In overgrown garden, decide what to keep

THE BALTIMORE SUN

We recently purchased an older home in Baltimore County. The house is fine, but the gardens are completely overgrown with weeds, vines and small trees. What should we do to restore the garden?

I would start by doing an inventory of plants on the property. If the previous owners established the garden, you will probably want to talk with them. They should be able to help you identify the landscape plants, and separate them from the weeds that have overgrown them. I would do this as soon as possible. The previous owner will be more likely to help you at this time, and it is much easier to identify plants before they drop their leaves in fall.

When the inventory is complete, you will have to decide which plants should be kept and which should be removed. If you have any nice, mature specimen trees and shrubs, you will want to keep them. And if you have masses of long-lived perennials such as peonies or hosta, you will probably want to preserve those as well. Most overgrown gardens are largely taken over by invasive exotic plants like Japanese honeysuckle and English ivy. They are very difficult to get rid of, so be prepared for a long-term battle.

Some plants can be dug out, but others might be better attacked with herbicides. You will have to make that decision. For more information, please call the toll-free number listed below.

My gladiolas have nice flowers, but the leaves are browning and have thousands of tiny white dots. What would cause the discoloration?

It sounds like your gladiolas are infested with spider mites. Spider mites are particularly troubling during periods of hot, dry weather. During summer they feed on the foliage of many flower and vegetable plants and cause the type of damage you describe.

Spider mites feed by piercing leaves and sucking plant juices. This damages plant cells and leaves a white dot. When there are many mites feeding, thousands of white dots may appear. We call this plant symptom "stippling."

There are several ways to control mites. First, you can spray the leaves with a direct stream of water. Second, you can spray the leaves with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Finally, you can spray with a chemical insecticide or miticide. The mites feed on the underside, or back side of leaves, so be sure to direct your spray there.

Checklist

1. Use caution when spraying any pesticides in hot, dry weather. Plant leaves may be burned when they are sprayed under these conditions. Be sure to follow all label directions on pesticide containers.

2. Mulched plants need to be watered for a longer period than unmulched plants. Mulch soaks up a lot of water before it passes through to the plant roots.

3. When vigorous tomato vines grow over the tops of stakes or cages they can be headed back with pruning shears. This will not diminish your harvest.

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

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