Basic Tree Care for the Home Yard

Your trees are the most important part of your home landscape. They provide beauty, shade, and enjoyment. They are expensive to remove when dead or damaged, and they are impossible to replace once they gain a little size. Learn to take care of your trees.

I have received a number of phone calls this spring reporting various stages of die back in the tops of a number of large, shade trees. Most of this is due to the two or three years of drought preceding the “wet” summer we are experiencing now. Many of our yard trees are growing on disturbed soils (disturbed when the house or community was built) and they tend to develop rather shallow root systems. Combine this with a prolonged period of dry weather and these trees become stressed. Stressed trees don’t accumulate a sufficient food supply during the summer and the following year they often lose branches, especially those in the top (the youngest) of the tree.

The sad part of this story is that there’s no way to replace the branches lost due to stress. They simply should be pruned out for safety purposes. This is often an expensive undertaking, especially if the tree is near the house. Hopefully the tree still looks ok after the dead branches have been pruned out, otherwise it may be best to have the entire tree removed.

Tree Companies don’t possess any special magic to fix these drought stress problems. They can look the tree over and make sure there’s are no other problems. Last week a homeowner called our office and reported most of his tree had turned brown and died. When he brought a sample to the office the problem turned out to be a common leaf fungus, oak leaf blister. The leaves on his tree had indeed turned brown, but his tree was by no means dead, or even dying. Brown leaves often means big trouble, but not always.

The two tips I have for taking care of your existing trees are (1) don’t do anything to disturb the trees root system, and (2) try and give them supplemental water during periods of summer drought.

A good root system is the key to maintaining your tree in good condition. Any major digging or soil disturbance that occurs beneath the canopy of your tree can cause serious problems. Removing soil, adding soil, or any type of trenching can hurt the tree. Compacting the soil by parking vehicles under the tree, or just excessive foot traffic around arid under the tree can hurt.

When your area has not received a significant rainfall within two weeks in summer it’s time to water your trees. Remember, you are applying water to the root system and the root system spreads out at least as far as the branches reach. You should set up a sprinkler, let it run for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then move it to another location under the tree. Continue moving the sprinkler in this way until every areas has received at least 60 minutes of watering. It takes a long time to properly water a large tree but it’s the most important thing you can do for your tree.

Take the time to look at your trees in the next week or two and reflect on their importance to your yard and landscape. Give thanks for the wonderful shade they provide and promise yourself that you will give them that drink of water they need during the next summer drought we experience. Your trees are a great natural resource, take care of them.

Your ‘When To’ List

One of the questions many home owners have concerning their landscape is, “when should I do this, or do that? ” Here’s a brief guide that gives you the best time of the year to perform some common home landscape chores.

In the home landscape there are seasons to reap and seasons to sow. Here’s a few tips on the best time of the year to take care of a few important landscape maintenance items.

Lawn Fertilization
To keep your lawn in tip top condition you should schedule to apply fertilizer sometime between September 20th and October 20th and a repeat application approximately one month later. This applies to lawns made up primarily of Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, or any combination of the four. If you have one of the rare lawns of zoysiagrass you should target your fertilizer application for sometime between June 1st and August 1 St. Most zoysiagrass lawns only require a single fertilizer application per year.

Tree Pruning and Trimming
If you need to prune off a single limb, the one that keeps hitting you in the head when you try to mow under it, you can prune it out anytime of the year. If you are planning a substantial amount of pruning on a single tree, removing more than 20 percent of the total branch area, you should carry out this pruning operation when the tree is dormant, sometime between mid December and mid February.

It’s nice to prune evergreens, such as holly and pines, in December and use the prunings for house decorations for the holidays. One warning here, pines and spruce are two trees that resent severe pruning. If you cut branches back beyond the point where any needles remain, you are unlikely to have new shoots appear on these branches. They will remain as ugly, wooden stubs. Most other plants will eventually produce new shoots from the cut branches, but pines and spruces won’t.

Tree and Shrub Fertilization
This has been the source of much confusion over the years and I have heard and read many differing recommendations. My current belief is that the fall, sometime between October 1st and November 15th, is the best time to fertilize trees and shrubs here in Maryland. If your tree is well established, more than ten years old, and is in a lawn area, the normal fall lawn fertilization will provide adequate nutrients to the tree.

If the tree is young and you want to maximize growth, you should have a wide clear or mulched area surrounding the tree and apply the fertilizer there. A ten foot tall tree should be surrounded by a cleared, or mulched, zone that’s at least ten foot in diameter. I know this is much larger than what you normally see, but this will help maximize your new tree’s growth rate.

Groups of shrubs should also be surrounded by a cleared, or mulched, zone and this is where you want to broadcast the fertilizer in mid fall.

