Friday, October 19, 2012

Views from Our Kitchen Window

We once lived in an apartment or two where the view from our kitchen sink was—the wall.  Later we lived in a house where the kitchen-window view was of our neighbor’s carport.  Our next home had mirrors flanking a corner-sink—so I suppose that view was a significant improvement.  But now the view from the window by our kitchen sink overlooks our backyard gardens and the woodlot downhill beyond the split-rail fence.   The views change from day to day, week to week, season to season.  But sometimes it’s easier to just stop and look—or reach for the camera—than to wash a pot or pan.  What do you think?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tomato Patch: Cleaning Up with Unlikely Helpers

Frost killed the Tomato Patch last weekend.  Yesterday I cleaned up the mess--with some unusual help.  CLICK HERE to link to my posting at the University of Maryland Extension's Grow It Eat It blog site.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Deer Country: Collisions of Deer & Vehicles

Here’s your Deer Country quiz for today:

1.  According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), about how many collisions occur yearly in the Washington region between vehicles and deer?

2.  Nationally, how many humans died in deer collisions with vehicles in 2010, according to the III?

3.  What was the estimated cost of deer collisions with vehicles in 2009, according to the III?

4.  According to the American Automobile Association, about what percentage of human fatalities in deer collisions involved motorcycle riders?

The short answers:  1. 80,000.  2. 403.  3. $4.6 billion.  4. 70%.

For more detailed information, please CLICK HERE to read Ashley Halsey III’s “Deer collisions take a fatal toll …” in the Oct. 9 Washington Post (print edition).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fall veggie posting

I've posted on the Grow It Eat It blog about my fall veggie planting:  To read it, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tomato Patch posting

I've posted about what's happening in the  "Tomato Patch" at the University of Maryland Extension "Grow It Eat It" blog site.  To go there, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stinging Discovery in Our Redbud Tree

Stunningly beautiful,
stunningly painful

I jerked the loppers out of the branch and leaves of our ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud tree (Cercis canadiensis) in an involuntary reaction to a searing stinging on my right wrist.

Wasp?  Bee?  Hornet?  It hurt like no other sting I could remember.  I looked at my wrist—which was rapidly turning red.

Then I looked at the undersides of some of the redbud leaves and discovered scores of brightly colored, hairy caterpillars—black with almost phosphorescent yellow spots and some orange at both ends.

My wrist was hurting so badly that I did something unusual.  I went inside and told Ellen that I had been stung and asked that she keep an eye on me for awhile.  She looked at my wounds and suggested I take a Benadryl tablet or two, but I was more interested in getting a better look at my assailants.

I went outside with my camera, finished lopping off the storm-damaged redbud branch, and took some photos of the stinging caterpillars.

Back inside later, I looked at the caterpillar section of my insect book—and didn’t find any photo remotely similar to the redbud critters.  My sting in my wrist continued for several hours and then gradually went away.  The redness seemed to lessen too.

I wrote a sentence or two telling my story and sent several photos to the University of Maryland Extension and asked for help identifying the caterpillars.

“These are white flannel moth larvae,” answered Stanton Gill.  “We usually don’t see these until the end of August.  Everything is early this year.”

“Sorry to hear about the stings,” replied Mike Raupp.  “These are larvae of the white flannel moth, Norape ovina.  In addition to the redbud, they eat leaves of many other woody plants.”

How do the caterpillars sting?  “Stinging caterpillars do not sting in the manner of bees, yellow jackets, and wasps,” writes Lacy L. Hyche, in “Some Stinging Caterpillars on Shade and Ornamental Trees” (Highlights of Agricultural Research, 1997). “Females of the bee-wasp group … have stingers with which they penetrate skin and inject venom. Stinging caterpillars have no such stinger, but bear instead specialized nettling or urticating setae (hairs) or spines. These structures are hollow and contain toxins produced by poison-gland cells to which they are connected. The sting of the caterpillar results from contact, usually inadvertent, with toxin-bearing setae or spines.” 

A day after my encounter with the caterpillars, the pain was gone, the redness was going away, but then I noticed a patch of blisters on my wrist where the caterpillars had stung me.  If I hadn’t known the cause, I might have thought I had a bad reaction to poison ivy.

You can be sure that the next time I need to prune a broken redbud limb in late summer, I’ll look first for stinging caterpillars before I start cutting with my loppers.

Here’s a photo of an adult white flannel moth.

Here’s a link to the University of Maryland Extension’s “TPM/IPM Weekly Report” (August 10), which chronicles reports of insects and diseases affecting Maryland landscape plants.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deer Country: Meet Brow and Zer, Hosta Browsers

Brow (top) and Zer

Twin fawns Brow and Zer nervously investigated our gardens without their mom on Friday evening. 
Every year I call twin fawns Brow and Zer because of their browsing of our perennials, shrubs, and young trees.

Brow this year is the fawn with two horizontal, cupped parentheses marks on his left side just before her rear left leg.  Zer is the one with the four-dot U marking at the top of her left leg.  On a statistical basis I call them female, so it will be she and she, her and her, Brow and Zer.

