UME Master Gardener “Learning Garden” at State Fair

A team of UME Master Gardeners working with UME field faculty created an outstanding Learning Garden that inspired and educated residents during the 11 days of the Maryland State Fair. Practical, small-space gardening techniques were demonstrated in 25 distinct beds.

A dramatic “three sisters” bed served as the central point of visual interest, attracting people from across the fairgrounds: ‘Honeybush’ butternut squash at the base, sunflowers (instead of corn) growing upright, and ‘Algarve’ pole beans climbing to the top of the bamboo frame:

Three Sisters

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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. Continue reading

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.

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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 page 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.

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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.” Continue reading

Japanese Maples in Maryland Landscapes: Plant Location & Care Are Keys to Success

Japanese maple leaves
Japanese maple. Photo: Pixabay

The group of small ornamental shade trees lumped under the name Japanese maples, Acer palmatum and A. japonicum, and their many hybrids, are very popular with gardeners and plant enthusiasts. Most of the questions we receive about problems with Japanese maples are horticulturally related to poor growing conditions and maintenance rather than insects or diseases. The causes of these problems are usually root or trunk-related issues. So, let’s start with a look at the planting conditions Japanese maples need in order to thrive.  Continue reading

Cardinal Flower Is for Hummingbirds

Cardinal flower
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Photo: C. Carignan

I gave up on my hummingbird feeder years ago. It was more than I wanted to do to keep up with changing the sugar solution every two to three days, as recommended to keep the food free of spoilage that could be harmful to the birds. I saw that hummingbirds would visit some of my garden flowers just as much as the feeder, so I decided just to provide flowers for them. More flowers for me, more natural nectar for them. A win-win.

In my garden, ruby-throated hummingbirds most often fed at my scarlet bee balm, blue salvias, brilliantly colored zinnias, and orange butterfly weed. This year they have an additional choice that appears to be their new favorite. It is the flower whose color resembles that of a different bird, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

This Maryland native plant produces 2-4′ tall spikes of bright, cardinal-red flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds in mid to late summer. In fact, hummingbirds are an essential pollinator of these plants.

Cardinal flower was easy for me to grow from seeds sown directly outside. In the fall of 2016, I scattered seeds in a low area of my yard where water frequently would puddle after heavy rain. They sprouted and grew low foliage and a few small flower spikes the following season. This year I have plants that are well established and the flower spikes are tall and brilliant. Cardinal flower grows best in moist to wet soils, so this has been a fabulous year for it!

If you have a shady or partially shaded area that tends to stay moist in your yard, cardinal flower might be a great choice for you. Allow these plants to reseed naturally so you’ll have flowers — and a natural hummingbird feeding station — year after year.

Additional Resources

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center