The Importance of Being Labeled

A plant label at the Derwood Demo Garden, showing scientific and common names, and potential culinary uses

Have any of these happened to you? (They have to me.)

  • You sow some Very Important Seeds in a flat or container, and don’t mark them in any way, because they are Very Important and of course you will never forget what they are. Next day: what were those?
  • You transfer some seedlings into larger pots, put the pots into a tray, and decide that it’s only necessary to mark the row since the seedlings are all the same variety (the next row is another variety, also marked). Something happens: a shift in the fabric of the universe, a decision about how the pots fit under the lights, a cat. You no longer know which pots are which.
  • You sow some seeds directly in your garden, and because you’ve seen other people do it, you stick the empty seed packet on a stake at the end of the row. It is a dark and stormy night. The seed packet blows away.
  • You transplant seedlings into your garden and put the proper labels next to each plant. Sun and rain do their work; one day, you look at the label and it is blank. Which tomato is which? Help!
  • Your flower beds become full of those little plastic sticks which look lonely and sad in the wintertime. Small children, animals, and Mother Nature move them around at will.

Let’s talk about labeling!

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Monthly Tips for May


  • lawnmowerAlways mow cool season grasses, like tall fescue and bluegrass, at a height of 3 inches. Mowing the lawn too close weakens the grass and permits many weeds to invade your lawn.
  • Keep your mower blades sharp to prevent turf damage. Dry white or tan colored grass blade tips are an indication that the mower blade is dull. Dull mower blades tear turf grass and can lead to disease problems.
  • Leave grass clippings where they lay. Grasscycling eliminates bagging labor and costs, adds organic matter and nitrogen to your soil and does not contribute to thatch build-up.


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Plant for Pollinators: 9 Ways to Attract and Help Pollinators in Your Garden and Yard

monarch butterfly

Pollinators of all types – insects, birds, and bats – are in decline due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and diseases. Insects – including Maryland’s 400 species of native bees – provide valuable pollination and a food source for wildlife. Insect pollination is essential for the production of about one-third of our food crops. And some pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, are simply a delight to see!

You can make a difference for pollinators by incorporating these practices in your garden or yard.

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Featured Video: Keep Bugs Off My Vegetables! How to Deal With Insects in the Garden

Mike Raupp, “The Bug Guy” for the University of Maryland Extension, talks about an easy way to get rid of pesky bugs in your garden called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.

Integrated Pest Management coordinates the use of pest biology, environmental information, and available technology to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage— using the most economical means while posing the least possible risk to people, property, resources, and the environment. Mike Raupp gives us five steps for an IPM system: building a knowledge base, monitoring your plants, making decisions, intervening, and keeping records. Incorporate IPM into your garden routine and you’ll be able to safely and organically control damaging insects.

Learn more on the HGIC website.

The Cure for All Your Ills Might Just Be A Native Plant

You may know Yarrow as a great garden plant for attracting small pollinators and beneficial insects. But there’s a lot more to it than that!

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, has been used as a medicinal for a very long time. No, we’re not talking about your great-grandmother, we’re talking about Neanderthals. Archeologists have identified yarrow among the medicinal herbs that were buried with a Neanderthal 65,000 years ago. From Asia to North America, cultures of our own species have used yarrow medicinally for longer than records have been kept. In Greek mythology, the warrior Achilles was schooled on the medicinal uses of yarrow, for whom the genus has since been named. In recent decades, ethnobotanists noted that numerous indigenous cultures around the globe were using yarrow to treat the same types of ailments, an indication that an herb is in fact probably medically active for those conditions (see table). In this millennium, these suspicions have been borne out by recent clinical trials showing: more rapid healing of flesh wounds; decreased menstrual pain; improved kidney function; improved liver function; and improvement of dry mouth in chemotherapy patients. Gee, those Neanderthals were on to something!

But is Yarrow a native plant? Again, research conducted in the new millennium has shown that what we once called Achillea millefolium is actually a cosmopolitan complex of species and subspecies. Among those, American Yarrow (Achillea borealis), arrived in North America via the Alaskan land bridge during a period of low sea level, probably within the last one million years. Since that time, it has spread across the continent, using a powerful bag of evolutionary tricks to adapt to diverse environments such as dunes, mountain tops, and mesic meadows. Populations from these different environments are genetically distinctive, and there are likely to be multiple ecotypes even within a local area. According to Weakley (2015) if you encounter Yarrow in a native meadow in the Mid-Atlantic, it is most likely the native American Yarrow. However, the similar-looking aliens A. millefolium and A. filipendulina are sometimes found in disturbed areas, especially near port cities like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

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Why Is Leyland Cypress Turning Brown? Winter Took Its Toll

Leyland cypress showing winter damage
Winter damage on Leyland cypress trees. Photo: Dave Clement, University of Maryland Extension

Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) has a lot going for it. It’s fast-growing with evergreen, feathery foliage and a pleasing, slender profile. It makes an excellent specimen tree or screening plant. A cross between two Pacific coast species, the Leyland cypress thrives best in moist, cool climates with moderate temperatures. These trees are hardy to zone 6, however, they do not tolerate sudden temperature fluctuations. We indeed experienced some of these very cold sudden temperature fluctuations this past December and January. The first winter damage symptoms will begin showing up as browning and dieback this spring as temperatures begin to warm and stimulate new growth.

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