Friday evening Brow and Zer came as close as about 15 feet from me, though a window separated us.  During earlier visits they were with their mother, who generally kept them about 50 feet away. 

But Friday their mother was nowhere in sight, and they ventured closer and closer, nervously, with Brow occasionally stamping one of her front feet, probably because her mother often does that when she feels I’m too close to her twins when I’m outside and invade her comfort zone.

Zer: If I step between the alliums and the Shasta daisies,
I’ll be at the hostas.
Several nights earlier Brow and Zer and mother, I assume, chowed down on our hostas, some of which were within four feet of my study window, through which I often photograph them.  Of course I was busy zzz-ing while they were snacking.

Perhaps Brow and Zer will visit often, but if they do, our hostas will not be in danger because Brow and Zer and Mom ate all but about seven leaves of the four plants I had treated with deer-repellent tablets in the spring.

I suppose Ellen and I will just have to get used to hostas with leafless stems, and Brow and Zer will have to get used to hosta stems without leaves.

Brow: Aren't they hosta candy stalks
just beyond the lavender?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Deer Country: Were Repellex Systemic Tablets Effective?

Repellent-treated hostas, July 24

Our local deer, including frisky fawns, have been venturing recently from their early-summer hideaways.   Monday night they dined in our front yard perennial gardens and there expressed their opinion about hostas flavored by the new Repellex Systemic tablet that claims to repel all sorts of critters—including deer.

Their decision: Yummy!

Repellex cleverly advertises “Hosta la vista, baby,” but our deer replied, “Thanks for the salad!”

In short, the new high-tech tablets failed to protect our hostas from our local deer.  The deer ate nearly every leaf from the four hostas I used as an experiment and left untouched the untreated “control” hosta a dozen feet away.  Perhaps the deer reserved that plant for dessert some future night.

The same repellent-treated hostas, June 27
When I wrote in April about starting the experiment, I expressed concern about how many tablets to use.  Directions with the tablets seemed simple, but I thought that perhaps the tangled root mass and many crowns of hostas called for special treatment.  I talked then with a company representative who said early feedback indicated I should add extra tablets.  I did.

But, still, this week the bambits dined on the hostas and left us mostly leafless stems.

I had an informative exchange of emails with the Repellex Company while I was writing this story.  When I outlined my hosta problem, a company spokesperson said that “customer feedback has been focused on issues with hostas” and that the company is working on a solution.

“The typical application pattern as listed on the label is accelerated with the doubling of a hosta plant with new growth away from the treated part,” the company representative explained.  “Therefore retreatment is required more frequently on hostas.  Stay tuned.  We are working on a granular application that will be similar to using some tablets above ground around the plants.”

Does that potbelly contain hosta leaves?
That makes sense to me—a granular systemic repellent that you can sprinkle around tricky plants such as hostas.  I hope it works.  I’ll probably buy a sample when it comes on market so I can do a follow-up experiment.  The systemic idea is a good one, and I really want to enjoy our hostas spring, summer, and autumn as I relax on our front-porch glider.

Where does this experiment leave me as I contemplate our perennial gardens in Deer Country?

I’ll continue to plant deer-resistant plants.  I’ll regularly apply a repellent spray to our deer-favorite plants.  I’ll continue using strong fencing when I want to keep deer out of a specific area.  And I’ll probably do a second experiment on our hostas when the granular Repellex Systemic product becomes available. 

If you want to read my August 2011 posting with additional background about Repellex Systemic tablets, CLICK HERE.

If you want to read my posting about my successful 2011 experiment with Deer Out, the mint-based repellent spray, CLICK HERE

Update, July 26: The bambits returned last night and chowed down on the "control" hosta.  Five hostas, four treated, five heavily browsed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's Happening in Your Garden?

They're back!
A young brown marmorated stink bug
on a blackberry leaf
Have you taken time to walk about your garden to observe what's happening?  I try to walk and look at least once a week, and I notice a lot of things I don't really like, but at the same time I'm constantly learning how to be a better gardener.  Here's a link to my recent posting on the University of Maryland Extension's "Grow It Eat It" blog.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Time to check for hungry redheads

Redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars
eating mugo pine

Have you checked your mugo pines for hungry redheads this week?

When I checked our one mugo pine last week, all was well.  When I checked it again this morning, I found three colonies of redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei) munching away on needles.  There must have been 40 or 60 or 100.  I didn’t count.

Sawflies are related to wasps and bees, but the adults are small and do not sting.  The “saw” part of their name comes from the saw-like ovipositor of the female.  The larvae, or caterpillars, are plant feeders and look like hairless caterpillars.  They chow down on a variety of pines and can damage, even defoliate, a small tree.

For several years I’ve tried to mechanically control the redheaded caterpillars by handpicking them and dropping them into a bottle of soapy water.  But I wasn’t a perfect caterpillar picker, so some always dropped down into the thick pine to return as future generations later in the year or the next spring.

This year I put away the bottle of soapy water and researched on the Internet for a more terminal solution.  I began with a search for “Killing redheaded sawfly caterpillars” and from the long list of entries chose “Sawflies of Trees and Shrubs” by the University of Minnesota Extension.  I read only the “redheaded” (there are many kinds of sawflies) and “Management” parts.

