Q. We're newlyweds with a composting conflict. I like to throw everything on the compost heap as is, and he insists on buying an expensive shredder to chop it all up beforehand. And then he wants to spend a whole day carefully layering soil, grass clippings, leaves, etc. Please help me straighten him out.
A. You're going to have to compromise to make this compost pile work. He's right about shredding materials before they go in (although you don't need an expensive shredder). Chopping things into small pieces will hasten decomposition. But forget about layering; a mixture of textures -- leaves, grass, plants, manure -- will give the best results. The time you save by not layering will give you two more quality time together.
Q. I replanted grass seed in October over a large part of my yard. I spread fertilizer before seeding and then decided I should have a soil test done. The University of Maryland test showed that my soil was "excessive" in phosphorus. Is this going to be a problem? Also, my pH was very low and an application of lime was recommended. Can I put the lime down now?
A. The "excessive" amount of phosphorus will not harm your grass or any other plants, but phosphorus pollutes our waters and its use should be avoided.
In the future, select a turf fertilizer that has the smallest percentage of phosphorus, relative to nitrogen. The lime can be applied any time this fall or winter as long as the ground is not frozen.
Q. I have some type of interesting begonia a friend gave me that has big, heart-shaped leaves and small flowers. I dug it up in October and brought it in the house. How shall I care for it? Will it bloom during the winter? Can I plant it outside in the spring?
A. You have some type of fibrous-rooted or rhizomatous begonia. Grow your plant at room temperature and give it bright light. Increase humidity around the plant by misting it or placing the pot on a tray of moist pebbles.
Water the plant when the top of the mix dries a bit. Fertilize only if the plant is actively growing. Your plant may become dormant and drop its leaves for a period of time. If it does, water it less frequently and don't fertilize. Plant it back in the garden in early June when the soil is warm.
THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST
1. Plant amaryllis bulbs indoors to force them to bloom during the Christmas holiday.
2. Prune out dead and diseased branches from deciduous trees and shrubs. Heavy loads of snow and ice can cause these branches to come down unexpectedly.
3. Store all pesticides where they will not freeze.
Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.