Q: I have small plants I started myself from seeds - tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias, petunias, and some others. Don't they need some sort of conditioning before being planted outside?
A: Seedlings that have been grown inside should be adjusted to outdoor conditions before being transplanted to the garden or flower bed.
Gradually harden off your seedlings by giving them a little exposure to the outside conditions when temperatures are warm enough. Start off with a couple hours a day and increase it every day.
Plants undergo considerable stress when transplanted, even under the best conditions, but the risks are multiplied when the plants go straight to the garden from a sunny window or greenhouse.
Q: Our front yard has a partial steep slope where the previous owner planted creeping juniper, anchoring it with coat hangers to prevent it from getting taller. Through the years the juniper has become progressively more brown, scrawny and unhealthy looking. We would like to tear it out and replace it with pachysandra. Is pachysandra appropriate and would it keep the soil from eroding from a fairly steep incline?
A: Pachysandra is considered to be one of the best ground covers.It needs good soil, spreads rapidly when rooted cuttings are used, is one of the few that will survive in the heavy shade of a Norway maple. Few weeds can get started in a dense planting of pachysandra. However, it is not recommended for a steep slope because considerable damage can be done before it can spread sufficiently to prevent erosion. It does not do well in full sun.
For a steep slope, creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) and its varieties are recommended, also matrimony vine (Lycium halimifolium), English ivy (Hedera belix) and Running euonymus (Euonymus obovata).
Creeping juniper makes a very attractive ground cover when it is in good condition, and it might be a good idea to make a new planting of this one. English ivy needs fairly good soil to become well established. A planting of daffodils along with it can make it most attractive in the spring and it does better with some shade instead of full sunlight.
Running euonymus spreads rapidly, has brilliant red autumn color, the runners usually root where they touch the ground, but it is susceptible to euonymus scale (insects).
Lycium halimifolium is one of the few ground covers that can become established in very poor soil in full sunlight, would help prevent soil erosion, but it is not a thing of beauty.
Q: My husband and I are looking forward to our own fresh, homegrown vegetables this year. However, our time for weeding and watering is limited since we both work. Is there any way to cut down on these chores?
A: A mulch of black plastic, newspapers with a thickness of four pages, aluminum foil, sawdust or salt hay will control weeds and conserve soil moisture. The black plastic can be applied immediately becaust it helps warm up the soil, but the others should not be used until the soil gets good and warm.
Q: We want to plant some evergreen shrubs that have red berries to give color to our yard during the winter months. Can you suggest a few?
A: American hollies are among the best. Chinese and Japanese are very good, also the English in areas where it is hardy. Their shapes and sizes range from low, dense and cushionlike, to the spreading and rounding types. Their red, yellow, orange and black berries provide color and their beautiful foliage varies from very fine to very coarse textures, and from dark greens to grays and other variegated forms.
Most hollies are dioecious, which means there are male and female flowers on different plants and in order for the female plant to be pollinated, a male plant must be nearby. The male plants do not bear berries.
Pyracantha is very popular. Although it loses most of its leaves during winter, its red and orange berries color in August and September and hold for several months. The Russian olive, Eleagnus augustifolia, grows to almost 20 feet and is widespread and open. The yellow egg-shaped fruit ripens in midsummer and is highly recommended for attracting birds thoughout the fall. Nandina and aucuba are very popular in areas where they will survive winter temperatures, nandina particularly with its heavy crop of red berries.