Maryland Grows

Delightful Daffodils

Dutch Master Daffodil

‘Dutch Master’ Daffodils in Bloom. Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

The signs of spring are everywhere from the sounds of spring peepers in the woods to the red hues of maple buds to the yellow blooms of daffodils. The tidbits of spring trickle in like the mist of early morning fog slowly then all at once. As if waking up from a long winter’s nap, you see buds on trees swell or the tiny green stems of bulbs that gently peak through the mulch. The next day, you hear the sounds of spring peepers. Then, all at once, the baby pink blooms of cherry trees are floating like confetti in a ticker-tape parade while crocus shine like amethyst and daffodils glitter like drops of gold in flowerbeds and all of a sudden, spring is here.

daffodils near the woods

Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

As the daffodils I planted last fall leisurely woke from their long winter’s nap, I began to think about how beautiful they would be in a few weeks with their golden yellow cups and their egg yolk petals, my mind wandered to their name “Daffodil.” When I became a mother, names and the meanings behind them captivated me. As a parent, when you name your child you research everything: the meaning behind a name, where it originated from, the many spellings, and so forth. When the time came to hold my sons for the first time, I was completely and utterly prepared with names that would suit them. The names that would help define them and would help guide them as they traversed through our uncertain world. Did I put too much
weight on a name? Maybe.

As Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” There is a great name debate between Daffodils, Narcissus, and Jonquil. Daffodil refers to the common name for the spring-flowering bulbs in the genus Narcissus. Jonquil is the common name for Narcissus jonquilla within the Narcissus genus. To avoid any ambiguity, you can never go wrong by calling these flowers by their genus name Narcissus.

According to the American Daffodil Society, there are between “40 to 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 32,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system.” Daffodils range from the tried and true yellow trumpet to ones with double flowers and clustered flowers, to small cups, and ones with open cups. Flower colors come in an array of white to yellow to orange. There are even some with splashes of pink.

daffodil in bloom

Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

Daffodils are hardy spring-flowering perennial bulbs that should return year after year. During blooming, they require generous amounts of water. After blooming, always deadhead the spent flowers. Even though daffodil foliage can get unruly, allow the leaves to remain for at least six weeks. You will see people braid or tie the leaves together with rubber bands. This timely endeavor results in the leaves manufacturing smaller amounts of food for the bulb, which in turn results in smaller blooms the following year. After the allotted six weeks have passed, you may remove the leaves.

For Maryland’s hardiness zones, plant daffodils in the fall (from late September to late November). The soil needs to be cool but the ground should still be workable and not frozen. Picking out bulbs is just like picking out the perfect apple. You want a bulb that is firm without blemishes. Bulbs should never be soft, damaged or moldy.

Daffodils are an easy dependable flower that is ideal for the beginning gardener. Don’t forget to pick some up in the fall for your garden!

By Rachel J. Rhodes, Master Gardener Coordinator, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, University of Maryland Extension. Follow the Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners on Facebook. Visit the UME Master Gardener webpage to find Master Gardener events and services in your county/city.

Ground Beetles are Beneficial in Your Garden

child reading a book about bugs

Ashley’s daughter with her bug book. Photo: A. Bodkins

A few months ago, my daughter was gifted The Bug Book, by Sue Fliess. It highlights many insects and has wonderful, very detailed pictures, with few words, which makes my bug-loving 4-year-old quite happy. It quickly became one of our favorite bedtime books. There are several different beetles pictured and mentioned in the book, which made me think about the amazing and complex group of thousands of species of beetles that are classified as “ground beetles”, so named because they are found living and occupying the surface of the ground.