Bringing the House Plants In
If you have given some, or all, of your house plants a summer outside you will want to bring them back inside well before the first killing frost in the fall. In Prince George’s County the first killing frost averages on or about the 20th of October. Some years it’s a bit earlier, some years a bit later. I don’t like to gamble with my plants and I schedule them to begin coming back inside in mid September with the entire move completed by the end of the month.

I move about 200 cacti plants outside every summer so I know all about the “great plant shuffle.” It’s dangerous to try and schedule the move at the very last moment. Just when the weather forecasters are predicting that first killing frost you may have a lot of other things to do, so get the house plants in a bit earlier, by the end of September.

Putting the House Plants Out
In Prince George’s County the last killing frost in the spring averages on or about the 1st of May. Since it is a real hassle to have to move the plants back inside right after they have been moved out, play it safe and wait at least two weeks beyond the average last spring frost date. This schedules the putting out of the house plants sometime after May 15th. Obviously if you live in the far southern end of the County, Brandywine or Accokeek, you can sneak things in a few days earlier, and if you’re up north, in Beltsville or Laurel, you may want to wait a bit later than May 15th to be on the safe side.

Remember, the one thing we can be sure about concerning the weather, is that we can never be sure about the weather.

When to Divided Perennials
If you are growing hosta, daylilies, chrysanthemums, or a host of other clump forming perennials, sooner or later you will want to dig up the clump, divide it into smaller parts, and replant. The best time of the year to tackle this chore is early fall, sometime in October, after the foliage

has deteriorated and turned brown, or in early spring, sometime between March 20th and April 20th, just as the new growth is appearing. One exception to this rule is the bearded iris, or flag lily as my mother use to call them. These are best divided in August when the plants are dormant and the hot, dry weather reduces the chances of rot in the fatty, fleshy rhizomes.

Applying Crabgrass Preventers
Crabgrass is the single most serious weed in our lawns and it is also relatively easy to prevent through the use of a preemergence crabgrass weed killer. These materials have to be applied prior to crabgrass seed germination. In Prince George’s County crabgrass seed usually sprouts in early April so target your crabgrass preventer application for the last two weeks in March.

Depending on the active ingredient in the crabgrass preventing product you use, you may be required to apply a second application in June. Read and following the product label carefully and you’ll get the maximum benefit from your product.

Getting Help for Other Yard and Garden
Timing Questions
If you have questions concerning gardening chores that were not covered in this article, you can call the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center. The Center is open on Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 1:00 PM. You can reach the center from any location in the State of Maryland via their toll free phone number: 1-800-342-2507

Article supplied by MD Cooperative Extension.


Mom’s old Daylily patch was indestructible yet ephemeral. The plants withstood our tiny, trampling feet, but the flowers came and went with the mid-July sun. In the morning, peachcolored buds opened wide, revealing orange petals and yellow throats. But by late afternoon they were gone – shriveled, twisted and rusty-brown. In a few weeks, the blossoms disappeared entirely.

Today’s Daylilies are just as tough as mother’s old ones. But their brief summer show has been extended. Each flower still lasts a single day, owing to both their common and horticultural name. (Hemerocallis in Greek means “beautiful for one day.”) However, instead of flowering for two short weeks, today’s hybrids start blooming in late June and last up to six weeks. Then, after deadheading and an application of fertilizer, some can launch an encore performance that stretches into late September.

Individual blossoms have staying power, too. Instead of opening and closing by midafternoon, today’s Daylily blooms may keep their form for up to 16 hours. That means your flowers will still look fresh for that after-dinner garden stroll.

And care? They’re about as close to foolproof as a perennial plant can be.

Once established, Daylilies are extremely drought tolerant. They bloom best in open sunshine, but will have limited bloom with as little as four hours of direct light a day. All this, and the foliage keeps its handsome shape through the dog days of August. Today’s Daylilies need only water and a little fertilizer to remain vigorous.

Choices have improved so much that gardeners can find a Daylily to suit any spot in the landscape. Instead of brassy orange and yellow, today’s hybrid hues run from elegant white to deep purplish-black, with a rainbow of colors in between. There are short-growing plants for borders and groundcovers or majestic, taller plants that stand above the rest of the perennial pack. A few favorites from Fred Dabney of Quansett Nurseries in South Dartmouth, Mass. a grower for Blooms of Bressingham perennials:

‘Lady Elizabeth’ – A tall-growing Daylily with lush, blue-green foliage and pure white, 5inch flowers that last deep into summer. It’s excellent for mass plantings.

‘Miss Mary Mary’ – A compact daylily with up to 3-inch, yellow-gold flowers that are similar to the popular ‘Stella d’ Oro.’ But when ‘Miss Mary Mary’ reflowers in late summer, it does so with fluffy double blossoms.

‘Lady Scarlet’ – Velvety scarlet-red blossoms are 6 inches across and bloom on 21- to 24inch stems above longlasting, dark green foliage. Stunning.

