Even though a tree is cut down, it can still give to the garden

THE BALTIMORE SUN

We are having an oak tree cut down in September. The tree service has agreed to leave the large branches for firewood, but they are planning to shred the smaller branches. Would the shredded branches make good mulch?

I call shredded branches wood chips and think they can make very good garden mulch. Like other mulches, wood chips provide many benefits to the garden. They help keep soil moist during dry weather. They protect plants from extremely hot and cold temperatures in summer and winter. They help suppress garden weeds. And because they break down slowly, wood chips will last a long time. In addition, using wood chips in the garden provides a way to recycle local materials, so it makes good ecological sense.

Unfortunately, many people have begun to use mulch as a decorative element in the garden, rather than as a functional element. They do not find wood chips attractive and desire finer mulch with darker color. In this case, it is probably best to purchase a "finer" grade of mulch, such as shredded hard bark mulch or pine mulch.

Checklist

1. Tomatoes grow best in evenly moist soil. If you keep the soil moist, you will increase plant growth and help prevent cracking of the tomato skins.

2. Are your annual flowers getting leggy and in need of a revival? Try cutting them back, feeding them with a balanced fertilizer, and giving them a good watering.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.hgic. umd.edu.

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