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Home composting has environmental benefits

I'm feeling a little guilty about starting a compost pile for my kitchen scraps. Don't landfills need organic "trash" sources to counterbalance the inorganic trash?

Compost guilt-free. Organic matter in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic (oxygen-poor) situation, which causes it to release methane — a greenhouse gas. Your own compost pile will not. It will enrich your soil and plants and feed a natural web of life without any of the cost — monetary and environmental — of buying a manufactured soil amendment. And this way, you are saving space in a landfill.

When should I spray dormant oil? Does it matter as long as the plant is dormant?

Dormant oil is a heavyweight version of horticultural oil that smothers a slew of overwintering insects and eggs, including aphids, mites and scales. As the name indicates, you should spray plants when they are dormant, usually in late winter. Make sure that temperatures will remain above freezing for 24 hours after spraying the oil, otherwise plants might be damaged. On the other hand, don't wait until too late in the season. If green is starting to show in opening leaf or flower buds, the oil will burn them. But don't worry: You still should have a huge window of time to spray your fruit trees, shrubs or trees. See more at extension.umd.edu/learn/march-fruit-tips.

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

Dragon Lady holly

Ilex x aquipernyi

A Dragon Lady holly is perfect to anchor the corner of a house because it's not too tall or wide. At 15 to 20 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide, this female holly is clothed in shiny, dark green, spiny leaves. The tree's slender pyramid form also provides privacy in a tight spot. Dragon Lady is related to the blue and Meserve hollies, bred to withstand extreme cold. Avoid locating it in a southwest site, but the tree is not picky. With a male pollinator in the vicinity, Dragon Lady will produce large red berries. The Blue Stallion holly is a known successful pollinator, though others might also work — the more closely related to the Dragon Lady, the better.

— Ellen Nibali

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