Maryland Grows

Fall Gardening – Featured Video

Gardening isn’t only for the Summer!  Take a look at this introduction to fall food gardening.

Find out when to plant vegetable crops in Maryland.

Black-eyed Susans Attract Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects

Black-eyed Susans are easy to grow and will attract many pollinators to your garden. The dark center or eye of the flower head holds 250 to 500 individual flowers, and to pollinators, each one of these is a shallow nectar cup. These are shallow enough that even small wasps and flies can drink from them, and many small wasps and flies are predators or parasitoids of pest insects. These tiny, dark flowers bloom from the outer rim of the eye and progress inwards with time. It’s a buffet that attracts a wide variety of small to medium-sized pollinators, including many species of insects beneficial for pest control. This blog provides a few examples of the wonderful insects you can attract to the home garden by planting Black-eyed Susans.

Black-eyed susan

A Black-eyed Susan isn’t a single flower, it’s actually hundreds. Notice the individual corollas of the “eye”, and the yellow pollen along the outer ring which indicates those flowers are in bloom. Watch a pollinator visit, and you’ll notice that they rotate around, drinking nectar from each one of the tiny blooms in this ring. The Metallic Green Bee, shown here, is a good example of the small bees that enjoy Black-eyed Susan’s big, soft, landing pad and shallow flowers. Notice the pollen packed onto the bee’s hind legs.


Small butterflies like this Skipper enjoy Black-eyed Susans. Notice the proboscis, the long straw that the insect uses to sip nectar with.

black-eyed susanBlack-eyed Susans have a hidden superpower that draws in the bees. Can you see it? Notice how the subtle darkening toward the base of the yellow petals forms a bulls-eye circle around the disk. That darkening is actually caused by an ultraviolet pigment which bees can see much better than we do, and it forms a strong visual cue that leads them to the nectar and pollen at the flower’s center. The insect in this photo, however, is not a bee. Did you think it was? The strong black and gold color pattern is a deception! This is actually the Transverse Flower Fly, a type of Syrphid Fly, and a particularly common visitor on Black-eyed Susan. Syrphid Fly adults drink nectar, but their larvae are predators and help to control many pest insects such as aphids and whiteflies.


This Black-eyed Susan is home to two “sit and wait” predators. At lower left is a Crab Spider, and climbing up the eye of the Susan is an Ambush Bug nymph. Both hide in or on a blossom until another insect happens by, then wham!



Wasps aren’t known for being effective pollinators, but the Scolid Wasps are an exception. Look at all the pollen on this one! I can’t find a common name for this wasp, but it is in the genus of Flower Wasps, and given the scientific name, I propose we call it the Noble Flower Wasp. In late summer you may see large numbers of these wasps flying low over a lawn. They are hunting the Japanese Beetle grubs that terrorize your lawn, so they are very beneficial insects indeed!


By Sara Tangren, Ph. D., Sr. Agent Associate, Sustainable Horticulture and Native Plants, and Christa Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center

Why is My Tree (Or Shrub or Flower) Dying? Abiotic Problems Could be the Cause

freeze damage on hydrangea

Hydrangea leaves damaged by a late spring freeze. Photo: D. Ricigliano

Professionals in the landscape and greenhouse industry, trained horticulturists, and Master Gardeners often use the term “abiotic disorder” when diagnosing a plant problem. To the layman, this can be very confusing. To add to the confusion, signs and symptoms you see on your plants can look very similar to the damage caused by insects and diseases.

Surprisingly enough, the vast majority of plant problems are not caused by insect pests or diseases. Typically, the first thought that comes to mind when a plant is looking “ill” is that some insect or fungus has attacked it without much thought that it could be something else.

Abiotic problems, which are nonliving and not caused by a pathogen or pest, can be challenging to diagnose. Site conditions, soil, weather, planting, and watering techniques are examples of things that need to be considered, but there are many more. Sometimes decline can begin immediately after planting. Proper planting is critical to give nursery plants the best possible start right from the beginning. Once plants begin to decline it is difficult to bring them back to healthy, thriving specimens. Many people don’t notice the slow demise and contact us when it looks like their plant died overnight.

