Garden Q&A: Growing fruit

We plan to live in this house no more than a few years but want to grow fruit. What fruit should we plant to harvest the soonest?

Small fruits are your best bet. Strawberries, blackberries and raspberries can be harvested the second year after planting. (Always remove the flowers during the first season of growth.) You can expect blueberries to begin bearing in 2-3 years. Brambles and blueberries can be grown successfully without pesticides, although they may have pest problems. Search each fruit on the HGIC website for thorough cultural information. We have a publication, Getting Started with Small Fruit, that you'll find in the fruit section of our HGIC website.

I put all our fall leaves and kitchen scraps in a pile to make compost. A neighbor gave me rabbit manure for the pile, too. How do I know when compost is ready to use in my gardens?

This is critical when manures are used, because uncomposted manures can burn plant roots and stems. Fortunately, it's easy to tell when the ingredients are composted. Pick up a handful of your aged compost. Crumble it. It should look like dark rich soil, with a consistent texture. The original materials will be unrecognizable, except perhaps tiny twig or wood bits. Finally, smell the compost. It should have a pleasant earthy fragrance. Enjoy.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click "Ask Maryland's Gardening Experts" to send questions and photos.

Digging Deeper

Winter Annual Weeds

The landscape is barely alive, and there sits hairy bittercress, blooming in February. With its pals — chickweed, dead nettle, henbit and various blue flowered speedwells — it laughs at cold weather. No wonder on our first spin through the spring garden, it already needs weeding. How do they get a jump on us? These are winter annual weeds. This category of weed germinates in the fall, when our gardening guard is down. Any bare patch of soil will do. They establish through winter and explode with growth in spring. Hand weed them. Huge patches can be mowed and mulched (use layers of newspaper underneath). As annuals, they die in one growing season, but to prevent them from sprouting each fall, cover bare soil and thicken up lawns by overseeding or renovate the entire lawn. A fall preemergent can be applied for chickweed and hairy bittercress but interferes with seeding grass. Click on Weeds at the HGIC website below.

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