Beyond Broccoli Part Four: Down to the Roots

In this edition of Beyond Broccoli (see parts one, two and three for background) we’re going to start exploring some specific species and subspecies (varieties, groups, etc.) within the genus Brassica. Rather than address each species systematically, I’ve decided on an approach based on the plant parts we usually consume. Never fear, I will inform you when introducing each plant how they fit into the genus.

So let’s start at the bottom, with root vegetables.

Fuku Komachi turnips
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Spring Lawn Care Tips

A healthy, dense-growing lawn will do a better job of minimizing weeds and reducing erosion compared to a lawn that is thin and weak. For a variety of reasons, lawns can be challenging to grow in Maryland’s transition-zone climate. Turfgrass requires regular maintenance. Here are some steps you can take in the spring to keep it healthy, without resorting to “weed and feed” products. This series of videos is presented by Geoffrey Rinehart, Lecturer in Turfgrass Management at the Institute of Applied Agriculture, University of Maryland.

Mowing Tips to Prevent Weeds and Diseases
Winter Annual Weeds
Using Slow-Release Fertilizer

Native Plants Add Beauty and Support Wildlife 

wild bergamot flowers are lavender color
Native wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) attracts pollinators from butterflies to hummingbird moths and is both deer and rabbit-proof. Photo: Elmer Verhasselt,

I love native plants. I garden for beauty and wildlife and nothing supports healthy habitats better than native plants. 

So what are native plants? They are beautiful, resilient plants that naturally occur in an area.

Having evolved over millennia with native wildlife, they naturally support them best. A native white oak supports 557 species of butterflies and moths while a non-native gingko tree supports just five.  

So if you want to support bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects that help control pests, native plants are the way to go. 

They also support larger wildlife such as birds with their seeds, fruit, shelter, and places to raise young. Again, native plants evolved with them, so they naturally provide what they need.  

According to conservationist, author, and entomologist Doug Tallamy who penned the bestsellers “Bringing Nature Home” and “Nature’s Best Hope,” native plants support 29 times more wildlife diversity than non-native plants.  

Well adapted to our soil and climate, native plants are resilient with a capital “R.” They’ve persisted through many hot, dry, wet, and cold years, surviving all previous climate change that has occurred, positioning them well to adapt to future changes. 

Adapting over eons makes you tough. Native plants have fewer pest and disease issues and some have deep roots which make them drought resistant. That means less watering, fewer chemicals, and a healthier landscape. 

Did I mention how beautiful they are? There is a nasty rumor out there that native plants are weedy. Bosh and balderdash.   

Native coral honeysuckle trumpets red/yellow/orange flowers that welcome hummingbirds. Threadleaf coreopsis wafts a riot of petite yellow daisies in a drift of lacy foliage.  

Wild blue indigo sports 4-foot stems of deep blue sweet-pea-like blooms. Cardinal flower flashes brilliant red and is a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies.  

Bees love to rummage among the pure white blossoms of native foxglove. And goldenrods carousing with purple asters are the very definition of fall beauty.

Don’t get me started on native trees and shrubs. I love ninebark’s white pompoms, the red dangling fruit of chokeberry, the deep maroon flowers of Carolina allspice (native from our South), skinny willow oak leaves, and the giant leaves of pawpaws

red flower of Carolina allspice
Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Photo: Miri Talabac

How can you find out what native plants might work in your landscape?  

Discover many resources – including recommended native plants for Maryland on our website and on the Maryland Native Plant Society website.

My favorite native plant reference, “Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping,” has color photos and plant profiles. Download it for free.

Where do you find native plants? Visit your favorite garden center. Native plants are becoming more common. If they’re not there, ask. Nurseries grow and buy based on client interest.  

The Maryland Native Plant Society website also lists native plant sales and nurseries on their website.

Many Master Gardener groups – including ours – hold spring plant sales that include native plants. Contact your county/city coordinator to learn if one is scheduled near you.

I hope I’ve encouraged you to include some native plants in your landscape to add beauty, invite wildlife and support a healthy ecosystem.  

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.

