My top pet peeves of gardening

February 03, 2009|By ANNETTE IPSAN

OK, it's winter. There's not much gardening going on, just plenty of sighing from grumpy gardeners.

Deprived of sunshine, fresh air and warm earth, we all get a little cranky.

What better time to fuss over our gardening pet peeves. Here are my top pet peeves, designed to help you avoid some gardening pitfalls:

Mulch volcanos. Why, why, why do folks pile mountains of mulch around their trees? It is so very bad for them. Mountains of mulch keep air, water and nutrients from reaching tree roots. They also make bark damp, creating the perfect habitat for insects, disease and rot. The correct depth of mulch is 2 to 4 inches and it should never actually touch the trunk.

Topped trees. Trees that have been unnaturally whacked into a rough shape don't survive well. The rough cutting of thick branches stimulates fistfuls of small growth that are weak and tend to break. It also creates pathways for infection. Topped trees live much shorter lives and look chopped and unnatural. Proper pruning improves tree health; topping devastates trees. I will happily mail a pruning guide to anyone who calls or e-mails me to request a copy.


Bug battles. The indiscriminate stomping, squishing and spraying of bugs isn't necessary, let alone nice. Most insects are beneficial, happily pollinating our crops, providing products from honey to silk, and doing a bang-up job of controlling bad bugs in our gardens. So, stop before you stomp or spray. Make sure that bug is a baddie. I can help by identifying your insect and recommending an organic control that protects beneficial insects.

Chemical warfare. Blasting every bug with a spray of nasty chemicals might make you feel better, but it's most often not necessary or effective. Three organic controls - insecticidal soap, horticultural oil and Bt - will take care of most problem insects. And there are plenty of other effective weapons in the organic arsenal. So, be good to your health, the health of your backyard, neighbors and the Chesapeake Bay. Choose organic controls. Call or e-mail me so I can help you choose something that will work well.

Right plant, wrong place. Our global market allows us to get plants from around the world. Unfortunately, not all of them thrive here. So, it's important to make sure that the plants you are considering will do well in our Zone 6 climate. Read plant labels. Do a little research. Talk to knowledgeable nursery staff. Talk with me. Then make a smart choice based not only on our region's climate, but on the specific conditions in your backyard - wet, dry, windy, sunny, shady, sloped or exposed.

Water woes. All plants need water, but their needs vary greatly. It's important to find out what a plant needs. Many of the plant samples I see have either been drowned or parched. Over- or under-watering is one of the most common causes of plant failure. Give plants what they need and they will reward you with years of vigorous growth, lush green leaves, beautiful flowers and fruit, and outstanding health.

I feel better getting all that off my chest. I hope sharing my pet peeves has given you a chuckle or two and helped you to understand how better to care for your plants and landscape. Remember, I'm here to help. So call me, write to me or e-mail me if you have any gardening question or just want to share your favorite pet peeve.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at

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