Did you know that ground beetles are beneficial in your garden? These critters might be hard to see as they are good at hiding and staying out of site. A very beautiful and common ground beetle you might be able to spot this spring is the bright green, Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle. For additional information about this and other common beetle species found in Maryland, visit the Home and Garden Information Center’s page about predatory beetles.

green tiger beetle

The Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle is on of the common types of ground beetles found in Maryland. Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

All beetles are in the insect order of Coleoptera, which is the largest order in the animal kingdom! Coleoptera refers to the hardened front wings which protect the membranous hind wings held underneath. Within this large order are thousands of different families, which include everything from lightning bugs, wood boring beetles, ladybird beetles, cucumber beetles, and also the family of Carabidae, which is where the beneficial ground and tiger beetles fall in the classification.

Ground beetles range in size from 1/8 of an inch to over 1 inch and can be brown, black, or metallic green or blue in color. Often these are the critters that you see scurrying away when you pick up a rock or item that has been sitting on the ground.

They are most active at night and are responsible for eating anything from snails to slugs, root-feeding insects, as well as weed seeds. They are generally referred to as being opportunistic feeders, which means they will consume a variety of items as they come across them. It is estimated that ground beetles can consume up to their body weight daily in food.

Some interesting research that is outlined in a Penn State fact sheet, Ground and Tiger Beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae), says that ground beetles consume weed seeds from agriculturally important weeds, such as common ragweed, common lambsquarter, and giant foxtail (Lungren 2005). Their preference for different types of weed seeds could be linked to oil content and size of seeds, which limits which varieties they can move easily. The research points to the fact that these beetles would not be able to eliminate a weed species, but rather help to change the number of seeds in a certain area and give other plants more of a chance to receive the needed light, nutrients, or water. 

ground-beetle

Caterpillar Hunter Ground Beetle (Calosoma wilcoxi). Photo: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry , Bugwood.org

These amazing critters can live in many different ecosystems, and some species are specific to certain habitats. They go through a complete metamorphosis with four life stages including egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They typically have one generation per year. One female can produce anywhere between 30 to 600 eggs! 

You can do your part to help promote this group of beneficial beetles in your garden by not tilling the entire garden at one time or providing areas of protection during a tillage event, with a protected area or walkway that is covered in mulch, or perhaps by planting a strip of pollinator plants or perennial herbs that would benefit all beneficial insects. These protected areas provide much needed moisture, food sources, and habitat. Of course, in order to protect all our ground dwelling beneficial insects, you should avoid applying soil insecticides.

If you want to learn more about how to conserve ground beetles in your garden, check out this publication on “Natural Enemies in Your Garden” from Michigan State University. Also, University of Maryland Entomologist Dr. Mike Raupp has a good piece about ground beetles on his Bug of the Week website. 

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

Potatoes Grow in Bags at Project Spudnik

Container gardening is wildly popular these days. Type “grow potatoes in containers” and your search engine will return over 7 million web pages. Six years ago, Sherrill Munn, a UME Master Gardener in Calvert Co., developed a fun and challenging youth gardening program he named Project Spudnik. It was designed to encourage a love of gardening, teach environmental stewardship, and raise fresh produce for people in need. The project is a partnership between the All Saints Episcopal and Broadview Baptist Church Youth Groups and Calvert County Master Gardeners and is open to all youth in the county.

Project Spudnik is a mash-up of the movie “The Martian” and Sputnik, the first satellite in space. The movie depicts an astronaut stranded on Mars who must survive until a rescue can be attempted.  To do so, he had to raise potatoes that had been taken to Mars as an experiment.  Participants watch the movie and are then challenged to raise potatoes in grow bags.  With Master Gardener guidance they make their own soil, as did the astronaut in the movie.  If the teens are successful, they survive on Mars, if not they perished on Mars.

Fabric pot garden

The Spudnik Project features a colorful fabric pot garden with a blueberry bed in the foreground.

In addition to potatoes, they plant and harvest tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant, carrots, blueberries, cabbages, various greens, and flowers in approximately 100 fabric grow bags, ranging in size from 10-20 gallons. Youth learn how to use organic fertilizers and how to prevent nutrient runoff and ground and water pollution. They also learn about integrated pest management- how to prevent and manage pest and plant problems with the least environmental impact possible. Finally, they learn how to responsibly use water in gardening.

