Maryland Grows

Early Spring Pruning of Roses – Featured Video

The best time of year to prune your roses is right about now.  Take a look at this video to learn how.

Improve Your Soil by Growing Soil Microbes

Humus

Photo: Pixabay

As a non-soil scientist who loves to explore and learn about soil, I was quite shocked to read last year that humus, as it’s commonly understood, does not exist in nature.

What, no humus? How can that be? What is it then that makes up the bulk of soil organic matter? This fascinating story unfolded for me through an excellent 4-part soils podcast (“Priming for Production”) produced by Natalie Lounsbury in November 2017. The podcast can be found on Natalie’s notillveggies.org website which was funded with a Northeast SARE grant. (Hey, Master Gardeners, these podcasts count for Master Gardener continuing education hours!)

At the beginning of Episode 3 of the podcast (What is soil organic matter, really?) Natalie states “Our understanding of soil organic matter is undergoing something of a revolution right now.” I was about to have my mind blown. Read More

Spotted Lanternfly Update: Be on the Lookout for Egg Masses

spotted lanternfly adult and eggs

Adult Spotted Lanternfly and egg masses. Photo: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a new invasive pest in the mid-Atlantic region. The first Spotted Lanternfly in Maryland was confirmed in Cecil County in October 2018. (See the Maryland Department of Agriculture press release.)

honeydew and sooty mold

Honeydew and sooty mold from Spotted Lanternfly feeding. Photo: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

This insect is known to feed on 70 species of plants including forest and agricultural crops such as grapes, hops, apples, peaches, figs, oaks, maples, black walnuts, and tree of heaven. Spotted Lanternflies feed on plant sap and secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. Black sooty mold grows on the honeydew and blocks sunlight from reaching leaves, impairing photosynthesis. Plants may become weakened and more susceptible to secondary invaders such as ambrosia beetles. The long-term effect on the health of trees and vines is unknown at this time. Read More

How to Make a Meadow in Maryland: Steps for Year 1

Many Maryland gardeners would like to try planting a native meadow. It’s a great alternative to lawn care, and better for water quality, the climate, native plants, and pollinators.

A planted native meadow at the University of Maryland Arboretum.

A planted native meadow at the University of Maryland Arboretum.

People who set out on their first meadow making project face a set of common challenges:

  • They underestimate how much labor is involved in creating and maintaining a meadow, so they start with a project that is much too large for them.
  • They are not familiar with the plants native to a Maryland meadow, which ones to choose, what they look like throughout their life cycles, and there are no good resources for them to turn to for this information.
  • They purchase seeds from distant seed vendors because locally native seeds are not commercially available, which decreases chances of project success and makes their project less beneficial to the environment.
  • They lack the expertise needed to successfully order and use native seeds. It’s not like working with other garden seeds!
  • When it comes time to remove weeds, they can’t tell the native plants from the weeds. You can’t maintain a meadow if you don’t know what the good guys look like!

The conventional approach to meadow projects requires an investment of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in seeds, supplies, and equipment, not to mention weeks of labor. Yet, in our experience, most Marylanders who undertake a meadow project experience disappointment and failure in the end.

In this blog, we offer an alternative for beginning meadow-makers, a modular meadow approach. Using this approach, you will create a small, pilot meadow using plugs purchased from local native plant producers. During the first year, you will plant your new meadow, then study the plants, becoming familiar with their needs and their appearance throughout the seasons. In the second year, you will have one successful project under your belt. You can decide whether to expand the meadow or not, and you will be making that decision based upon a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the resources required vs. what you have to devote. Read More

Monthly Tips for March

Lawn

  • Late winter-early spring is considered the second-best time (the best time is late August through mid-October) to seed your lawn make repairs, or to cover bare areas. Read (PDF) HG 102, Lawn Establishment, Renovation and Overseeding.
  • Soil testing can be done now.  For grass keep the soil pH in the 6.0 – 7.0 range to help maintain, vigorously growing healthy turf. Although tall fescue is a little more forgiving of acidic soil, it will still grow much better at the proper pH. Not sure how to take a soil sample? Watch our video on collecting a soil sample!

Ornamentals

  • If you still have unplanted bulbs from last fall, plant them this month. Inspect them carefully and only plant the best quality. Many may be in bad condition and not worth planting. If they were stored where it was warm, they likely will not flower this year but once getting established should do well next year.
  • Groundcovers are arriving in local nursery and garden centers this month. They are a great alternative to grass where grass won’t grow, where you have heavy shade or tree root problems and on steep slopes.
  • Remember not to set out tender annuals (impatiens, marigolds, petunias, salvia, etc) until after the last frost date. This date varies across the state from late April on the Lower Eastern Shore to Late May in Western Maryland. Refer to our Spring frost/freeze table.

