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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

When to cut back Montauk daisies and beach grass; how to tell if mushrooms are edible

Montauk daisies can be cut almost to the

Montauk daisies can be cut almost to the ground in early spring. Photo Credit: Ellen Watson

DEAR JESSICA: I have beach grass and Montauk daisies in my backyard. The daisies are dormant and lying over so I’m wondering when would be the best time to cut them as well as the beach grass. — Stephen Humsjo, Oakdale

DEAR STEPHEN: Montauk daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) are low-maintenance mounding perennial shrubs that thrive in most soil types in full-sun to partial-shade conditions. They do tend to flop over, as you’ve noted. You’ll get the best performance from them if you cut them almost to the ground in early spring.

Beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) commonly found along the East Coast as far south as North Carolina, grows on dunes at the shore and in maritime beach communities, and easily tolerates heat, salt, sand cover and drought. It will perform best if fertilized with a 15-10-10 product 30 days after planting (but not before April) then monthly from April through September. Plants don’t typically need to be cut back.

DEAR JESSICA: I have noticed mushrooms growing on a tree that I have a bird feeder hanging from. I wonder how one knows if the mushrooms are safe to eat and if the mushrooms are an indication that the tree is not well and should be removed? — Adrienne Wilber, Holtsville

DEAR ADRIENNE: Most, but not all, mushrooms grow on decaying organic matter, such as tree stumps and in mulch. They are fungi so they thrive in moist, shady conditions. There’s no fail-proof formula for determining whether a mushroom is safe to eat, and because the consequences of a mistake can be dire and even fatal, I would not venture a guess. There are reputable illustrated field guides, such as the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms,” by Gary A. Lincoff, that can be used to aid identification. Still, I would caution novices against relying on visual cues, as oftentimes varieties share characteristics. In my opinion, it’s just not worth taking a chance.

As to what their presence indicates, my guess is a fungus entered the wound created when the branch was cut, and the branch stump is likely rotting. I can see the branch was cut improperly. It should have been cut just outside the area where the branch meets the main trunk. This swollen area is called the branch collar, and cuts should be made just past it, on the diagonal, leaving the collar intact on the tree. It’s too late for this season, but you should revisit that pruning job and remedy it in March, just before the tree comes out of dormancy.

DEAR JESSICA: What fertilizer do you recommend for potted fig trees? — Frank Tassielli, Nesconset

DEAR FRANK: As with most containerized plants, figs grown in pots require regular fertilizer applications. Give them three doses of a 5-5-5 product, one each in late March, late May and late June. Top dressing the soil with a layer of compost also will provide nutrients.

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