At the end, the publication gave a thoughtful list of factors to consider and then three ways to control them:  mechanical (such as hand-picking), biorational insecticides (insecticidal soap if the caterpillars are very young), and conventional insecticides.

Dead & dying caterpillars after
dusting with carbaryl
Since my hand-picking skills had failed to control them, and since I didn’t have insecticidal soap, I used one of the recommended conventional insecticides, acephate (brand Orthenex). I sprayed mid-morning Tuesday.  While I was spraying, I received a sad reminder why I try to avoid pesticides: They kill all insects, not just the bad guys.  Too late did I see the young, inch-long, bright-green praying mantis.

When I checked on the redheads five hours later, they were busy eating mugo pine needles and singing, “Who’s afraid of the pesticide spray….”  I revisited the Minnesota website and chose another weapon, carbaryl, which I had in powder form (brand Sevin).  I lightly dusted the colony areas.  Two hours later: All visible caterpillars were dead.

During future, regular walkabouts of my garden, I’ll check the mugo pine for new infestations because redheads seem to have spring and autumn generations here in central Maryland.  Walking periodically through your garden to observe what’s happening is a good way to keep pests and other problems under control.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Veggie posts are at GIEI blog

Purslane: Leafy Green of the Year?
I have begun posting my veggie gardening articles exclusively on the University of Maryland Extension's Grow It Eat It blog and will not duplicate those postings here.  A few minutes ago I posted a new thought--that perhaps we should abandon vegetable gardening and just grow weeds.  Here's the link.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tomato Patch: Help Solve My Mulch Problem

My mulched tomatoes, May 31
I have a new problem—living mulch—in the Tomato Patch, and I hope you will tell me how you think I can solve the problem.

I mulched most of my rows of tomato transplants in my usual way—sheets of newspaper covered with a thin layer of straw.  About a third of my plants are mulched just with straw because I ran out of newspaper.

Most years I discover one or two volunteer wheat plants—or maybe they’re barley—in late June or July—from seeds that hitch-hiked in with the straw.  I’ve always pulled those few volunteers without a thought.

'Living mulch,' June 14
This year, however, I have hundreds—no, thousands—of volunteer grain plants—weeds, if you will.  Tomato Patch looks like a newly seeded lawn sprouting in the springtime.  I think some farmer must have harvested his grain before it was fully ripe and much of the grain ended up in bales of straw for sale at a local farm-supply store instead of in a bag of flour or chicken feed.

What should I do?  I can easily hoe the volunteers at the edges of the rows, but how should I attack the living mulch in my rows of tomato plants?  It’s growing on top of the newspaper in places and directly in the garden soil where I hadn’t used newspaper.

Help!  If you have a suggestion, please post a Comment—soon.

I’ll let you know later how I solve this baleful problem—if I do indeed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Deer Country: How Cute, But What Will It Eat?

How cute—a fawn napping in a sunspot in our woods!

Two springs ago I surprised a spotted fawn—or did it surprise me?—as it drank from our spring-fed stream.  I was armed with tree trimmings destined for our woodland compost pile, and that fawn vanished before I returned with my camera.

Last year I remembered to look for a fawn and walked through our woods one early June morning—but didn’t find one.

The last few days I’ve noticed a doe grazing on the lawn near our creek early in the morning and late in the evening.  When I saw her again this morning, I decided to do a slow, methodical look in our woods for a fawn.

I was about to admit failure when white spots on chestnut-colored fur in a sunspot near a fallen tree caught my eye.  I stopped and and smiled—a napping fawn—several weeks old, I calculated, and likely following its mother’s order to keep still until she came back with lunch. 

I retreated to the house to fetch Ellen and my camera.  When we got back to the creek, we paused on the east side while I took a “distant shot” or two.  Then like kids—well, sort of—we hopped from stone to stone to cross the sparkling stream.

Just 10 feet or so from the fawn we paused in silence.  The fawn still napped on its leafy bed, curled like a spotted puppy on a rug by a kitchen door.  I took several more photos before we walked on through the garlic mustard and oriental bittersweet, across our culvert, and up the hill to our home. 

“What will that fawn be eating this time next year?”  I thought.  Pansies, heucheras, and hostas?  Tomato, strawberry, and blackberry leaves?  Sunflowers and green beans?  Chard and beet leaves and lettuce?

Sleep on, babe.  I’ll tend my fences and spray my sprays.  But mind your manners when you switch from mother’s milk to summer salad and don’t jump the fence into our veggie garden.  And remember to avoid mint-smelling greens, especially the ones I’ve sprayed. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tomato Patch: Exposing Seedlings to Reality

Sungolds and Juliets--growing fast now

This was “toughening up week” at the Tomato Patch.  Late Sunday afternoon I moved my three-week old tomato plants from their warm growing racks under fluorescent lights in our utility room to semi-protected containers on the east side of our house, so they would get increasing amounts of sunlight and be exposed to breezes that would help stiffen their stems.

