Maryland Grows

The Continuing Saga of Keeping Critters Out of the Garden


Unappealing white poly tape in the author’s garden (2009)

For almost five years my solar-powered electric fence has done an awesome job of keeping the deer out of my garden though a physical barrier was needed to keep out Mr. Rabbit. Green plastic mesh fencing that was 3’ high did the trick for many years.

Plastic mesh fence inside of five strands of poly wire (2009)

In 2016, my frustrations were more about the increasing amount of shade cast on my veggies by the neighbor’s growing evergreen trees. The plastic mesh fencing got so brittle that the rabbits were breaking right through. The poly wire for the electric fence was broken in several places due to downed tree limbs causing the whole fence to cease functioning. Being lazy, I opted for just adding the “Scarecrow,” a motion activated sprinkler. Mr. Scarecrow was a hard worker, providing dual services: scaring away varmints while watering the garden. But as the plants grew, the spray couldn’t reach through the plant material to all corners of the space and every swaying tomato branch set it off. The ground got so saturated that Mr. Scarecrow just flopped over and writhed and the deer took total advantage of the situation. Read More

Butternut Woollyworm on Black Walnut Trees

Butternut woollyworm on black walnut

Butternut woollyworm on black walnut

Sawflies seem to be in abundance this summer on a lot of plants including hibiscus, roses, and jewelweed, among others. The larvae of sawflies are often confused with caterpillars. Sawflies are the larvae of young of wasps (Hymenoptera), whereas caterpillars become moths or butterflies (Lepidoptera). A key difference is that sawflies have more than five pairs of prolegs. Caterpillars never have more than five. Sawflies feed together and often curl up when disturbed.

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Steps to prevent and manage tomato leaf spot diseases

Irregular lesions with a yellow halo and target pattern are

We wait what seems like a long time before the first garden tomatoes start to ripen. This is especially true if you grew them indoors first from seed to transplant stage. Invariably, our tomato plants will face seasonal challenges, such as excessive heat and drought, stink bugs, stakes and supports that fail to hold up. The one problem we can always count on are the twin torments of all tomato gardeners – Septoria leaf spot and early blight.

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Featured Video: Grow Your Best Basil: Easy Care for Basil Plants

Take a look at this great video we found from the UMD Institute of Applied Agriculture walking you through simple steps to get more and better basil.

Brown Patch in Maryland Lawns

Along with the start of summer time comes a common lawn disease for Maryland homeowners’ lawns called brown patch. The disease is caused by several fungal species of Rhizoctonia.  Rainy summers are worse, but even drier summers have brown patch disease pressure from moisture that develops from evening dew. Although tall fescue is the recommended turf variety for Maryland lawns, most cultivars are still very susceptible to this problem disease.

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Summer lettuce update

One of my goals at the Derwood Demo Garden this year was to keep lettuce growing through the whole season. So far it’s working! Here it is July; we’ve had a rain break following some hot dry weeks, and today we harvested many bags of lettuce that was still sweet and tasty.

So how do we make this work, and how will we keep it up through the hottest months of the summer?

  • Pick a good location. The salad tables are in a spot that gets a few hours of morning sun and is shaded all afternoon.
  • Water regularly. We have drip irrigation on the salad tables and also do additional watering when the weather is hot and dry.
  • Choose varieties that can take the heat. There are lots of heat-tolerant lettuces out there. You can also look for “slow to bolt” in the description, or choose a “summer crisp” type. Summer Crisp is one of the varieties that’s doing well for us right now. Also Cherokee, Muir, Green Star, Buttercrunch, Summer Bibb, Toretto, and Seafresh.
  • Use succession sowing. As soon as one planting of lettuce starts to bolt, pull it out and seed a new one. Make sure to keep the new seeds well-watered. Laying a piece of floating row cover or other cloth directly on the soil until the seeds germinate helps.

I am also trying a heat-tolerant green in the cabbage family called Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. Hopefully the combination of all of these should get us through August.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

Lawn and Garden Tips and Tricks for July

Every month, we will highlight a few timely, key tips for Maryland homeowners’ lawns and gardens.

Fruit Growers:

  • Fruit plants have shallow root systems which are easily damaged by cultivation. Do not cultivate or dig into the soil around small fruits or tree fruits. Hand-pull the weeds and then apply organic mulches to control weeds.
  • Practice good sanitation by removing and discarding all fallen leaves and fruits.


Vegetable plants:

  • Squash vine borer larvae are feeding inside squash and pumpkin stems. Monitor plants for signs of wilting and entrance holes on lower stems. You may see sawdust-like frass around the hole. Stems may contain more than one larva. They can feed inside the stems for up to 2 weeks. Here’s the easiest and surest method of control: cut a slit above the hole with a razor, remove the 1 inch long white larva with a brown head, and mound up soil around the wound.
  • Early blight of tomatoes is widespread now. This fungal disease causes small, irregular brown lesions with a yellow halo on lower leaves. The spots have a bull’s eye pattern. They will enlarge and entire leaves will turn yellow and then die. Defoliation can then lead to sunscald of tomato fruits. Remove badly infected lower leaves, keep a thick organic mulch around plants, and avoid overhead watering. Applications of tri-basic copper will slow down severe infections.

Soil and Mulch:

  • Have your soil tested, if you have not had your lawn or garden soil tested for the past 3-4 years. Many plant problems can be solved by correcting soil deficiencies.
  • Select pine bark or hardwood mulches, not wood chips, for use around your home to minimize the possibility of attracting termites. Avoid any hardwood mulches that contain chunks.