I ordered some trees from North Carolina and the nursery wanted to send them in February. What is a good time to have them delivered?
You can't put the trees into the ground until the soil is workable, meaning it's dry enough so a clump crumbles in your hand when squeezed. That time varies from year to year depending on weather. April is a good bet. Sandy soils are ready earlier than clay soils. If the soil is unworkable when your plants arrive, keep them outside in a cool, shady area. Above all, keep roots moist but not immersed in water. You can heel them in by laying them on their sides and temporarily covering their roots with mulch or soil .
Last year, I built a raised vegetable bed that filled with water when we had heavy rains. How can I correct that?
A raised bed built on heavy clay soil and filled with light topsoil and organic amendments creates a discontinuity of soil types, and water does not absorb readily from one to the other. Ideally, when building a raised bed, mix the base soil with some of the upper soil. You should at least roughen or work it up with a long-tined tool such as a spading fork. You might need to go back and do that now or select a new site. You can also make drainage openings in the raised bed sides to allow excess water to escape.
University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.
Plant of the week
Bulb fennel, Florence fennel
Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum
Bulb fennel has been a mainstay vegetable in the Mediterranean for centuries. Eaten raw in salads, roasted until caramelized, steamed or stir-fried, it adds a slight licorice flavor to dishes. Don't confuse bulb fennel with annual herb fennel, whose seeds are used for flavoring, especially in Italian sausage, or with perennial fennel, whose bronze, feathery ornamental leaves attract beneficial insects. Bulb fennel prefers cool, moist soil high in organic matter. For a summer crop, start it indoors and transplant it outdoors by midspring in rows 18 inches apart with 6 inches between plants. Plants bolt in excessive summer temperatures. A second crop can be planted directly in late June or early July for a fall harvest. Varieties include Trieste, Orion and Zefa Fino, the latter being bolt-resistant and maturing around 80 days.
— Bob Orazi