Mid-Atlantic

April, 2007
Regional Report

Secure Seedling Success

After planting new seeds in soilless mix for starting indoors, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of milled sphagnum on top -- thicker than a dusting of powdered sugar but less dense than sugar/cinnamon coffee cake topping. The loose, fine, sterile sphagnum will stop the damping off fungus that causes new seedlings to rot where the stem touches the soilless mix.

Leave Hellebore Seedlings

While you're clipping away the brown-edged hellebore leaves to better see their early spring flowers, look for seedlings around the mother plant. Resist plucking and transplanting these small ones now. I've found them difficult to keep alive after being moved. Even in place, many won't make it through the season. Leave them and the strongest will survive. As it can take two to four years for a hellebore to bloom the first time, the more seedlings you have now, the more flowers in future years.

Keep Grow Lights Low

Tomato, eggplant, pepper, and your favorite annual seeds are sprouting indoors. Keep the grow lights 4 to 5 inches directly above the seedlings. That concentrates the light so seedlings grow straight and thick-stemmed. If they have to reach too far for light to make food, they'll get spindly.

Prune Away Dead Hydrangea Branches

By now we're seeing healthy, plump buds on hydrangeas. Branches and stems without plump, purple or green leaf buds are likely dead. Some branches may have brown, shriveled buds at the tips; healthy buds closer to the soil. Those branches are alive even though the tips have winter burn. A dead stalk will crack when you try to break it and be white, brown, or beige inside. A live stem will be green inside so look closely. Prune away the dead branches flush at the base of the shrub. Clip off dead flower heads and dead plant tips 1/4 inch above the first healthy bud.

Clean Bird Feeders

Warm weather means more hospitable conditions for bacteria, fungi, and mold in bird feeders, which increase opportunities for avian diseases. Start by removing remaining seed. Take your feeder apart and clean each part with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Some experts recommend soaking in bleach/water solution for 10 minutes. Scrub with a brush and rinse thoroughly. Allow to dry before refilling. Experts recommend cleaning every two weeks.

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