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August 18, 2018

QuestionWe had a small circle of rocks around our October Glory maple.  Roots were showing beyond the rocks.  We enlarged it quite a bit because I wanted plants around the tree.  Now we’ve been told if we fill it in with dirt, we will kill the tree.  Could we mulch where the first rocks were and put dirt beyond the mulch without damaging it?  




This is one of the most common gardening questions without a definitive answer.  There are so many variables when it comes to adding soil around existing plants.  Knowing the area that you are covering (both depth and width), the type of tree or shrubs you are growing, and the type of fill you are bringing in all make a difference.  Maples are quite prone to surface roots so enlarging the area is fine, but consider just filling in with mulch which has a larger pore space to allow water and oxygen in.  If you actually want to plant something in this bed, consider just bringing in smaller pockets of soil to plant in and use mulch as the fill around it.  It will look like the whole garden is planted.   



July 21, 2018


I recently read in the paper to put newspaper under the mulch to help keep weeds out. How many layers of paper do you need to put down?




Newspaper and layers of cardboard work well under mulch. They are porous and allow water and oxygen through, but they are an extra layer of help to keep weeds at bay. For newspaper, two to three sheets should do it, and for cardboard, one layer. Over time they both will disintegrate, but it allows you to use slightly less mulch, and I think it helps the mulch stay in place better. I have also used shredded junk mail under the mulch. The paper/cardboard layer is not too attractive, so it does need to be covered with mulch.


March 11, 2017


Last fall when the blooming was over I cleaned out the flower beds pulled any grass or weeds then tilled and spread cedar mulch.  Some of these beds will have bedding plants so the mulch is not a question but I'm not sure what to do with the beds I want to plant seeds.  Do I rake the mulch up, then plant seeds and spread the mulch back or leave it off?  



It depends on how thick your mulch is and what seeds you are trying to grow. Some seeds need light to germinate. I would suggest pulling back the mulch in the area where you are seeding, seed, and once the seedlings are up and growing put the mulch back around the plants. 


January 2013

QuestionFor the last two years my son has used black plastic under his vegetables for weed control . I wanted to suggest pine straw to him , but I don't know what happens with pine straw as it breaks down. We plant tomatoes, okra, peppers, purple hull peas. What should I use in place of the black plastic?


AnswerBlack plastic can be used in a vegetable garden, and it does heat up the soil early, but can get it too hot by later in the season. If you are using plastic, you need to make sure that there is a drip system or soaker hose under the plastic, or watering can be a real challenge. Pine straw is ok for a vegetable garden, but it is slower to break down than some mulches and will eventually make the soil more acidic. Shredded leaves, shredded paper and straw make great mulches and can easily be added back into the soil.

July 2012

QuestionI have tomatoes in size ranging from dime size to silver dollar size. A large number of these tomatoes have dark brown and/or black areas at the bottom of the tomato. What is causing this and what can I do?


AnswerBlossom end rot has started in our gardens. Although it looks like a disease, it is actually a calcium deficiency which affects some varieties more than others. It often hits our gardens when it has been really dry and we get a downpour of rain. Fluctuating water levels make it much worse. Try to mulch your garden and keep it as evenly moist as possible in these dry days. There are some calcium sprays like Stop Rot or calcium chloride which can help, but even watering and mulch should also do the trick. It won’t correct the tomatoes that have the problem, but should prevent more from succumbing.


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