On the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) website, abiotic problems are referred to as “Cultural and Environmental” problems and can be found under the “Learn” section or listed under “Common Problems“ in the plant-related sections. The following are some common examples that cause serious plant issues. There are many more.

Additional Resources

By Debra Ricigliano, Lead Horticulturalist, University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center

Year of the Pepper


A melange of interesting peppers from the Derwood Demo Garden

For this month’s post I was going to write about tomato successes and failures, but the latter part of tomato season has been depressing, so I’ll put that off and cover peppers instead. 2018 has been Grow It Eat It’s Year of the Pepper, and on the whole I think we chose well! My own pepper beds have been plagued by some of the same fungal diseases that are taking out my tomato plants, but our Derwood Demo Garden beds are beautiful and productive. All the peppers there are growing in raised beds, which in my experience peppers really seem to prefer – maybe it’s the extra room in loose soil for their roots, or the slight warming effect in the early part of the season, or the excellent drainage. In any case, they’re thriving. Read More

Monthly Tips for September

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii'Houseplants

  • Before bringing houseplants back into the house: Check plants for antsearwigspillbugs, and other nuisance insects.  Wash off insect pests or apply a labeled houseplant insecticide to control any plant pests such as aphids, scales, spider mites, and mealybugs.
  • If the plants have outgrown their pots repot them into the next size pot or remove them, trim back the roots and repot in the same container. Use lightweight, well-drained soilless potting mixes. Contrary to old established practice, pebbles, stones, and shards from clay pots do not need to be added to the bottom of planting containers. This actually creates a higher water table and may reduce plant growth. When repotting, cut the root ball with a sharp knife at 2-4 inch intervals and remove brown, dead roots.

lawn renovationLawn

  • If needed, this is the ideal time to begin a total lawn renovation project. Total renovation is best if your lawn is always failing due to poor soil, has over 50% weeds or is mostly dead. See our lawn renovation publication,  (PDF) HG 102 Lawn Establishment, Renovation, and Overseeding.
  • Whether renovating or just over-seeding, the seedbed should be raked vigorously with a metal rake to loosen the soil and promote good seed to soil contact. If your entire lawn is compacted, machine aerating will help improve seeding, water, and fertilizer penetration. Watch our turf establishment video for more information.

Read More

Things All New Vegetable Gardeners Need to Know

Do you have garden envy? Do you think seasoned gardeners have perfect looking gardens every year? Think again!

Thanks to my daughter-in-law, Lauren, I’ve become aware of so many things novice gardeners are unaware of. Each year brings different weather patterns and new garden challenges, but some perceived challenges sometimes just need a different perspective.

  1. Even professional gardeners grow odd looking tomatoes.

My daughter-in-law sent me these photos wanting to know why her tomatoes were growing together and not separate. And why weren’t they turning red?

My first thought was, why not leave it on the vine and see what happens? But legitimate questions deserve answers and she honestly wanted to know if she was doing something wrong so she could change her practices.   Read More

A Lawn Retrospective on the Summer of 2018: Looking Ahead to the Fall Season

nutsedge and crabgrass in a lawn

Nutsedge and crabgrass have been particular challenges this year with all of the late summer rain.

It seems like ages ago, but during late spring and early summer we were in the midst of a long dry spell–and then things changed! It seems once the rain started it hardly ever stopped during late July and early August and all of this rain created its own set of problems. In particular, summer annual weeds and sedges were given new life with all of the wet conditions. For many homeowners, it has been a difficult summer keeping weeds like crabgrass, Japanese stiltgrass, kyllinga, and nutsedge at bay during the wet, humid weather. Even folks who had applied a second application of pre-emergent herbicide in late spring were seeing that product break down more rapidly with the inordinate amounts of rain the region experienced.

University of Maryland (UMD) research (and others) has indicated that the best way to deter crabgrass is to mow higher. Experiment plots mowed in the 3½-4” range have consistently had less crabgrass invasion than plots mowed at 2” or 3”. While this late summer weather has led to a lot of crabgrass and sedge invasion, homeowners can take solace in the fact that relief is in sight as far as the calendar is concerned. Late August/early September is the perfect time of year to re-seed with cool-season grasses like tall fescue to undertake a full-scale renovation or a lawn “rejuvenation.” Read More