When properly planted, native azaleas will produce beautiful flowers for decades. CONTRIBUTED BY WALTER REEVES

Tips for planting native shrubs

Q: How should I amend the soil when planting native shrubs? Joan Shorr, email

A: I know it seems better to amend the soil with organic matter, but the latest research shows that unless you are planting in pure clay, amending soil doesn’t do much for woody plants. It is always better to remove as much planting media from the roots as you can and spread the roots in all directions, keeping the uppermost root no more than an inch deep. Fertilizing is best accomplished with a layer of arborist woodchips a couple of inches thick spread around the plant but not touching the trunk. If it makes you feel better, you can put out a light application of organic fertilizer like Holly-Tone or Dr. Earth in early spring. Nothing more is needed.

Q: Is compost tea a good fertilizer for the vegetable garden or is it better to just mix the compost into the holes of the plants? Gary Winkles, Locust Grove

A: I have a history with garden “teas.” I remember helping my mother make manure tea when I was a kid. I scooped several cow patties from the pasture and put them into a burlap sack. She put the sack in a big tub of water and soaked it for three days. She poured the resulting tea on her roses and tomatoes. Truthfully, I don’t remember the tomatoes being any healthier than the ones fertilized by my Dad’s bag of 10-10-10. I don’t think you’ll notice any difference after using compost tea. Put the un-steeped compost in your planting holes and save yourself some work.

Q: I get fruit from my banana plants about every other year, contrary to what you said on radio. Terry Harrington, Fulton County, ITP

A: It seems like every time I say a certain thing isn’t possible in Atlanta, someone writes and says “Why, I do it all the time!” As soon as I say on the radio that no one can grow rhubarb, I get photos of healthy rhubarb plants grown by Atlanta gardeners. Most folks don’t successfully harvest banana fruit but congratulations on your success and send me some pictures so I can show people how wrong I can be!

Q: I threw poison ivy vines out in the yard and mowed over them. Now I’m afraid that I spread it throughout the yard. Do I avoid going out in the backyard for the entire summer? Shane Spangler, email

A: I am not a botanical toxicologist but I have had lots of experience with poison ivy. In my experience, chopping up the vine and leaves will expose the reactive ingredient, urushiol, to sunshine, oxygen, and water, all of which decompose the resin into less toxic components. My bet is that the chopped leaves and stems will not be a problem for more than a week. If you are worried, simply don’t walk around the yard in your bare feet.

Listen to Walter Reeves Saturday mornings on News 95.5 FM and AM750 WSB. Visit his website, www.walterreeves.com, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for more garden tips.

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