In the Garden

Q: Last year I tried growing carrots for the first time with little success. The carrots ended up forked, contorted, hairy and rough, not to mention unappetizing. What did I do wrong?

A: When it comes to growing straight carrots, it’s all about soil preparation. Carrots must have loose, fine textured soil at least 10 inches deep in order to grow straight. All it takes is a stone, a dirt clod or other impediment to cause the carrot to fork, twist and turn to get around the obstacle. Tilling in finely sifted compost, while removing stones and clods, sometimes solves the problem, but if the soil is heavy or stony, you’re better off planting in a raised bed or in a container. That way you can start with a fine planting soil better suited for growing carrots. Too much nitrogen fertilizer almost always causes the problem of hairy carrots. Likewise, fresh manure is high in nitrogen, so avoid adding it into the bed immediately before planting carrots. I suggest only a half-cup of organic tomato food per whiskey-barrel-sized container. Mix the fertilizer in well. Even a clump of fertilizer can cause forking. Thin seedlings to 3 inches apart, and keep the soil evenly moist. Finally, don’t forget to cover the planting bed with insect barrier, a featherweight fabric available at local nurseries that allows sun and water to penetrate, while keeping insects out. Allow plenty of slack for foliage growth, but secure the sides by covering them with soil or boards to make sure unwanted intruders can’t enter. It would be a crying shame to grow beautiful straight carrots only to have them riddled with carrot rust fly!

Q: My lawn has become so bumpy it’s hard to mow. A friend told me I should top-dress my lawn a few times this summer. Will that help smooth it out?

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A: Top-dressing involves layering about a half-inch of soil evenly over the sod. After overseeing the care of university athletic fields where we top-dressed several times per year, I can tell you that top-dressing won’t smooth your bumpy lawn. I don’t know what happens to the soil, but it just disappears and the bumps remain. The only way to solve a bumpy lawn is to remove the old sod and start over. The best way to do that is to rent a sod cutter (available at rental stores) and either compost the old sod, or take it to a topsoil facility that lets you dump it for a fee. As long as you’re going to all of this work, rent a tiller and a lawn roller. After the sod has been removed, amend your soil by tilling in a 2-inch deep layer of compost along with 100 pounds of dolomite lime per 1,000 square feet. Smooth the soil, firm it with the roller and smooth the surface one more time. Then apply organic lawn food before reseeding or laying sod. To say this is a lot of hard work is the understatement of the year, so if you’re not the spring chicken you used to be, you might want to hire a reputable lawn firm to take this job on for you.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.