Plants can be safely fertilized through their roots or leaves


Q. Is it OK to spray fertilizers on leaves? The label on my fertilizer bag gives directions for foliar feeding, but I worry I may burn the plants. Is it better to feed through the leaves or roots?

A. Yes, leaves do take up nutrients safely and efficiently through tiny openings called stomata. The key is to apply a soluble fertilizer according to label directions, in the morning or early evening, to the lower leaf surfaces. It is impractical to try to meet a plant's total nutrient need through foliar feeding. Your plants must depend on organic matter and fertilizers mixed into the top 6-8 inches of soil for the long haul. However, foliar feeding is very helpful in the spring to get young seedlings and transplants off to a good start. Organic gardeners are fond of using compost as foliar fertilizers.

Q. I just bought my first home, a townhouse with a small amount of lawn. My neighbors on either side collect and throw out their lawn clippings from mowing. One neighbor told me I might kill my lawn if I leave the clippings. I'd rather not have to bag them and throw them out. What should I do?

A. Leaving your clippings where they lie, also called "grasscycling," is a win-win practice for you and your lawn. Grass clippings are mostly water and break down rapidly so they will not smother your lawn or lead to thatch buildup. The clippings also contribute nitrogen, which is important for good turf growth. And you won't waste your time and money - bagging and dragging - and filling up precious landfill space. Perhaps, over time, you will persuade your neighbors to make the switch.

Q. Three of my tomato plants seem to have disappeared the other night. The stems were cut close to the ground and all that's left is a young root system. I hesitate to pin this missing plant caper on my neighbor with whom I compete each summer for best tomato grower honors. But I don't have rabbit or squirrel problem so who or what is the culprit.

A. Probably Cutworms, nocturnal caterpillars that cut young garden plants at ground level and may drag them into underground burrows. After you replace your lost plants, place a cardboard or plastic collar around plants to prevent feeding, wrap plant stems with aluminum foil or apply a rough or gritty material, like ground-up oyster shell or sharp sand, around vulnerable plants.

Garden tips are provided by Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. 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


1. Spot-treat broad-leaf weeds in the lawn with a labeled herbicide. Avoid spraying the entire lawn. Liquids are more effective. Avoid "weed and feed" combinations.

2. Hand-thin apple, pear and peach tress so that fruits and spaced 5-6 inches apart.

3. Protect squash and cucumber plants from cucumber beetles with a floating row cover or labeled insecticide, such as neem. Cucumber beetle feeding often leads to the transmission of bacterial wilt disease that kills plants.

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