‘Miss Tinkerbell’ – Incredibly pretty peach-pink flowers are produced in abundance on low-growing 12- to 15-inch plants. Blooms are 3 3/4 inches in diameter. An exquisite groundcover.

Lessons Learned with GrowLab

Lessons Learned with GrowLab

It is not absolutely clear who is more enthusiastic about the GrowLab in Mr. Flint’s classroom–the class or Mr. Flint. There is no doubt, however, that there is a whole lot of learning and fun going on in the fifth grade in Cambridge Central School in Cambridge, New York.

In this kindergarten through twelfth grade rural school of about 1200 students Carl Flint has found his “calling” as an elementary school science teacher. Formerly an agriculture teacher at the secondary level, he left teaching for 12 years to pursue his dream of becoming a dairy farmer. His farming phase over, he returned to the classroom in 1995 to teach younger students. When his brother alerted him to the GrowLab program, Carl jumped at the opportunity to provide hands-on experience in growing and tending plants to his students. In his small school he has some discretion with the science curriculum and is able to work information about plants into it for the two sections of 25 kids each that he teaches every year.

GrowLab programs

The GrowLab program for school children is sponsored by the National Garden Bureau (NGB) in a joint venture with the National Gardening Association. In a matching funds program, NGB and participating seed companies donate 6 GrowLabs a year to schools all across the country. GrowLab units are commercially designed and constructed for self-contained, tabletop seed-starting and seedling management. Essentially a metal frame that supports two 4 foot long, easily adjusted fixtures that hold fluorescent growing lights, each unit is 52 inches wide and 23 inches deep, 39 inches tall. Each is equipped with a timer, convenient trays to hold seedling containers or potted plants, and a tent-like cover to help regulate humidity. It is accompanied by a starter kit containing pots, fertilizer, labels, watering can, potting mix, insecticidal soap, and seeds. Supporting printed and video curriculum materials, and follow up newsletters provide helpful information.

Initially, Carl experimented with various activities that focused on plant science with an older GrowLab model. Students learned about soil, photosynthesis, and other concepts by planting seeds and raising seedlings. They learned about organic material by recycling dead plant debris into compost. They learned and practiced skills of observation, measuring, calculation, and charting data. Carl reports that one of the surprises that they encountered was the degree of variation within a population of seedlings–even though they were all treated exactly the same. This spurred some interest in plant genetics among the students.

The early projects Carl designed involved establishing trial groups and control groups to test how different watering, light and/or feeding regimens affected plant growth. He abandoned that approach when it became obvious that the kids were deeply disappointed that some plants invariably failed to thrive. He realized that, “They all wanted the best outcome.” In light of the fact that his kids “even had a tough time thinning seedlings,” he developed projects that assured, barring the occasional disaster, a uniform result for each participant. Carl reports that, “All of the kids are so enthusiastic, especially the special needs ones.”

In the Classroom

By the time he received a brand new GrowLab courtesy of his Cambridge-Pacific Company sponsor three years ago, Carl Flint had found that the best way to use it was as a “sidebar” to his regular curriculum over an entire semester. Because it takes so long for plants to go from seed to maturity, class GrowLab activities parallel typical shorter science units. Through the GrowLab Carl can introduce and reinforce science skills and concepts as well as teach the plant-related things. Typically, once a project is launched, teacher and students devote, on average, about one hour a week to record keeping, observation, and plant maintenance. Combined, the old and new GrowLabs do not quite accommodate a plant for each of his 50 students, especially when seedlings go from their small cells into larger 4 inch plastic pots. However, all students are able to enjoy up close and personal experiences with them as they grow.

Last fall the sunflower project was a big success. Carl’s students planted dwarf sunflowers, which both he and they thought were “so cool.” At 18 inches maximum height these plants were ideal for the GrowLab. Because instead of the 70 to 75 days to maturity listed on the seed packet, their plants required 90 to 110 days. Upwards of 80% of them developed beautifully and the students proudly took them home to their parents for Christmas.

Teachers who use GrowLabs report that they have an impact well beyond the particular classrooms where they are located. The parents of Carl Flint’s students were delighted to receive the cheery sunflowers. The plants were tangible evidence that their children were loving learning and succeeding. Because the GrowLab in Carl’s room is visible to passers by, the other teachers at Cambridge Central School enjoy watching the ongoing developments under the lights. He receives many compliments from his colleagues. The school custodian is one of the GrowLab’s biggest fans. He looks after the plants, watering faithfully over extended vacation periods.

Lessons learned

Carl and his students have gained respect for how difficult it is to raise healthy plants, even under the best conditions. He feels that the biggest insight his students have gained is “how different each plant is and how quickly things happen. How growth happens in spurts, then slows. They are impressed with how vegetative growth differs from reproductive growth.” In addition to knowledge about plants and how they grow, the kids have had to develop troubleshooting skills and the ability to handle disappointment.