Invasive Shrubs With Red Berries to Avoid

Blooming flowers, emerging leaves, sprouting seedlings, and peeping frogs are just a few of the signs that encompass the magic of the spring season for me. As nature goes through the motions and awakens, I hope you have found some time to get outside and enjoy the wonderful gift of the changing seasons. Unfortunately, I’m always disheartened to see the number of invasive shrubs that are dotting the landscape this time of year. Spring is an easy time to see firsthand how invasive plants often break dormancy before native plants, which basically means that they leaf out earlier and have an automatic leg up as they are growing a few weeks before other plants. For more information, read Invasive Shrubs in Northeast Forests Grow Leaves Earlier and Keep Them Longer from Penn State

an invasion of bush honeysuckle plants covering a forest floor
Bush honeysuckle shrubs taking over a forest understory. Photo: Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park,

Q. What shrub has yellow-white (sometimes pink), trumpet-shaped flowers in mid-spring that smell sweet? 

A: Exotic bush honeysuckle is a large category of several different fast-growing species (Lonicera maackii, L. morrowii, L. tatarica, L. xbella, L. fragrantissima) that are perennial, deciduous shrubs that can grow up to 20 feet in height. These species share many of the same characteristics — yellow to white, sometimes even pink-colored flowers, sweet-smelling flowers, and red to yellow berries in early summer. Leaves are opposite on the stem. Wildlife such as deer and birds are known to spread these invasive shrubs by eating the berries. If you look underneath utility lines or at the forest edge, you will often see these invasive shrubs.

As of February 2018, the Maryland Department of Agriculture classified Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) as a Tier 1 invasive plant in Maryland. A person may not propagate, import, transfer, sell, purchase, transport, or introduce any living part of a Tier 1 invasive plant in the state. For more information visit the University of Maryland Extension page about Exotic Bush Honeysuckles. For control information, visit Invasives In Your Woodland: Bush Honeysuckles.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of invasive shrubs in my own woodlot, which is secluded from homes due to the mountainous terrain. Nonetheless, Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has begun taking over the understory and edges of hayfields. I believe that it was spread by wildlife. Did you know this shrub gets small yellow flowers in early spring and then red berries?

Q. I see Japanese barberry planted in many landscapes. Is it really an invasive plant?  

A: This invasive shrub has been used in landscapes in North America since the late 1800s. It is very popular because it provides resistance to deer browse and can grow in a wide variety of light and soil conditions, making it a plant that can be used dependably in home landscapes. However, these characteristics contribute to its aggressive nature when spreading into natural areas. It forms dense foliage thickets that create an ideal humid environment for black-legged ticks (deer ticks) which can carry the pathogen that causes Lyme disease.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has named this a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. Landscapers may not supply Japanese barberry unless they provide the customer with a list of Tier 2 invasive plants. In our neighboring state of Pennsylvania, Japanese barberry is on the noxious weed list and will be banned for sale beginning this fall.

Visit the University of Maryland Extension website for more information about Japanese barberry and how to control it.

Japanese barberry infestation in a forest. Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

Q.  I want to add a shrub to my landscape that provides berries for the wildlife and fall foliage color. Is burning bush (Euonymus alatus) a good choice?

A: Unfortunately, winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is not the best choice when adding a new shrub to your landscape, as the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has named this a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. Landscapers may not supply winged burning bushes unless they provide the customer with a list of Tier 2 invasive plants. It is also important to note that burning bush is now a banned noxious weed in our neighboring state of Pennsylvania.

For more information, check out this previous blog post, Q & A: Is Burning Bush an Invasive Plant? For control suggestions, refer to Invasives in Your Woodland – Winged Euonymus.

Q. Does Heavenly bamboo support wildlife with its evergreen leaves and red berries? 

Heavenly bamboo, sacred bamboo, or Nandina (Nandina domestica) has berries that are actually toxic to cats and also cedar waxwing birds. This plant was introduced from Asia in the early 1800s but it outcompetes many native plants with its aggressive nature.

MDA has named Nadina a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. The Nandina cultivar ‘Firepower’ is the only exception.

For more specifics about this plant, read Not so Heavenly from the Maryland Invasive Species Council. The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia have a good list of native alternatives to plant instead.

Invasive heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

All of these invasive shrubs produce berries which is one of the ways they spread so widely and easily. Please research plants before adding them to your landscape. Below are links for information on finding non-invasive plants: 

Native Shrubs – University of Maryland Extension

Landscaping with Native Plants- Maryland Native Plant Society 

Keystone Plants by Ecoregion- National Wildlife Federation

Resources on invasive plant identification: 

Plant Invaders of the Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas (PDF)

Regional Invasive Species & Climate Change Management Challenge: Do Not Sell! Ornamental invasive plants to avoid with climate change

Check the University of Maryland Extension website for an Introduction to Invasive Plants in Maryland for more information on how to reduce them.

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland. Read more posts by Ashley.

Try Growing Sweet Potatoes This Year!

