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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Pruning shrubs takes technique to look natural

When I trim my shrubs, they seem to go crazy, with new branches growing in all directions. My neighbor's shrubs never do that. They look natural and graceful. How come?

Pruning stimulates new growth, but you can control the direction of the growth. When you prune, cut back to just above a leaf bud. The trick is to select a leaf bud that is pointing in whatever direction you want growth to go. A bud pointing away from the plant will go outward from the plant. A bud pointing to the shrub's interior or toward a neighboring branch will get entangled and run into other branches. (This principle is critical when pruning fruit trees, which must be shaped so sunlight can reach the fruit.) Before pruning, familiarize yourself with the natural growth habit of the plant and work with it. A shrub naturally forms either a pyramid, vase, oval or fountain form, and you can make it so the pruning is barely noticeable. Keep in mind that heading cuts (trimming) are more stimulating than thinning cuts, which should be made just above the junction with the next branch.

A mouse got in my toaster, and I couldn't shake it out because it was holding both sides with its little feet. It finally emerged when I put the toaster in the bottom of a trash can. I tossed the mouse outside. Now I see new mouse droppings. What should I have done differently? And don't suggest plugging in the toaster!

You did fine. Now clean the crumb pan in your toaster and any other food that might attract mice. Plug up cracks or crevices wider than a quarter of an inch, where mice can enter, and search for their nests in fabric or paper. Set baited snap traps close to where they frequent, placing the trap perpendicular to a wall with the bait end touching the wall. For more on controlling mice, see the Home and Garden Information Center website's January newsletter (under the publications tab) or read our "Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife" publication.

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 extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Prickly pear cactus

Opuntia humifusa

Want a smile on a winter day? Tired of watering? Have a baking hot spot in the yard? Try a winter-hardy prickly pear cactus. The smooth pads of these native cacti have the typical cactus spines as well as glochids, tiny barbed hairs with a deceptively downy appearance. Practical, yet novel, prickly pears are well-suited for dry, sandy areas and rocky sites. The showy yellow flowers open 3-4 inches wide. Edible figlike fruit, called tunas, taste similar to watermelon. Besides full sun, cacti insist on well-drained soils to grow successfully. — Shelley McNeal

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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