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Miss Floribunda: Forbidden fertilizing

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Posted on: December 10, 2012

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I’m from the Midwest and so read with surprise your advice to do in autumn what is usually done in spring where I come from. What about pruning and fertilization? How do gardeners prepare for winter here, if they do? 

Not in Kansas Anymore on Kennedy Street

MISS FLORIBUNDA —
Dear Not in Kansas Anymore,
I’ll address fertilization first: Not only is it inadvisable, it’s illegal. While some people will put lime on their lawns at this time, use of fertilizer in Maryland is forbidden from November 15 to March 1, or whenever the ground is frozen.
The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 was signed into law on May 19, 2011, by Governor Martin O’Malley as a means of reducing the amount of lawn chemicals washing into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Commission determined that about 14 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus entering the Chesapeake Bay can be traced back to urban and suburban runoff sources, primarily from lawn fertilizers. And so, although restrictions on the use of fertilizer by farmers had been in place since 2001, there are now restrictions on its use by home gardeners and, of course, golf courses and cemeteries.
Even if it were legal to fertilize, it would be a bad idea because it would prevent needed dormancy. While our winters can’t compare in severity with those you remember, even our mildest winters are cold enough to harm plants putting out new growth. And sometimes, as in the winter of 2009-2010, we get an unusual amount of snow and temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. So wait till March to wake your shrubs from their winter’s nap with a jolt of nitrogen.
Many Hyattsville gardeners put their raked leaves in compost bins; others mow them and use them as mulch. Those with water gardens net them and remove the leaves so their acidity won’t harm pond life.
Some perennials, such as asters and other plants susceptible to mildew, should be trimmed back. Plants that bear seeds for birds or have hollow stalks that shelter bees are best left alone. It’s high time to dig up dahlias before the ground freezes hard.  While local rosarians don’t hack back rose bushes to the degree necessary in sub-zero climates, we do prune the bushes to about 2 ½ feet high. This is to keep them from being lashed about by January winds, which could result in serious root damage.
Because there are rumors of heavy snow again this winter, it would not hurt to prune evergreens of overhanging branches. Best of all, you can use those fragrant branches to decorate your home for Christmas.
To meet some gardening wizards and share some holiday munchies, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticulture Society on Saturday, December 15, at 10 a.m. at the home of Herb and Victoria Hille, 4101 Gallatin Street. In the meantime, please send gardening questions to fl*********@gm***.com.

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