I am very excited that 2023 is the “Year of Sweet Potatoes” for Grow It Eat It, the statewide food gardening program run by University of Maryland Extension (UME) Master Gardener (MG) Volunteers.

This member of the morning glory family is an amazing and nutritious vegetable crop. Plants grow rapidly with minimal care and produce edible new shoots and leaves and delicious roots that can be stored through the fall and winter.

Reasons to grow sweet potatoes: climate-resilient crop, few pest and disease problems, easy to grow
Graphic design: Steph Pully

The Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Home Garden webpage has the detailed information you need for success. I’m sharing some tips in this article that I hope will further entice you to join the fun!

Getting started

  • Pick a full-sun location.
  • Use a garden fork, spade, or tiller to loosen the top 10-12 inches of soil
  • Mix compost into the soil prior to planting
  • Space plants 1 foot apart in the row or 2 feet apart in each direction if planting in a wide bed
  • Stick a flag or marker in the ground next to each plant so you’ll know where to dig when it’s time to harvest

Varieties and plants (“slips”)

  • Georgia Jet, Centennial, O’Henry, Murasaki, Beauregard, and Covington are some recommended varieties. Vardaman, and Bunch (Bush) Puerto Rico have compact vines and take up less space
  • Sweet potato plants produce few flowers and little or no viable seed. They are propagated year-to-year by sprouts (baby plants aka “slips”) that grow from stored sweet potatoes
Finding sweet potatoes - local garden centers, nurseries, mail-order companies
Graphic design: Steph Pully
sweet potato plants growing in a container
This small container produced enough “slips” for several gardens. The Start and Multiply Sweet Potatoes video shows you how to grow your own “slips” in 5-6 weeks. Photo: Jon Traunfeld
baby sweet potato plant
This baby plant, pulled from a mother sweet potato, is ready to plant in the garden. It’s
already developing a root system! Photo: Jon Traunfeld

General growing tips

  • Water young plants 1-2 times per week if rain is lacking
  • Fertilize as needed; soils high in organic matter may not need to be fertilized
  • Control weeds the first month after planting. Vines will grow rapidly and shade out weeds
  • Vines can be trimmed back 20-30% without significantly reducing the harvest
  • Use new leaves and shoots fresh in salads or in soups, stir-fries, omelettes, etc.
  • Sweet potatoes have fewer pests and diseases than most other garden crops! Fence out deer and groundhogs and check the enlarging roots for vole (meadow mouse) feeding.
sweet potato plant growing in a pot
Sweet potatoes grow well in containers, including fabric bags as shown in this photo. I usually suggest planting one plant in a 10-gallon although a co-worker recently told me she harvested around five pounds of sweet potatoes from a 5-gallon bucket! Photo: Jon Traunfeld
sweet potatoes growing on a bamboo trellis
Save space by training vines to grow vertically. These sweet potato plants growing on a bamboo trellis at the UME Master Gardener Learning Garden at the Maryland State Fair. Photo: Jon Traunfeld
large Korean sweet potatoes have a nutty flavor
This large Korean sweet potato, also called chestnut sweet potato because of its nutty flavor, is my favorite to grow and eat. They are very productive, store very well, and have a firm texture, making them more versatile in the kitchen than most other varieties. Photo: Jon Traunfeld

Harvesting tips

  • Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest 85-120 days after planting (depends on variety)
  • Storage roots don’t stop growing. Check for size when plants reach their expected harvest date.
  • Harvest roots as soon as they reach eating size and before a frost. Roots can crack and become woody when overgrown
  • Loosen the soil about 1 foot from the base of the plant. Use your hands to find and lift the roots
  • Treat them with tender care. Gently remove excess soil; don’t wash!
newly harvested sweet potatoes laying on sheets of newspaper
Newly dug storage roots curing in mid-September on my porch. Photo: Jon Traunfeld

Curing and storage tips

  • Curing improves the flavor, quality, and longevity of harvested roots. It toughens the skin, heals cuts, bruises and scrapes, and promotes the conversion of starches to sugars
  • Commercial sweet potatoes are cured for 7-14 days at 85⁰ F and 90% RH. One week of curing during warm, humid weather in a protected, outdoor location is helpful. Don’t worry if that’s not possible. Your sweet potatoes will still be sweet and tasty 
  • Store sweet potatoes in a cool, humid location – basements work well
  • Use slatted crates, baskets, or cardboard boxes. Fill only 2-3 layers deep
  • Check for and remove spoiled roots
sweet potatoes stored in boxes
Sweet potatoes being stored for the winter. Roots that were accidentally cut during harvest have healed over. Photo: Jon Traunfeld

Check with your county/city Extension office to learn more about vegetable classes and workshops, and demonstration gardens.