Participating teachers can draw on resources such as the printed materials that accompany the GrowLab and representatives from their sponsoring company who are available for donated supplies, visits to the classroom and other support. Carl reports that, “A ton of information comes with the GrowLab…the support is excellent.” From his experiences to date he advises other teachers to have fun. He suggests that they do not do anything fancy at first–“start with no-brainers, then try the more complex stuff later.” Since nothing succeeds like success, aim for positive results rather than sophisticated experiments. He encourages teachers to reach out to their corporate partners for support.

At this point Carl is experienced and confident enough that he is thinking about how to move on to more advanced activities. He plans to build on a former successful basil growing project by adding a marketing component. Students will grow the herb and then sell it. He is also considering introducing activities such as grafting and hybridizing to his 5th graders. The possibilities are endless.

We credit Liz Ball as author of this article

Your Garden’s Flowers

I will admit that I love flowers. I also love gardening. I am not the most proficient or the neatest of gardeners, and I have a taste for the less than manicured bed.

Why do most of us garden? I think there is a combination of an appreciation for the plants themselves and their attributes of beauty such as foliage, shape, stem color and, of course, their flowers. We wish to surround ourselves with the beauty of plants. We do so by in a sense, playing God on our little acre (or 1 /3 of an acre in my case). This is not altogether bad. But any time we pretend to be omnipotent, a little bit of humility is a good thing.

There are two aspects of our obsession with flowers that we have to think about: 1) do they bloom just for us, and 2) do the plants in our gardens exist in a vacuum separate from the surrounding environment? The answer to both questions is no.

The flowering part of a plant contains the sexual reproductive organs. Sexual reproduction allows for variation which helps plants fit in their environment and promotes the long-term survival of the species. Many types of plants reproduce sexually. Angiosperms, or plants which have a covered seed and often have showy flowers, appear in fossil records some 140 million years ago. There is no coincidence in the fact that the explosion of flowering plants about 100 million years ago corresponds closely with the rise of many of the colonial insects such as ants and bees. The basic fact is that the whole reason for producing those physiologically expensive showy flowers is to attract pollinators which will greatly enhance the plants’ chances of successfully reproducing.

So there you have it. As much as we may appreciate flowering plants and arrange them in our yard to admire their beauty, they do not flower for us; they flower for the lowly insects. What’s more, when the plant goes to seed, its seed form is often designed to attract animals to eat it, thus increasing the chances that the seeds will be dispersed to favorable habitats.

These facts lead to the answer of the second question: plants in our gardens do interact with their surrounding ecosystem to a very high degree. They provide structure both above and below the soil. They provide cover. And they provide food in their stems, foliage, flowers and seeds. If soil is an ecosystem’s foundation, plants are the backbone.

Everything we do in our yards has an effect. Because areas around towns and cities are made up of many small lots, the plants in those lots make up the structure for the local ecosystem. That is why it is so important to consider what we plant.

I have felt honored this winter with the daily visits to my yard by yellowrumped warblers and at least three species of sparrows. I have no bird feeders; instead, they come to forage on and around my plants. The cedars behind my house which once formed a farm fence line provide a nightly roost for many bird species and gray squirrels. The hummingbird moths that come each summer to drink nectar are amazing to watch. The importance of this backyard habitat in a time when almost every ecosystem and habitat in North America has been altered or fragmented cannot be underestimated.

As we labor in our gardens and walk in the stream valleys this spring we need to remember that although we appreciate the beauty of the flowers, they do not bloom for us. The plants are trying to complete their reproductive cycles and we are merely bystanders to the interactions between the plants and their pollinators, seed dispersers and their predators. However, as humans we shape our local environment to suite our desires. The choices we make can determine whether a species survives or goes locally extinct. So I urge you this year to fully enjoy the flora, but to also keep the fauna in mind while you dig.

Charles Smith, VNPS Membership Chair.

Do You Whistle At Your Birds?

It’s six-o’clock and I hear a rattling sound outside my kitchen window. Nerve impulse from ear to brain make an instant identity match with the Baltimore oriole.

He’s announced his arrival at my nectar feeder, giving a few clear notes of his whistle song before taking a long drink and departing.

I do a little victory dance.

Was it the bright orange feeder that brought him? Or the presence of American elm trees in my older suburban neighborhood? Maybe it’s the creek nearby.

Quite frankly I think it was the warrn welcome I offered him as I whistled back to his early morning songs while making large sweeping hand motions in the direction of my yard, “the feeder is over here.” (O.K. So I lied and told the neighbor who was watching me I was practicing Ti Chi movements.)

Most likely it is a combination of all of these elements that attracted this bird as well as others to my yard. Feeders are basic to my backyard birdscape equation, along with my many birdbrainy behaviors. I can share these openly with fellow Society members because I know I have a sympathetic audience.

The Society fills an important niche in sharing both an appreciation for birds and the encouragement to conserve habitat in the re-creation of natural spaces in our own backyards. As we become more urbanized, these tiny oases will play an important role in offering save havens for birds.

