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Layer of mulch keeps space barren

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Q: I have a long bed on the south side of my home where I don’t want to grow anything or have anything grow! I don’t want to put in rocks, as I think they are ugly and don’t want to concrete the space because maybe someday I’ll change my mind about planting there. I think bark is the way I want to go but need to know how thick a layer I’ll need to put down to keep anything from growing in the area. – H.M.M., West Side

A: Because you really don’t want to grow anything, you’ll want to mulch it stoutly, 4 inches to start with your bark chips. If you can, aim for a mulch layer of 6 inches deep and you should be near guaranteed preventing anything from growing in that locale.

Now, you’ll want to patrol the space every other weekend and reposition the bark with a rake to prevent cleared or low spots. Consider applying a pre-emergent herbicide to assist you in keeping the space barren, too.

While you are working there, watch for any interlopers that could be blown in and pluck them as necessary.

But a stout 4-, or better 6-inch layer of the bark used as mulch should keep that unplanted space barren until you decide differently.

Q: I was just about to spray a couple of my roses because I saw some aphids and other bugs but then remembered that you’d taught us how to recognize young ladybugs so we wouldn’t kill them off, too, but want to be sure. Refresh me as to what young ladybugs look like so I know if I’ve got them or not. – D.G., West Side

A: Oh, young ladybugs are my favorite, and with the weather warming, you can find them out and about for sure this time of year.

OK, young ladybugs are a six-legged creature that, if you let your imagination run a little wild, look like a black-bodied alligator that has orange spots. Just funky looking! If you are in the habit of watching ladybug larva, you’ll see how big they can get – easily a quarter-inch long – and as larva, they are voracious feeders of aphids.

Then – poof ! – they stop moving, grab on to a sturdy stem or sunny wall and start to change. It’s almost as if they roll up into themselves and morph into the creature we know as the brilliant orange ladybug right before your eyes.

The change from larval alligator form to what we know and recognize as ladybugs takes several days, but the process never ceases to amaze me, and it’s one I look forward to watching each spring.

I’m happy you opted to check to see if you have young ladybugs before you sprayed. Hope you find them!

Q: I want to get my gardening friend a present. Not a plant, but something just for her. What would you suggest? – G.G., Albuquerque

A: You know she gardens and that is a project that usually happens outdoors so a new bottle of sunscreen is the ticket! Look for one that contains little to no fragrance as you don’t want her confused by a buzzing bumblebee while she’s out enjoying her pastime.

Gloves and a hat are another way to keep your friend protected and would be appreciated. A lightweight, white over-shirt is a really good piece of clothing to have while working in our sometimes harsh sun.

Those are easy things to show your friend that you care how she takes care of herself while she’s out caring for the earth.

Happy spring season to you all!

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.

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