Kid with swiss chard

The Spudnik crew grows lots of different vegetables in fabric bags, including Swiss chard.

A pollinator garden was added last year as well as a drip irrigation system that helped double the yield of produce. Over 460 pounds of produce was donated to area food banks in 2019! The drip system uses water more efficiently, reducing waste and preventing runoff. There are 2020 plans to create a children’s garden, buy a shed and composter, and replace a decorative garden arch that was toppled in a 2019 storm.

Gravel and buckets

The pollinator garden before planting…

Pollinator garden

… and after planting (see the recently emerged monarch butterfly).

Sherrill summed up the project’s value:

“At a time when too much learning is done via boring worksheets and interactions happen on social media, it is important to encourage kids to get their hands dirty with a project with tangible results. Further, gardening can teach important lessons in nutrition, biology, mathematics, social studies and geography.

The garden also teaches youth responsibility and leadership skills as they learn to take charge of the garden and their own grow bags. They will make the decisions on their bag’s soil composition, when to water, when and how much fertilizer to use and what to do if their plants are attacked by pests. If the garden produces food, it will be because of the youths’ hard work.

In addition to the benefits enjoyed by the youth participants, the hungry of Calvert County will benefit from receiving fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.”

Project Spudnik was recognized by the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism as a 2019 “Honor Row” recipient. Youth and parent chaperones received tickets to a Raven’s game, received an award from the Governor’s office, and were featured on the jumbo-tron.

Service award group photo

Receiving a service award from the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism (September 2019); #OurCommonCalvert

Potato growing tips from the Project Spudnik folks:

  1. Pick a sunny location (8 hours or more of sun).
  2. Use 12-gallon fabric grow bags, 16” deep by 16” diameter. Purchase them in garden centers or on-line.  The come in many colors, shapes and sizes.
  3.  Use a good lightweight commercial growing media (“potting mix”) or make your own (see recipe below). You will need about 1.5 cubic feet or around 12 dry gal per grow bag.  Most high quality growing media contains peat moss or coconut coir. These materials repel water so thoroughly moisten the grow mix by working water in with your hands, prior to filling your bags.
  4. Purchase certified seed potatoes locally or online. You can plant them whole or cut into pieces that each have at least two buds (“eyes”).  Place about 4” of container mix evenly across the bottom of the bag.  Evenly space 3 to 5 seed potatoes and/or pieces (“eyes up”) and cover with 3 inches of growing media. Fertilize lightly with a complete organic fertilizer, following product directions.
  5. When the potatoes have grown halfway up the bag, about 8 inches, add about 4 inches of growing media and fertilize lightly again. It’s okay if some of the green stem and leaves are covered.  When the plants are again about 8 inches above the new soil level, add another 4” of container mix and repeat this process until bag is full, leaving about an inch or inch and a half at top of bag as a water reservoir. (This process is very much like “hilling” potatoes that are planted in the ground.)
  6. The growing media should be kept moist throughout the fabric bag.  Grow bags can dry out quickly, especially in wind and hot, dry weather- so check the moisture level often!
  7. Flea beetles, three lined potato beetles, and Colorado potato beetles are common insect pests. The latter two can be picked off.
  8. Potatoes let you know when they are ready to harvest; the plants will begin to turn yellow and the stems wilt and fall over.  After another week or two, simply dump the contents of the grow bag into a wheelbarrow and pick out the potatoes.  Discard the old container mix elsewhere in your yard or garden where needed.  If you want new potatoes, gently dig down into your grow bag after the potatoes have flowered and harvest a few; then replace the mix.

Regarding potato yields, Sherrill notes that “The bags vary in the amount of potatoes depending on how vigilant the youngster responsible for it is. They average around 3 lbs.  We plant 4 seed potatoes or seed pieces per bag.  Recommendations for the size of bag we use is to plant 3 to 5 seed potatoes.  Larger bags would, of course, produce more potatoes.  I use larger bags at home and produce 5 to 6 lbs. on average per bag.”

