Test your soil. Be prepared to raise soil pH with lime or lower soil pH with iron sulfate and elemental sulfur this spring according to the written recommendations you receive. For more information on soil testing see: Soil Testing
Poor, compacted soils can be improved through the generous addition of organic matter. This spring, spade or till in a 6-8 inch layer of compost for new flower and vegetable garden beds.
Continue to feed wild birds through the remaining winter weeks. Black oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes are a good choice for a wide variety of birds. Keep bird feeders clean and provide your wild birds with fresh water.
Squirrels will come to eat the bird food you put out even when your bird feeders are advertised as “squirrel-proof.” Squirrels quickly become tolerant to the hot pepper repellent added to some bird feeds. Place squirrel baffles around feeders to keep them out, learn to live with squirrels, or offer them alternate food like ears of feed corn. Consult the staff at your local wild bird store for more detailed feeding suggestions.
This is the mating season for foxes. Late at night, they make a loud noise that sounds like a person screaming. (Listen)
Winter sowing is a technique gardeners can use to start growing seeds outdoors during the winter months. If you have limited space for starting seeds indoors, winter sowing might be an option for you, depending on what you want to grow.
I first tried winter sowing last year with several types of flower seeds. Winter sowing works best for plants that are cold tolerant or even require a period of cold in order to germinate. When you are looking at seed descriptions, look for words like “cold tolerant,” “cool season”, “hardy annual,” “perennial”, “sow in autumn”, “sow in early spring”, or “self-sows”. These words indicate the best candidates for winter sowing. Continue reading →
There seem to be new lighting choices for indoor plant growing every year. If you’ve been starting annual flower and vegetable plants indoors you probably learned early on that natural light entering through windows is hardly ever adequate. Some type of supplemental light is essential to produce healthy transplants. But what types of bulbs and fixtures work best? And how much money do I really want to spend on something I’ll use for 8-12 weeks each year?
Many gardeners use 2 ft. or 4 ft. long fluorescent tubes in a fixture (a.k.a “shop light”). The T number is the tube diameter in 1/8 inch units. The traditional T12 tube (1 ½ in. dia.) has been largely replaced by slimmer T8 (1-inch dia.) and T5 tubes (5/8 inch dia.). All fluorescent tubes give off a small amount of heat– rarely a problem, even when foliage grows into them. Heat from the ballast in the fixture can help hasten germination and plant growth, especially when your set-up is covered with plastic.
LED grow lights
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) give off very little heat, use less energy than fluorescent tubes, and last about twice as long. They are also mercury-free and made from plastic so won’t shatter like glass. LEDs appear to be the wave of the future for indoor lighting. Horticulturists and lighting engineers are working worldwide to customize wavelength combinations for specific plant production goals in commercial greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. Continue reading →
If you live in one of Maryland’s older towns, you probably have a lot of heritage trees – native trees inherited from the forests and fields that existed before your town was built out. It’s part of what gives old towns so much character. In my home town, Takoma Park, one of the heritage trees I admire the most is the post oak (Quercus stellata).
Post oaks inspire me. I see beauty in their shiny, cruciform leaves and their tiny, striped acorns. I also admire the species’ capacity to cope with adversity. Many of the post oaks in Takoma Park are confined to little hell strips, those narrow grassy areas between slabs of asphalt or concrete. There they must cope with soil compaction, deicing salts, copious quantities of dog urine, and the urban heat island, to name a few.
Post oaks are one of the most common trees at Soldier’s Delight Natural Area, where the serpentinite bedrock gives rise to a soil so laden with heavy metals that it’s too toxic for most plants to grow in. Perhaps tolerance of metals helps the post oak perform well at urban sites, even sites near train tracks and in industrial parks. Continue reading →
Q: My cherry laurels do not look good. There are brown spots and holes on the leaves and white stuff on the trunk. What can I do?
A: First, there is a lot to like about cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus). They are popular evergreen screening and foundation plants, deer-resistant, and pretty tough once established. Cherry laurels make their best growth in moist, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. They even tolerate full shade.
We receive numerous questions about problems with these shrubs. They can have multiple issues that are attributed to environmental, climate, or site conditions. When the plants are stressed, they weaken and become susceptible to diseases and/or insect pests. It is helpful to be aware of these issues before planting them. Continue reading →
Q: Why are my orchid leaves turning yellow and drying up? The plants are located in the bathtub where they get sun daily from the south and west window.
A: While it is normal for the oldest leaves of moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) to turn yellow and dry up as they age, when there is uniform yellowing and shriveling of newer leaves, it is a sign of distress. The shriveling suggests there is a lack of water reaching the leaves. Check the root system of your plant. If the roots are in poor condition, they cannot take up water. Overwatering can cause roots to rot. If you haven’t repotted your orchid in a couple years, the potting medium may have broken down and become too dense to allow for good drainage. Bacterial rot also can occur if water is allowed to sit around the center shoot or in the leaf sheaths for a long period of time. Water only in the morning so that your plants can dry out by nightfall. Never let them stand in water and keep the plants in a location where they can get good air circulation, indirect light, and a warm daytime temperature above 75F. Watering instructions can be found in our orchid care video.
More than 63 inches of rain has fallen so far this year on the Baltimore/Washington region, breaking a 129 year record. Gardeners are more often in the habit of hoping and praying for rain during hot, dry spells. This year we shook our heads in wonder as buckets of rain repeatedly pelted our gardens.
Climate change has already begun to increase yearly rainfall in Maryland. The NOAA State Climate Report (data through 2014) shows that “annual precipitation has been above average for the last two decades. The annual number of extreme precipitation events (days with more than 2 inches) averaged 2.5 days per year during 2005-2014 compared to 1.8 days per year during 1950-2004.” Scientists expect a 5-10% increase in Maryland’s annual precipitation by 2050.
Resiliency is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Farmers, gardeners, and researchers are looking for practices and strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help us adapt food production to the rapidly changing environment. What makes this so challenging is that in addition to rising average temperature and precipitation we will have more unusual weather and extreme events, including drought! So what can gardeners do to improve garden resiliency in the face of excess rainfall? Continue reading →