Plant of the week: Snowdrops

Snowdrops are a bright sign of springtime as winter drags on. (Courtesy of Ellen Nibali, Handout photo / March 8, 2008)

I want to prune branches out of a tree so the wind will blow through it and it won't fall on my house. Is that possible?

The answer is actually counterintuitive. One would think fewer branches would offer less wind resistance, but time lapse photography has shown that wind does not have the same effect on a tree as on a solid surface, where the wind pushes fairly evenly over the entire object. With a tree, wind hits different branches at different moments, causing some to bend with the wind while others are springing back. This causes branches to move in several directions, counteracting one another and diluting the wind's impact. Retaining lower limbs and not pruning a tree into a high, sharp V shape will lessen broken branches.

Last year, I grew over 50 pounds of Beauregard sweet potatoes in a 20-foot raised bed. Many were too small to use, but I saved them. Can I use them to grow slips for planting this spring?

Yes. The University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center website has a "Grow It Eat It" plant profile on sweet potatoes. It includes information on how to produce your own slips, or shoots. Go to extension.umd.edu/learn/vegetable-profiles-sweet-potato.

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 its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Snowdrops

Galanthus elwesii, G. nivalis

When signs of spring are scarce, snowdrops are a sight for sore eyes. As soon as early February, their nodding, crisp white flowers and their bright green leaves peep through snow unfazed. Clumps of this Eurasian bulb will increase in size for years and naturalize well. The variety Galanthus elwesii, known as giant snowdrop, reaches 6 to 12 inches and blooms a little later than G. nivalis, which is shorter with a smaller bloom. Plant snowdrop bulbs in the fall. Divide them in spring as soon as flowering is over. Snowdrops can also be grown from seed.

—Ellen Nibali