Potato bags

Potato bags in the foreground. Other bags are filled with healthy spring greens.

Sherrill’s Recipe for Container Mix (fills 8 ten-gallon fabric bags)

  • 1 Part Sphagnum Peat Moss or Coconut Coir (4 Cu Ft)
  • 1 Part Compost (leaf or yard waste) (4 Cu Ft)
  • 1 Part Vermiculite or mix of Perlite & Vermiculite or Rice Hulls (4 Cu Ft)
  • 0.5 Cu Ft Bag of Course Sand (for added weight)
  • 12 lb. Bag of Worm Castings
  • 6 cups of Dolomitic Lime- not for potato (grow best at 5.3-6.0 soil pH) or blueberry (grow best at 4.3-5.3 soil pH)
  • Fertilizer added as needed.
Group mixing ingredients

Mixing together ingredients.

By Jon Traunfeld, Director, Home & Garden Information Center.

Many thanks to Sherrill Munn for sharing the story and photos.

How to Identify Insect Pests in Your Vegetable Garden – Featured Video

Mike Raupp, “The Bug Guy” for the University of Maryland Extension, explains how, like a crime scene investigator, you can use clues to find out what types of insects are causing damage in your garden. Look for telltale signs like chewed leaves, discoloration, distortion, dieback, and insect products.

Great Grasses for Maryland Landscapes

What are some beautiful plants that are relatively easy to maintain and unappealing to deer? Take a look at the ornamental and native grasses!

Little bluestem grass

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) ‘Standing Ovation.’ Photo: Mikaela Boley

Ornamental grasses are plants that provide year-round beauty, texture, persistent ground cover, erosion control, and a variety of additional benefits. They are:

  • Available in many heights and forms suitable for different landscape situations
  • Helpful in trouble spots like slopes or places where a living screen is desired
  • Relatively easy to maintain by pruning back once each year
  • Generally distasteful to deer.

If you are planning to add native plants to your landscape, add a few grasses to the mix. Grasses provide winter shelter for beneficial insects and seeds for birds. Some even have interesting associations with small butterflies called skippers. For example, the Leonard’s Skipper uses little bluestem, switchgrass, poverty oatgrass, and bentgrass as host plants. That means that when these insects are in their juvenile stage (caterpillars), they can only feed on these types of grasses to survive. As adult skippers, they fly off to feed on the nectar of other flowering plants. They are delightful to watch “skipping” around a butterfly garden!

ornamental grasses in winter

Ornamental grasses provide textural interest in a garden in the winter. Here they are beautiful in combination with remnant seedpods and the red berries of winterberry holly in the background. Photo: C. Carignan

There are about 350 species of grasses in Maryland. They are the primary plants found in native meadows and there are even grasses, such as Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), that thrive in our state’s shaded woodland areas.

Eastern bottlebrush grass

Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

The Maryland Native Plant Society has named 2020 “The Year of the Grasses”. All year long, through their monthly events and plant walks, you can learn about Maryland’s grasses and their native habitats.

Ornamental and native grasses are readily available at garden centers and native plant sales. Be sure to avoid invasive ones like Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis).

switchgrass

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) ‘Shenandoah’. Photo: Mikaela Boley

For some great choices, check out my colleague Mikaela Boley’s excellent guide to Ornamental and Native Grasses for the Landscape on the Home & Garden Information Center website.

If you already have ornamental grasses in your landscape, now is a good time to prune them. Grasses that turn brown in the winter should be cut down to about 2″ above the ground in early spring before new growth begins.

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Read additional posts by Christa.

