Maryland Grows

Carve out some time to winterize your garden


Fall is a time, “when every leaf is a flower,” said writer Albert Camus.  How true.  It’s easy to get caught up in the razzle-dazzle of red, gold, purple, green, and brown, isn’t it?  

As gardeners though, we need to stop sighing long enough to realize we are in the home stretch of winterizing our gardens.  

It’s time to rake fallen leaves out of our beds so they don’t smother plants.  Chip those leaves – and others in your yard – with a mower to make mulch for your beds or a thin topdressing for your lawn.  Add any leftovers to your compost bin.  

Good compost starts with a mix of juicy green nitrogen-rich materials and dry brown carbon-rich materials.  Summer compost piles tend to overflow with juicy greens. Adding dry leaves restores balance to get compost cooking.  

Washington County Master Gardener Gary Stallings adds dry leaves to the demo garden compost bin and stirs it to get it ready for winter.  
Photo credit:  Shanon Wolf

If you listen carefully, you can hear hand pruners far and wide chattering their teeth, eager to snip, snip, snip perennials. Temper their enthusiasm.  Beneficial bees and other insects overwinter in hollow and pithy stems.  Let them stand until spring. 

The exception is any plant that had a severe disease or insect problem.  Trim and trash those trimmings.  And deadhead vigorous reseeders that need some discipline.

Be vigilant in cleaning out your vegetable garden, too.  Remove plants and any fallen fruit which can harbor disease.  Many diseases can overwinter in the soil to return with a vengeance.

Seek out and destroy weeds in your garden beds.  A little time spent now routing out weeds pays you back tenfold.  Some weeds overwinter and set seed in the spring, multiplying rapidly.  

My next fall to-do is a to-don’t. Don’t do any major pruning of trees and shrubs now.  Wait until the dormant season:  January to mid-March.  

Why?  If you prune now you are cutting off the buds of next year’s flowers and creating wounds that may not heal well.  Also, pruning stimulates new, tender growth that is likely to get zapped in cold weather.  

Also protect from the coming cold any products you use to care for your landscape. Make sure fungicides and pesticides are stored in a secure area where they won’t freeze.  Check labels for storage tips.

Water deeply any shrubs or trees you planted this year to send them into the winter fully hydrated.  Pay special attention to broadleaf evergreens such as hollies and rhododendrons which dry out faster in winter winds.

After you use your garden tools for the last time this year, clean them well and store them out of the elements.  Sharpen blades and oil wooden handles.  Good tools can last a lifetime with proper care.

As you wrap up your gardening season, take time to note what went well and what you’d like to do differently next year.  Keep a notepad in your pocket and jot down ideas. You’ll thank me later.  

Yes, fall is to be celebrated. Go leaf-peeping, grab a mug of cider, and carve that pumpkin.  Just make sure you carve out some time for putting your gardens to bed, too. 

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

A client carves a pumpkin as part of a Master Gardener therapeutic gardening activity.
Photo credit:  Tina Webster

Garden Cleanup and Soil Improvement

Food gardens are in transition in October. Cool-season crops hit their stride and cover crops replace tired warm-season crops. Rather than put the entire garden to bed we may decide to coax more food from the ground with row covers, cold frames, and over-wintering crops. Either way, fall cleanup (“garden sanitation”) and soil protection and improvement this fall help ensure a healthy and productive garden next year.

Cleanup Tips:

  • Remove stakes, trellises, hoses, temporary fences, plant labels, and other gardening materials. 
  • Clean up and remove all above-ground plant residues. Many diseases can survive over the winter on small pieces of leaves and stems. Some pest insects will hunker down under protective layers of dead weeds and crop debris. Either bag up and dispose of these plant wastes or compost them. All parts of the bin or pile must heat up to >140⁰ F. to kill plant pathogens and weed seeds. (Japanese stiltgrass should be bagged up with regular trash for landfill disposal.)  
A person that is standing in the dirt

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Remove perennial weeds with a metal rake (ground ivy and grasses in this case).
  • Empty the growing media from container gardens and store it in a trash can or heavy-duty trash bags. Soil-less growing media and compost lose nutrients and break down physically over time. Mix last year’s growing media 50:50 with fresh growing media and/or compost next year. 

