A gardener laments lessons hard won

If only I’d known.  How many times have we slapped our forehead at our gardening follies and mumbled that under our breath.  So today, I am paying homage to the lessons my garden has taught me.  

Soil is god. 

Healthy soil grows healthy plants.  So pay attention to your dirt, um, soil.  Feed it lots of organic matter:  compost, chipped leaves, grass clippings.  And be gentle with it.  Tilling destroys soil structure and harms the soil critters that make soil healthy.

Most bugs are good. 

Only one in ten insects is harmful. The rest are good guys that help control bad bugs.  And another thing.  The uglier the bug, the more beneficial it is.  Look up assassin bugs or cicada killer wasps.  Yikes.  

Assassin bug

Chemicals kill bugs good and bad. 

Most grab-and-go chemicals kill indiscriminately.  Do you really want to take out your allies? I think not. Choose less toxic organic products and do things like hand-picking and crop rotation to keep the bad boys at bay.

Right plant, right place. 

Placing plants where they can not only survive but thrive is smart.  Put a water-loving plant in hot, dry clay and it will die.  Guar-an-teed.  Find out what a plant needs and give it just that for great results.  Don’t tempt fate. 

Plant tags lie. 

Many plant tags have good information, but it goes only so far.  So, do a bit of research online or in a good gardening book to confirm what a plant needs as far as light, moisture, soil and space. 
My beautyberry is 4 feet wider and taller than its tag indicated.  

Respect frost dates. 

Yes, I know.  You want the first tomatoes on the block.  But if you plant them early and they get zapped, you have no tomatoes.  So wait to plant tender seedlings. Mid-May is good. Later is better if your area stays cooler longer.

Always lay garden rakes and pitchforks with the tines away and down. 

Enough said.  

Landscaping fabric is evil. 

Advertised as a weed block, this black devil mesh does nothing but give weeds something to sink their roots into.  Weeds grow both up and down through it.  You will spend half your life wrestling it out of your beds.  

Adopting sickly plants is a bad idea. 

There is a reason they look unwell.  Whether they have been watered too much or too little, baked or chilled, had too much or too little light, or beset by bugs or disease, avoid them.  Smart money is on the healthy plants.  

Impatiens with gray mold

What we do in our garden matters. 

From choosing organic bug controls to making compost, picking drought-tolerant plants to planting flowers for pollinators, every action we take has consequences.  Making earth-friendly choices makes our gardens and communities healthier. 

I hope the lessons my garden has taught me help you to avoid some pitfalls.  In gardening there are oh-so-many ways to get it right.  And wrong.  The fun is in the trying. 

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.

November Tips and Tasks

  • Prune dormant shade trees that need to be pruned. Begin by removing all dead, diseased branches, and making any necessary cosmetic cuts. Do not cut branches flush with the trunk. Leave the branch collar (swollen area on the trunk of a tree or a larger branch) but do not leave a stub. 

improperly pruned tree
Incorrect pruning and over mulching

  • Topping (photo above) is the not the correct pruning technique to help control the size of a tree. Crown reduction, pruning entire branches at their point of origin, is recommended if a tree must be reduced in size. 

several rows of brown eggs on a tree trunk
Spotted lanternfly eggs. Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

  • Be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly adults and egg masses. Report any finds to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
  • Mulch your perennials after the first hard freeze. This helps to protect them from frost heaving caused by the freezing and thawing of soil.  Mulch helps moderate temperature fluctuations, reducing this problem. 

October Tips and Tasks 2020

Drain flies are found primarily in rooms or areas where there are drains such as kitchens, basements near floor drains, etc. Drain flies are small, 1/16 to 1/4 inch long, delicate and fuzzy. Their fuzzy wings make them easy to identify. 

Inspect new houseplants before purchase. Choose plants that appear to be free of insects and disease, have new leaf or flower buds, and healthy foliage. Slipping the plant out of its container to look at the roots is recommended. Roots should be white or tan, fleshy (not brown and crumbly), be able to hold the soil together but not root-bound. 

person holding compost in hand

Start a compost pile by mixing together spent plants, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, old mulch, and grass clippings. Shred your materials with a lawnmower, string trimmer, or machete to speed-up the breakdown process. Keep twigs, branches, and other woody materials out of the pile.

 

What to do in the vegetable garden in June

How’s your garden growing? Are you busy planting and harvesting? Here are some tips and reminders for what to do this month.

It’s summer now, at least according to the weather forecast, and likely you’ve put in many of your crops. If not, no need to worry; you still have plenty of time. Here’s some of what can still go in:

  • All the cucurbits (squash, cucumber, melon, etc.) can be direct-seeded or transplanted through most of June and even into July. These plants really like warm soil and warm weather, so planting now is ideal.
  • Beans can be planted into July. Bush beans grow faster than pole beans but you will need several succession crops to get the same yield.
  • On HGIC’s Vegetable Planting Calendar, okra is listed as best planted in May, but given our warm autumns I’d say planting in June is a safe bet.
  • Corn does not need to be knee-high by the fourth of July; it can be a baby sprout then too and still produce fine.
  • This is a great time to transplant sweet potatoes, which love heat.
  • It’s also not too late to put in your tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants.

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Eggplants grow in containers; yellow mizuna flowers in the background signal the end of spring

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May Tips and Tasks

rhododendron-bloom-ecn-300x225-1

  • If your azaleas, rhododendrons, and other spring-flowering shrubs are growing too large, prune them after they bloom.
  • Thin out interior boxwood branches to improve air circulation and reduce disease problems such as volutella canker. Also, look out for boxwood blight.

  • Move houseplants outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. To avoid sunscald, first place them in a shady location and over a period of two weeks or so to gradually introduce them to more sunlight.
  • Pinch the blooms from flower and vegetable transplants before you set them out. This will help direct the plants’ energies to root development and will result in more productive plants. Gently break up the roots of root-bound transplants before planting.

Visit the Home & Garden Information Center website for more May Tips and Tasks

January Tips and Tasks

Snow covered shrub

  • Heavy snow and ice loads can damage shrubs. Using an upward motion, gently sweep snow loads off of shrubs to prevent breakage. But oftentimes bent or weighed down branches will spring back after the snow/ice melts.
  • Problem tree branches (hanging very low or storm damaged), may be removed as needed. It is not necessary to wait until spring for this type of pruning.
  • Cut back or stop fertilizing houseplants unless they are grown under supplemental lighting.

Houseplant

  • Avoid the temptation to start seeds too early. Check seed packets for detailed information on starting various types of flowers. Do not depend on window sill light to grow these seedlings. Refer to our instructions on starting seeds indoors.
  • Don’t store firewood inside your home. Only bring in enough to burn at one time. Bark and other wood boring beetles may emerge inside the home.
  • Be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly egg masses on the trunks of trees.

Spotted lanternfly egg mass
Spotted lanternfly egg mass
Photo: Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org

December Tips and Tasks

Amaryillis
Amaryillis

  • An amaryllis is a popular holiday gift. With proper care, they can bloom again.
  • Maryland’s Lawn Fertilizer Law prohibits anyone from using fertilizer products to melt ice and snow on steps, sidewalks or driveways.
  • Evergreens like hollies, boxwoods, and pines can be moderately pruned. The trimmings can be used for holiday decorating.
  • To keep poinsettias healthy keep them away from dry, drafty locations. Do not place near heat vents, doorways or drafty windows. Remove the decorative pot cover or make holes in the bottom of it to make sure the water drains from the container when you water.