Garden Q&A

Strawberry fruit should be removed during plant's first season

For The Baltimore Sun
Sacrificing strawberry fruits in its first season will give you a stronger plant in the long run.

The nursery has strawberry plants with berries. Once fruit is set, should it be removed to focus plant energy on roots, or is it too late to divert plant energy at that point? What about tomato transplants?

As painful as it is, for June-bearing varieties of strawberries, fruit and flowers should be removed the entire first season. This sacrifices early fruit production to encourage strong growth, runner productions and winter survival. See our the Home and Garden Information Center website's strawberry article. For tomato transplants, remove blooms or fruit at the time of planting, but after that allow all to grow.

I need something to control erosion on a slope with very wet soil and runoff from rain. I've had difficulty getting anything to grow. Any suggestions?

Your solution will depend on whether the site is in sun or shade. For ground cover, see our website for what plants fit your site's light requirements: ter.ps/groundcover. In a lawn, use sod instead of grass seed. While plant roots are establishing, slow down the rush of stormwater with a few large rocks, branches/logs or 2-by-4-inch lumber held in place with pegs. Mulch will help, too. Usually, slopes are dry areas because rain runs off too quickly to sink into the soil, however if your grade is such that soil stays saturated, consider rain garden plants.

I'd like to help pollinators, butterflies and other good insects in my landscape, but I don't have a lot of time to take care of plants (young family). How can I get the most minimum maintenance bang for my buck, so to speak?

You're in luck. The plant that supports the most species and is lowest maintenance is a native. Doug Tallamy, entomologist and author of "Bringing Nature Home," provides an impressive list for our region, from the oak, which supports a whopping 517 species in the butterfly-moth family alone, to the beech, which supports 126. Here are his top 12 native plants in order: oak, willow, cherry, birch, poplar, crab apple, blueberry, maple, elm, pine, hickory and hawthorn.

Last year we rototilled to keep down weeds between our raised vegetable beds. It took lots of energy and brought lots of dirt in the house. What's a better way to manage this space?

White clover is a ground cover favored by some organic vegetable growers. While it is germinating and getting established, apply a light sprinkling of straw (not hay), just as you would when planting grass seed. It will protect the seedlings and also keep the mud off your shoes. You will need to mow it a few times; it may creep into your beds if they don't have sides.

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 24/7.

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