This toughening up is called “hardening off,” which the Maryland Master Gardener Handbook defines as “the process of gradually acclimatizing a plant that has been raised indoors or in a greenhouse to harsh environmental conditions in the garden” (Chapter 17, “Vegetables,” p. 411).

I would be happy to transplant my tomato seedlings directly from utility room into the garden, but the risks would be high.  If subsequent days were warm with intense sunshine, the tender plants could sunburn—just as I would if I went to Ocean City and lay the whole first day in the sun without sunblock lotion.  Also, a sudden spring thunderstorm with wind and a downpour could twist and bend the tender stems and smash the plants to the ground.

So that’s why gardeners who start spring vegetables from seed indoors “harden them off”—“gradually acclimatizing” them to the cool, sunny, breezy world, though I hesitate to call our garden a place of “harsh environmental conditions.”

"Gradually acclimatizing"
“Gradually acclimatizing” for my plants meant this: (1) I put them in open plastic storage bins that protected all but the tops of the tallest plants from wind gusts.  (2) I took them out late Sunday afternoon for their first direct-sun exposure, and the afternoon shadow of the house shaded them after about two hours.  (3) Since it rained Monday and Tuesday, I kept the plants under the roof but on the edge of the porch, so they got bright light but weren’t battered by downpours.  (4) When the rain clouds exited and the sun shone brightly, I moved the plants a foot farther from the house each day so they’d get ever-increasing direct sunlight.

I planted the seeds in cups on April 19.  The shortest plants (Celebrity) were four inches tall by Wednesday and the tallest varieties (Juliet, Sungold, and Amish Paste) were more than six inches and growing at least one inch a day.  I was beginning to think they were clones of Jack’s fast-growing magical beanstalk.

The rains earlier this week were important to the Tomato Patch.  Early spring 2012 was especially dry.  Year-to-date rainfall before this week was about six inches below average.  Lack of moisture can be a factor contributing to blossom-end rot in early tomatoes when garden soil has insufficient moisture for the plants to move calcium from the soil to the developing fruit, so I’m hoping I’ll not have the significant losses that I had last year from that disease.

I’ve already written in my Garden Notes that I should start my tomato seeds a week later in 2013, around April 25, so they’ll be ready to transplant around May 25.  Tomatoes are a tropical plant and really thrive best in well-warmed soil, which means the opportune time to set them out here in Central Maryland is near the end of May or even early June—though that may seem like heresy to gardeners who set out their tomato transplants in late April or early May.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Frugal Gardener: Closing My Mini-Greenhouse

Last mini-greenhouse lettuce
I’ve closed my mini-greenhouse for the summer.  I grabbed the two handles and pulled straight up, moved the green-house aside, and looked at the three lettuce plants that still had been growing inside—two Green Ice and one Red Sails.

We’ll have to use those three heads soon because they show signs of getting ready to bolt.  Yes, I should have cut them a week ago, but I didn’t.  And after growing in the cozy greenhouse for several months, they may react adversely to the colder, windier life outside their plastic box. 

But lettuce life goes on. Nearby I transplanted eight lettuce seedlings that I started April 29 in yoghurt cups—two Red Velvet, two Cracoviensis, two Green Ice, and two Red Sails, so we’ll not be dashing off to a supermarket any time soon to buy lettuce.

New lettuce crop
I’ve declared the mini-greenhouse a success.  I grew lettuce overwinter and picked heads in January, February, March, April, and May.  Of course winter 2011 to 2012 was one of the warmest on record, with temperatures here in central Maryland only reaching lows of 18°F two or three times.  What if the temperature had dipped to 15° or 12° or 10°?  Would Red Sails and Green Ice have turned into Red and Green Slime?

When I hosed off the mini-greenhouse, I noticed several cracks that indicate it won’t last forever.  Three of the four upper corners—which were not reinforced when molded as were the bottom corners—had slight cracks.  I’ve already duct-taped the cracks in preparation for another winter’s crop of lettuce.

I could have bought a commercial greenhouse—for $150, $1,500, $5,000, or $25,000.  But $13.76 seemed like a perfectly reasonable price for a Frugal Gardener.  If I get another year of use out of the container—fine.  If I get two more years of use—excellent.  If I get three years, I’ll be tempted to trade in my bib overalls on a kilt.

Time for some cleanup
At the end of the day, I hosed off the mini-greenhouse.  It’s ready for growing lettuce again next winter.

If you want to see what the mini-greenhouse looked like when I created it, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fragrance: Dianthus and Don

Dianthus & Don

This evening was designed for sitting on the front-porch glider, shelling peanuts as the temperature eased toward 70 and a gentle breeze rustled through the purple-leaf plum trees that cast shadows longer than the trees are tall.

Straight ahead of me two flowering kousa dogwoods framed a birdless bluebird box because this year a pair built their nest in the “white box” in the backyard and already have three blue eggs there.  Nearer me the first dark-blue Siberian iris blooms, a gift of Cindy S., a Howard County Master Gardener.

