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Ask the Gardener: How to care for evergreens, make free mulch

Ask the Expert Gardening
Make sure newly planted trees and shrubs get an inch of rain a week or the equivalent through watering, especially evergreens like this reader’s pines and spruces.
Make sure newly planted trees and shrubs get an inch of rain a week or the equivalent through watering, especially evergreens like this reader’s pines and spruces. Handout

What to do this week: If you have problems with deer or rodents eating your spring bulbs, plant distasteful daffodils, frittilaria, and alliums (flowering onions) instead of tasty tulips. Keep mowing as long as the grass is growing, but lower the blade to an inch and a half to aid leaf-raking or blowing. This is the best time to kill invasive vines such as orange- and yellow-berried bittersweet or the relatively new turquoise porcelainberry (Ampelopsis glandulosa) by cutting them back to a couple of feet and then dipping the freshly cut tip that’s still attached to the roots into a bottle of liquid systemic herbicide such as Roundup for a couple of seconds to let that cut suck up the poison and send it down to those deep roots. This technique is called “clip and dip.’’

 

Q. In May we had a dozen Eastern white pines and glauca “Coerulea’’ spruce (six of each) planted. While most appear healthy, a couple look dry and brittle. Is there anything I can or should do to ensure they make it through the winter?

D.L., Milton

A. After a lush first half of the year, we entered a drought in August. It’s very important to make sure newly planted trees and shrubs get an inch of rain a week or the equivalent through watering, especially evergreens like your pines and spruces; they will continue to lose moisture through their needles all winter, water their roots cannot replace after the ground freezes. You can stop watering deciduous trees and shrubs after they loose their leaves, but think of your evergreens as camels that need to tank up in the fall before crossing the waterless desert of winter. (That’s why most northern trees shed their leaves in the fall. It’s tough to be an evergreen in Zone 5.)

 

Q. How do I turn leaves into “mulch’’ for my garden?

P.P., Petersham

A: Nature recycles. Tree leaves are fed by the nutrients in your soil, which they return when they fall. It’s crazy to bag up and remove leaves, and then replace those missing nutrients with applications of petrochemical fertilizers. Instead, rake or blow leaves from gardens and paved areas into a 5-inch deep pile in a corner of your yard that you can run over with your mower several times until the irregular leaf pieces are roughly an inch in size, even if you don’t have a “mulching’’ mower setting. Then use this much reduced pile as a nutritious weed-free mulch on your garden. Unlike leaves, evergreen needles can be left on the garden where they fall without any risk of smothering plants. Just mow over leaves and needles that are on your lawn and let them stay there to become the organic fertilizer nature intended.

Events

Combine leaf peeping with a rural fall festival. Visit or call Tower Hill Botanic Garden, 11 French Drive, Boylston, at www.towerhillbg.org or 508-869-6111 for information on the Garden Delights festival this weekend and the Autumn Spirits festival, Oct. 14-15. The colorful hilltop views are excellent.

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