land on any leaves or in buds. Be sure to always water after fertilizing.

QUESTION: “I have a laceleaf weeping Japanese red maple. Should I prune it and if so when?”

ANSWER: I have one also and regularly prune it in March while the weather is still cool and it has not leafed out. Depending on where you are located, you may want to prune in February or March.

Clip out all of the dead branches/limbs as well as any that are touching or crossing over each other. When clipping back an entire branch for shaping, don’t clip flush with the trunk; leave a tiny nub (about ¼ inch out). Clipping flush with the trunk will leave a larger wound on the plant making it more susceptible to disease and fungus.

QUESTION: “I'm moving next week and my new house has everything I wanted except it's a little closer to a 55 mph highway that leads to the only mall in town than I would like. So, I'm looking for ways to lessen the annoyance of the traffic noise. My first inclination is to go with a fountain of some kind, so the water sounds will override the traffic sounds. But I'd also like to use some plants/landscaping to do more. What would you suggest?” – Carol Evans

ANSWER: A fountain might be a good idea for an alternate “sound source,” but you may still want some kind a growing barrier to baffle the traffic noise. I’m not sure where you are located but you might want to look at something like the cedar green giants. Then, on the inside of that “living fence,” you could add some interesting flowering shrubs.

QUESTION: “When is the best time to prune crepe myrtles? Also, when is the best time to trim azaleas?” – Chad Cornelius

ANSWER: Crape myrtles bloom the best on new growth, so prune them in late winter or early spring. On mature plants, you should be able to prune them back about 1/3 of their size. Azaleas should only be pruned immediately after they complete their blooming period.