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Garden Q&A: Cutting your lawn short can be beneficial in winter

Fothergilla has virtually no diseases or pests, and fall foliage comes in a dazzling palette of red, orange and yellow shades.
Fothergilla has virtually no diseases or pests, and fall foliage comes in a dazzling palette of red, orange and yellow shades. (Courtesy of Marian Hengemihle, Handout photo)

When I do the final mowing of the season, should I cut my grass low? I've been cutting it high like you advise and it looks great, but my neighbor says to cut it low in winter. Is that a good idea?

A lawn may be cut lower in winter for a couple of reasons. For lawns with lots of fallen leaves, the shorter grass can make leaf collection easier and catches fewer leaves, allowing them to blow off more easily and not mat and smother grass. Another reason some choose to mow lower is because grass stays wetter in cool weather and, especially if the turf is very thick, this can lead to fungal disease problems. For mowing height guidelines, you can go to: ter.ps/lawnguide.

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Can you identify some creepy bugs that came into my house? They are at least 30 of these half-inch-long black "worms" with a red head and six legs — and are they fast! I'm sure they didn't come in through the door, though they showed up after I'd been bringing in houseplants for the winter.

These are soldier beetle larvae. Being fast-moving is a clue that they are predators — good predators that hunt and eat other insects (including slugs). These are beneficial insects that you want to have in you landscape to eat pest insects. Scoop these up and relocate them to your yard. These are not insects that normally get in houses; they probably came in on your houseplants. Be sure to clean off pots, saucers and the soil surface before you bring houseplants inside.

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Plant of the week
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Fothergilla

Fothergilla major

Planting this native shrub brings nothing but pleasant rewards. Fothergilla has virtually no diseases or pests. White spring flowers are short, perky bottlebrushes — not composed of petals but of myriad stamens with a honeyed fragrance. Fall foliage comes in a dazzling palette of red, orange and yellow shades. Plant in well-drained soil (avoid very high pH), in part shade to full sun. More sun produces more blooms. Fothergilla grows into a 6- to 10-foot rounded shrub with dense, orderly foliage on its many stems. Suckers can be used for propagation. Expert horticulturist Michael Dirr calls it "one of the great American native shrubs." As a bonus, deer don't like it.

—Ellen Nibali

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