Maryland Grows

Growing Carrots in Your Home Garden – Featured Video

Late summer is a great time to start growing carrots.  Take a look at this NC State Extension video with carrot growing tips.  Read the HGIC’s carrot content.

Hydroponic Vegetable Garden Puts Food on the Table

Growing vegetable crops without soil is practiced around the world from household systems up to large commercial vertical farms. Meet Vilma and Dave Anderson, my friends and fellow vegetable gardeners, who introduced me to their successful, home-made hydroponics set-up. Water and nutrients are not wasted here. They are collected and recirculated in their “ebb & flow” system. The plant growth and harvests are quite impressive for a range of crops. I posed a few questions to Dave recently to try and capture their story and adventure in hydroponics.

Gardeners

Hydroponic gardeners Dave and Vilma Anderson, flanked by Kent Phillips and Erica Jones, UME Master Gardener Volunteers and Grow It Eat It leaders (Howard Co.)

What got you started and how long have you been doing it?

I had not even heard about hydroponics until we took a trip to Disney World’s EPCOT in 2012 where they have an extensive hydroponics facility where they do all sort of amazing things, not just with hydroponics but with aquaponics, aeroponics, etc. I really recommend their tour of the facility the next time you find yourself at EPCOT.  My wife and I returned home and decided to give it a try.  YouTube had a few videos on setups that people had tried at home and we used a modified version of what we saw there to set up three tomato plants in an ebb and flow type setup that we placed on our patio.  We were stunned by how successfully the tomatoes grew and we were hooked.  That experience from three plants has grown to 30 plants of vegetables of all sorts including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, and tomatillos.

Eggplant Crop

Dave showing off the eggplant crop. The PVC structure supports vigorous plant growth.

Did you have previous gardening experience?

I have been growing vegetables for many years both here and in Tucson where we lived for 16 years.  My garden here was pretty small, about 300 square feet, and not particularly sunny but I managed to grow tomatoes, peppers, and squash of various types with more or less success. Read More

What’s Eating My Tree? Bagworms or Webworms?

Have you noticed the large webbed sacs in the trees along the sides of the road lately? They do prompt questions to the Home & Garden Information Center’s Ask an Expert service. Often they are referred to as bagworms which causes some confusion because bagworms are a different insect.

So what are webworms and bagworms? Will they cause damage to trees? Let’s take a look at them both.

fall webworms

Fall Webworms. Photo: Kelly Oten, North Carolina Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea)

Fall webworms show up every year but their populations can vary in size. Often they are insignificant in number and not too noticeable, but every so often there is a large population. The sacs can be numerous and quite large, leading one to assume they will devour an entire tree’s worth of leaves.

fall webworm

Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea). Photo: Milan Zubrik, Forest Research Institute – Slovakia, Bugwood.org

But, thankfully, beneficial insects such as parasitoids and predators such as birds, who love to eat the caterpillars, keep populations in check and spraying is not necessary. Granted, the webs are not pleasing to look at. If they are within reach they can be pruned out and destroyed.

Fall webworm facts

  • There are two generations each year. One is active in May and the second larger population is active starting in late summer into the fall. However, the sacs can be noticeable in the trees all winter.
  • They feed on over 100 species of trees. Preferred hosts include walnut, oak, hickory, willow, apple, and other fruit trees.
  • The adult is a ¾ inch-long moth, white or white with black spots.
  • After eggs hatch on a host tree, the caterpillars produce a fine web over the ends of branches. They feed only within the web.
  • Mature caterpillars are about an inch long with noticeable long, silky hairs. They come in two colors, the ones with black heads are yellowish-white and the red-headed ones are brown.

Refer to our webpage about fall webworm

Bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis)

By far bagworms are the more destructive of these two insects and need to be managed. They have voracious appetites and devour the needles of evergreens– particularly arborvitaes, junipers, Leyland cypresses, and cedars. We hear the cries of desperate residents wanting to know if the dead areas on their trees will regrow. Unfortunately, that answer is no.

