Maryland Grows

April Permaculture – The Garden Thyme Podcast

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Spring is here! We are so ready to get in our gardens and hope you are as well.  In this episode, we are joined by Justinian Dispenza, who runs the Eastern Shore Permaculture Institute.   We talked all about what permaculture is and how to incorporate its ideas into our own gardens.   Permaculture is an approach to land management and philosophy that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems.

We also have our: 

  • Native Plant of the Month (Eastern columbine, Aquilegia canadensis) at ~29:00
  • Bug of the Month (Bee Flies) at ~ 35:30
  • Garden Tips of the Month at ~ 37:40

We hope you enjoyed this month’s episode and will tune in next month for more garden tips. 

 If you have any garden-related questions please email us at  UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GardenThymePodcas.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast where we help you get down and dirty in your garden. The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County). The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer and Equal Access Programs.

Theme Song: By Jason Inc

Wild ginger spices up the Maryland spring

As a pollination biologist, I have the immense privilege of studying really cool plants who trick their pollinators in fancy and incredible ways, and I tend to be naturally attracted to flowers that may not be super showy to most (but are among some of the most mind-blowing things in nature). These flowers are such a wonderful thing in their own right, and in this post I want to do them justice. Because it’s spring and some of these are starting to point their noses out of the ground, in today’s post I would like to (re)introduce you to a plant you may be familiar with, but that I hope after today you will get to look at with new amazed eyes (in case you don’t already 😉 ). Come with me and let’s chat a bit about the wonderful hidden queen of our forests: the wild ginger!

Is wild ginger, ginger?

The short answer is no. While ginger (the plant we eat) is native to Southeast Asia, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is native to right here, and more specifically to the deciduous forests of Eastern North America. In case you are not familiar with the plant, it belongs to the family of birthworts, which have really interesting ways of interacting with their pollinators. Unlike other birthworts that tend to have flowers that hang in the air from the plant, wild gingers are very “shy” and the whole plant is restricted to the ground level.

Wild ginger is starting to peek out their leaves right now. Once the leaves are fully grown, they get their characteristic heart-shape and can create nice mats to cover the ground. Photos: A. Espíndola; threelark.

The plant is perennial (it lives for several seasons) and exits dormancy in the early spring when its heart-shaped and fuzzy leaves start to unfurl and emerge from the ground. Eventually, the plant becomes a little mat and over time it creates colonies. This is a reason why wild ginger can be a great groundcover plant to use under trees or in shadier and humid parts of one’s yard (see here for how to do this).

Wild ginger is cool – The flowers!

Unlike other birthworts, wild ginger holds its flowers close and parallel to the ground. Wild ginger’s flowers are not showy, being of dark brown and not very large. These flowers are engaged in mimicry pollination, meaning that “disguise” as something else (here, fungi), to trick pollinators into doing something they don’t necessarily want to do. In the case of wild ginger, the flowers are held low to the ground and close to the base of the stems.

Wild ginger flowers are displayed on the ground, at the base of the fuzzy stems. Being dark and close to the ground helps them lure their pollinators, small flies that feed on decaying matter. Photo: A. Carlson.

Wild ginger flowers are dark, particularly moist, and produce specific odors that attract small flies that feed on decaying matter. The tricking consists in making the flies enter the flowers to lay eggs in what the flies consider is fungi (their egg laying sites). While doing this, the flies contact the pollen-bearing structures, and while visiting different flowers, they cross-pollinate them. In this case, we talk about antagonistic interactions between the plants and their pollinators because the interaction does not benefit both partners. In fact, here the plants have the upper hand, and the flies simply loose their eggs to the plant since their larvae can’t feed on the floral tissues. If this is not sufficient to amaze you, keep reading; it gets better!

Wild ginger is cool – The seeds!

After pollination, the flower ovules grow into seeds. Unlike seeds in most plants, wild ginger seeds have a special “addition”. Indeed, the seeds have attached a special extension (called an elaiosome) that is particularly rich in lipids and proteins. This structure makes the seeds very attractive to ants, who collect the seeds, carry them away from the plant, and, after having consumed the elaiosome, discard the seed. By doing this, the seeds can get dispersed farther away from the mother plant, and the population can slowly grow and expand. Isn’t that super neat????!!!

The seeds of wild ginger have a special nutrient-rich body called elaiosome, which is a delicatessen for ants. This allows the plant to use ants to disperse their seeds. The shiny brown (left) and yellow (right) bodies attached to the seeds are the elaiosomes (arrows). Photos: Sid Vogelpohl, Arkansas Native Plants Society; B. Patterson.

