Maryland Grows

Podcast: HGIC’s lead horticulturist reveals this year’s top gardening topics

What are the most frequently asked questions this year at the Maryland Extension’s Home & Garden Information Center? Our lead horticulturist Debra Ricigliano revealed some of the hottest topics during her chat with Washington Gardener Magazine editor Kathy Jentz for her recent GardenDC podcast. These included dogwood and oak tree problems, periodical cicadas, fall armyworms, and much more! Plus, Debbie provided a brief history of the agricultural land-grant universities, Cooperative Extension, and how we continue to serve the public with resources such as Ask Extension.

Listen to the podcast.

Rain Gardens – The Garden Thyme Podcast

In this month’s episode, we are chatting all about the benefits of rain gardens (~12:45).  Every time it
rains, water runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads, and parking lots, collecting
pollutants along the way. Maryland’s average rainfall is about 44”. That is a lot of storm water, isn’t it?
Think about how much water can go back into our groundwater table instead of directly into a storm drain by
using a rain garden. We also answer a listener’s question about how to prepare an area for planting a
new garden next year by removing turf grass (~00:45).

To listen to the podcast visit: https://gardenthymepodcast.buzzsprout.com or search for us on Itunes
or the Stitcher App.

Helpful resource: Rain Gardens Across Maryland 

We also have our: 
 Native Plant of the Month (Woolgrass) at  29:50
 Bug of the Month (splitter bug aka frog hopper) at ~ 33:40
 Garden Tips of the Month at ~ 38:45

We hope you enjoy this month’s episode and will tune in next month for more garden tips.  If you
have any garden related questions please email UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GardenThymePodcast

The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast 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). 

Theme Song:  By Jason Inc

The Heirloom Collards Project

I am way late to the party on this (it happened in December 2020) but recently I’ve caught up on watching the videos connected with Collard Week. This is part of the Heirloom Collards Project, an ongoing collaboration between Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seed Savers Exchange, plus farmers, seed-savers, chefs and others who want to celebrate and explore the world of collards.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Ira Wallace, standing in a beautiful field of heirloom collards! Screen capture from Collard Week video, Culinary Breeding Network’s YouTube channel.
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My flowers should be attracting lots of pollinators, but they’re not. What’s going on?

The presence of pollinators on flowers depends on many factors, so it is hard to know exactly why they are not visiting your flowers as much as you would expect. Plus, sometimes these factors happen simultaneously, so it may be that it is not one but the combination of factors that leads to the lower floral visits one sees. In today’s post I would like to touch on some potential reasons of why flowers may not be visited, and what we all can do to change it!

Are there really no pollinators?

We tend to think of pollinators as honeybees, and if we don’t see them we think that there are no pollinators. Pollinators come in a huge variety of types (see here to learn more!), and although you may not be attracting a lot of honeybees, you may be doing great at sustaining other pollinators!

To test if this is what is happening in your flower patch, observe carefully the flowers to see if there are other insects visiting them. Those may be pollinators too! Indeed, small wild bees, syrphids, and small beetles visit flowers often, but are usually inconspicuous. Also, make sure that you are observing your flowers when pollinators are most active, which tends to be under sunny and warm weather conditions.

Some pollinators are tiny and inconspicuous. Although seemingly not being visited, the flowers on this picture are visited by several beetles and bees. Can you see them? Photo: A. Espíndola

Pollinators have not yet had time to find your flowers

Especially if your flower patch is in an area or neighborhood where there aren’t many flowers, the pollinators in your area will need a bit of time to know that the flowers are there! It’s like when a new shop opens and it takes a while for people to know it exists. If you continue to have flowers there over the season and years, pollinators are going to start coming more regularly and you should see an increase over time.

Not sufficient(ly diverse) flowers

If you indeed live in a region where there are not many floral resources available for pollinators, you can plant more (diverse) flowers next year and/or talk to your neighbors and have them plant flowers too! The more flowers in a region/neighborhood, the more pollinators you may end up attracting overall! On this, consider talking to your City leadership and inquire on whether they would be interested in supporting pollinators by becoming a certified Bee City USA city.