Bagworm facts

  • There is one generation per season.
  • In addition to conifers, they will feed on deciduous trees (ones that shed their leaves in the fall) such as sycamore, maple, locust, boxelder, and linden, but the damage is not as significant.
  • Eggs hatch in late May or early June. Caterpillars feed and create bags made from pieces of the plant they are feeding on. The bags enlarge as the caterpillars feed during the summer.
  • The caterpillars pupate in late summer. Adult male moths emerge and fly to female bags that contain wingless female moths, then mating occurs. Females can lay 200-1,000 eggs which overwinter in the female bag.
    Bagworm damage

    Bagworm damage on Arborvitae. The brown portion will not recover. Photo: University of Maryland Extension

    bagworm

    Evergreen bagworm. Photo: Eric R. Day, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

Controlling bagworms

  • Fall, winter, and spring: Remove and destroy bags containing overwintering eggs. Pinch them at the tip or use a small clipper to remove the ones you can reach from the tree. Do not drop them on the ground near the trees. Dispose of them in the trash.
  • Beginning in late May into early June. Begin to look for small caterpillars moving on the trees. As they feed, small bags will form. The best time to spray is when the caterpillars have just emerged and are small. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an organic insecticide, will help to control the young caterpillars.
  • By mid-July the caterpillars will be too large for Bt to be effective. Look for a registered insecticide labeled for bagworms at a plant nursery or hardware store. Contact an arborist or landscaper to treat large trees or if the bags are located high up in the trees.

    young bagworms

    Young bagworms can be controlled with an organic insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Photo: Chazz Hesselein, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Bugwood.org

Other tent-making caterpillars

There are two more tent-making caterpillars that are sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘bagworms’. They are eastern and forest tent caterpillars. Both are active in the spring and not in the summer or fall.

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

The Buzz on Pollination Is Not All About Bees: Wasps Are Pollinators Too!

Last time we talked about pollinators (see Is This a Pollinator? Five Types of Pollinating Insects You Can Find in Maryland), we received some questions about wasps. Do they also pollinate? If they do, what do they pollinate? So, let’s talk about wasps!

Besides being super important for controlling pests, since most of them are predators, wasps also can contribute to pollination. In some cases, that pollination is so specialized that plants won’t be able to set fruit if the wasps are not around! But don’t let me get ahead of myself… let’s start from the beginning. What are wasps and how to distinguish them from bees?

Is this a wasp or a bee?

Are you confused about the differences? That’s normal! It’s because bees and wasps are closely related and, in the same way that we tend to look like our close relatives, wasps and bees look similar as well. Like bees, wasps have a lot of diversity, displaying different shapes, sizes and colors. Also like bees, wasps can be social (like hornets or yellow jackets) or solitary (like those that make little mud vases or that dig small burrows in the ground).

Wasps in Maryland

Some wasps from Maryland, which can be sometimes seen visiting white/yellowish flowers. Left: Mason Wasp, Pseudodynerus quadrisectus (photo M. McMasters); center: Ringed Paper Wasp, Polistes annularis (photo: Kieschnick); right: Potter Wasp, Eumenes

Taxonomically, there are two groups of wasps: those that have a wasp waist, and those that don’t. Because the former are the ones that we usually refer to when we think of wasps, let’s focus on those. When we think about those wasps, wasps tend to be less hairy than most bees and tend to fly with their legs extended. The legs of bees are usually wider than those of wasps, and while they fly one can see bees rubbing their legs with one another to transfer pollen, while this will not be the case with wasps. Finally, most social wasps fold their forewings when they are at rest, which makes the wings look long and thin.

bee versus wasp

General morphological differences between wasps and bees. Wasps tend to have thinner legs and are less hairy than bees. Wasps also tend to bend their wings longitudinally when at rest.

What do wasps pollinate?

Wasps are involved in different types of pollination interactions, with many being generalists (they visit many different types of flowers) and some very specialized (involving only a very small number of plants).