On the Go: Orchids at Longwood Gardens – The Garden Hoes Podcast

Garden Hoes Podcast

We have a special bonus episode for you this month. The Gardens Hoes went “On the Road” to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, to learn more about their yearly orchid exhibit. We sat down with Greg Griffis, senior horticulturist and orchid grower, to ask him about the exhibit, orchids, and tips for growing them. The Orchid Extravaganza is an annual event at Longwood Garden that runs through March 22. Longwood Gardens consists of 1,077 acres, with gardens ranging from formal to naturalistic in design. Formidably, the Conservatory encompasses 4.5 acres of greenhouses. This lush winter oasis is transformed from January to March, with over 6,000 orchids. As you wander through the conservatory you’ll see Phalaenopsis orbs hanging above the Patio of Oranges, to Lady Slipper orchids tucked in along the Fern Passage, to delicate Cattleya in the Orchid house, orchids magically transform every space. 

Great news! We are now available on both iTunes and stitcher, making it easy for you to listen to The Garden Hoes on the go! To listen to our latest episode click here.

You can find out more information about this event, Longwood Gardens, and their other events by visiting longwoodgardens.org. If you can’t make it to Longwood Gardens for the exhibit check out “Everything About Orchids.” This free online course hosted by Longwood Gardens offers valuable insights from experts at Longwood Gardens through video lectures and discussion forums. 

Fountain Phalaenopsis

Fountain Phalaenopsis: upon entering the Conservatory you’re greeted by a sea of yellow Dancing Lady orchids (Oncidium) as light pink Phalaenopsis spill over above them. (Photo taken by: Rachel Rhodes)

 

Pierre the cat

Pierre: Longwood Gardens is home to a diverse feline family. They supply ample entertainment and companionship for all who grace the gardens. On this trip, we were lucky to have Pierre guide us through the Conservatory. His favorite spot was the large Orchid Panels featuring Phalaenopsis in the East Conservatory. (Photo taken by: Rachel Rhodes)

 

Phalaenopsis_Rose

Phalaenopsis_Rose: dark pink Phalaenopsis gently lead you through the Rose House. (Photo taken by: Rachel Rhodes)

 

Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis: Phalaenopis Tai Lin Red Angel ‘V31’ Orchids gracefully hang from elevated columns on the west side of the Exhibition Hall. They are rarely displayed outside of Asia. (Photo taken by: Rachel Rhodes)

 

Paphiopedilum Invincible ‘Spread Eagle’

Paphiopedilum Invincible ‘Spread Eagle’: is a beautiful slipper orchid hybrid that originated by Wrigley in 1911. It is a cross of Paph. Hirsutissimum x Pap. Monsiuer de Curte (Photo taken by: Rachel Rhodes)

 

Greg Griffis

Greg Griffis, senior horticulturist, and orchid grower, sat down with the Garden Hoes to talk about all things orchids. (Photo taken by: Emily Zobel)

If you have any garden questions or topics you like us to talk about, you can email us at Gardenhoespodcast@gmail.com Garden Hoes is brought to you by UME. Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Assoc. (Talbot Co.) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Assoc. for Horticulture (QA Co), and Emily Zobel- Agriculture Agent (Dorchester Co.).

Pawpaws: The Tropical Fruit From Our Forests

Spring is almost here and now we can start thinking about trees to plant if we did not get to that in the fall. Thinking about trees for my garden, I came back to one I have been considering for a while now — one that gives delicious fruit, is native, makes me think of tropical lands, and is not liked by deer! Today’s post is going to be about a little-known tree that’s native to our region, and whose fruits were apparently one of George Washington’s favorites: pawpaws!

What are pawpaws?

Pawpaws are trees that belong to the same plant family as chirimoyas and custard-apples (Annonaceae, the soursoup family; Figure 1). From a botanical perspective, pawpaws are really special because they are the only member of their family adapted to growing outside of the tropics and able to survive our temperate climate.

pawpaw and related fruits

Figure 1 – Pawpaws (left), chirimoyas (top right) and custard apples (bottom right) are all in the same plant family, but pawpaws are the only group adapted to growing in temperate climates.

