A Forgetful Gardener Makes Notes for Next Year

I’m a forgetful gardener. I always think I’ll remember next year what I put where, what varieties of tomatoes I loved, and what plant needed extra water. But I don’t.  

I’ve reached that glorious age where I forget where my glasses are (on top of my head) or where I left my hand pruners. (God knows.) 

As Dr. Seuss’ Grinch said, “I puzzled and puzzled till my puzzler was sore.” 

So this year – right now – I’m making more than mental notes and investing in a few doodads to make next year’s gardening a bit easier. 

I’ve started by breaking out my garden maps. These rough pencil sketches on graph paper tell me what I planted in each garden bed.  

I start out with grand intentions in the spring, but end up adding things willy-nilly that I forget – or am too busy – to write down.  

Now’s the time to catch up. So, I’m updating my maps and making notes because I know I won’t remember everything by the time spring rolls around.  

For further motivation, I’m starting a brand-spanking new garden journal to note what worked and what didn’t.  

A garden journal lets you note what worked and didn’t.  

What are some of my notes for 2023?

My two butternut squash plants made a grand total of – drumroll, please – two squash, so I will try yellow summer squash instead next year. I missed the peak crop of persimmons, so I’ll check them more often and earlier.

Heirloom yellow pear tomatoes produce gangbusters and are very tasty.  

I loved the taste of my yellow pear tomatoes and they produced gangbusters, so I’ll plant them again. My zinnias bloomed their heads off and are still attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, so they are must-haves.

pink zinnia flower
Colorful zinnias bloom for a long time and attract pollinators. 

My bee balm got powdery mildew, so I’ll be more careful to water at the base of the plants only. One pot of annuals was always thirsty, so I’ll move that pot elsewhere. 

Make your journal your wish list, too. Jot down anything you want to add next year. I want to try strawberries, add more native plants and groundcovers, and plant a tree for privacy.

I finally got the zinc plant labels from last year’s wish list and I love them. You can write on them with a pencil and they last and last and blend well. I won’t mark everything, just key plants that help me find everything else. 

Also note in your journal any tools that would help you such as a garden kneeler, self-watering container, ratcheting pruners, or lightweight wheelbarrow. Christmas is coming, after all.  

Your journal also can be your rip-and-replace list. I’ve already banished non-native vinca from one bed and am putting together a list of native replacements. What do you want to change? 

I hope these ideas inspire you to make some notes, start a journal, and label some plants so you can start off your next garden season with less head-scratching and more action.  

Now where did I lay down my trowel?  

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

Want Flowers Next Year? Here Are Some Pollinator-friendly Plants to Plant This Fall

Although the end of the summer/early fall may seem like an odd time to think about planting, don’t be fooled! This is actually prime time to allow plants to establish and grow strong for next spring. In fact, planting in the early fall gives time for plants to establish their root system, acclimate to the new conditions, and be ready to grow as soon as the spring conditions become ideal for them to develop. In today’s post, I want to present a couple of very neat plants that can be planted now to bloom and provide resources for next spring’s pollinators. And because these are some plants that are just close to my heart, let me try to convince you to add some (or all! 😊) of these to your green spaces, so you can enjoy them next year. Let’s talk about mountain mints, beardtongues, and Culver’s roots.

Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint – Pycnanthemum tenuifolium

As its name may let you infer, this is a plant that belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae) and, as a mint, it is very aromatic. The genus is native and restricted only to northern North America, and we are lucky to count several species within Maryland’s native flora. As is the case for most Lamiaceae, mountain mints do not only present beautiful flowers; they have been used traditionally as a food seasoning and in medicinal teas to treat colds, coughs, and fever by many Native American tribes. Although some species are currently protected in the state, some are common, one of which being the narrow-leaved mountain mint (P. tenuifolium) I want to introduce you to.

This plant is a favorite of mine because it is relatively tall (~ 3-4ft), makes a lot of flowers, attracts a bunch of insects, and tolerates conditions that many other plants don’t like. As is the case for all mountain mints, the flowers of this plant are clustered, and in this species, the flowers are white and bloom in the summer. The plants attract a very large variety of insects and for that reason are one of the recommended plants by the Xerces Society for supporting pollinators in our area. Bees of all sizes, beetles, butterflies, wasps, flies, and hoverflies… nobody can resist this beauty! And to top it all, this plant grows great in full sun and even in relatively dry conditions, which makes it a great one to plant close to roads or in those areas of our green spaces where other more water-needy plants may not do so great.

Hairy Beardtongue – Penstemon hirsutus

I have to say that I have a weakness for Penstemons specifically and plants of the whole family they belong to (the figwort family; Scrophulariaceae) generally. Their complex flowers always get to me, and plants of the genus Penstemon are to me one of those that I can look at and marvel at forever. So, this is one of the first ones I want to grow every time I can… maybe I’ll convince you to plant it too?

The genus Penstemon is almost restricted to North America, where they represent one of the largest groups of native plants on the continent. They are characterized by having tubular flowers, and their coloration varies by species, going from white, to pink, purple, red, and blue. Although there are a few species native to Maryland, and several can be grown, I want to talk a bit about the hairy beardtongue, P. hirsutus (but also check out the foxglove beartongue, P. digitalis!).