Further, these spaces are a means for us to maintain a spiritual base to our natural roots. This is, in my opinion, the more critical reason why people feed birds.

Creating habitat requires four basic elements: food, either by way of feeders, fruit bearing trees and shrubs, or flowers that attract a variety of insects; water; a place to take cover from the elements or predators, and a place to raise young.

Lawns, which tend to be monocultures, are costly to keep up and not practical in arid areas. Native plants are more resilient to drought and weather. They also can require less maintenance than ornamental plants. You need not convert your yard into “Wild Kingdom” to see results. Keeping the four basic elements in your overall plan is the key to attracting birds and wildlife to your yard.

Birds are the stuff of poet and painter. With their colors, songs and intricate displays, they appeal to our senses and imaginations. Take, for example, the American goldfinch in his yellow and black “knock-your-socks off” coloration. It’s hard to believe that his roller coaster “flight song” whimsically performed as he sails off your tube feeder and into a vivid blue sky isn’t directed at the one who fills the feeder. Blue sky? What of that bird whose translucent feathers bring the very sky within our grasp? To see a bluebird, particularly on a drab cloudy day, oh, how it shows like a swatch of rare cloth in the breast pocket of a conservative suit. Picasso never had a blue period piece like this one.

Summer is a special time, notably for those in northern climes who get a short and intimate glimpse of birds doing more than eating and keeping warm. Their lives are played out on a feeder ledge, like tiny actors on a stage. We learn to recognize them, marvel at them, applaud them, make them part of our yard. They help us to see our yard as a habitat, complete with food, water, cover and nesting. This reminds us on a micro scale of what conservation is all about. Most importantly they help us connect. If I understand my Eastern thought, Chi is about channeling positive energy. My oriole just stopped back at the feeder. That’s enough Chi for me.

Louise is a writer, a naturalist and runs a nature consulting and birdscaping business, Avian Brain.

Integrated Pest Management

Pay close attention to your azaleas now to prevent ghastly yellowed and stippled leaves caused by the azalea lace bug. The lace bug feeds on the underside of leaves, but damage is apparent on the upper surface. Lace bugs leave cast skins and black, gummy, varnish-like feces on the underside of leaves. They deposit eggs, cemented with a brown crusty material, near leaf veins. Warm temperatures cause the eggs to hatch, usually in May. The damage becomes more visible as successive generations hatch in June and July. The lace bug thrives on azaleas grown in the sun; it falls victim to spiders on azaleas properly grown in the shade. Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or a systemic insecticide help to control this pest.

Determine the damage threshold for your plants. Decide ahead of time how much injury you can tolerate and don’t take action until this level is reached. Premature measures, taken when they are not necessary, may lead to a resurgence of another pest or harm beneficial insects, mites, and spiders.

Have you heard of an insect with a 13 or 17 year life span? We usually think insects are short-lived, but the periodical cicada can live longer than your cat or dog! Unlike many pests, the adult cicadas don’t feed on leaves, but cause damage by depositing their eggs in the bark of trees. The females saw into the bark of small branches, splintering the sapwood to make slits for their eggs. Damaged branches break off easily in a storm or high winds. Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground, burrow into the soil, and remain there for the remainder of their development. Nymphs suck sap from the roots of trees, but not enough to inflict serious harm. Keep your eyes open for dead twigs and branches. Trees showing conspicuous damage from egg laying include oak, hickory, ash, and dogwood. Mature, established trees usually recover from the damage. Small and newly planted trees may be seriously injured or killed. Protect them by covering them with netting.

Your garden will benefit from your knowledge of what insects populate it. Monitor your garden frequently to find small pest populations before they become destructive. Look for beneficial insects that are feeding on the pests, too. Their relative abundance is a key component in making accurate decisions on whether or not pesticides are necessary. For example, if you observe many beneficial insects and small numbers of pests, you may need to do nothing. Problems usually will not become severe if you notice them early and keep an eye on them. To find small numbers of small insects and mites, place a sheet of white paper under a branch or plant and tap the foliage so these tiny creatures fall onto the paper.

Watch for powdery mildew on your dogwoods. It is a serious disease that stunts new growth and stops growth entirely if severe. Unlike most fungi, powdery mildew does not require water on the leaf surface for spore germination, so it will invade even in dry weather. Neem-based pesticides or horticultural oil will cure the problem.

It’s not too late to plant some vegetables! Plant summer squash in late June to avoid the squash borer. You will miss the prime time for borer damage. The borer feeds in the stems in early summer and completes its life cycle soon after. A late planting of tomatoes and peppers will provide a bumper crop this fall and will avoid diseases that are damaging in hot, humid weather. These plants won’t set fruit during high summer temperatures, but the large plants will produce loads of fruit when nights get cooler in late summer and early fall.

