Maryland Grows

Heirloom or Hybrid: What’s in My Seed Packet?

pepper and seedsSelecting new seeds to buy each year is an exciting activity. Whether choosing vegetables or flowers, there is more to our selection process than falling for a pretty picture. Does it matter if the seed is an open-pollinated variety or a hybrid? Can you grow a hybrid variety from saved seed? To understand differences among types of seeds, you need to understand how the mother plant was pollinated. Here are a few things to think about when you purchase seeds.

Open-pollinated plants may be self-pollinated, like snap beans, or pollinated by natural means – insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, wind, etc. – and then produce seed that will grow into plants very similar to the mother plant. If you buy seeds for an open pollinated plant, then you will be able to save seeds from the plants you grow and you won’t need to buy new seeds each year to grow the same great plants.

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Featured Video – Container Gardening

Container gardening is a great way for beginning gardeners to start producing their own food. Jon Traunfeld from the University of Maryland Extension talks about everything you need to know, from potting soil to planting, to grow vegetables in containers. From five-gallon buckets to Earth boxes, container gardening gives you options for any budget.

 

Black Covers Can Put Weeds to Bed… For Good

Have you experienced one or more of these garden scenarios?

  • It’s early April and chickweed, henbit and other winter annual weeds are growing so thickly in a vegetable or flower bed that the soil can’t be seen.
  • The winter rye cover crop you mowed last week is growing back.
  • You tilled and raked a bed that you couldn’t plant right away and now weeds are coming up everywhere.
  • The rainy summer weather is favoring weeds over crops so that the weeds are taking over walkways and dominating beds that you want to plant with fall crops.
  • Neighboring plots in your community garden have been abandoned and weeds are growing wild and reproducing!

I can’t bear to look… I’m going back inside

This stirrup hoe is great at removing large weeds, but brings lots of weed seeds up to the top two inches of soil where they have a good chance of germinating.

Un-controlled weeds compete with garden plants for water and nutrients, are hosts for insect pests and diseases, and can demoralize the toughest gardeners. Tilling, pulling, chopping, and hoeing are all fine weed control techniques under the right conditions, but they also disturb soil allowing even more weed seeds to germinate and flourish.

There’s another way: occultation. The common dictionary definition is “an event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer.” For gardeners and farmers, it’s covering the soil to create a dark, warm, moist environment. In 2-4 weeks, this no-till technique can:

  1. smother and kill young weeds
  2. smother larger weeds and grasses
  3. accelerate the decomposition of mowed cover crops and weeds
  4. promote the germination of weed seeds and then smother the seedlings

Weed barrier pinned down over a bed filled with winter annual weeds. It was ready to plant in two weeks. Tough perennial broad-leaf weeds and grasses may be weakened but not killed.

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Spring Lawn Care: How to Deal with Weeds and Bare Spots

forsythia shrub in bloomWith spring gardening season right around the corner, lawn questions have been rolling in to the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC). Here I’ll address some of the most common questions about weeds and overseeding.

Dealing with Winter Weeds

chickweed

Chickweed

In late winter/early spring, we typically see winter annual weeds in thin, under-fertilized, wet, or shady areas. These weeds germinated in the fall and will die as the weather warms up later in the spring. In my observations, this has not been a particularly bad year for winter annuals. They are favored by wet, mild winters and I think we had just enough “bitter cold” in January and a fairly dry stretch through December and January to reduce populations.

Typical winter annual weeds include chickweed, henbit, purple deadnettle, and shepherd’s purse. Options to address these winter annual weeds include hand pulling, spot spraying with a broadleaf herbicide, or waiting until they die once weather climbs to the 60’s and 70’s on a regular basis. For perennial weeds like dandelion which will start to re-emerge later this month, hand-pulling or spot spraying are the best methods for control.

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I’m Lichen It! – Peak Season for Lichen Peeping

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Hillsboro MD Beard lichen on branch of flowering dogwood tree.

Beard lichen on dogwood trunk, Caroline County MD

The wet, gray days at the end of winter seem like they may never end. But this is actually the perfect time of year to get out and appreciate those mysterious ‘plants’ encrusting everything from sidewalks to treetops – the lichens.

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Lawn and Garden Tips for March

Seeds

Ornamental Plants

  • Starting Seeds Indoors – Many types of annual flower plants can be started indoors this month. Generally, most are started 5-6 weeks before they are planted outdoors.
  • Spring bulbs are emerging and some are even flowering at this time. Exposed leaves may be burned later by very cold temperatures but the spring flower display will not be adversely affected.
  • 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.

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A Swede By Any Other Name

A Master Gardener friend who recently traveled to the UK brought me back a packet of seeds. Specifically, ‘Gowrie’ rutabaga seeds from a company called Mr. Fothergill’s.

IMG_4304

Except because these are British seeds, they’re not called rutabaga, they’re called swede. The packet does include the botanical name of the plant (Brassica napus napobrassica) so if you’d never heard of swedes and didn’t recognize the picture, you could look them up – I hope all our American packets of rutabaga seeds do the same!

This got me thinking about vegetable names that separate us by a common language, or divide us by different ones, or in general confuse us. I’ll give a few examples below, and please tell your own stories of vegetable name mix-ups in the comments.

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