To my right, in, hopefully, a deer-proof fortress of iron stakes and welded wire, pink rhododendron blossoms proclaim, “This is our best weekend,” as lavender azalea petals loosen and float to the pine-bark mulch.  Nearby a Knockout rose lofts buds that promise future visual delight, and lingering bleeding-heart flowers bob in the freeze.

'Our best weekend'
To my left, bright-blue delicate brunnera flowers and miniature yellow trumpets of corydalis—gifts of Pat H., another Master Gardener, say, “Enjoy every day of May,” while pink, blue, and purple columbine flowers arch over their leaves—gifts of Pennsylvania cousins Curt and Jean W.

A high-school teacher once defined a “weed” as a flower growing where someone doesn’t want it to grow.  I don’t have any weeds.  I let flowers grow wherever they wish—usually—and, of course, as long as they aren’t real weeds.  I hate to uproot them with my hoe or Cape Cod weeder.  I prefer to let them grow—or share them with fellow gardeners.

As the wind shifted slightly on this May evening, a fragrance surrounded me.  I inhaled deeply. It was sweet and spicy.  It was from the patches of dianthus hunkering by our hardy ground orchids, a deer-resistant perennial recommended by Irene M., another Master Gardener.  I wondered how such small dianthus flowers can perfume such a wide area.

My mind wondered to two friends, Don and Joyce O.  Ellen and I have known them for half a century.

Sometimes a flower says it all
You know that kind of friends ...  classmates at high school or college … young families with children about the same ages … later, as empty nesters, chatting over dinner at Sierra’s Grill or enjoying plays at Olney Theatre or concerts at Wolf Trap or Strathmore Music Center. 

For years Don raised black raspberries in their back yard and prepared a quart of “concentrate” each summer that I made into a gallon of black-raspberry ice cream for late-summer gatherings of friends.

A month or so ago Don, a rose grower, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease.  With our tears on Friday we mourned his passing.

I sat on our porch and inhaled the fragrance of the dianthus, but that spicy sweetness was overpowered by an even greater fragrance—memories of Don, husband of Joyce, father of Don Jr., Allison, and Karen, grandfather of four, noted scientist, our friend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Berry Patch: ‘Thou Shalts’ and ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Strawberry Planting

Delivery box of strawberry plants
As my bundle of 25 Allstar strawberry plants sat in our refrigerator while I waited for our rare but frigid weather to warm to my liking, I studied up on strawberry planting. As I leafed through the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. “Planting Guide” and the company’s catalog I started jotting down a list of “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots” that I thought important. 

1.  Thou shalt open the box and follow directions.  That’s where I found the “Planting Guide.”

2.  Thou shalt not plant strawberries in a shady, wet bed.  “Strawberries can be grown in most soil types; however, a good, well-drained loam soil will consistently produce a better crop.  Select an area that will receive full sun most of the day.  Avoid shaded areas and any place where water will stand after a rain as standing water can greatly increase the chances for disease.  Also avoid areas prone to spring frosts.”

Bag of plants fresh out of the box
3.  Thou shalt keep the plants in a cool location if you’re not going to plant them immediately.  I planned to plant them in three or four days because our weather was unseasonably warm but frost was forecast.  I stored my bundle of Allstars in our refrigerator.

4.  Thou shalt not keep your plants in the freezer.  Strawberries survive winter weather once they’re planted in the garden bed, so what’s the problem?  The problem is that the plants in the bundle have bare roots and have been stored at 32°F at Indiana Berry.  The 0° temperature of your food freezer will damage the bare roots.  If you can’t plant immediately, relax, because the “plants will keep up to 4 weeks if kept at 35 degrees,” which is the approximate temperature of most refrigerators.

5.  Thou shalt “plant when weather is cloudy and cool to prevent roots from drying out.”  I planted late in the day, during the last hour of sunlight, and the weather was cool.

The bundle of 25 Allstar plants
6.  Thou shalt “use a trowel to make a hole by pressing it back and tipping to both sides.  Spread the roots carefully and firm soil around the roots, leaving no air pockets.”  I made a furrow with my Warren hoe and then spread the roots and firmed soil around them.  “If soil is dry, pour a pint of water around each plant.”  I sprinkled with a hose.

7.  Thou shalt “set the plants at the correct depth.  Do not trim roots and do bend roots to fit the hole.  The base of the crown should be at the level of the soil surface.  Plants too deep will smother, … and plants too high will dry out.”  The guide and the catalog both illustrate proper planting depth.

8.  Thou shalt not fertilize at planting time because the fertilizer can damage the few tender roots.

Two weeks after planting
9.  Thou shalt “see new green growth in 7 to 10 days.”

I planted the 25 Allstars on April 3 and watered them most mornings because we’re having an uncommonly dry spring.  Within a week, they started putting out new leaves, and at two weeks all plants had leaves.  Over the next few months the Allstars will be establishing themselves and I’ll be caring for them according to “the directions.”  When they start flowering and putting out runners, I’ll post again about what I’m doing—and why.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Berry Patch: Grow Strawberries Again?

Should I start another bed?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.  For 10 years or so I’ve grown strawberries here at Meadow Glenn.  Three years ago, when the last planting petered out after five or six years, I started thinking about planting a new bed.