Soil Protection and Improvement Tips:

  • Instead of pulling plants out of the ground, cut them off at ground level leaving the root system intact. This reduces soil disturbance while adding organic matter.
A picture containing building, green, wooden, small

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Partial root systems of eggplant at season’s end.
  • Don’t leave the soil bare. Cover it with shredded leaves or some other type of mulch to prevent erosion. Rake leaves into a loose pile and mow over them with a lawnmower to cut them up.  They will be much less likely to blow away if they are broken up. The leaves will reduce weed growth and can be retained as mulch next spring.
  • It’s getting late for planting cover crops. If you have seed, you can take a chance on sowing before the end of October. The soil temperature should be at least 45⁰ F. to 50⁰ F. for germination of cover crop seed. You can enter your zip code to learn the approximate temperature of soil in your area.  
A piece of broccoli sitting on a rock

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Bury plant-based food scraps in garden soil. This keeps them out of the landfill and recycles plant nutrients in the root zone. Unfenced gardens may attract wildlife.
  • As much as possible, use organic matter generated from your yard and household. Organic matter brought in from outside sources carries potential risks. Manure, straw, and hay may be contaminated with long-residual phenoxy herbicides or troublesome weed species. 
  • Asian jumping worms have been appearing more frequently in gardens and landscapes. They are spread by the movement of soil and organic matter like mulches.

Asian jumping worm

Asian jumping worm removed from deep layer of garden leaf mulch. Cornell University has a good web page on identification and management

  • Test your soil. For $15-$20 you can have an accredited lab test your soil. You’ll get some important baseline information on soil pH, nutrient levels, and organic matter. Lead testing is included with some basic soil tests (e.g., University of Delaware). Most vegetable and fruit crops grow best in 6.0 to 6.8 pH soils. If your pH is too high or too low some nutrients may become unavailable to plants, causing deficiency symptoms, or overly abundant, causing toxicity symptoms. If recommended by the lab, you can apply lime or sulfur to your soil this fall so they can start changing soil pH. 

Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist

The buzz in your seasonal latte: Who pollinates the pumpkin spices?

Wow, fall is here. When did that happen?! And because this fall comes after a tortuous year, I want to spend time doing some soul pampering. It is for this reason that, until the end of the year, I will be talking about many of the yummy foods we love and that many times help us through rough times. And to start the series, and matching the fall season, let’s talk about how the spices that create “pumpkin spice” – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves – go around getting pollinated and reproduced.

pumpkin spice products

How do you know it’s the fall in the US? We’re surrounded by pumpkin-spice
everything! Photos: PatentingPatch, M. Mozart, J. Kramer, theimpulsiveguy.

As a general introduction to these spices, we have to realize that they all originate outside of the US, and that most of them are even today not produced in the US. This is important to mention because it is humbling to realize how much our food habits (especially those related to comfort foods) are based on foods that are imported by the US. Further, even if that may seem futile, markets for these spices have been historically and are still currently huge, with power over these markets driving major geopolitical clashes, setting the foundations of the current global distribution of wealth, and sustaining (and sometimes undermining) societies around the world.


The cinnamon bark is collected by “peeling” the tree (Photo: P. Nijenhuis). Cinnamon flowers are pollinated by many insects, but several Apis species are particularly important (Photo: D. Valke). Shown are Apis cerana and Apis dorsata visiting other flowers (Photos: Peterwchen, R. Thumboor).


The cinnamon we eat comes from the bark of cinnamon trees. This bark is either ground or consumed in strips, which are added to savory and sweet foods. Cinnamon trees originate in South Asia and are adapted to growing in wet tropical forests. Today, the most important cinnamon producer is Sri Lanka, and most of the exports go to the USA and Western Europe. Even though we do not eat the fruits of this plant, pollinators play a key role in their reproduction. Cinnamon flowers are poor “selfers,” meaning that they produce the most seeds if receiving pollen from a different flower. These flowers thus rely on insect pollinators for their reproduction (see this post for more details about how flowers function) and among the most abundant species are three Asian “cousin” species of the managed honeybee, as well as some flies.


Nutmegs are the seeds found in the fleshy fruits of the nutmeg tree (Photo: B. Vauchelle). Nutmeg flowers are very small, pollinated mostly by thrips, and through a deceit-based pollination called “mistake pollination.” (Photos from Sharma and Armstrong, 2013). White bars indicate 1mm.


The nutmeg we consume is the seed of the fragrant nutmeg tree, which originates in Indonesia. Even though currently it is cultivated heavily in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is also produced in the Caribbean. Because the food we consume is part of the fruit of this tree (there is no nut if there is no fruit), pollination of this crop is central for food production — and this is a super-fun crop to learn about!

Indeed, only some nutmeg trees bear fruit, because half of the seeds of this plant produces male trees (which produce pollen) and the other half produces female trees (which will make fruits and nutmegs). The fun pollination story doesn’t end there, though. The flowers of these plants are tiny, bloom in the night, and need pollinators to transport the pollen from the male trees to the female flowers. So who does this job? A lot of insects! Studies in the species have demonstrated that most pollination is done by tiny thrips, and probably also some beetles, flies, and maybe some bees (here you can read about pollinators other than bees).

