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England: Maintain spiraea by cutting back after flowers disappear
Spiraeas thrive under most garden conditions in temperate regions.
Question: I have a small goldmound spiraea that is blooming now. It is not supposed to get much larger, but I want it to remain vigorous. How and when should I prune it?

Answer: There are some 80 species of the genus Spiraea that are native to temperate regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Most of the varieties commonly grown for landscaping have been developed from plants not native to the United States.

Spiraeas thrive under most garden conditions in temperate regions. They like warm summers and moist well-drained soil, but established plants seem to be reasonably drought tolerant.

Spiraeas are among the easiest shrubs to grow. The classic bridal wreath spirea (Spirea x Vanhouttei), with its large cascading branches of tiny snow-white flowers, puts on a great display in early spring.

Other varieties of spiraea bloom later in the summer, and may be grown as much for their summer and fall foliage as for their blooms. Regardless of the variety, wait until after the flower display is over before pruning.

Spiraeas are clumping plants that send numerous long stems up from a single basal area. Prune by removing some of the older (and longer) stems each year and cutting back some of the remaining stems as needed to maintain the shape you desire.

Spiraea japonica "goldmound" is supposed to mature at two or three feet tall and about four feet wide. It is small enough to make regular pruning a not-too-difficult task that will keep it within the bounds you set.

Q: How much moisture does a compost pile need?
A: A compost pile will heat up more quickly and decompose more rapidly if it is kept moist, but not wet. Think of a sponge that has been saturated with water and then not quite completely wrung out.

A properly working compost pile should feel warm or even hot on the inside. If it is not warmer than the air temperature and feels dry to the touch it needs more moisture and perhaps more green material.

Air circulation is also important to keeping the composting process moving rapidly. That is why turning the compost pile regularly is usually recommended.

Knowing that, given enough time, compost that is never turned will eventually decompose, I take a different approach. I usually have at least two or three piles of different ages of composting at the same time, but seldom turn them.

I compost wood chips, aged horse manure or other material as the opportunity arises. I keep one pile of prunings from nonwoody plants, adding new material to the top and periodically scraping out finished product from the bottom of the pile.

Leaves and grass clippings are used as mulch for my vegetable garden. Kitchen scraps are either buried directly in the garden or simply placed in contact with the soil and covered with leaf mulch.

Q: Can new tomato plants be made from cuttings?
A: Most varieties of tomatoes are easy to root from cuttings. The branches that form at the leaf axils (sometimes called suckers) are ideal for starting new plants.

Cut the sucker off evenly with a sharp knife and place it in about two inches of water. Within a few days the stem will usually begin forming bumps that gradually turn into roots.

Pot the new plant when the roots are a half-inch long, and keep the potting soil moist. Rooting cuttings from suckers is a good way to extend the growing season by having plants to set out in midsummer.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension. Send questions to

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