Reduce water usage on your lawn in hot, humid weather. Your grass will go dormant if allowed to dry out and will escape diseases that are common during summer months. Remember to mow high to choke out weeds and let clippings fly to recycle nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizer.

Some Unusual Rose Conditions

This year the rose problems have been a bit different from other years. I thought it might be useful to list some of these to assist Master Gardeners when clients present problems with roses.

1. Symptoms of the first problem: In early June blossoms failed to open up normally This is referred to as “balling” of the blossoms. The edges of the petals were brown. The symptoms are more likely to occur on light colored roses. There are two possible causes listed in the textbooks. The first is botrytis, which occurs when we have periods of damp cool weather, so that’s hardly the cause this year. The second possible cause is an invasion of thrips. To check this, I opened the blossom and examined the petal base areas. There I found small, (1.0 nun) tan insects running around. Thrips do their damage by sucking juices from the petals. The trails for their successive penetrations shows a rasping pattern. Was this the cause? It appeared reasonable with all the hot dry weather we have been having. The thing that bothered me a bit with this conclusion was that not all opening blooms had thrips in evidence, Also, I noted that a week later many of the blooms opened up normally with no sign of the balling, browning phenomena.

This led me to take samples of the affected blooms and those not affected to Ethyl Dutky at the University of Maryland. After taking a look at the samples under the microscope, and reviewing my observations, it was Ethyl’s opinion that the principle cause of the problem was heat damage which resulted from the high temperatures in early June to plants that were under some heat/ drought stress during the preceding period. When I noted that the foliage appeared to be in good condition, it was pointed out that the blossoms are more sensitive to heat damage. It was also noted that the weather history shows this spring to be the, worst in more than 100 years with regard to the drought and high temperature records. The microscopic examination did show the presence of some bacteria and fungi, but it was the opinion that they came along after the damage had happened.

What is the control for this type of problem? As can be seen by the time line of events, a degree of patience is appropriate. As always, good cultural conditions are important, such as providing the plants with adequate water. But sometimes Mother Nature comes along with a record breaker, and The plants respond accordingly.

2. A second unusual problem this year is the occurrence of a shiny surface on some leaves. This results from an accumulation of honey dew secreted by aphids that arc harboring on the underside of leaves above those affected. I have never found aphids to be a threat to the rose plant. If the gardener can’t tolerate the sight of the honey dew layer, which can develop into a black sooty mold, one control is the application of an insecticidal soap or summer weight horticultural oil. To be effective, the material should be placed in contact with the aphids.

Looking ahead, the Japanese beetles are due any day now. It is hoped that the population will be limited as a result of last summer’s drought. But with the past mild winter, we may be seeing greater numbers than normal. A recommended control is the tapping of the part of the plant where the beetles are feeding to make them into a pan of a water solution of soap or detergent held under their feeding site. This is easy to do since the beetles are generally easily seen working on the top of the plant. Remember that although Sevin is labeled for control of the Japanese beetle, the repeated use of this material can cause the death of honeybees, which are in very short supply. It has also been found to result in large outbreaks of spider mites, since Sevin tends to kill the predators of this pest. So Sevin is of questionable value.

Bones of the Master

Read an excerpt from Bones of the Master

The Last Days of Puu Jih

October 1959: Crow Pull Mountain, Inner Mongolia

The ninth day of the tenth month. The Yellow Season. Tsung Tsai woke at three, two hours before first light. In the dry grass beyond the monastery’s stone and mud-brick walls, the last slow-dying cicadas scraped their wings.

The monk lit a candle stub and warmed his hands by its flame. The wick spat, guttered, then flared. The light flickered over his face and over the stark stone of the six- by nine-foot cell where he had lived for eighteen years. In it were his few possessions: a sleeping pad and quilted blanket roll, his rough brown robes, writing table, inkstone and brushes, a book of poems. He went to the window that looked north and west to the mountains, toward Morhgujing and the Silk Road–the ancient caravan route through the black Gobi and the Taklimakan. He could just make out the winter plum that stood beneath his window, its branches bare and its bark worn gray with blowing sand. In a few hours, the monks would pace there in walking meditation.

Tsung Tsai broke the skim of ice floating on the washbasin and splashed his face. He dried his hands and got his prayer beads from inside his robes that hung on the wall. Then he lit an eight-inch length of incense and sat. The ash still smoldered when, after meditation, he put on his robes and went downstairs to the kitchen. He finished his tea as he heard his brothers wake to the hollow clap of the night-ending gong. He listened to them wash and cough. The monks’ routine during these last days would proceed as usual. But today he would not join them. He heard the swish of their robes as they shuffled down the corridor to the temple. Then he left.

The gate in the monastery’s south wall was still closed against the world. For another day Puu Jih would remain a Ch’an Buddhist sanctuary where monks, seeking enlightenment, studied the Dharma of Mind Transmission:

Break off the way of speech. Destroy the place of thinking. Awaken the mind to no-mind. Find silence and . . . sudden understanding.

