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10 popular summer gardening questions

A gardening expert answers questions on tomatoes, flowers, slugs, and more!

With so much in bloom, summer is a great time to be working in the garden, but you might encounter a number of puzzling issues. Here are answers to 10 popular summer gardening questions.

1. Can I save seed from my tomatoes and start my own plants next year?

If you are growing heirloom tomatoes or other varieties that aren't hybrids, you can save the seeds from ripe tomatoes and grow identical plants next year from them. Remember that seeds saved from hybrids may not produce plants that are the same as the parent plant. The first hard frost of fall will kill your Tomato plants, so collect seed for next year before then.

2. Should I prune my tomatoes?

Pruning tomatoes is better described as reducing the number of side branches. The purpose of pruning is to remove small, weak growth and allow more light to reach the fruit as it matures. Do not cut the tops off of the main stems, but carefully remove the weaker side stems instead.

3. What type of fertilizer is best for tomatoes?

An all-purpose fertilizer designed for vegetables and flowers will work. Avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen, because they stimulate stem and leaf growth, rather than flowers and fruit. For more fruit, try a bloom-boosting fertilizer (one with a higher amount of phosphorus). Make sure that you follow the manufacturer's directions carefully and fertilize less often when the plants begin to set fruit.

4. When can I cut back the leaves of daffodils and tulips?

Wait until the leaves have turned yellow before cutting them back with scissors. Don't pull on the leaves, or the bulb may come up with them.

5. Do tulips come back every year?

Many of the large, colorful tulips will not come back every year. Tulips labeled as perennial can come back for 3-5 years. After that, they become weak and will need to be replaced. Certain types of tulips, such as Fosteriana, Greigii, Kaufmanniana, Darwin Hybrid, and Species, can return if planted in well-drained soil that stays drier over the summer when the bulbs are dormant.

6. Do I need to stake my lilies?

Oriental and trumpet lilies produce large perfumed flowers and will need some support as they come in to bloom. Place tall bamboo stakes or sturdy wire supports near the stems (avoid skewering the bulbs) and tie the stems to the supports with garden tape or twine. Place several ties along the stem, starting a foot below the lowest blooms, to prevent the weight of the blooms from snapping the stem.

7. When should I cut back my rhododendrons?

Early midsummer is the best time to cut back your rhododendrons. Cutting them back right after they bloom allows new growth to develop. New flower buds will form by the end of the growing season.

8. How often do annuals in containers need to be fertilized?

Every 10 days to two weeks during the warmest part of the growing season will give the best results. To encourage more flowers, try a blossom-boosting fertilizer (one that is higher in phosphorus).

9. How much mulch should I use?

Applying three to four inches of mulch around your plants will help keep weeds down and will preserve soil moisture. Never place mulch directly around the base of your plants; keep mulch several inches away from the stems and leaves to avoid rot.

10. How can I get rid of slugs?

Snip them with garden scissors or place shallow containers of beer as bait in the garden so slugs will crawl into them and drown. Or, put on a pair of gloves and pick slugs up by hand late in the day or evening and drop them into soapy water.

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