Q: Can you tell me if it is a good idea to apply one last dose of fertilizer to my lawn, even though it has some dead spots caused by the dry summer?
A: I checked my go-to article for lawn treatment schedules, "Lawn Management Through the Seasons," a fact sheet on the Penn State website (http://bit.ly/2dh1aDY). Fall lawn fertilizer should be applied in late August through early October or from early to mid November. Use a product with a 2-1-1 ratio — twice as much nitrogen (N) as phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Or just pick up a fall fertilizer formulated for lawns. Always apply according to the package directions.
Another option is a top dressing of compost after the last mowing. This will slowly leach into the soil, naturally improving the organic content and feeding the grass.
Q: We have a hinoki tree in our front garden that is getting too big for the garden. I trim the tips of the branches, only for it get bigger. Is there a way to really trim the tree without destroying it?
A: Jane is trying to control the overall size of her Hinoki False Cypress tree (Chamaecyparis obtuse). It is an attractive evergreen from Japan. Some species grow more than 50 feet tall and 10 feet wide, although the dwarf variety is a rather small evergreen, about 6 feet at maturity. It likes a little protection from the hot sun and moist, but well-drained soil.
The first and best option is always to select a plant that will fit, at maturity, when you first plan your landscape. Jane may well have inherited this plant when she purchased her home.
Next on the remedy list: Move the plant. This is possible only if the tree is still small and young. Again, probably not Jane's situation.
Third is the option she has already tried: candling or pruning. Like most evergreens, you can trim back the tips to control the size of the plant. It does usually produce a denser specimen, which is usually a good thing. This doesn't do much if the tree is already too large.
Other options come at a price. If you drastically trim back the tree, it will not grow back and it will not fill in. Cuts into the mature brown parts of the branch are permanent — there will be no regrowth, and it's usually quite unattractive.
The ultimate solution — cut it down — often is a painful decision for gardeners. However, if the plant is not suited to the location or even if you just don't like it, removing it is quite reasonable. Cut it down, dig or grind out the roots and pick something that will mature to an appropriate size for the space and that will grow well in the current soil, light and water conditions.
Another hydrangea question
Q: Thank you for the information on hydrangeas, along with previous explanation for the lack of blooms this year for these lovely plants. My plants are not even showing signs of our recent drought and are thriving. I am hopeful that next year will provide the gorgeous blooms again that I have had in previous years.
My question is how do I prune the plants next spring since I don't remember which ones bloom on the previous year's growth, or do I just trust that whatever is going to bloom will do so and I'll cut out the dead growth only after I see the budding out occurring?
—Barbara Hobson, Orefield
A: Even if you don't remember which bloom when, you may still be able to figure it out if you remember what kind or color bloom you have. White ones, like PeeGee, generally bloom on new wood. They are cut low, almost to the ground if you like, at the end of winter or in late spring.
The blues and pinks, the lacecaps and mopheads, usually bloom on old wood. So these are best pruned just after blooming before the plants start to develop next year's buds.
Then there are the reblooming or everblooming hydrangeas. These bloom on both old and new wood. They usually need no pruning but can be cut after blooming or in spring. You will lose some blooms but at least you won't lose them all.
If you can't figure it out, I'd cut the old, diseased and dead stems only and wait for the blooms to determine what type you actually have.
This week in the garden
•Plant spring-flowering bulbs, pansies, asters, mums and other fall plants.
•Sow seeds that require a cold period for germination.
•Plant perennials, trees and shrubs.
•Allow plants to set seed as food for wildlife.
•Pot up plants to winter over indoors.
•Order plants/bulbs for fall planting.
•Cut back peony greens to 3 to 4 inches tall.
•Treat for grubs, chinch bugs and sod webworms.
•Repair holes and low spots in lawn.
•Watch for frosts. Protect tender plants.
•Order/buy winter mulch but apply after the ground freezes.
•Store dormant amaryllis bulbs in a cool dry area until they resprout.
•Ease plants indoors; get them in before you turn on the heating system.
•Remove and compost spent plants. Destroy or trash diseased or infested plants.
•Repair or replace damaged screens and garden hoses.
•Dump standing water.
•Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents.
•Clean and fill bird feeders and birdbaths regularly.
•Remove, clean and store hummingbird feeders.
•Clear gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations.
•Tools, equipment and supplies:
•Clean, oil and store hand tools.
•Inventory/restock seed, seed-starting and potting supplies.
•Check fall equipment and replace or repair.
•Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children.
•Don't prune anything you can't reach from the ground.
•Avoid mosquito and tick bites.
•Wear gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using loud power tools.