It's time to answer your questions -- always an enjoyable undertaking for me.
QMy two flowering quince bushes appear healthy and vigorous, but they produce few blooms. Those that appear are concentrated at the bottom of the bush. Do I need to prune more aggressively? -- Kay Ferrebee
AAs flowering quince become dense and woody, blooming declines. The younger stems, especially those in good sunlight, will bloom. To encourage flowers over the entire plant, keep it pruned and open. There are two ways to do this:
* Selectively prune one-third of the biggest, oldest wood at ground level. This opens the plant and allows more sun inside for flower bud formation and air circulation.
* If the plant is so dense that it's almost impossible to cut out every third stem, then consider hard renewal pruning. Cut the plant to the ground right after flowering. It will grow back from the roots to flower next spring. If you have a very vigorously growing specimen, this type of pruning can be done every five to seven years.
How do I get rid of rabbits? The nursery recommended a powder that has the scent of coyote urine, but that didn't work. -- Ted Parker
There is no easy solution. Rabbits have two to three litters a year, about six per birth. My top recommendation is a fence. That is, of course, unrealistic for large areas.
Try several methods until you find one that works. Coyote urine was a good try. Other options include:
* Blood meal. In rainy weather, it must be reapplied every few days, but it's good for the soil.
* Liquid Fence, which comes with a money-back guarantee if it doesn't repel deer. Because it contains a lot of animal product, it would be a good try for discouraging rabbits.
* A continual program of live trapping, following guidelines in your area for release.
Where can I get landscape fabric and how do I secure it? If I stake it in place on July 1, would late September 2005 be the time to plant or sod? -- Bing Garthright
You can use black plastic or a commercial fabric available at home improvement centers. Anchor the fabric on slopes with staples that look like large wire "U" tacks that push through the fabric into the soil. Or lay newspaper about three to five sheets thick and cover with two inches of compost to hold the paper in place. If you use this method, you can plant right through it next year.
I think I have discovered the nefarious work of gophers. The holes are about one to two inches in diameter. What is the solution? -- Fred Mopsik
Gophers, sometimes called pocket gophers, are a pest only in the Midwest and the West. If you see burrowing and small holes in this region, it is likely to be moles. Their tunnels are used by other animals, such as voles, Eastern chipmunks and mice, but the moles do most of the digging.
Products such as Mole-Med and Mole Away, castor oil-based materials, make the moles' food sources distasteful in your lawn, and they will move to tastier pastures. I have also seen cats or traps serve as effective controls.
Moles are insectivores that don't eat plants, so many people consider them beneficial. Unless they severely damage turf or render it unusable, you might want to live with them.
My mother's rose bushes were covered with beetles last summer. She sprayed, powdered and used beetle bags. The bugs still ate the flower buds. What can she do to prevent them this year? -- Pat Reed
Japanese beetles seem to be worse this year than last, and you probably already have started picking them off the plants. They feed on warm, sunny days. Female beetles live for a little more than a month and lay their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on plant roots until they pupate and hatch into beetles.
Try a two-pronged approach. A systemic insecticide containing acephate, such as Orthene, is the best way to control them in their adult stage. The rose will absorb the pesticide into its vascular system; the beetle dies when it feeds on the plant. This will control the adult beetle, but, depending on the number of beetles, the feeding damage has often been done before the insects die.
Therefore, attacking the larvae (grubs) as they hatch and before they pupate into beetles is a second approach. That keeps them from causing damage to roses. The most environmentally friendly material to use is milky spore disease. The larvae die from a bacterial infection that is specific to this insect. It harms no other insects, reptiles or mammals and remains in the soil for years. In about three years, this disease should have effectively controlled the grubs. Spraying a toxic insecticide such as Orthene should no longer be necessary.
The peonies that flourished after we moved in last June have been a disappointment this year. After an early bloom, they became irregular in shape with brown petals on the outside. Do you have any information on this problem? -- Betty Richardson
Peonies are frustrating perennials to keep lush and disease-free. The most prevalent peony diseases are caused by two botrytis funguses (B. paeoniae and B. cinerea), commonly called gray mold. These funguses affect all parts of the plant and are most noticeable on the flowers. The buds can have spots or blacken and decay, or the flowers might open fine and then petals become soft and wilt on the stem. They often develop a fuzzy brown-gray appearance, especially in wet weather. The "fuzz" is actually millions of tiny fungal spores.
Remove and destroy all decayed or wilting plant parts. Clean up plant debris during the growing season and in the fall. Do not mulch this plant. Keep the soil clean around the roots. A fungicide containing mancozeb is labeled for botrytis and must be sprayed as the peony emerges in spring and two more times at five- to 10-day intervals.
I am not a champion of pesticides. So, if the peony is planted in good sun and gets enough air circulation to dry shortly after a rain, it might not need constant chemical treatment. With the showers and soggy conditions we have been having, though, a preventive spray might be a good idea for the next couple of springs. Once the fungus is controlled, if we have a dry spring, see if your peonies will prosper without chemicals.
I have been thinking of renting a chipper to grind my neighbors' leaves and use them to mulch in spring. Is grinding the best way to create mulch? -- Bob Blanton
Kudos for making your own composted mulch. Chippers and shredders chop sticks, leaves and other landscape debris into smaller particles, making more leaf surface available to organisms that decay the material. This translates into faster composting. The materials can also be turned, or aerated, more easily with a pitchfork than full-size, matted leaves and sticks, and you can keep the compost more evenly moist. If compost gets hot enough (130 to 140 degrees) as it decays, the heat kills many of the pathogens that might be in the debris.
Remember to turn compost every three to six weeks and keep it moist. About 5 percent of your mass should be nitrogen-containing materials, such as manure, grass clippings or fish meal. You should have usable compost in three to six months. The finished product will be a crumbly, dark, friable material.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.