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Nature's clock will tell you when to spray for crabgrass

With all the wacky weather in Maryland this winter, when will be the right time to apply crabgrass pre-emergent [herbicide] this spring?

Application dates are based on when crabgrass seed "normally" germinates, but this may be a prime year to rely on what plants tell us in real time. The rule of thumb based on nature's timing is to apply a pre-emergent herbicide for crabgrass when forsythia drop their blooms. In average years, crabgrass seeds germinate after March 15 on the Eastern Shore, April 1 in Central Maryland and Washington, and late April west of Hagerstown.

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We have a worst-case yard scenario with our active dog. The trees are big, though some afternoon sun peeks through, so foam flower, dwarf mondo grass and annual impatiens grew in a bed. Last year, a shady grass mix sprouted but did not last the season. The yard supported weeds but now, post-snow and milder temps, it's mud. I need something to cover the ground. I am debating ivy, but I know it could be an issue in the future. Any suggestions?

We get this question regularly. There is no groundcover, including grass, that withstands heavy paw traffic in shade. Most grasses do not like shade and those that tolerate it do not do so for heavy traffic. But there are many groundcovers that like shade. Experiment with these, but do not be tempted to plant non-native invasive species, such as English ivy. Some nurseries still stock invasive plants, so check which plants to avoid on the Home and Garden Information Center website. The best you may be able to do is to direct your dog to certain areas or paths by fencing or raised planting beds; rotate the areas if possible. Spread wood chips on the most heavily trafficked areas, or possibly stepping stones, bricks, etc.

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Plant of the week

Thornless blackberries

Rubus spp.

Blackberries and no thorns? Now nothing should keep you from this luscious fruit. For a modest investment of time and money, blackberry plants produce large berries for many years. Select an erect or trailing variety from HGIC's fact sheet, "Getting Starting with Small Fruits." Plant it in the spring or one month before the last fall frost. Give the blackberries full sun and fertile soil with 6.2-6.8 pH. Multiple canes arise from the crown. The canes of trailing types sprawl 10 feet or more, so prune and support them with a trellis of two posts and two horizontal wires. Canes produce berries their second year, then die. Each spring, prune out old, dead canes and keep the green, 1-year-old canes to produce a new crop.

—Ellen Nibali

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