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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Test old grass seed to see if it's still viable

I bought grass seed last fall but didn't get a chance to plant it. It sat on the porch all winter. Is it still good?

Grass seed should be good for about a year, so your seed should be fine assuming it did not get wet, which would affect viability. An easy indoor way to test for the viability of old seed is to plant some in potting soil. Water it and see how well it germinates. If the germination rate is less than normal, simply sow at a thicker rate than usual to compensate. You can also place seed between warm and damp paper towels and see how well the seed germinates.

Our new 5-foot redbud tree has a branch growing downward and another two that cross and rub each other. Should we prune them? It was planted last spring.

Young trees need as much branch and leaf volume as possible to feed the trunk and root growth. Never take off more than one-fourth of any tree canopy. In the case of purchased saplings, which often have been severely pruned already so that only a small canopy remains, take pains to conserve branches until the tree is established. Make the downward branch a temporary branch, and prune it off by the time its diameter reaches 1 inch (like any temporary branch). Provided that the crossed branches are spaced far apart on the trunk, you may be able to train them to grow apart using a stretcher — a short wooden slat notched at each end. Place the stretcher between the supple young branches, forcing them to better angles. If they emerged close together from the trunk, you'll have to remove one.

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

Shallots

Allium cepa var. aggregatum

Grow your own specialty crop. If you like gourmet ingredients, plant shallots — a dainty member of the onion family prized for subtle flavor rather than the strong taste of onion or garlic. The small bulbs and grasslike foliage are edible, similar to green onions. The French Red variety is most common. Shallots can be grown from seed, but bulbs (sets) are most popular. Plant in spring or fall in loose, rich soil, about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart in full sun. Keep soil moist, though allow it to dry before harvest. Bulbs are visible at soil level. Harvest when foliage browns and dies back. Cure in a warm dry spot for a week. Store in mesh bags in a cool, dry, ventilated area.

— Marian Hengemihle

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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