Soil pH is pitch-perfect for any plant
Plant of the week: Inkberry (Ellen Nibali Photo, For The Baltimore Sun / December 2, 2009)
Congratulations. Your soil pH is in the ideal range that most plants like — slightly acid. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 as neutral. Numbers above 7 are alkaline, and numbers below 7 are acid. Each number increases exponentially to the 10th power. Thus, a 6 pH is 10 times more acidic than 7 pH; and 5 pH is 100 times more acidic than 7 pH.
Soil pH determines the availability of nutrients to plant roots. A pH too high or low means nutrients can be in the soil but plants can't use them, or the nutrients may reach toxic levels. Soil nutrients are most available to plant roots and microbial activity is greatest when soil pH is in the 5.5 to 7.0 range. Some plants need more acidic soil, such as azaleas and blueberries. Soil pH can be lowered with sulfur or raised with lime. You have the luxury of planting just about any plant you choose.
Is "Extension" a state program? My parents used to talk about the Cooperative Extension Service, but that was for farmers, wasn't it?
All land-grant universities, of which the University of Maryland is one, agreed when they were established to maintain an outreach into the community to share their knowledge.
In the early days of state universities, this Cooperative Extension Service primarily focused on helping farmers employ the latest scientific methods. Homemakers Clubs helped their wives. Open to all children, then and now, 4-H educated and encouraged leadership.
University of Maryland Extension has changed with the times, though. Although the name is shorter, the Extension has broadened its outreach. The Home and Garden Information Center, located on a research farm, specializes in giving expert help to residents with plant and pest problems in all Maryland counties and Baltimore. It supports the Master Gardeners, who are trained to further educate the public.
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 week
This holly has moved to center stage as a native alternative to Japanese holly, but its attraction does not stop there. Disease and insect problems are almost nonexistent. Consider, too, its dark evergreen foliage, glossy black berries, and the ability to grow in a reasonably moist spot, from shade to sun (though it prefers sun). Lower leaves tend to drop, creating a bare base as the shrub matures, so for low foliage, choose a variety bred to retain those leaves. Inkberry is a natural for rain gardens, as well as foundation plantings, and mass plantings. Height varies by variety and growing conditions. — Ellen Nibali