You Bet Your Garden

Find out how wood mulch can actually be useful in your landscape


Listen to the full show:

Mike McGrath explains how to prune hydrangeas and fruit trees, picking the right grass for your climate, composting with horse manure, tips for gardening with kids and how wood mulch CAN help your landscape. Plus: the Delaware Center for Horticulture is giving ex-offenders a second chance by teaching them how to care for plants.


Question of the Week:

“We lost some trees to storm damage and I want to keep the leftover wood chips for mulching walkways in the back yard and between the raised beds in our garden. These areas are far away from the house, but your repeated warnings about wood mulches have made me cautious. What do you think?”

— Muriel in Montgomery County, PA

What you CAN use wood mulch for »


Highlights from show for May 17, 2014:

Pruning Hydrangeas

Elcy from Princeton New Jersey has some concerns about her beautiful 15-year old hydrangea bush. More specifically, she is wondering when and how to prune it. When Elcy prune’s her plant it begins to leaf out, so she was worried if she was doing the right thing. Mike suggests to wait for the branches to tell you their ready to be plucked, meaning the flower heads will start to form and bloom. Mike advocates to get your pruners ready to remove any branch you want that is not flowering; and the longer you wait the better. Mike quotes a hydrangea expert he interviewed once: “I don’t know a thing about pruning hydrangeas, but every year, they prune me wrong!”


Pruning fruit trees

Brother Darrow, hailing from the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, lives an impressive 3500 feet up on a 45 degree angle mountain. He has about a half a dozen of old apple trees that need pruning. Mike advises that apple trees are supposed to be pruned every year, in the late dormant period in the winter through the time when they’re flowering to right after. “Once you’re done pruning, you should be able take a cat and throw it up into the openings between the branches so that the cat will come back to the ground without touching a branch,” This is a favorite saying by our friend and fruit expert, Lee Reich. If he really opens up the branches, Brother Darrow’s trees should be ready to produce high-quality fruit to enjoy for seasons to come.


Interview with The Delaware Center for Horticulture on giving ex-offenders a second chance

Mike spoke with Patrice Sheehan a manager of the return to work green jobs program for people who are getting out of prison and want to develop new skills in the landscaping industry. Mike also spoke with graduates of the program Bob Harris, who was hired full time by DCH and Floyd Backus, who runs his own landscape business. Currently in their 5th year. The green jobs program has graduated 37 ex-offenders. With so much resistance from employers to hiring ex-offenders the program allows people to learn new skills and potentially find new opportunities for a career. For more information on the return to work green jobs program visit DCH’s website.


Picking the right grass for your climate

Cory from Dallas, Texas just bought a new house and his lawn is not in the best of shape. He was wondering if he could lay down St. Augustine grass to help it grow better. Mike suggests not laying down a St. Augustine lawn or plug one in the fall, because it will go dormant right away and the leaves are going to take over. St Augustine is a warm weather grass along with Bermuda, a fast-growing and tough grass, popular and useful in sports fields, and when damaged, it recovers quickly. Additionally, Zoysia a warm grass, found mostly in coastal areas as well as centipede grass, which grows best in sandy and acidic soils. These grasses can only be successful when planted in the spring, says Mike. “In Texas, one should plug their St. Augustine grass on the 1st of May and onward and by September, lawns will be completely filled in.”


Composting Horse Manure

Lynn from sunny Cape May, New Jersey owns horses and has questions regarding animal manure to use as fertilizers for plants. Lynn wonders if the chemicals that are ingested by farm animals as part of hormone therapy will come through the finished composted manure. “A good tip is to take a bit of horse manure and add it to shredded fall leaves, which adds nitrogen to the soil to help make the finished compost,” says Mike. Only adding horse manure to the soil without anything else does not produce results, as “Nitrogen just adds to the size of the tomato bush, but does not help produce fruit and it inhibits flowering,” Mike always warns that using raw un-composted manure is not the best for plants. Let it compost down with other brown materials.


Gardening with kids

Shoshana from central Pennsylvania has two small children and would like to get them involved in gardening, even though she is not a gardener herself. She lives in an apartment complex that has a small outdoor space, and she was wondering what is the best way to get her children involved in gardening and to produce easy growing fruits and vegetables. Mike suggests getting a lot of containers and a soil-free mix and planting a row of lettuce with a little bit of sunlight for adequate growth. Mike suggests growing pansies as well in the fall as they are a sturdy and strong flower, despite their name!




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