There was still no sign of dawn when Tsung Tsai pushed the gate closed behind him. He was anxious to see his teacher, so he hurried up the path that curved past the garden and the storehouse. He knew the way. He knew the sound of his feet on the trail scree and the stream falling away to the east.

He had tied his robes up around his waist for the climb. The sun at forty degrees north latitude would burn in a fierce arc, so he wore a straw hat to protect his shaved head. In a basket strapped to his back he carried the last of the millet. There was only a few days of lamp oil left in the monastery. Yesterday the monks had harvested the last of the cabbage and potatoes. The yellow beans, the wheat, and the millet were finished. China was starving. More than thirty million would die in the next two years. Only bureaucrats and rats would eat.

A decade of chaos had begun. Even in remote Mongolia and Tibet the monasteries would be smashed, books burned, and monks murdered.

When would death arrive at Puu Jih? There were stories, rumors sliding from village to village like the hunger. And then last week, late one night, a young lama from Mei Leh Geng Jau lamasery on the Ulansuhai plateau roused them from their beds with his shouting and pounding on the gate. His face was drawn white, thin as paper. His eyes were wild. He told them that the ninth patriarch, the great Ch’an master Hsu Yun, Empty Cloud, had, at the age of one hundred twenty, been hacked to death by the Communists.

At five, lighter shades began to overprint the sky. Then the stars peeled away, and Ula Shan’s black bulk and the trees on the spine of the ridge gained shape. He looked south toward his birthplace, the village where he had lived until he entered the monastery at sixteen.

Tsung Tsai was born during the hour of Shen on the eighteenth day of the third month of Kuei Hai, March 18, 1925, in Lan Huu, north of the Yellow River. The youngest of four children, he was named Pao Sheng but called San San, “the third son of the third son”–a mystical incarnation, his father liked to tell anyone who would listen.

He could remember waking in his mother’s arms and hearing the “wooden fish,” his teacher’s prayer clapper. When Shiuh Deng chanted alone in his cave, the village people said they could hear him; he whispered in their ears. They called him Red Foot Truth, after his habit of going barefoot in even the cruelest of Mongol winters. They believed he could fly.

When Tsung Tsai was eight, a mendicant monk, a bhikku, wandered into Lan Huu and set up shop under a tent umbrella. He cured the sick with his bell and crooked stick; with medicines compounded of barks, twigs, roots, and flowers, of powdered horn, bone, and gland; and with a holy potion he made by blowing sacred words, three times, into boiling water. When he left the village, Tsung Tsai followed. After a few hours, the old bhikku tired of the boy’s company and, with a shower of stones and a threatening stick, sent him running home in tears.

When Tsung Tsai was ten, his father died suddenly, and the boy ran off alone to Sand Mountain to mourn. He spent nine days walking among those wandering dunes in the wind that is called “blowing sand and running stones.” He found he could talk to the wild horses. They told him that one day he would find a lohan, a great saint, and become his disciple. Then, on the ninth day, he saw a star fall from the western sky, and he was certain that it was his father gone to the Pure Land.

Copyright© 2000 by George Crane
–From Bones of the Master : A Buddhist Monk’s Search for the Lost Heart of China, by George Crane. © George Crane used by permission.

Consider a Cutting Garden

Everyone loves to give and receive flowers. So great is their appeal, that fresh cut flowers play a role in the celebration of holidays and the milestones of family and personal life over much of the world. It is a particular luxury to have fresh flowers on display at home on a daily basis. What a delight it is to be surrounded indoors by bouquets and arrangements of fragrant, colorful blossoms -to have a bit of the garden in the house.

For gardeners the ultimate pleasure is to be able to cut flowers from their own garden to bring indoors and to give away to friends and family. Many also love to have homegrown blossoms, foliage, and seedheads handy for fresh or dried floral crafts and cooking. However, the problem is always that picking flowers from the garden reduces the floral show in the yard. It is always a tough decision whether to cut flowers for indoors or leave them on display outdoors. The perfect solution to this problem is to establish a separate cultivated area specifically as a cutting garden. Then you can have your flowers and pick them too!

Fill your cutting garden with plants that produce the flowers and foliage you love. Use it as an area to experiment with new plants and colors. Place it where it is not on public display, and indulge your fancy. Consider making it part of your vegetable garden. This is a production garden; created to be cut down, so do not worry about design correctness.

Creating a cutting garden
Create a cutting garden much the same way you initially establish a flower garden. Choose a site that receives generous sun and prepare the soil so that it drains well. Add humus in the form of compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves to improve clay or sandy soil. Create one or more beds of whatever size and shape accommodate the available space. They can be tucked into sunny spots along the back boundary, in a neglected corner, or behind the garage. By their very nature, they are transient, so they are easily changed or reconfigured next season if necessary.

