Featured Videos – HGIC Mini Videos on Social Media!

Follow one of our social media channels to catch a short, fun, animated video that introduces a fun fact or concept of interest to Maryland homeowners and gardeners.  We post a new Mini Video every Tuesday afternoon. Take a look below at our playlist of previous Mini Videos.

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Bees making holes in your yard? They could be gentle pollinators: Meet the cellophane bee

Colletes thoracicus
A solitary ground-nesting bee, Colletes thoracicus. Photo by Hadel Go

I am a horticulture consultant at the University of Maryland Extension’s Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC). Every spring we receive many questions about ground bees that make burrows and holes in lawns and ornamental garden beds. Homeowners are alarmed when they notice many bees flying over an area for several weeks in the spring. They ask questions like: What type of bee is this? Do they sting? Can I mow in the area? When will they go away? How do I get rid of them for good? The bees look intimidating because they tend to aggregate together. It may look like they are tending a busy underground hive, but each bee is typically solitary and digging individual holes. Since a hive is not being defended, the bees are not aggressive.

If you do not know the type of bee you are dealing with, it is concerning. I have a landscaped hill in my backyard that is prime habitat (loamy/sandy soil and good drainage) for ground-nesting bees. For the past several spring seasons, hundreds of bees have flown over an area on my hill. Our entomologist, Mary Kay Malinoski, wanted to identify these bees because many types of bees are important pollinators. Our staff collected samples. The bees were picked up by Lindsay Barranco, a graduate student studying ground bees at the University of Maryland Bee Lab. The bee samples were sent to the USDA Bee Lab for identification.

Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) staff collecting samples and sitting among the gentle ground-nesting bees. Photo by Marian Hengemihle

The ground bees were identified as gentle ground nesters, Cellophane Bees (Colletes thoracicus), also called Plasterer Bees. They are important pollinators of plants and are not aggressive or defensive. They are solitary bees and are not prone to sting humans. They have short lives. After the females lay the next generation and provide food, they will die off. Encourage everyone to tolerate these gentle ground nesters and important pollinators.

Additional Resources

By Marian Hengemihle, Horticulture Consultant, Certified Professional Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center

Do you need help to identify bees or other insects found around your yard or home? Send clear photos of your insects to HGIC’s Ask Extension.

Lawn Tips for Summer: Don’t Overmanage!

lawn mowing height
Mowing at 3-3 ½” will reduce the potential for summer weeds. Photo by Geoff Rinehart

With summer right around the corner and gardening season in full bloom, many homeowners have been spending more time outdoors with yard maintenance activities. One temptation is to “want to do something’’ to make your lawn better since it has been a long, cool spring and it has only been in the last few months or so that things have really started growing. However, it’s important to remember that “doing something” for the sake of just “doing something” can have negative consequences, especially as we enter the hot months of summer.

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Bottlebrush Grass – Gorgeous Native Ornamental For Your Garden

A wild Bottlebrush Grass plant in the Potomac River floodplain
A wild Bottlebrush Grass plant in the Potomac River floodplain

Elymus hystrix got its common name, Bottlebrush Grass, by having seed heads in the shape of a bottle-washing brush. Both the seed heads and the stems are coated with a white wax, making this a gorgeous ornamental grass for your garden, especially when situated against a dark background.

The Nature of Bottlebrush Grass

In the winter, the basal foliage is lively and green, even during the coldest of winters. As a cool-season grass, Bottlebrush does most of its growth in spring. Flower stems are sent up in June and seeds are set in July.

Bottlebrush is native throughout Maryland, but only in soils with good calcium availability. That makes it uncommon in the Coastal Plain, where soils tend to be nutrient poor. Even there, it does grow wild where shell deposits have enriched the soil.

Many insect species use the Bottlebrush Grass as a host plant, including the Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly. Photo by MDF, via Wikimedia.
Many insect species use the Bottlebrush Grass as a host plant, including the Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly. By Mdf GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

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Monthly Tips for June

Ornamental Plants

New Englang aster

  • Attract beneficial insects to your landscape by planting a wide variety of flowering annuals and perennials that will bloom over the entire growing season. Good choices are plants in the following families: daisy (marigolds, daisies, asters, mums), carrot (dill, fennel, anise, yarrow, parsley) and mint (all mints and thymes).
  • Pinch out the flower buds of fall blooming asters, mums, goldenrod and other fall bloomers to keep plants bushy and prevent early flowering.

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Q&A: Try these groundcovers that will keep deer away

Alleghany pachysadra
Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens). Photo by E. Nibali

Q: What groundcovers can you recommend for shade? I’ve removed all the English ivy and need something before erosion starts. I like evergreen ones, and I also have deer problems.

A: Many of the following are deer resistant, if not completely deer proof. Allegheny pachysandra, for example, is a four-season actor in the garden with quirky spring flowers and attractive mottled leaves that deer don’t touch. Other evergreen choices include Christmas ferns, wood ferns (semi-evergreen), moss, and golden groundsel (yellow spring flowers about 1-inch tall).

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Essential Oils for Mosquito Control

Mosquito season is here, and many people turn to essential oils for mosquito control as a way of avoiding synthetic insecticides, but this is often met with a mixture of success.

Asian tiger mosquito
The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is an aggressive daytime feeder commonly found in urban and suburban areas.  Photo by Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considered essential oils to be minimum risk pesticides, so there is no testing being done on their effectiveness before they go to market, which allows for a wide range of products to be sold that may not work. While there is a growing interest in the use of essential oils as possible methods for controlling mosquitoes, most of these studies are focusing on how essential oils can be used when applied to the skin or fabric as a repellent rather than as a yard barrier spray. Garlic oil, Lemongrass oil, and Citronella oil are commonly used essential oils in barrier sprays, but there is little to no research on them showing their effectiveness on mosquitoes in the United States.

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