By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center. Read more posts by Jon.

Q&A: When Will Spotted Lanternfly Eggs Hatch?

Spotted Lanternflies are black with white spots when they first hatch
Immature Spotted Lanterflies are black with white spots when they first hatch in mid-April to May. Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

Q: When will Spotted Lanternfly eggs hatch? We’ve had such warm spells this season that I worry it’ll be early.

A: Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) egg hatch, like the activity of many insects, is greatly dependent on temperature. Predictions for egg hatch in an average year begin around mid-April but can continue into May, so while it may not be early per se at this point, it still will be soon. As such, this is your last opportunity to be vigilant for egg masses to squish before the active, hopping, hard-to-catch juveniles appear.

Don’t panic – juveniles cause little plant damage to gardens when young – but eliminate any egg masses within reach if possible because this is a serious agricultural pest (vineyards, mainly) and it might help you avoid an inundation of nuisance lanternflies later. To be fair, many eggs are laid high in tree canopies, making them inaccessible, but others can be laid on piles of stone, fencing, car hubcaps, grills, outdoor furniture, honey bee hive boxes, and so on.

Gray patches that look like dried mud are Spotted Lanternfly egg masses
Spotted Lanternfly egg masses on wood. Photo: Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University,

Be advised that the quarantine zones in Maryland have recently been expanded, and records indicate that the abundance of this pest has grown in our central counties. Check our Spotted Lanternfly web page and information updated on the Maryland Department of Agriculture website for more details. An MDA entomologist presented a refresher webinar about SLF this past winter, which you can find on the UMDHGIC YouTube channel as “Spotted Lanternfly Update from MDA.”

Spotted Lanternfly webinar (1 hour, 11 minutes)

If you haven’t seen Spotted Lanternflies in your neighborhoods yet, be prepared to see them in the next year or two as the population expands. I don’t want to scare you, just make you aware this will probably be something you’ll have to experience sooner or later, and I definitely discourage the use of any pesticide to combat this insect if its use can be avoided. Pesticides used to kill SLF have impacts on other insects and organisms and we don’t want to contribute to ecosystem damage by using them when the SLF damage done to most garden plants will be minimal.

By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun and Washington Gardener Magazine. Read more by Miri.

Have a plant or insect question? The University of Maryland Extension has answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension. Our horticulturists are available to answer your questions online, year-roundYou can also connect with your local County/City Extension Office and Master Gardener local programs.

Q&A: Natural Landscaping and Ticks

Lone Star Tick “questing,” or trying to sense a host so it can climb aboard to bite. Photo: M. Talabac

Q:  I like the style of more natural gardens, letting leaf litter be my mulch, etc. I’m concerned about this encouraging ticks, though. Do I have to change how I garden?

A:  It’s a legitimate concern given the diseases ticks can harbor and transmit, but ticks can appear even in more manicured and minimally-vegetated landscapes, so I would rather reap the rewards of having a biodiverse and “wilder” garden than restrict myself and still wind up with hitchhikers when I go outside. Besides, some of that wildlife attracted by having a medley of native plants and leaf litter habitat may very well be killing some of those ticks. (Or doing the next best thing, eating their small-animal hosts that carry the pathogens we worry about.)

We at the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) are often asked about yard perimeter sprays and treatments for ticks, but pesticide use is not our suggested solution. Even when reasonably effective, these products are temporary measures and probably not substantially different in terms of efficacy than simply treating your own clothes or exposed skin with a tick repellent and/or doing a thorough body check once you’re back indoors.

Chemicals used to suppress tick populations (like for lawn applications) are non-selective and don’t impact only ticks. Their close relatives, spiders and any mites that aren’t plant pests (fun fact: some mites eat pests) are definitely worth having in our landscapes. They’re valued partners in natural pest management but can be equally vulnerable to the effects of sprays marketed for tick control. Some pesticide ingredients are even more broad-spectrum than this, potentially affecting ground-dwelling insects and other organisms. As with mosquito management, it’s more sustainable to use personal protection to avoid bites and to landscape in an eco-conscious way to make full use of any existing natural checks and balances that keep tick populations down.

By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun and Washington Gardener Magazine. Read more by Miri.

Have a plant or insect question? The University of Maryland Extension has answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension. Our horticulturists are available to answer your questions online, year-round. You can also connect with your local County/City Extension Office and Master Gardener local programs.