Wild ginger as a human ally

Wild ginger was and is still well known to Native Americans of Eastern North America, and it is very likely that they were the ones who showed the European colonists how to use it. Among the Native names still known for this plant is namepin (see here to learn how to say it), which means “plant of small tubers”. Even though it is hard to find the original local names for Maryland tribes, we know that the roots of the plant were used to treat fever and coughs by Cherokees, Iroquois, and Rappahannocks, and that it is very likely that most of the tribes and bands of Maryland (e.g. Shawnee, Piscataway, Pocomoke, Assateague, Nause-Waiwash, Accohannock) use(d) it as well because the plant was and is abundantly present in the area.

By Anahí Espíndola, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park. See more posts by Anahí.

New! Anahí also writes an Extension Blog in Spanish! Check it out here, extensionesp.umd.edu, and please share and spread the word to your Spanish speaking friends and colleagues in Maryland. Bienvenidos a Extensión en Español!

Timing those tomato plants, and identifying garden seedlings

I started my tomato seeds only yesterday, and no, that is not an April Fool’s joke. That is a goal achieved: resisting temptation to get going too early. Getting out of March tomato-free. I finally did it!

Here are the reasons I waited so long:

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The Time to Spring Seed Your Lawn is Now

With springtime springing, many people are thinking about planting in their yards and gardens. While the best time of year to plant grass seed and renovate is in the fall, we have a narrow window in the spring that can be taken advantage of to try to fill in bare spots and thin areas. Thin or weak areas that may have been damaged over the winter or even last summer are very prone to crabgrass and other weed invasion as we get farther into spring and early summer. With cooler weather forecast later this week (many areas are predicted to have frost in the morning), we still have a good window over the next two weeks for spring grass planting. If you have already applied crabgrass preventer, then you’ll have to wait until fall to plant grass seed, but if you haven’t, now is a good time to try to “thicken up” some weak spots and create more density before weeds have a chance to get a foothold. 

While a “full scale” lawn renovation should only be done in the fall (unless you are using all sod), spring is a good time to rejuvenate thin or weak areas. To do this, use a hard metal rake to remove any dead plant debris from the area and expose the soil. Use a drop spreader or handheld spreader (larger area) or sprinkle seed by hand (smaller area) as you try to get good, even coverage of the area (for tall fescue seed you will want to have about 6-10 seeds/square inch seed density). You can then very lightly rake the area to get the seed worked into the soil less than 1/2″ or carefully step on seeds to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Next, be sure to cover the seed by topdressing compost or peat moss over the newly seeded area. This will help the seed retain moisture until it starts to germinate and provide some protection from birds. Lastly, try to keep the new seed damp at least until germination. With our cooler weather and a few showers in the forecast, the upcoming weather will help with keeping the seeds moist until they germinate but you may have to do a little watering with your garden hose or sprinkler too. 

We don’t have a big window of time for spring seeding, but seeding now before crabgrass and other weeds become more active later in spring will help increase the density of the lawn and make it better able to resist weed invasion!

By Geoffrey Rinehart, University of Maryland Institute of Applied Agriculture

Hummingbirds Add Grace to the Garden

Hummingbird on feeder

In a few weeks, they will return; flashes of emerald green winging their way through our gardens. The hummingbirds will be back.

Around April 15, hummingbirds return from their winter digs.  Weighing about the same as a dime, they pack plenty of power in that petite package.   Their wings beat 50 times a second and their aerial acrobatics are second to none. 

Our local hummingbird is the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The males sport a jaunty red handkerchief of feathers they flash to attract females and warn off aggressors.  Hey, baby.  Whoa, bud. 

As they dip their bills into flowers, hummingbirds pick up pollen on their feathers which they transfer to other flowers.  Bees and butterflies get all the press, but hummingbirds also are good pollinators.

Hummingbirds’ powerhouse metabolism needs constant fuel.  One hummingbird needs the nectar from about 1,000 blossoms a day to survive.  As gardeners, there is much we can do to help these flying jewels.

To attract hummingbirds to your garden, plan blooms from April to October to provide them with a steady source of nectar.  They supplement their diet with tiny insects and spiders, but it’s nectar they need most.

A perfect addition to your garden is the native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  It blooms in concert with the hummingbirds’ arrival in April when few flowers are blooming. Plus, it has the tubular form that’s custom-made for a hummingbird’s long, slender beak.

The rumors are true:  hummingbirds favor red and orange flowers.  If they also have a tubular shape, your hummingbirds will be ecstatic.  Think coral honeysuckle, salvia, and bee balm. 

Some plants fool you by having a hidden tubular base.  Look at a petunia, morning glory, lantana, or phlox to see what I mean. 

