2018 vegetable garden re-cap

This is a good time to think about what worked and what didn’t work so well in our 2018 garden spaces. What was unexpected, which weeds and diseases were challenging, how can we prevent problems and have greater success next year? In that spirit, and before they become dim memories, I’ll share a few observations from the past growing season.


No two years are alike when it comes to weather and food gardening, but wow, 2018 was unusual! We had a slow spring warm-up and record rainfall in Maryland for the May-July period with multiple 2+ inch rain events (NOAA, 2018; Baltimore Sun, 2018). Unfortunately, extreme weather events and above-average rainfall is consistent with the climate change models for the mid-Atlantic region.

The combination of environmental factors- excess rain, wet soils, wildly fluctuating spring temperatures, and high heat and humidity through much of the summer- contributed to a lot of plant stress, leached nutrients, soil erosion, increased disease and weed pressure, and decreased yields.

Learn more about climate change and how gardeners can meet the challenge on HGIC’s climate change page. Also, at the bottom of the page you will see Climate Change in Your County. This little gem is from the Climate Smart Farming program at Cornell University and presents data graphs of temperature and precipitation changes since 1950 in all Northeast counties.

Edema (burst plant cells) of tomato seedlings

Photo: Submitted to University of Maryland Extension by a client

Too much water inside the home! Jerry Brust, Ph.D., Vegetable IPM Specialist, identified excessive watering as the cause of these tomato transplant symptoms. “Loving them to death” is a common gardening disorder. Let the top of the growing medium dry a bit before watering.

Leaf spot diseases on Roselle hibiscus

Roselle sabdariffa is a fabulous plant grown by many gardeners of Indian and West African descent. It has a lemon-sour taste similar to French sorrel. There are several leafy types that are harvested throughout the growing season.

Leaf spot diseases on Roselle hibiscus
Photo: Jon Traunfeld

I’ve observed these plants in community gardens in Central Maryland for many years and saw no disease problems. This year, leaf spot symptoms appeared late summer in Howard Co. I sent a sample to the UM Plant Diagnostic Lab. Three different fungal pathogens were found on the sample and the symptoms are most consistent with Cercospora leaf spot, a disease known to infect Roselle. The lab provided excellent recommendations for preventing or minimizing the problem next year: keeping the foliage dry (no overhead watering), remove infected debris at the end of the season to reduce inoculum, and plant it in a different part of the garden next year.

Rainstorms washed away precious soil

Torrential July downpours
Photo: Jon Traunfeld

Torrential July downpours washed unprotected soil onto streets and down storm drains across the region. Clay and organic matter particles were washed away with the rain leaving silt, sand, and stones in the road. Negative environmental effects at one location affect the ecosystem downhill and downstream.

All boys (for a while) club

This young zucchini plant produced 12 male flowers (on straight stalks known as pedicels) before the first female flower (undeveloped fruit, the ovary, forms below the un-opened flower). Be patient- this is normal for most species and varieties in the Cucurbitaceae family.

young zucchini plant
Photo: Jon Traunfeld

Must prevent tomato diseases, must prevent tomato diseases, must prevent…

of tomato- early blight
Photo: Jon Traunfeld

The principal fungal leaf spot diseases of tomato, early blight (above) and Septoria leaf spot, can be effectively managed so that decent crops are harvested each year. Reduce infection and spread by planting clean seed and transplants, 2 ft. minimum spacing, removing lower leaf branches, watering at plant base, removing all plant debris at season’s end.

Go deep for dependability

I love these examples of deep and productive raised bed gardens at the Friends House community garden in Sandy Spring.

Life is impermanent (including blackberry)

Photo: Jon Traunfeld

The excavated crown of an 8-year old blackberry plant that was infested with rednecked cane borers. The plants were also infected with spur blight, a fungal disease and possibly other pathogens. HGIC strongly recommends bramble fruits because they are dependable and can be grown organically. But they are susceptible to many insect pests and diseases and may become so weakened that they need to be removed.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and start dreaming about next year’s garden!


By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist

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