I missed having our own strawberries, but I thought of two reasons why I shouldn’t replant.  First, fresh strawberries are available at food stores almost every day now from California, Florida, and even Chile and Argentina.  And second, strawberries seem to grow closer to the ground than when I was younger—with my Aching Back reminding me of that curiosity of plant evolution.

But I also thought of several reasons why I should plant another bed.  Store-bought strawberries—like store-bought tomatoes—are tough specimens designed for long trips to markets, and it seems to me they just don’t taste like those that you pick 20 feet from the kitchen door.  Also, most store-bought fruit is sprayed with who-only-knows-what pesticides, fungicides, and whatever-else-cides—and I can absolutely control what I spray on my own strawberries—including no spray at all.

Six of one, half dozen of the other—or was that two sides of the same coin?  Well, it was decision-making time. 

“Ellen, do you think I should order some strawberry plants?”  I outlined the arguments for her.

“Of course, we should grow strawberries.”

My ultimate decider had decided.

But which of the scores of strawberry varieties should I buy—June-bearing or everbearing?—early season, early midseason, late midseason, late season?

My first stop was to check out the strawberry information tucked here and there in the “Small Fruits” chapter of the “University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Handbook.”  And then I found a helpful website featuring loads of information just about strawberries:, which identifies itself as “The ONE stop for EVERYTHING related to strawberry plants and growing strawberries.”  Yes, they do SHOUT on that site, but I read and made notes.

I decided to order June-bearing plants, rather than the newer—at least to me—everbearing.  A June-bearing variety produces more fruit over about a two-week period, while the everbearing varieties bear fewer fruit but over the whole summer basically.  June-bearing plants generally are allowed to expand into narrow beds, while everbearing plants generally are hilled and require more attention.  Everbearing plants, if you think about it, are probably the reason we have fresh strawberries year-round.  Every day they’re blooming and producing fruit somewhere in the world.

The strawberryplants website also had a useful chart showing the overlap of the various categories of June-bearing plants, such as “early season” and “late midseason.”  Since plants generally come in bundles of 25, should I order 25 early- season plants and 25 late-season plants so I might be picking fresh strawberries for about three weeks?

At that point, my Aching Back became a factor.  Stooping to pick strawberries is one thing, but standing back up sometimes is another.  I went to the garden and surveyed possible planting sites.  If I plant along the high walls of our raised-bed terraces, I can sit on the concrete blocks and pick with minimum stooping or bending.  A quick look at those areas convinced me that 25 plants would be plenty.

What variety?  I had looked at the recommendations in the “Handbook,” and the strawberryplants site listed varieties recommended by various state agencies.  When I was thinking two varieties, I had settled on 25 Earliglow, which would fruit from Day 1 to 12 of the season and 25 Allstar, which would fruit from Day 10 to 22.

Since I have room for only 25 plants, I decided to order the Allstar variety because that variety will bloom later and be less threatened by late frost.

Where to order?  I went back to the strawberryplants site again and learned that Allstar plants are available from 24 listed retailers.  I ordered from Indiana Berry & Plant Co. for the irrational reason that the company name sounds like a good place to order strawberry plants.

My bundle of 25 Allstar plants cost $16.50 plus $10.00 shipping.  I received an email from Indiana Berries saying the plants would ship March 28.  They arrived March 30.

As the UPS driver handed me the small brown box, I said, “Oh, great.  My strawberries.”
The driver gave a quizzical look at the box as he handed it to me.

“Oh … my strawberry plants.”

Since I wasn’t going to plant them for several days, I put the box into the refrigerator to help keep them dormant.

In my next posting, I’ll show you the bundle of 25 Allstar plants—and tell you why I planted them the way I did.

If you want more information about growing strawberries, I suggest you take a look at the “” website.  CLICK HERE.

If you want to look at the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. website, where you can browse online or order a catalog, CLICK HERE

To check out the University of Maryland Extension’s Publication HG68,” Getting Started with Small Fruits,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Newspaper 'Clippings' about Gardening

Ready to sit back and enjoy recent Washington Post gardening columns?  Here are six you might find interesting:

Become a garden anarchist:  “Call it boot camp, and not all volunteers make it” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Column,” March 8, CLICK HERE.

The weed that’s been shooting at you:  “Seedpod with a hair trigger” by Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle,”  April 10, CLICK HERE.

How to toughen up your veggie seedlings:  “Preparing your little seedlings for the real world” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Garden,” April 12, CLICK HERE.

Kale—right and wrong:  “Snow, sleet and kale—a wintry mix” by Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Column,” March 22, CLICK HERE.

What the shouting is about:  “How scientists manipulate the genetics of crops” by Brian Palmer, “How & Why,” March 6, CLICK HERE.

Why flowering pears are sprouting everywhere:  “Pretty tree going rogue” by Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle,” March 20, CLICK HERE.

Articles titles in the online Post will differ from those from the print edition, but the text will be the same.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Clean Water Begins at Home

Sylvia says the height of your grass
can make a difference.