Flower beds and gardens with many plant species are ideal to increase the number of pollinators in our green spaces. Photo: J. Dean

Lots of flowers but not many places to nest

Even though most pollinators can fly to get to floral resources, their flight ability depends on the species. Some species can fly some miles, while others forage just close to their nests. To make sure that there is a lot of pollinator diversity in your flower patch, you can create conditions that favor the nesting of those species that can’t travel far. For this, a great thing to do is create nest-friendly spaces on your property. One can also establish practices that ensure that critical pollinator developmental stages (e.g., overwintering stages, larval development) also have sufficient resources. This can be done, for instance, by leaving leaf litter on the ground over winter and protecting overwintering spaces (check this other post to learn more).

Some pollinators are territorial

Some pollinators (e.g., some bumblebees, honeybees, large carpenter bees, wool carder bees) can “push out” other smaller pollinators, especially while the males are looking for a mate. If the large ones are very abundant, it could be possible that they are chasing away the small ones. This would not explain an absolute lack of pollinators, but would be able to explain certain drops in abundances at certain times of the year.

Pesticide drift

Pesticide drift is a big problem for the protection of beneficial arthropods, and can lead to pollinator (and other beneficial insects) death. Drift happens when a region in the vicinity of your property is treated with pesticides, and the products drift into your property. This is really problematic when the applications are done at the wrong times, with the wrong concentrations, or using the wrong means. In particular, this can be a problem when homeowners decide to perform whole-yard spraying to control mosquitoes, which is not recommended (an exception to this are controlled community-wide sprays occasionally done by the State Department of Agriculture if disease spread –e.g., West Nile Virus — is a concern).

Unless there are strong reasons for pesticides to be continuously applied in the vicinity of your property (e.g., major and sustained outbreak of mosquito populations), this is normally restrained in time. If there has been drift, you would be seeing a drop in pollinators compared to a previous time in the year (say, the week prior to the potential drift event). If drift has actually happened, but is not happening anymore, one would expect to see the populations of your pollinators increase with time, since new pollinators could be attracted from other surrounding areas. If you suspect that drift is an issue, you can discuss with your neighbors and see if the applications are really necessary, if they are done at the proper times (ideally in the night or when beneficial insects are not active) and/or get them in touch with your UMD Extension officers, who can recommend whether treatment is even needed, and if so, how to do it. You can send your question online to Ask Extension.

If not properly done, pesticide applications can lead to pesticide drift to neighboring areas and pesticide runoff to our watersheds. Always carefully read the labels appearing on pesticide containers, and consult your Extension agents if you want to make sure to do a safe application. Image: C. Rusconi

Just a less-active year

If you have been successful in the past, it could just be that this year there is just a smaller population of pollinators in the area when your flowers are growing. For example, maybe the warm winter did not help some pollinators properly overwinter, or some disease outbreak locally affected pollinators in your area. If next year you realize that this was indeed a one-year thing, this will then be easily explained by natural fluctuations in pollinator populations.

Think broadly and don’t give up!

Remember that sometimes it is not one but the combined effect of these factors that makes that pollinator abundances drop in our gardens. If you’re not sure what the actual reason may be, your best call is trying to implement as many of the actions as you can, so at least you can exclude some variables. Either way, remember that your actions are likely not going to bring results from one day to the next, but rather from one season to the next! For example, many pollinators reproduce only once per year, so you may have to wait until the next generation (the following year) to see a difference. So, don’t give up if you don’t see an effect right away! You’re likely doing the right thing; you just need to wait a bit longer to see the result!


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

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!

Tomato time! What’s your favorite variety?

I think it is safe to say that it is officially tomato season in Maryland! For people that do not grow their own tomatoes, many visit local farmers markets, roadside stands, or grocery stores to purchase these delicious treats. How are you getting your tomato fix in 2021? Do you have a favorite tomato variety you grow at home?

Soil type and growing conditions such as temperature and amount of available water can influence the taste, sweetness, and texture of a tomato, but there is some background information that can help guide your tomato buying or growing. My family and I grow 10+ different varieties and anywhere between 150-200 tomato plants each year for our small, fresh vegetable business. I want to share some lessons with you that I have learned. 