The flowers of this species are multicolored, with purple tubes tipped with yellow and white. The flowers are visited by bees (including bumblebees), hummingbirds, and butterflies, and have been described to support the adults of the Baltimore checkerspot, our state insect! The plant itself is not overly tall (~2-3ft) and makes a lot of flowers. They prefer drier conditions and full sun to some shade and will bloom in the late spring/early summer.

Culver’s Root – Veronicastrum virginicum

I feel that plants with small white flowers (like this one) are often kind of forgotten, to the benefit of showier and more colorful flowers. However, Culver’s root is a little gem native to our region that any local interested in supporting pollinators should consider having around.

Belonging to the Plantain family (Plantaginaceae), the genus counts only a couple of species, one of which is the only North American native: Culver’s root (V. virginicum). Like all members of the genus, this species presents its white flowers arranged in long spikes. This species will become taller over the years, reaching 4-5 feet at full maturity. They prefer sunny to shadier spots, where sufficient moisture is present (e.g., wood edges).

The flowers mature sequentially, and because there are so many flowers in their long spikes, a single plant is likely to flower for weeks. Besides its sustained floral display, this plant is super interesting and important for pollinators because it happens to flower at a time when few other plants flower in our region (July-August). Their white flowers attract and provide food for bees, butterflies, wasps, and (hover)flies.

spiky white flowers of culver's root
Once established, Culver’s root can reach 4-5 feet in height, displaying their long spikes of white flowers. Photo: E. Enking (CC)
close up view of culver's root flower spike
A tiny bee collects pollen on Culver’s root (can you spot it?). Note the multitude of flowers present on the long spikes. Photo: A. Espíndola

By Anahí Espíndola, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park. See more posts by Anahí.

Anahí also writes an Extension Blog in Spanish! Check it out here, 
extensionesp.umd.edu, and please share and spread the word to your Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues in Maryland. ¡Bienvenidos a Extensión en Español!

Goldenrods: The Garden Thyme Podcast

goldenrods episode of The Garden Thyme Podcast

Gold and yellow hues are the undeniable colors of autumn. In this episode of The Garden Thyme Podcast, we discuss one of our favorite yellow-blooming perennial plants – goldenrod. With its pretty yellow flowers, long blooming seasons, and high wildlife value, what is not to love about these fantastic native plants? Mikaela also counts down her top pick of goldenrods for different gardens (~17:10). Her goldenrod bloom chart can be found here.

We also have our: 

  • Native Plant of the Month – Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) (~22:45)
  • Bug of the Month – Goldenrod Bunch Gall Midge  (~33:35)
  • Garden Tips of the Month (~39:15)

If you have any garden-related questions, please email us at UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook.

For more information about the University of Maryland Extension (UME) and these topics, please check out the UME Home and Garden Information Center.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).

Theme Song: By Jason Inc 

Colorful shrubs jazz up the fall garden

Our landscapes are changing into their fall wardrobe which in many cases is brown, brown and more brown.  Add some pizzazz with shrubs with colorful leaves and berries.  As leaves lose their green chlorophyll, the underlying colors shine through in an autumn palette of red, gold, purple and orange.  Many shrubs reveal these vibrant leaf colors.

I’m a sucker for sumac.  Native varieties are already blazing red and orange along roadsides, but are often too big for the average backyard.  A better choice is a shorter cultivar such as the 3-foot ‘Gro-Low’ sumac. It’s a tough drought-resistant shrub that can handle poor soil. Its botanical name – Rhus aromatica – hints at another bonus: scented leaves.  

Fothergilla fall foliage – Image credit Miri Talabac

Also scented is native fothergilla.  Fragrant white bottlebrush blooms cover the plant in spring and in the fall it can wear red, yellow, orange and sometimes all of autumn’s colors combined.

Related to fothergilla is our native witch hazel.  Its leaves turn a sprightly yellow edged with orange in fall.  In winter it flaunts spidery yellow flowers.  Yes, it blooms in winter.

Oakleaf hydrangeas’ distinctive leaves deepen into a rich purple, red and bronze in autumn.  Their whopping blooms – like lilacs on steroids – tinge from white to mauve as they mature.

Love red?  Be kind to the environment and skip invasive burning bush which bullies out native plants.  Opt for a highbush blueberry instead which flashes the same rich red and provides food for both you and wildlife. Berries are berry – um, very – striking additions to the fall landscape.  Here are a few of my favorite berry-producing shrubs:

Viburnums are handsome, tough, pest-resistant shrubs whose praises I love to sing.  There are over 150 species and sizes run the gamut. Flower forms range from snowballs to flat-top clusters and many are fragrant.   Fall leaf colors range from rose to burgundy.  Then their berries take center stage in shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, blue and black.  Some even have two-tone berries.

I am not alone in my fondness for viburnum. Author and plantsman extraordinaire Michael Dirr says, “A garden without viburnum is akin to life without music and art.”   