While cutting gardens often look beautiful at the peak of the season, this is incidental. So, because they are not intended for display, a purely utilitarian layout makes the most sense. Then once they are established they are easier to m

aintain and require much less attention than ornamental beds. For this reason, cutting gardens usually resemble traditional vegetable gardens. They are typically planted in widely spaced rows that are easy to move through and between while planting, thinning, fertilizing, deadheading, and, of course, harvesting.

Managing a cutting garden
Be sure and mix into the soil a granular, slow-acting fertilizer at the beginning of the season. This will provide consistent, balanced nutrition to the plants over many, many weeks. Periodic doses of dilute liquid fertilizer sprayed on plant foliage will boost the energy of certain heavy

blooming plants during peak production.

Rather than interplant seeds or young transplants of many different kinds of flowers, group the species of plants for efficient use of space and easy harvest. To get maximum production, plant annuals in succession-early season, mid-season and late season bloomers grouped together. Cluster plants with similar requirements for sun, water and drainage for easier maintenance. Plant tall types together, away from where they might shade smaller ones.

To minimize watering and weeding maintenance, spread a 2 or 3 inch layer of some organic mulch on the soil around the plants in the cutting garden as soon as they are a few inches tall. It does not have to be attractive, so use whatever is inexpensive and at hand, such as chopped leaves, shredded newspaper, or straw. The mulch will discourage weeds, keep the soil moist longer, and contribute nutrients to the soil as it decomposes in the heat of summer. Add to the mulch layer if it breaks down to less than an inch. If you grow plants that are notorious selfseeders, such as spider flower (cleome), removing the mulch at the end of the season will help to clear away most of the seeds as well.

To spur and maintain flower production of annuals, pick blossoms regularly. Deadhead those that remain and become faded. This prevents them from forming seeds which slows flower production. Water about an inch per week if rainfall is unreliable. Unmulched beds will need more

frequent watering, especially in the summer. Keep a look out for aphids on tender young growth or on plants that are stressed and unhappy. Pinch infested tips off or wash the foliage with a strong stream of water from the hose. Insecticidal soap spray will take care of stubborn infestations.

As soon as the blossoms from one stand of flowers have been cut, and/or the plants begin to weaken; pull them, cultivate the bed, and plant new seedlings to provide cut flowers for the weeks to come. For instance, plant only pansies in an area for an early season supply of flowers. Then, when summer heat arrives, replace them in that area with American marigolds or zinnias.

Plants for the cutting garden
Lots of different kinds of flowering plants are suitable for a cutting garden. Long-stemmed annuals or perennials are most useful. Typically, colorful annual flowers dominate these gardens, because they are such enthusiastic bloomers. Cutting their blossoms only encourages them to produce more. All kinds of daisies are enormously popular and combine well with lots of other flowers.

Long blooming perennials have a place in the cutting garden as well as in the more formal flower border. Plants such as coral bells and fringed bleeding heart will produce flowers all season, especially if they are regularly picked. Some, such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans produce bold, bristly seedheads that are ideal for floral crafts. Of course perennials can be depended upon to bloom next seasonno need to replant that part of the cutting garden

Don’t forget foliage plants that contribute texture and color to both fresh and dried arrangements. Silverleafed artemisia varieties, lamb’s ears and herbs such as lavender contribute grayish-silver foliage that is both handsome and aromatic.

The following is a list of suggested annuals, perennials, and foliage plants. This list is just a beginning. There are certainly more cut flowers available.

Annuals for a cutting garden
[* indicates good for drying also]
Ageratum (Floss Flower)
Amaranthus caudatus (Love Lies Bleeding)
Ammi majus (Bishop’s Flower)
Bells of Ireland
Callistephus chinesis (China Aster)
Celosia, cristata (Cockscomb)*
Celosia, plumosa (Feather)*
Celosia, spicata (Wheat)*
Centaurea (Bachelors’ Button)
Cleome (Spider Flower)
Dimorphoteca sinuata (Cape Marigold)
Eustoma (Lisianthus)
Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth)*
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)*
Helichrysum (Strawflower)
Helipterium (Everlasting)
Matthiola (stock)
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
Nigella damascena (Love-fn-A Mist)
Reseda Odorata (Mignonette)
Salvia farinacea
Scabiosa (Pincushion flower)
Sweet Pea
Verbena bonariensis

Perennials for a cutting garden
Achillea (Yarrow)*
Chrysanthemum, such as Shasta Daisy
Dianthus, deltoids (Pinks)
Digitalis (Foxglove)
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
Echinops exaltatus (Globe Thistle)*
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)*
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
Poppy, Shirley or Iceland
Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
Solidago (Goldenrod)

Foliage for a cutting garden
Asparagus, densiflorus
Asparagus, sprengeri
Dusty Miller
Euphorbia (Snow on the Mountain)
Flowering Cabbage
Flowering Kale
Sage, Tri-color