Nectar-heavy flowers without tubular shapes score big with hummingbirds, too.  Lupines, hollyhocks, and foxglove are all favorites.

Plants provide wonderful natural food sources for hummingbirds, but many people – myself included – like to put up hummingbird feeders.  The best feeders are sturdy, easy to clean and hang, and have multiple ports and perches. 

Skip the pre-made hummingbird food mixes and make your own.  Simply dissolve 1 part sugar in 4 parts water.  I boil a cup of water and add a quarter cup of sugar.  Clean and refill your feeders weekly. 

Hummingbirds prefer showers to baths, so you can make them oh-so-happy by adding a water dripper or mister to your garden.  They will delight you by dancing in the spray.

If you’d like to help your hummingbirds even more, avoid using chemicals in your garden.  Their fast metabolism and tiny size make them especially vulnerable to insecticides and herbicides.  So, use kinder, gentler controls.

I hope you will welcome hummingbirds into your garden this year.  There are few sights more joyful, few birds more charming.   

Building a Raised Bed – A Family Adventure

The snow is finally melting here in Garrett County and spring is getting warmer every day.  

My husband, Josh, had a few hours to help me build our new raised bed on Saturday. Some of you may have read my planning and budgeting blog from last month, but my building materials have changed. Josh found a yellow locust tree to cut into logs, which we sawed on our family’s circular sawmill. Be sure to check local feed stores, garden centers, or local sawmills for wooden building materials that may be very affordable. 

tools for building a raised bed

laying out a new garden

Level the area. You will need a shovel and a level. Measure out the dimensions of your raised bed. We had to dig deeper on the one side to make it level. We also used a 4-foot long level, so that made measuring the 8’ x 4’ bed pretty easy to lay out.

cutting boards for raised beds

Prepare your boards. Square the ends and cut. Pre-drill after cutting the lengths. Pre-drilling is especially important if you’re using hardwood lumber. We used 1.5 inch thick locust lumber.

boards nailed together

Lay out your boards and nail them together. Check out this video by Jon Traunfeld (1 minute 30 second mark) for more details on how to nail the boards together. Repeat until your desired height or you run out of materials. Measure diagonally from one end to the other. Those numbers should match if the bed is square.

raised bed frame

We added two middle posts that we drove one foot into the ground to be sure that the soil wouldn’t push the boards out of place. Posts were 3” x 4”  and 3 feet long.

raised bed frame

 Secure your layers together. 

raised bed with weed barrier

Add black landscape fabric (or newspaper/cardboard) to block weed growth. This photo shows all posts that were used to secure the three layers of boards.

raised bed filled with soil

We used a mixture of bulk topsoil and mushroom compost purchased from a local feed store. Here you can find more information on what you can use to fill your raised bed garden.

raised bed with square feet marked off

Lastly, I used staples, a hammer, twine, and a rule to measure out my square foot plots to prepare for planting. I have 32 square feet ready to plant as soon as the weather warms up a little more.  Check out these great resources if you need guidance on timing of when to start planting vegetables. This planting calendar is my favorite planning tool. Next month, I’ll share some ideas for critter-proofing the raised bed. 

Are you ready for vegetable gardening season? Do you have plans to add any gardening spaces this season?

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, edited by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. See more posts by Ashley and Christa.

Backyard Chickens – The Garden Thyme Podcast – March 2021

A rooster

 In this episode, we are joined by the University of Maryland Extension Poultry Specialist Jon Moyle. We invited Jon to give the cockadoddledoo details on raising backyard chickens. Jon covers information such as basic chicken biology, basic needs, and protocol for keeping poultry at home. More importantly, Jon discusses important facts homeowners should consider before taking on their own flock. To learn more about backyard flocks, visit the University of Maryland Extension Small Flock Production website. To register your flock through the Maryland Department of Agriculture click here. You can signup for Jon Backyard program here.

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Rooster photo caption: Photo credit (Jon Moyle): Thor was a Light Brown Leghorn.  He was proud of his ability to protect his flock of hens, (I have the scars to prove it) and he met his demise to a raptor (he think it was an eagle but may have been a hawk). 


Timing: 

  • Native Plant of the Month (Spicebush- Lindera benzoin) at ~30:55
  • Bug of the Month (Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle) at ~35:50
  • Garden Tips of the Month at ~38:30

We hope you enjoyed this month’s episode and will tune in next month for more garden tips. 

 If you have any garden-related questions please email us at  UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast where we help you get down and dirty in your garden, with timely gardening tips, information about native plants, and more! The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County). The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer and Equal Access Programs.

Theme Song:  By Jason Inc