If charity begins at home, so should clean water, says Sylvia, a member of the Bay-Wise Committee of the University of Maryland Extension Howard County Master Gardener program.

“Some of our major pollution problems—such as algae-laden ponds—result from fertilizer run-off from neighborhood lawns,” Sylvia explained.  “Since scores of homeowners contribute to this problem, we’ll take a step toward solving that problem every time a homeowner chooses to do lawn care in ways that protect our waterways.”

Intrigued, the Ancient Gardener asked Sylvia to explain her thinking.

Ancient Gardener:  What are simple, practical steps I can take to help clean up local ponds and streams?

Sylvia:  Read a good fact sheet about responsible lawn care, perform a soil test, and don’t over-fertilize.  When you fertilize, use fertilizers with a high percentage of water-insoluble nitrogen (WIN) and no phosphate unless the soil test indicates that you need it.  Keep the fertilizer off your sidewalks, driveways, and other impervious surfaces, where rain can wash it into local storm sewers that will end up in a pond, lake, or stream.  One of our local ponds is green and stinky in the summer because it’s full of algae that fed on the nutrients from fertilizers running out of neighborhoods and into the drains that end up at the pond.

Sylvia keeps her lawn mowed
between 3 and 3.5 inches.
Ancient Gardener:  What publication do you recommend?

Sylvia:  A great place to start is the University of Maryland Extension’s newly revised HG102, “Lawn Establishment, Renovation, and Overseeding.”  It covers a wide range of environmentally sound lawn-care principles, from pre-planting decisions to seeding, care and maintenance, renovation, even common turf problems.  It’s available free online, where you can read it, print it out, or download it for future reference.

Ancient Gardener:  Once I have a nice lawn and control the fertilizer, what should I do next?

Sylvia:  Keep your grass mowed to between three and three and a half inches.  Grass that length shades its own roots during the hot summer months and reduces weeds and thatch.  Leave the clippings right on the lawn, where they’ll provide about a pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet a year.  Mow frequently enough that you remove only the top third of the grass blades at a time.

Ancient Gardener:  What about watering my lawn?

Sylvia sweeps fertilizer onto lawn
to keep it from entering runoff.
(Photo by Sylvia)
Sylvia:  Actually the best grasses for most of the mid-Atlantic area are tall fescues, which are cool-season varieties that naturally go dormant in hot, dry weather.  Let them enjoy life naturally.  Let them go dormant.  Don’t water them.  They’ll revive when cool weather returns in late summer.  If you water, do so early in the morning to minimize disease problems and then only water up to one inch at a time so run-off doesn’t carry nutrients, pesticides, or herbicides into the storm-water system or directly into a nearby pond or stream.

Ancient Gardener:  Why do I see so many lawn-fertilizer advertisements in the spring and so few in the fall?

Sylvia:  They are selling fertilizer.  The best time to fertilize cool-season grasses is September and October.  The brochure has charts with recommendations.

Ancient Gardener: What’s considered best today in lawn care?

Sylvia:  Many homeowners are downsizing their lawns and upsizing their gardens with groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Gardens absorb much more runoff than turf does.  They reduce the sediment and pollutants that go into our waterways.  In the process they provide protection, food, and homes for wildlife.

Ancient Gardener:  The last word?

Sylvia:  A lawn that never has fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides applied is the friendliest to our neighborhood ponds and streams and to our great waterways, such as the Chesapeake Bay.

To link to the University of Maryland’s publication HG102 on lawn care, CLICK HERE.
If you want to review the earlier posting, “Clean Water: Does Your Lawn Measure Up?” CLICK HERE.

Fertilizer runoff can turn a sparkling pond into a smelly algae pit.
(Photo by Columbia Association)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Deer Country: Putting Our Hostas on the ‘Pill’

Will these tablets keep
deer away from our hostas?

I started my 2012 deer repellent test yesterday by putting our hostas on the “pill,” the new Repellex Systemic tablet for plants that claims to repel all sorts of critters—deer, rabbits, moles, voles, gophers, groundhogs, feral hogs, cats, and dogs.

The directions on the label seem simple enough: For a small plant, use one tablet for every foot of the plant’s height and width.  I used two tablets for each of two large clumps of hostas and one tablet for each of two small clumps of hostas.  A large clump of hostas about 12 feet away will be my untreated control.  As directed, I pushed each dime-size tablet an inch or more below the soil surface “2-3 inches away from the root crown.”  I then watered the plants to activate the tablets.

You may recall that last year I experimented with mint-based Deer Out repellent spray, and our local bambits ignored our hostas all summer.  When I used the spray, I could easily see that I had hit all major parts of each hosta and had no question about whether I had applied it correctly.

Will a dime-size tablet work the whole summer?
I didn’t get that same feeling of certainty when I “positioned” the Repellex Systemic tablets.  Just where is the “crown” of a clump of hostas?  To measure a hosta clump’s height, do I measure just leaves—or do you include the towering flower stalk?  Will two tablets be enough for the tangled mass of roots of a hosta clump to take up and infuse all the leaves sufficiently to make them deer repellent?

Questions, questions, questions.

