Q. We planted several holly plants last year. When is the best time to fertilize these plants and what fertilizer should we use?
— C. G. of Oakdale
A. Holly (Ilex species) should be fertilized as soon as the Forsythia shrubs (Goldenbell flowering shrubs) begin to bloom in the spring. This indicates that the soil is beginning to warm up. This shrub is also a good indicator of the best time to apply pre-emergent herbicide to keep weeds from germinating in the lawn.
For the holly plants, you can use an Azalea and Rhododendron fertilizer (5-10-10), which contains iron and sulfur to keep the soil slightly acid. Hollies usually lose their leaves in late spring and form new leaves from the overwintering buds. Most people don’t notice the hollies losing their leaves while the other spring-flowering shrubs are in full bloom. A yearly mulch can also be applied in late spring and can be spread on the soil as far out as the branches spread out on the plant.
Q. Since my spring flowering bulbs are now blooming, I have begun to think about their care after they have finished blooming. I have heard all sorts of conflicting reports about what to do to the plants — some say to cut them completely back to the ground, others say not to cut them until the foliage turns completely brown or tan, and others say to tie up the foliage up with twine. What is the correct thing to do?
— S. L. of Belleville
A. You do not want to do anything that will injure the leaves, so do not cut them off completely and do not tie up the plants leaves up or even braid the foliage. The foliage needs to remain unbroken so the leaves can manufacture and store food for next year’s flower production. If you injure the leaves at this time, you may end of with leaves and stalks next spring but no flowers.
Some gardeners plant other perennial plants in the same bed, masking the leaves of the spring flowering bulbs. Some use Virginia Bluebells, also known as cow slip (Mertensia virginica), which blooms right after the spring bulbs finish flowering. Other gardeners use hardy ferns to fill these open areas. Commonly available ferns include Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Toothed Wood Fern (Dryopteris spinulosa), Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-femina), Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), Cinnamon fern Osmunda cinnamonea and Leatherwood Fern (Dryoteris marginalis). The ferns will require some shade, especially in the afternoon.
Ferns do not produce flowers but give a great leaf display and will cover a pretty good area. They will also not compete with the spring bulbs.
Q. I have noticed there are many new varieties of tomatoes being produced. Now I do not know which one to choose. Where do I begin?
— F. M. of Collinsville
A. This is where a gardening journal comes in for keeping results from year to year. There are many new varieties with new disease resistance being introduced every year and list keeps growing and growing. If you have had trouble with diseases, then buy the seed or plants with most letters behind their names, which indicate which diseases they resist. Always plant some of the cherry or grape tomatoes, too, as they will come into production sooner and will produce throughout the season. If you are using the tomatoes for everyday eating, plant an indeterminate variety,. If you are trying to make paste, juice or salsa, plant a determinate variety so all the fruits will ripen in a very short time.