QUESTION: I recently saw an article about planting a small garden inside a straw bale. This was a novel and interesting idea to me, since I don’t want to plow up a plot and only need a small space. I am wondering if you could comment on the feasibility of this and furnish more information and instructions.

ANSWER: It certainly can be done; in fact, it’s not uncommon to see potatoes grown in straw bales. However, many vegetables could be grown in properly managed bales.

Here are a few things to consider: Start with clean straw bales, because any weed seeds or crop seeds that are in the bale will germinate when you start caring for your vegetable plants. Next, put the bales in full sun, and be sure this is where they will stay. Once you start watering them on a regular basis, they will get much too heavy to move.

Plan on spending the first week or so getting your bales good and wet. A tight straw bale will actually repel some water, so soaking it slowly will help the water penetrate the bale.

When you’re ready to plant, put a couple of inches of potting mix or compost on the top of the bales to act as a seed bed. You can plant seeds or seedlings; just be sure to keep the bales thoroughly watered. As the season progresses, your bales will gradually decompose. As they do, they should be able to hold water a little longer.

Smaller crops should do well, but larger plants, such as tomatoes or peppers, will need staking just as they would in a normal garden. There are few natural nutrients in straw, so you’ll probably want to use a water-soluble fertilizer to provide the nutrition your crops will need. This will vary from crop to crop, so follow the label directions for the fertilizer you select.

QUESTION: I live in the southern part of Prince George County. I have a 1-acre yard that receives sun and light traffic and I am planning on completely re-establishing my lawn this spring.

I learned that our area is “transitional” in regards to the type of grass seed recommended; some say to use Zoysia and some recommend tall fescue. I will be taking a soil sample, de-thatching, aerating, seeding and fertilizing, but what type of grass seed and its application rate do you recommend?

ANSWER: In your location with an acre of grass, sandy soil and lots of sun, I’d suggest you consider planting Bermuda grass. Mark Landa, owner of Boulevard Flower Gardens, tells me he gets many requests for Bermuda seed from homeowners in Prince George and Dinwiddie counties. As for as a specific variety, Landa says he has seen good results with several, including Blackjack and Casino Royale. I also checked with Southern States, and it carries a variety called Sunspot. Late March or early April is the ideal time to seed Bermuda at a rate of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet. It thrives in hot, sunny locations.

QUESTION: I have a section of lawn on the north side of my house that is surrounded by large oak trees and shady most of the time. It is also subject to runoff from the roof during rain storms. Needless to say, almost no grass will survive in this area. Do you have any suggestions as to what I might plant for ground cover?

ANSWER: You might think about mulching it and gradually adding ferns and other shade plants. Ferns thrive in moist, shady areas, and there are a number of interesting varieties on the market. Also, you can download a publication called “Qualifiers for Quagmires” by Richard Bir, formerly of North Carolina State. (http://ncforestry.info/ncces/qualifiers_for_quagmires/) I heard him speak a number of years ago on this topic, and his publication contains a great list of plants that thrive in wet areas, everything from trees to shrubs and perennials.

You should be able to convert this area that’s not conducive to growing grass into a low-maintenance shade garden that will actually be a highlight in your landscape rather than a trouble spot.

Richard Nunnally is a freelance writer and adjunct horticulture instructor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. Email questions to tdgarden@verizon.net.

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