I’ll report back occasionally with, hopefully, some answers, answers, answers.

If you missed my earlier posting about the new Repellex Systemic tablets and how they work, CLICK HERE.

If you want to see my final posting about Deer Out, the mint-based repellent spray, CLICK HERE.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Outfoxing Furry Critters in Your Garden

Mama & pup

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a no-cost, natural, sustainable way to control furry critters that eat your garden harvest before you even get a chance to pick some for yourself?

“We have zero problems with bunnies, moles, voles, mice, and chipmunks in our strawberry and blueberry gardens,” explained Beth, a Howard County Master Gardener.  “I’ve got what one of our neighbor’s calls a fox ‘nursery den’ in our backyard and she has the ‘adult den’ in her yard, so small critters just aren’t problem.

“Mama fox gave birth to eight pups last spring,” Beth said.  “I spent hours watching and photographing the pups romp in our backyard while Mama stood guard.  I discovered that my best vantage point was from the edge of my bathtub because it’s perpendicular to the den.  Because the foxes were anywhere from 50 to 200 feet away, I used a zoom lens.  They enjoyed eating the peanuts and sunflower seeds as much as the birds did, and they used our birdbath as a drinking dish.”

Are foxes the perfect critter control for suburban gardeners?

Pups at play
“Not quite,” Beth answered.  “We have a pair of groundhogs that are larger than the foxes—and the groundhogs are stopping by daily to see what’s growing.  And then there are the deer that browse through our property nearly every day.  Last year I planted one tomato plant, and the deer ate all the green tomatoes.  I tore out the plant in frustration.

“I’m told to expect a new litter this year,” Beth continued.  “I saw Papa fox scoping the neighborhood earlier this year, but I’ve not seen Mama yet.  I do hope they return.  The pups are so much fun to watch.”

But the groundhogs and deer—mountain lions, anyone?

More water, please
Thank you, Beth, for sharing your story and photographs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Clean Water: Does Your Landscape Measure Up?

How does your landscape measure up?
Save the Bay!  Clean up the Potomac!  Capture storm-water runoff!  Keep pesticides and fertilizers out of our streams!

Just about everyone wants to improve the quality of our shrinking supply of fresh water, and we’re used to seeing millions and billions of our tax dollars spent to try to add the sparkle of life to our waterways.

Spending tax dollars wisely on conservation efforts is a good thing, in my opinion, but something even better is for each of us to take a look at our landscaping practices to see what we can do to make good old Earth a better place on which to live.

The University of Maryland Extension has created a simple “Bay-Wise Maryland Yardstick” that enables us to measure how environmentally sound our landscapes are.  The Yardstick awards “inches” for sound landscaping practices.  If your landscaping practices total 36 inches, your landscape is “Bay-Wise.”  Many of the practices rate one inch, but some rate more.

The Bay-Wise Yardstick is built on several environmentally sound principles: Control Stormwater Runoff;  Encourage Wildlife; Protect the Waterfront; Mow Properly/Water Efficiently; Manage Yard Pests with Integrated Pest Management (IPM); Mulch Appropriately/Recycle Yard Waste; Fertilize Wisely; and Plant Wisely.

Here are four sample Actions that you can take in your landscape to earn some “inches”:

“Direct down spouts and gutters to drain onto the lawn, plant beds or rain gardens where rain will soak into the soil rather than running off.  However, direct this water away from the house to avoid wet basement and foundation problems.  Credit: 1 inch.”

“Provide, and properly maintain, a water source, such as a birdbath or small pond, for wildlife.  (Change birdbath water every other day to provide a fresh, clean drink and discourage mosquitoes.)  Credit: 1 inch.”

“Mow cool season grasses high (3-4 inches) to encourage a deeper, more drought- and pest-tolerant root system.  A higher cut also shades out weeds.  Remove no more than a third of the grass blade when you mow.  Credit: 2 inches.”

“Fertilize cool season grasses (fescues, bluegrass and ryegrass) only in the Fall (September through early November).  Warm season grasses such as Zoysia and Bermudagrass should only be fertilized from mid May to early June.  Credit: 1 inch.” 

How many inches have you added with those four simple Actions?  Many of the recommended Actions won’t cost you a penny more than what you’re spending now.  Some may even save you a dollar or two.

Does the Yardstick work if you don’t live in Maryland?  Environmentally sound landscaping practices are important in every state, so print out the Yardstick and imagine that you’re helping your local steam or river instead of the Chesapeake Bay.
Meadow Glenn is Bay-Wise
Yes, I practice what I write about.  In 2006 I “measured” landscape practices here at Meadow Glenn.  Three members of the Bay-Wise Committee of the Howard County Master Gardeners then visited to check my calculations and certified that Meadow Glenn is a “Bay Wise Demonstration Landscape.”

Aren’t you curious to see if your landscape already is a “36”—or what you can do to help make it “measure up”?  To link to the “Bay-Wise Maryland Yardstick” so you can print out a copy and begin measuring your landscape, CLICK HERE

Look for occasional future postings about how gardeners integrate Bay-Wise principles into their landscapes and gardens.