Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers to common gardening questions provided by nationally recognized gardening expert, Melinda Myers. With more than 30 years of horticulture experience, she is wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share her frequently asked questions with you here. Come back each month for answers to a new set of questions that will help you in the garden.
Can I use shredded paper for mulch around or on anything including fruits and vegetables?
Paper makes a great mulch. As it breaks down it adds organic matter to the soil. Most inks are now soy based and do not pose a health risk. The problem with paper, especially when shredded, is preventing it from blowing away. Wetting sheets of paper and anchoring with shredded leaves, herbicide-free grass clippings and mulch has worked for me. You may want to mix the shredded paper in with something heavier like shredded bark, woodchips, evergreen needles, or other organic mulch. Otherwise consider worm composting. Shredded paper is the perfect bedding for red worms. They will quickly convert kitchen scraps (veggies and fruit only - no meat, no dairy) and the paper to worm castings. Use the castings for fertilizing your plants. Since you will have a limited amount consider using it on transplants, houseplants and containers.
I purchased a 6' balled and burlap Japanese lilac tree three years ago and it has not bloomed very well. The first year we only had a couple flowers, following that we did not have any, and last year just a few again. We have it planted in full sunlight and water it when nature is not providing enough. Do we have a problem we can fix or do we just have a bad tree?
Good news. You are not doing anything wrong and you don't have a bad tree. It is common for flowering trees and shrubs to send out a few flowers the first year and none for the next couple. Recently transplanted trees and shrubs spend the first few years developing a strong root system instead of flowering. This is good for the plant’s longevity even though it is frustrating for you. Mulch the soil under the tree with wood chips or shredded bark being careful not to pile the mulch against the trunk. This will reduce competition from surrounding grass for water and nutrients. Plus it will help reduce weeds and make mowing around the plant easier for you. Continue to water the tree thoroughly as needed. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers that promote growth at the expense of flowers. Instead use a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer like Milorganite. Research has shown when the microorganisms break down the Milorganite into a plant available form, they also make some of the phosphorous (good for flowering) and potassium bound in the soil available to the plants. This will help promote flowering.
We planted quite a few shrubs and a couple of trees last fall. When should we start fertilizing and pruning? We want to keep them healthy and help them grow.
Water and mulch are the keys to keeping your plants healthy. Water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and moist. You will water more often if your soil is rocky or sandy or during hot weather. Those with slow draining clay soil will water less often. Spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of shredded bark or woodchip mulch on the soil surrounding these plants. Don’t pile the mulch around the trunk or stems. Keep pruning to a minimum the first few years. Remove damaged, crossing or hazardous branches. Wait a year to fertilize. This allows the plants to focus energy on establishing roots instead of putting on an abundance of top growth.