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Nice lawns take time and work

Many of you wrote to me after I asked for column topics that interest you, and I thank you.

I can't say, however, that your collective voice pointed me in new directions. You are an eclectic bunch -- from sophisticated gardeners to underconfident beginners. Most of you seem to have yards and not much time to attend to them. Here are some questions you mailed in:

Q: We have a small yard in Amherst, a young child, two jobs and a lawn full of weeds. The new seed barely takes. We don't want to use a lot of chemicals. What to do?

A: There are two answers, at least. If you need to solve it yourself, it will take time and work. You need to build up healthy turf grass that can compete with weeds. Thick grass, cut tall (3 inches or more), blocks weeds from the sunshine. Improve the soil with gradual top-dressing with compost. Fertilize the lawn (around Memorial Day, Labor Day and mid-November (not early in the spring.) Then weed. Dig up or spot treat to kill perennial weeds such as dandelions. Cut off the heads of annual weeds before they reseed.

The other answer: Find a CNP (Certified Nursery Professional) and discuss an organic program or how to transition to a low-input, IPM (integrated pest management) program. One Web site: Click on Home Gardening.


Q: I'm housebound and can't do much anymore, but one of my few pleasures is seeing the tulips and daffodils every spring. Last year the rabbits ate them, and the ones that did come up were pathetic. Can I get them back?

A: You'll need help, but the repellent products labeled for rabbits really do work; they need refreshing sometimes. Also try fencing or chicken wire tunnels just until they bloom. Animals mostly leave daffodils alone, so plant more of them next fall (and they multiply well.) Fertilize with a bulb fertilizer this spring and after blooming; the bulbs may be "pathetic" partly because they need dividing or replacing.


Q: I have seen some neighbors wrap their bushes in plastic to protect from deer or wind, and I think I remember that's really wrong. Is it?

A: You're right; it's wrong. Plastic will cook the plants with any sunshine and encourage fungal growth, too. Wrap shrubs in burlap or use snow fence, pallets or Shrub Coats.


>A painful problem

Many of you report broken tree branches and shrubs, and you're stuck on what's worth saving or how to fix it.

Many spouse arguments are now raging over pruning philosophy and the worth of old or damaged trees. I will try to help. You may need an arborist. Watch for pruning courses and classes coming in several places. And a pruning book for Valentine's Day may be a very good thing for the marriage!

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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