The native American beautyberry stops traffic in the fall.  Somewhat nondescript much of the year, its cascading branches hold fistfuls of purple berries in autumn.  If you see it, you want it. 

Cotoneaster is another underused cascading shrub, this one dotted with red berries.  Pronounced cah-toe-knee-aster (no, not “cotton Easter,”) it looks especially fine draped over the top of a wall 

Red chokeberry – Image credit Miri Talabac

Native red chokeberry has dangling clusters of red fruits.  The ones in our demonstration garden get rave reviews when they are loaded with fruit or their abundant snowball-like spring flowers.  

Get thee to a nursery.  Enjoy a pleasant stroll while you search for just the right shrubs to enliven your fall landscape.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.

Fall Colors: The Garden Thyme Podcast

Listen to podcast

Fall is almost here, and we are ready. Nothing signals the start of fall like the changing of the leaves. In this episode, we discuss what causes the leaves to change color. It was also really hard to choose, but we picked our top 5 trees with the best fall color.  We also have some suggestions for shrubs, grasses, and flowers that make great additions to the garden in the fall. 

We also have our: 

  • Native Plant of the Month – New England Aster ( ~37:22 )
  • Bug of the Month – Paper wasps (~41:30)
  • Garden Tips of the Month  (~49:15)

The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne’s County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).

Theme Song: By Jason Inc

Knowing when it’s time: Season’s end

The last Brandywine

I took out my tomato plants this week. It’s a lot earlier than I’d normally do it, but I had my reasons (which I will discuss below). Picking the last fruits and chopping down the stems made me think about all the decisions we make as gardeners, and how a lot of the questions we Master Gardeners get are about those choices. We might get asked at this time of year, “Am I supposed to take out my tomato plants now?” Maybe with an undercurrent of “Will I get in trouble with the garden police if I do it? Or don’t do it?” but in any case with uncertainty about doing the right thing. And the disappointing answer we long-experienced garden gurus usually give to questions like that?

“Well, it depends.”

Or, even more frustratingly: “It’s up to you.”

Continue reading

Starting a compost pile and planting cover crops – winding down the vegetable garden for the year

After a fun year of building support structures and growing really long squash, it was time to wind down the garden. Our first baby was born (thank you, thank you), and we had no further bandwidth or ambition to continue with cool-season crops, so I decided to pack up the support gear, rip out the remaining plants that were producing but slowing down, start a compost pile with the remains, and plant cover crops in the beds.

Packing it up

My big trellis used for the Tromboncino squash and the one made from part of a fencing panel used for tomatoes both folded up and packed away nicely in this outdoor storage area attached to my house. I’m happy with my designs, as I didn’t want permanent structures out in the garden getting weathered, and I didn’t want them to take up a lot of space in storage. These will be easy to set up next year again. The only thing I will do differently in the future is to use something stronger than twine to string on the trellis and hold up tomatoes with tomato clips. A lot of the twine that was under pressure from crops eventually snapped and needed replacing.

Rip it, chop it, bin it

We were going to have such a volume of garden waste this year, I decided to start a compost bin. This should give us a head start on the new layer of compost (previously all store-bought) we add to the raised beds each year. Pretty much all we have to do is throw this stuff in a bin and wait, as we are doing passive composting that is slow but requires very little attention.

I bought a cheap compost bin online; this one is just a sheet of black plastic with holes that you form into a vertical cylinder and throw your stuff into.

I ripped up our squash, watermelon, and tomato plants, wheelbarrowed ’em over to the compost bin in our back yard, stabbed at the pile with a shovel and buzzed it with my string trimmer for a while to chop it up a bit. Then I shoveled it all into the bin, attempting to mix up the types of plants in there somewhat uniformly.

Once leaves fall, I’ll drop some leaves that have been shredded by the mower into there as well.

I know you can drop food waste like fruit and vegetable scraps into compost, but I’m not sure we are going bother making the trip from the kitchen to backyard with a couple banana peels since that’s just not a lot of volume to make a difference for our intended purpose.

We will need to turn the pile a couple times in the next year to aid decomposition, but other than that, this is hands off. I’m looking forward to seeing what we get at the beginning of next growing season to start our summer vegetable garden again.

Cover crops for our raised bed garden to make it through the winter

I know it is good to protect my soil from erosion and add a layer of compostable material on the top over the winter. Last year, I had read that a layer of mulched leaves is good to place into raised beds, but when I did that, I found that much of it quickly blew away.

This year, I decided to plant crimson clover, a cover crop.

Cover crops, also known as green manures, are an excellent tool for vegetable gardeners, especially where manures and compost are unavailable. They lessen soil erosion during the winter, add organic material when turned under in the spring, improve soil quality, and add valuable nutrients.

HGIC page on cover crops

With a couple inexpensive packets of crimson clover, I sprinkled the seeds over the now empty raised beds, raked a bit to cover them lightly with soil, and then watered the soil most days. I could see sprouts in a week or so.

The clover will add a layer of protection over the winter, and then nitrogen and nutrients in April when I cut it down with a string trimmer and then turn over the soil.

Sounds easy enough. I’m all about lower-effort gardening!

Dan Adler
HGIC Web Support and Video Production