Generalist wasps

Even though the vast majority of wasps are predators (they prey on your garden pests!), they also need to supplement their diets with sugar, which is eaten by adults but is also required for the proper development of the offspring. For this reason, many solitary and social wasps visit flowers and collect nectar throughout the flowering season, but in particular during the fall, when other sources of sugar become harder to find. During those visits, they often enter in contact with the flower anthers (the flower part where pollen is presented), and thus passively collect and then transfer pollen when they visit another flower.

Most of these wasps have very short tongues, so they are only able to obtain nectar from flowers that are not too deep. Further, most of these wasps can’t see red colors but can see UV light. Because of all this, most flowers wasps visit are open and not too deep, and white- or yellow-colored. If you would like to attract and observe these pollinators and biological control agents, you can plant flowers of the Apiaceae family (carrot and parsley family) and you won’t be disappointed!

Specialized wasps

In addition to generalist wasp pollinators, there are some very specialized wasps that only pollinate specific types of plants. Next month, we’ll take a closer look at specialized wasps and the ones in particular that are essential for pollinating some delicious fruits — figs!

By Anahí Espíndola, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park

You Can Grow This Trendy Veggie: Shishito Peppers

Here in Maryland, we’re unfortunately in the wrong climate zone to grow our own avocados for toast. Cauliflower rice we can manage, but only with some challenges, since cauliflower is a space hog, doesn’t like the rollercoaster temperatures of our spring season, and has lots of pests. (Luckily, cauliflower is not super expensive in stores, and if you have a food processor, chopping it up literally takes minutes; you don’t need to buy it pre-riced.) Apparently cabbage is the trendy vegetable of 2019–cabbage rolls, cabbage chips, wedge salads, kimchi–but it has all the same problems in the garden. Kale is easier, but it’s so 2016.

What’s the trend-seeking gardener to do? Well, that’s easy. Grow shishito peppers.

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Read More

Summer Lawn Woes: Reasons Why Tall Fescue Grass Declines at This Time of Year

It seems like a while ago, but it was only 5 weeks ago that we were experiencing a fairly gentle start to summer. We even had a few days in June with highs in the 60’s and it made for pretty easy lawn growing weather.

Flip the calendar to mid-July and it has been a different story. All of us knew summer would arrive eventually, and now we are dealing with high temperature and high humidity conditions very typical of mid-summer in Maryland.

For those with warm-season grass lawns, like zoysiagrass, the lawn should be thriving, as these grasses enjoy the heat. For most homeowners who have tall fescue, summer is always a challenge to minimize the heat stress and disease pressure on the lawn. Tall fescue is best adapted to growth when low temperatures are in the 50’s and highs are in the 70’s to around 80. Through July, we have had many days near or above 90 and many nights where the temperature didn’t drop below 70.

drought stress symptoms on tall fescue lawn

Drought stress symptoms appearing in tall fescue lawn. Drought-stressed plants exhibit a purple to grayish hue. Photo: Geoff Rinehart

There are a few different reasons your tall fescue lawn may be going brown or declining this time of year—the most common are related to drought stress, soils that are too wet, or brown patch disease. Typically, growth slows down a bit in mid-summer anyway as part of a grass’s natural growth cycle as it uses more carbohydrates (food reserves) than it makes. So when the grass does experience stress or disease it is slower to recover. Drought-stressed plants exhibit a purple to grayish hue, a narrower or “curled up” leaf blade, and footprints are visible for several minutes after walking across a drought-stressed area. Read More

Leafy Greens for the Summer Garden

The end of the spring lettuce and spinach harvest doesn’t mean we have to wait until fall to enjoy home-grown leafy greens. In addition to the kales and collards we know and love there is a world of heat tolerant leafy green crops that grow well in Maryland. These plants tend to grow rapidly and quickly fill their allotted space. They can all be eaten fresh or cooked and can help you introduce new textures, flavors, and culinary accents to your kitchen table.

Find local and online seed sources for these crops and follow planting instructions on seed packets and on seed company websites. Most of the leafy greens below can be treated as cut-and-come-again crops: they put on new growth below each harvesting cut.

Leafy green vegetables are some of the easiest and most nutritious crops our garden can produce. Of course, with any new crop it may take several years of growing and experimenting to decide if it will work for you and the people who eat from your garden. Read More