But let’s spice up (pun intended) this story! This plant is not only pollinated by uncommon types of pollinators; it also tricks them into pollinating! In fact, the insects are interested only in male flowers, where they can collect pollen they can feed on, and they do not care about visiting female flowers, which do not offer any pollen or nectar. Thus, the strategy used by female flowers to attract pollinators is to trick them by making them assume they are actually male flowers, a strategy known as “mistake pollination”. It’s only after they entered the female flower and deposited pollen on the stigma that the insects realize their mistake.

ginger plants

Ginger plants grow from the rhizomes we consume and production is based on clonal reproduction (Photo: S. Podhuvan). Flowers are showy and small, but their pollinators are not well known (Photo: Ogniw).


The part of the plant we consume from ginger is its rhizome, meaning that one can plant the piece of ginger one buys in the store and one would grow a ginger plant! This plant species also originated from the Southeast Asian archipelago. The plant is easy to grow, and thrives in warm climates, but most of the world production is currently from India. Under production conditions, ginger is multiplied through the planting of rhizomes, meaning that most of the production is not based on seeds. For this reason, the pollination of this species was not of high production interest until only recently. Indeed, while ginger propagation is based on rhizomes, this does not allow for the use of sexual reproduction for the development of better new varieties that may be resistant to diseases or pests. Recent studies indicated that ginger is extremely hard to pollinate because pollen has a low rate of successful pollination, leading to very low seed success. Several researchers are now focusing on identifying its pollinators, so stay tuned to know more!


Cloves are the dried immature flowers of the Clove tree. Flowers are harvested right before they open and are dried to reach the product we find in our markets (Photos: Midori, A. Heijne, Peripitus).


As with most other spice plants treated here, cloves also come from a tree, which originates from the Moluccas, in Indonesia. While the plant originates in those islands, most of clove production is currently from Indonesia and Madagascar. The part of the plant consumed is the flower buds, which are harvested and then dried to produce the spice we buy. Although we consume the flowers, these plants still require seed production to reproduce, and this is central to maintaining clove production. Because the plant can self-pollinate but its genetics are improved by cross-pollination, pollinators are very important for its reproduction. Here, again, pollination is not very well known, but flies, bees, and some butterflies are suspected to play an important role in transferring pollen, as it has been observed in a closely related (but not cultivated) species.

Note: this blog post is dedicated with love to Luke Harmon, who despises Pumpkin Spice. ❤

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

The Garden Thyme Podcast – Pumpkins and Gourds

Garden Tyme podcast player

Hi Listener,

In this month’s episode, we talk about all things fall. Including Chrysanthemum, some fun facts about pumpkins (10:45), and some fun varieties of gourds and pumpkins you might try growing in your garden next year (16:55).

Native Plant of the Month: White Oak – Quercus alba (25:40)
Bug of the Month: Orb-weaver spiders (28:25)
Vegetable Garden Tips of the Month: Garden clean up, seed collecting, digging up summer bulbs (33:00)

Resource link: University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension Storing Tender “Bulbs” for Winter

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. If you have any garden questions, you can email us at For more 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.

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October Tips and Tasks 2020

Drain fly

Drain flies are found primarily in rooms or areas where there are drains such as kitchens, basements near floor drains, etc. Drain flies are small, 1/16 to 1/4 inch long, delicate and fuzzy. Their fuzzy wings make them easy to identify. 

Inspect new houseplants before purchase. Choose plants that appear to be free of insects and disease, have new leaf or flower buds, and healthy foliage. Slipping the plant out of its container to look at the roots is recommended. Roots should be white or tan, fleshy (not brown and crumbly), be able to hold the soil together but not root-bound. 

person holding compost in hand

Start a compost pile by mixing together spent plants, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, old mulch, and grass clippings. Shred your materials with a lawnmower, string trimmer, or machete to speed-up the breakdown process. Keep twigs, branches, and other woody materials out of the pile.


Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 4)

Raised bed garden

Here’s update #4 on my raised bed garden efforts this year. While we are enjoying eating our vegetables, some other creatures are as well. As our summer crops are winding down, we are starting some light fall vegetable crops, and planning to prepare the other beds for the winter.

Critters are back

Last time, we had corn coming up in one bed. It looked like we’d eventually have little corn cobs to pick, but soon after we took the picture below, something came in and ate the entire crop!

The same night our green bean crop, which was providing lots of beans for our dinners, was eaten as well.