Vegetables

  • Potatoes, onion sets, onion seedlings and peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be lightly worked. Chinese cabbage, leeks, beets, kale, mustard, and turnips can also be planted now. Learn more about these spring crops.
  • Buy some floating row cover material to protect crops from pests and promote early growth. A floating row cover (PDF GE004 Floating Row Cover) is a lightweight spun fabric that permits light and water to enter, traps the soils natural heat and keeps out many pest insects.
  • Avoid the temptation to turn over or dig into wet soil. Tilling wet soil can cause it to become cloddy and brick hard when it dries out. How do you know when your soil can be turned or tilled? One test is to form a clump of your soil into a ball. Bounce it up and down in your hand a few times. If it breaks apart easily it’s probably OK to dig!

More tips from the Home & Garden Information Center

The Home & Garden Information Center’s horticulturists are available year-round to answer your plant and pest questions. In addition to gardening questions, we cover houseplants, indoor pests, and more. Send your questions and photos to Ask an Expert!

What to do in the veggie garden in March

IMG_5131

It’s almost spring! Almost. Not quite.

March is the month when we can’t wait to get started on the garden. Inevitably, we jump into some tasks too early, and put off others until it’s too late. UME has a factsheet to help us figure out what to do when; this is my take on the changeable not-quite-there-yet month of March. Let’s start with:

Things Not To Do

  • Work your soil. Unless we have a dry March and have had a dry February, turning over soil is just going to compound structural problems. Try this instead: get some compost, spread it an inch or so deep over your beds. When it’s time to plant seeds or put in transplants, you will automatically incorporate the compost while making holes.
  • Step on your soil. Try to keep off the planting beds as much as possible. Wet soil compacts easily. You’ll have bricks later.
  • Plant seeds in wet, cold soil. Peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day; that’s the tradition, right? What if there’s snow on the ground? Or we’ve just had a soaking rain and it’s 40 degrees out? Seeds and tubers are more likely to rot in those conditions than sprout. Get them in the ground during a warmer, drier stretch (which might be before or after the middle of the month; I’d go with after, especially for potatoes). Try pre-sprouting them indoors. Consider using raised beds (more on that below).
  • Start your tomatoes (until later in the month). When I was a newbie seed-starter, I got those tomato seeds going in February – and then I had TREES by the end of April, when it was still too cold to put the plants in the ground. I am now a last-week-of-March tomato starter. Some people wait till April.
  • Put out your seedlings of hardy crops until weather conditions are promising. Cold, they can take, especially with a row cover; hard freezes are going to set them back. Torrential rain and constant wind: also challenging. March is a delightful month.

Things to Do:

  • Fix holes in fences. Or put up fences, though you should have done that last fall when the weather was nicer and you had fewer other things to do.
  • Build some raised beds. Raised beds drain better, warm up faster in spring, minimize soil compaction, and are great for root crops and anything that doesn’t like growing in cold, wet clay.
  • Weed! Winter weeds are thriving out there.
  • Order your seeds if you haven’t done it yet! Organize your seeds in planting order. Make a plan for succession planting.
  • Now that you know what’s going where, set up your trellises.
  • Start seeds for cool-weather crops and for peppers. (It’s no longer February, so let’s have no regrets, but you probably should have started longer-growing brassicas like broccoli already, plus onions, leeks, shallots, artichokes if you are so bold, and the peppers that are not Capsicum annuum. If not, get them in now.)
  • If you have storage space, collect the supplies you’ll need for the spring: mulch, fertilizer, row cover, compost, etc. Minimize the garden center trips during the busy period of April and May.
  • Do some research about the plants you’re growing so you can anticipate problems. Or figure out how to solve the problems you had last year.
  • Meditate on the beautiful garden you’re going to grow.

General advice for March gardening: have some patience, and keep checking the long-term weather forecast. March can be your friend, but it’s not the reliable kind of friend you’d ask to feed your cats or water your seedlings; it’s the friend who shows up at your house uninvited and persuades you to go on a bar crawl or climb a mountain or undertake adventures that may be fun or inspiring but you’re likely to regret the next day. Or not: with March, you never know.

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By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

For Those Who Are Looking, There Are Sycamores

sycamore tree

American sycamore tree in winter. Photo: Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org

I knew I had to go back to school to study horticulture when I was in my mid-twenties. Every day on my way to work I found myself looking out the windows at trees instead of watching the road. The Catoctin mountain forest was particularly enticing. Route 15 was a much quieter road then, and fortunately, there were no mobile phones to provide additional distractions. Although I admired the landscape in general, there was one tree that stood out amongst the others: the sycamore. Against a blue daytime sky or a sunrise dancing with pink and purple hues, its white bark was remarkable. The shape of this towering tree with its dazzling bark and color contrast inspired me to leave a secure job in search of knowledge for the things that ignited curiosity in me. Read More