Below are some basic terms to know (for a more detailed explanation of these check out this blog post). I’m going to make some generalizations about the terms when it comes to characteristics that people are looking for in eating qualities: 

Variety– there are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. Each variety has a special characteristic that makes it different from another variety — shape, size, color, taste, etc. Varieties can be open- pollinated, heirloom, or hybrid. These terms relate to how the seeds are produced season after season and are important if you want to save seeds in your garden.  

In some situations, especially in greenhouses, growers will utilize bumblebees to ensure that pollination happens; however, cross-pollination is not needed for tomatoes, as they are self-fertile (a complete flower with both male and female parts, so just the motion of the flower opening is usually enough movement for pollination to occur). In nature, wind and rain help tomato pollination to occur. In my high tunnel, we shake our vines every few days.  

Open-pollinated plants have been crossed in nature by insects, wind, rain etc., several times and most variability has been lost through natural selection and natural crossing. These often breed “true” to name and characteristics. However, these plants are more likely to produce fruits that have deformities like catfacing

Heirloom is a special designation of open-pollinated plants that are 50+ years old and often have a fun story that goes along with the name. They may have some variability in size, shape, and color, but are usually pretty standard. Heirlooms/Open-Pollinated varieties are often softer, thinner skinned, get more bruises from handling, and are harder to pick/pull off the vines. My favorite heirloom and story is about the Mortgage Lifter, which was bred in West Virginia by a mechanic that was so successful that he ended up growing plants and selling them to pay for his mortgage in just 6 years. 

Hybrid or F1 generation seeds are the result of a specific cross of two parent plants. The hybrids are often bred for a specific outcome such as disease resistance, color, or use. Often these tomatoes are very uniform in shape, size, and color when ripe. Many times hybrid tomatoes are more “sturdy” tomatoes– not as soft and will hold up better on the shelf. Often, the more ripe these tomatoes are, the less thick the skin appears and the sweeter they taste. 

In my opinion, if you choose accordingly, every tomato has a perfect use.

For salads, I like a tougher skinned tomato, so I choose a hybrid. Who wants a tomato that gets all over the other vegetables in the salad? Also, if someone in your family doesn’t like tomatoes, these types are easier to pick out. 

Making juice, sauce, salsa, or anything that you want to be thicker– heirlooms, hybrids, or paste tomatoes (sometimes a mixture of all work the best)– any type will work but a longer cooking time may be required to get the correct thickness. 

Eating fresh on a sandwich– heirlooms often have the best flavor and texture, but if overly ripe, they tend to be a little mushy. Hybrids will work well, especially if you let them get fully ripe!

Sometimes people use overall shape to categorize tomatoes, but the shape doesn’t always fully describe the tomato.

Beefsteak- is a particular variety name, but many people also use this term to describe a large tomato.  Sometimes these varieties have a core that isn’t edible. 

Slicing- describes a large tomato often used to cut across and make a nice slice, often important to people that want to eat a fresh tomato sandwich. 

Cherry- very small tomato, eating in one bite without cutting. 

Pear- small pear-shaped tomato, often eaten whole, much like a cherry. 

Grape- similar to a cherry, but usually smaller in size. 

Oxheart- tomatoes shaped like a heart that often have a large core that is not usable. 

Paste- oval to pear-shaped tomatoes that are meaty with fewer seeds. They tend to have less juice and are preferred for drying, canning, or sauce. 

Several yellow oxhearts are pictured above. This is a variety called Homer Fike Yellow Oxheart, from my hometown. 

Skin thickness is a very important characteristic! 

Hybrids often have tougher or thicker skin, which makes them easier for picking and handling in mass production. If you like to squeeze tomatoes to check for ripeness a thicker skinned variety can be misleading in how tasty or ripe a tomato is. 

Knowing characteristics for each variety can be really helpful in determining ripeness. 

For example, we grow several types that are pink when fully ripe. But if we do not mark where these are planted it is easy to leave them on the vine too long and they get overly ripe and then are not marketable.  Likewise, if you are shopping for tomatoes and do not realize that there are pink varieties, you could be missing out on a very tasty treat! 

Oxheart Tomatoes– Top left— washed,  Top right– cleaned, boiled and ready to peel the skins, Bottom Right- cooking with salsa packet mix added, Bottom left— Salsa in pints and processed in a water bath canner.  
Another heirloom tomato– Mr. Stripey. If you are looking for a yellow tomato with a red marble that will grow huge, try this variety! As you can see from the photo, the tomatoes are way larger than my mother’s outstretched hand. 
Mixture of hybrid tomatoes– Fourth of July (a great salad tomato, perfect for cutting into quarters) and Early Girl
Purple hybrid tomato called Marnouar which has eating characteristics similar to an heirloom but a disease resistant package that I could not resist!