That’s pretty much the end of both crops. We got a lot out of our green beans, so that was not a big loss, but we are sad that we didn’t get to see what the corn was like eventually.

Since we think our short fence is pretty solid, we are assuming this was deer coming in to eat the crops. Next year, better deer protection is definitely on the menu. We’ll look into either floating row cover or building a bigger fence to keep out the deer.

Interesting insects

This doesn’t have much to do with our vegetables, but we have a potted butterfly milkweed plant placed just inside the fencing, and it was a host to a bunch of insect activity.

We found a couple big, juicy monarch caterpillars hanging out munching on its leaves, and at the same time, a whole crew of orange aphids were sucking sap out of the stem. A few days later, all the leaves were gone off the plant.

We began to have to check our green beans for caterpillars. We’d occasionally find these little guys or their holes in the beans. We think it is a young armyworm caterpillar. The problem wasn’t enough to do anything about — just an entertaining mention.

Caterpillar eating my green bean

Caterpillar eating my green bean!

In this action-packed scene below, we have a tomato hornworm hanging out on my tomato plant while being a parasitized host for Braconid wasps, while a tomato fruitworm lounges above with a fly on top of it.

a tomato hornworm hanging out on my tomato plant while being a parasitized host for Braconid wasps, while a tomato fruitworm lounges above with a fly on top of it.

Powdery mildew and insect stippling on our ornamentals

Our zinnia and marigolds got these white spots all over. At first, I suspected this was powdery mildew on both due to their close proximity and both symptoms appearing white. However, my trusty, knowledgeable editors commented while reviewing this post that the issue on the marigolds was likely feeding damage from insects, but we don’t know what insects.  As a reminder; you too can tap the knowledge of HGIC certified professional horticulturists via our free Ask an Expert service.  Send in your questions!

The powdery mildew hasn’t transferred to the vegetable crops around them, so we haven’t been too concerned about it. The HGIC article on powdery mildew mentions that overcrowding of plants can create good conditions for mildew to grow due to the limited airflow. Our beds are definitely overcrowded. We’ll be spacing things out next year, and likely putting our ornamental pollinator attractors in pots outside of the raised beds.

Tomato trimming

Overgrown tomato plants

Overgrown tomato plants

We have been really learning that tomatoes are a crop that needs quite a bit of attending to. I should have been pruning suckers maybe every other day. The vines kept growing and growing, covering other plants and laying on the ground. Interior vegetation started browning and maybe getting moldy due to lack of airflow. There were green tomatoes growing, but it took them a while to ripen and be ready. I suspect my lack of pruning allowed the plant to use its energy to grow more vines rather than developing tasty tomatoes.

A few tomatoes on our orange tomato plant were on the vine for a LONG time and developed odd bulging characteristics.

I went hard trimming both plants; cutting off a lot of branches that didn’t have fruit on them, or were growing on the ground. Fruit has seemed to come in faster and more plentiful since, but I need to keep pruning! This is easier and less traumatic for the plant (I would assume) if I just picked those little suckers early.

As the season wears on, more and more of our tomatoes are getting cracking, but the fruits are mostly good to eat. The HGIC page says that this could be caused by excessive fertilizer, but we haven’t added anything to the soil. It mentions irregular watering could do it, and I suspect that may be the culprit. My wife and I have been in a perpetual, “Hey, you’ve been watering the garden these last few days, right?” “Uh, no, I thought you were” cycle recently. We’ll need to keep vigilant with our chores!

Tomato cracking

Tomato cracking

The future of this garden

So what’s next? We’ll see how long our tomatoes keep producing. Krysten planted a couple kale seeds and winter squash seeds that are coming up. We don’t have a grand plan for these, but we’ll see how they do.

For the rest of the beds, we will likely pull the leftover ornamentals and the tomatoes once done, and plant crimson clover cover crop. Cover crops lessen soil erosion during the winter, add organic material when turned under in the spring, improve soil quality, and add valuable nutrients. In the spring, we just mow it (in our case, in the raised beds, we will string trim it) to kill it, then later turn it over into the soil.

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Dan Adler
HGIC Web and Communications Manager

Think like a plant

You know those pet-shaming websites you can visit when you really need to giggle hysterically? Dogs and cats wearing signs around their necks confessing “I jumped into a stranger’s car and stole a hamburger” or “I pooped in the AC vent” or “I’m the reason we can’t have nice things”? I won’t even try to be so funny with plants, but this is the season when we look back at what went wrong with this year’s garden, so:

Gardens are never perfect. But I have one basic piece of advice for those who are trying to fix plant problems: think like a plant.

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