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Fallen leaves don't need to be in pieces to use as mulch

GardeningFertilizerChemical Industry

Do I have to cut up fallen leaves with a mower before I use them as mulch? I don't have a mulching mower.

No, you don't. In fact, many beneficial insects overwinter in leaf litter. You'll notice that no one chops up the fallen leaves in a woods, yet the layer of leaves decomposes before the next autumn. You can also chop with a regular lawn mower.

How late can I put down fertilizer?

The latest is Nov. 15, according to the new Maryland law. Generally, fertilizer is applied twice in the fall, 0.9 poundsb of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each time in September and October. (The maximum amount of nitrogen allowed per year is 2.7 pounds.) For a simple explanation of how to fertilize, see How to Fertilize Your Lawn Responsibly in the Lawn section of our website's publications.

Something dug a hole the size and shape of a baseball in my flower bed. What digs such a hole, and do I need to discourage it?

Sounds like the burrow of a hibernating toad. The American toad is a good garden companion, eating pest insects for you. Because it is cold-blooded, its body temperature reflects the environments surrounding it. So in winter, it must burrow down into soil where temperatures don't get as cold as air temperatures. Fortunately, American toads are good diggers.

When I brought my amaryllis in for the winter, it had a few red blotches on the leaves and now I see a reddish area on the bulb. Is this anything I need to worry about?

Red blotch is a fungal disease that can infect leaves, stems and the bulb itself with reddish lesions. It will weaken the plant, rotting portions, and can infect the bulb. Also, it easily spreads to other amaryllis, so keep this amaryllis separate. You can replace the soil with sterile soil and maintain good normal culture, removing infected portions. If the infection persists, you can treat with a systemic fungicide.

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

American Beautyberry

Callicarpa americana

"Purple pingpong balls" describes the flashy fruiting of this native shrub. Violet to magenta berry clusters totally encircle the stem, making bigger balls each year as the plant matures. Reaching 3 to 8 feet, the deciduous American beautyberry makes a loose, graceful shrub that works well in a shrub border or backed up with evergreens or a structure that shows off the purple berries. A good conversation piece, American beautyberry grows best and produces the most berries in sun. It likes soil that doesn't go dry. A white-berried variety is also available, if you prefer your pingpong balls in their traditional color. —Ellen Nibali

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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