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Foolproof Gardening Tips

Watering – After planting perennials or potted plants, tamp down the soil and water generously to work air pockets out of the soil. Water new plantings early in the day for several days until they take hold. Because high sunlight evaporates water before plants can absorb it, it's best to water early in the morning or late in the day. Supplement natural rainfall as plants require and keep watering right through fall - many plant deaths attributed to "winter kill" are actually caused by a lack of water.

Pruning – Occasional pruning is necessary to keep woody plants looking their best. Sometimes this means lopping off healthy branches, but more often and more importantly, it involves trimming out dead or damaged wood and weak shoots. Generally, plants should be pruned during their active growing season, usually spring, or right after they bloom. Be sure to use sharp tools, and eliminate straggly stems by cutting them back by half at a 45° angle, just above a strong shoot or bud, facing outward.

Spring blooming trees and shrubs should be pruned after blooming in spring. Other shrubs and trees take pruning best in late winter or early spring. Aside from removing dead growth, clipping and shaping will enhance your landscape and help plants grow. Plants typically grow fuller and bloom more profusely with occasional trimming. Ground covers thicken and flower more when cut back about halfway.

Pruning Tip: Remember to check your shrubs each spring to determine their pruning needs. Remove dead or damaged wood and weak stems, and eliminate straggly stems by cutting them back by half at a 45° angle, just above a strong outward-facing shoot or bud. Do not remove well-formed, healthy wood.

Mulching – Protect your plants with a covering of organic material. A 2” layer of straw, marsh hay, peat moss, bark, wood chips or other material is useful in summer and winter. Summer mulch, applied at the start of the hot and dry season, retards water loss, keeps out weeds and prevents soil from running off during rainstorms. Winter mulch protects newly planted perennials and less hardy plants from severe cold. Apply it only after the ground cools in late fall and remove slowly when the plant begins to grow in the spring. Without protective mulch, late spring freezing and thawing can cause the ground to heave plants.

Make Your Own Mulch: Newspapers make a great, inexpensive organic mulch alternative. Apply newspapers thickly around plants and secure them with rocks or soil. They will decompose slowly, then can be turned under as a soil modifier.

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