All pawpaws grow in southeastern North America, but the most common and widespread species is the common pawpaw, Asimina triloba, which is very abundant in our region. The common pawpaw is adapted to growing in well-drained and fertile habitats, such as those found in our forests. I promise you that if you ever walked in a forest in the area, you have seen hundreds of pawpaws growing in groves (Figure 2).

Pawpaw grove

Figure 2 – Pawpaws grow in well-drained fertile soils, and are common in our forests where they often grow in groves. Photo: Katja Schulz.

Why are pawpaws such a “thing”?

Besides being great native trees that grow well in our region, pawpaws have the most delicious fruits. They are considered the largest edible fruits indigenous to the continental United States. The fruits look a bit like a green mango from the outside, but are white/yellow and fleshy in the inside (Figure 3).

pawpaw fruit

Figure 3 – Pawpaw fruits are green on the outside and white and fleshy on the inside. Note the very large seeds. Photo: Elizabeth.

Their flavor is such a delicious one that I always relate it to tropical fruits. People more technical than I am in terms of flavor description say that it is a custard flavor, close to that of bananas, pineapples, and mangos. In any case, believe me when I tell you that these fruits are absolutely delightful and can be eaten fresh, in yoghurts, in cakes, as jams, or frozen in ice-cream!

Why didn’t I know about this before?

That was my very question the first time I tried them! It turns out that producing pawpaws for selling is not super simple. In fact, the fruits are fragile and thus can’t be transported long distances, which reduces their marketability. This means that pawpaws are usually produced and consumed locally. If you do not happen to know somebody with some trees on their land, you probably never got to try them.

Also, the pawpaw fruit season is relatively short (end of the summer), which means that one has to be in the right place at the right time to eat them. In season, pawpaws can be purchased at local farmers’ markets or on farms. You can also try to find them in the forests of the area, where you will be able to smell the sweet aroma of the fruits while you hike or bike. However, be sure to check property rules; harvesting plant materials from park lands is typically prohibited.

Why are you talking about this now? It’s not pawpaw season yet!

That is correct. However, it is pawpaw planting season now, and soon will be pawpaw pollination season, both needed to actually get the delicious fruits in the summer. So, how to plant and pollinate them?

Pawpaws can be grown from seed, but the simplest way to get one for your land is from a nursery. Several nurseries in the area sell pawpaw trees, and your best choices are those which grow trees that are adapted to your local conditions.

Pawpaws are not hard to grow and can be actually cultivated in your own back or front yard! Further, some counties and cities provide financial support to plant these native trees (see for example, Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources).

Pawpaw trees start producing fruit a couple years after planting. However, fruit production is a bit different from that of other fruits you may be growing. In fact, fruits will form only if there is cross-pollination (see this other post), since a pawpaw is not able to properly self-pollinate. This means that pawpaws need pollinators to produce fruit.

pawpaw flower

Figure 4 – Pawpaw flowers have evolved to attract and trick flies and beetles by looking dark and smelling like ripe fruits, the insects’ preferred food and egg-laying site. With this trick, the plant cross-pollinates their flowers without offering any reward to the pollinators. Photo: Judy Gallagher

Pawpaws are pollinated by flies and sometimes beetles, which the flowers attract with their maroon flowers and their ‘yeasty’ aromas (Figure 4). These scents are known to ‘trick’ the pollinators into visiting the flowers, mimicking the odor of ripe fruits that these insects prefer to feed on or lay their eggs. Flowers then attract these pollen dispersers, who, while visiting the flowers, will cross-pollinate them without their will.

You can imagine by now that having more than one pawpaw on your land or in the surroundings of your house will increase fruit production. It will then be more likely that the fooled pollinators will have visited another plant and thus carry pollen when they visit your tree.

Alternatively, if you would like to be absolutely sure to get a good pawpaw crop, you can cross-pollinate them by hand. To do that, get a small brush, pick pollen from the anthers of one flower (check the drawing here to find them), and transfer it to the stigma of another. That way you will get to live your best pollinator life! 😊

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