Q. I have many trees on my property, so I exclusively mulch leaves with my mower because raking and bagging would take forever. How much actual nutrition is in these millions of oak/maple/beech tree leaves? Is this nutrition actually good for grass? Yes, Im too lazy to rake, but I would hope that I am doing some good in the process.
A. This is the best thing you can do for your grass (along with core aeration). The shredded leaves will be conspicuous for a while, but the worms will take care of them over the winter. They will feed all the beneficial microbes in the soil, and the grass will love it. It pains me to see folks pile leaves up on the street.
Q. I have had a lilac (lovingly passed from my long-gone farmer uncles yard and a double bloomer normally) since 2004. It is hardy and used to produce wonderful blooms. For the past two years, though, it has not produced flowers. Ive done a lot of research and determined that I am cutting back at the proper time of year, so I dont believe its that. I suspected it could be that we have had a lawn service for the past two years and that they could perhaps have something in their treatments that is hindering the flower from blooming. Of course, they say no to that, but I could understand that happening based on the timing of when the flowers stopped blooming. At any rate, is there anything I can do in the fall to prepare the plant?
A. Lawn fertilizer tends to be heavy on nitrogen, which is something the lilacs dont want; it will impede flowering. They do better with phosphates and potassium feeds. Another way to revive them is to remove the oldest canes, which I would do in May after next seasons blooming. Encourage some of the younger canes to develop into flowering wood. I would also enlarge the bed in the lilac root zone to keep the lawn service away from it.
Q. I am moving into an apartment where I will have a patch of ground for planting whatever I want, about 6 feet by 40 feet, with northern exposure, some of it under a maple tree. Is there anything I can do over the winter to improve the soil for spring planting?
A. This is a generous space, so in order to avoid the tunnel effect of so long and narrow a yard, I would plant perennials and annuals that will divide up the area and not reveal all at once. Banana trees might be a lot of fun (the hardy Basjoo or the Abyssinian Red). If you build up the soil in the root zone of the maple, the maple roots will grow into it, and it will be a futile exercise. Better to grow things in pots under the maple, but make them large pots and be ambitious with large-leafed plants such as cannas or colocasias.
Q. I have a red coral Japanese maple, and it seems that the outside branches are growing a lot faster than the internal branches. Some of the branches, probably due to my pruning, have starburst ends. What can be done to right this? The tree is about five feet in height.
A. Its important to prune a young tree correctly to anticipate its future growth and habit. If you prune excessively, you will get suckering, as you will if you simply truncate a branch. If it is congested, it is better to remove entire branches, starting with those that are growing inward or rubbing. Be conservative.
Q. This is my first year planting bulbs. Our house came with some beds already planted, but there was definitely more space for early flowering bulbs (eventually it gets too shady). I acquired a range of early spring bulbs and planted them according to their instructions. Within hours the squirrels had dug them up. Maybe I will be lucky and some of them were re-buried and could still grow. My question is: How do other people avoid this problem? Like I said, we have some beds that managed to keep their bulbs from the past. The neighbors have spring flowers. What is the secret?
A. Squirrels are drawn to the sight and smell of freshly dug earth, so it helps to put mulch or leafmold over the ground to confuse them. The most effective way to thwart them is to bury the bulbs deeply, seven or eight inches or more. This is hard if you dont have a good digging tool and with heavy clay soil. I use a long handled bulb planter, which engages all the limbs. If my soil is really bad, I will actually hack at it with a mattock. The other solution is to place netting over the recently planted bulbs, but this is a pain and you have to remember to lift it before the bulbs grow.
Q. I have my first yard, which is a small, open rectangle with partial sun exposure. It is a blank slate at this point. My intention is to have a small raised vegetable bed in the sunniest spot in the spring, but what would be some good foundation plants that wont get too big to get started on landscaping?
A. Its good to start small theres nothing worse than to have a vegetable garden that is too big and overwhelms the beginner. But, in planting the larger landscape, make sure you can expand the vegetable garden as your knowledge and interest grow. Avoid big or dense trees or large shrubs that will invade your light and soil. Boxwood are great companions to a veggie garden.
Q. Ive noticed that a lot of my indoor plants have mold on top of the soil. These are mostly succulents, and I use the special succulent mix potting soil for them. The plants themselves seem to be doing okay. Is this a concern? Should I repot or add something to the soil?
A. Succulent mixes tend to be free draining, so the presence of mold is a bit of a worry. I wouldnt repot now indoor plants are better repotted in the late winter but I would get tiny grit and mulch the plants with it, perhaps after removing half an inch or so of the moldy top stuff.
Adrian Higgins is a gardening columnist for The Post