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Garden Q&A: For blueberries, choose high-bush

I plan to plant 20 low-bush blueberries. I've prepared the beds with leaf mulch, compost and sulfur. How do you recommend planting to maximize survival?

We hope you have not purchased these plants yet, as we suggest that you plant Northern or Southern high-bush blueberries instead. Low-bush blueberries are essentially wild, woodland plants that are not cultivated so much as maintained by growers in New England. One reason it's difficult to grow low-bush berries in our area is that we have different mycorrhizae (beneficial soil fungi) than New England soils do. If your supplier provides mycorrhizae with the plants, you may want to try it, but even that is no guarantee the plants would do well here. We have no evidence that the low-bush blueberries could grow successfully in Maryland.

Can I recycle fireplace ash (oak and other woods) to fertilize azaleas, rhododendrons, spruce and yews? Or could I use coffee grounds?

Wood ash is about half as alkaline as lime and raises the pH of the soil. Generally, avoid applying wood ashes around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons and needled evergreens. However, other plants, such as lilac and boxwood, like a higher pH. Check your soil's pH before spreading ashes. On the other hand, coffee grounds are suitable to sprinkle around the outdoor plants you mentioned because the grounds contain trace amounts of nitrogen and are only slightly acidic. But avoid applying too much. A better idea is to put the coffee grounds into a compost pile.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the weekGrapes

Vitus

Grapes have been cultivated for centuries throughout the world in all kinds of soil types and climates. Maryland's climate is well suited for growing grapes used for juice, jelly, wine or eating. Whatever the use, the basic growing requirements include full sun and soil that drains well. Plant them in early spring in a hole wide enough to accommodate the root mass. Adding organic matter to the entire bed and not just the planting hole will hasten the plant's maturity. Space each plant 6 to 8 inches apart, preferably with a southern exposure. Establishing a vigorous root system during the first season will help in training the vine for the second season. With proper pruning, harvesting will begin in the third season. Expect a yield of three to six pounds of fruit per vine with the proper trellis system, pruning and bird protection. Recommended cultivars and sources are listed in "HG68: Getting Started with Small Fruits" on the University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center website (www.hgic.umd.edu). Plan on pruning yearly and following a preventive spray program. The Extension's Home Fruit Production Guide ($8) features a spray program as well as organic methods of managing pest control. — Bob Orazi

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