Knowledge is power when it comes to choosing the best tomato for your purpose! Please, on behalf of gardeners and fresh vegetable growers everywhere, do not squeeze the tomatoes to test for ripeness! Take a chance and try some different varieties this season and next! 

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland. See more posts by Ashley.

Invite butterflies to your garden

A common buckeye butterfly sips nectar from native New York ironweed.

Raise your hand if you love butterflies.  Wow, that’s a lot of hands. 

It’s hard to resist the fluttering appeal of butterflies with their delicate wings, zig-zag flight and graceful presence in our gardens.  So, why resist?  Revel in butterflies’ visits and do more to attract them to your gardens. 

This means having flowers blooming from spring to frost.  Different butterflies emerge at different times and need fuel to fly.  

Lilies and other flowers welcome butterflies such as this great spangled fritillary.
Lilies and other flowers welcome butterflies such as this great spangled fritillary. Photo credit: Barb Hendershot, Washington County Master Gardener

Flat-topped plants with single flowers provide good landing pads for butterflies.  Think zinnias and yarrow or other plants butterflies can easily grasp.   Choose native plants such as purple coneflowers, asters and goldenrods that have evolved with native butterflies to provide maximum nutrition.  

Butterflies undergo what’s called complete metamorphosis.  That means that they are an insect that goes through four distinct life stages:  egg, larva, pupa and adult. Host plants provide both a place for adult butterflies to lay their eggs and food for the caterpillars that emerge. So adding host plants helps not one but two butterfly life stages.  

Different butterflies need different host plants.  For example, dill and parsley are host plants for black swallowtail butterflies while milkweeds host monarch butterflies.  

A black swallowtail butterfly feeds on parsley, one of its host plants.
A black swallowtail butterfly feeds on parsley, one of its host plants. Photo credit: Martha MacNeil, Washington County Master Gardener
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
Master Gardener Martha McNeil discovers a monarch caterpillar feeding on common milkweed. Photo credit: Mo Theriault, Washington County Master Gardener

To learn about your favorite butterflies’ host plants, view this chart from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Know that when you plant host plants, they will get munched by hungry butterfly caterpillars. That’s what they’re for!  So plant extra in different parts of your garden if you also want harvests for your family.  

Butterflies get thirsty, but they have difficulty drinking from deep birdbaths.  So add a few rocks to your bird-feeder to make sipping easier.

Like beach-side sunbathers, butterflies bask.  They sun themselves to warm their wings to make them flight ready.  Set up a suitable sunning area by adding a few flat rocks to your garden.

Ever heard of puddling?  That’s what butterflies do when they sip water and nutrients from damp mud or sand.  I spied a dozen swallowtails doing this along a nearby creek recently. Magical.   Create a puddling area in your garden by keeping a small area of soil damp or by putting damp sand or soil in a shallow bowl.

Protect butterflies by avoiding chemical insecticides in your garden.  These chemicals most often can’t distinguish between insect pests and beneficial insects such as butterflies.

Welcome butterflies and other pollinators. Your garden and our community will be richer for it. 

Annette Cormany, horticulture educator, University of Maryland Extension – Washington County

Monarchs and Milkweed – The Garden Thyme Podcast

Listen to podcast

In this month’s episode, we are chatting about the marvelous relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed.   Undoubtedly, there is no other butterfly so easily recognized with its orange and black wings fringed with white spots. Their seasonal flight from Mexico through the United States towards Canada is long anticipated for gardeners.

Timing :
Milkweed and Monarchs: ~1:36
Migration and Life cycle: ~6:58
Milkweed recommendations for Maryland: ~ 11:06
Native Plant of the Month: Joe-pye weed- Eupatorium spp. at  ~ 27:40 
Bug of the Month: Asian Tiger Mosquito at ~  ~33:05
Garden Tips of the Month at ~ 39:20

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/GardenThymePodcast

The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast 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). 

Theme Song:  By Jason Inc