Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Murphy Gives Spring Gardening Tips on MPBN’s “Maine Calling”

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Barbara Murphy, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator and gardening expert who helps beginning gardeners achieve successful harvests, was a guest on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s “Maine Calling” radio show. The show focused on spring gardening advice, and touched on topics such as annuals, perennials, container gardening, vegetables, sun, soil and pests.

Growing Garlic in Maine

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Rake Leaves or Leave Them Be?

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Barbara Murphy of UMaine Cooperative Extension was featured in a Tuesday WLBZ/WCSH television report about whether it’s advisable or necessary to rake the leaves that fall on lawns during the fall.  She says it’s a matter of personal preference, but that there does not seem to be any real advantage gained from nutrients that might be added to a lawn by letting the leaves decompose.

Maine Home Garden News — July, 2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

July is the month to . . .

By Hannah Todd, Horticulture Aide, Somerset and Piscataquis Counties,

  • Keep the vegetables coming! To get a continuous supply of vegetables during the summer and fall consider succession planting of vegetables like beans, beets, lettuce, radish, carrots, etc. Remember you can always use season extension methods later in the fall to protect crops.
  • Start/continue harvesting your early crops like lettuce, spinach, etc. Peas are typically ready for harvest around the 4th of July.
  • If you haven’t done so already, stake up tomatoes. This can help protect them from disease as they will receive better aeration. Staking will also make it easier to prune and monitor the plants.
  • Side dress vegetables, such as tomatoes and corn, as they begin to set their crops. Never add fertilizer to bone dry soils. Either water it in or add it when the soil is already moist.
  • Renovate strawberries after harvest is complete. For more information see Bulletin #2067,  Growing Strawberries.

    Squash Bug

    Squash Bug; photo by J. F. Dill

  • Check your vegetable and flower gardens for insect or disease pests at least once a week, on a dry day. Don’t know what is causing damage? Bring a sample into your local UMaine Extension county office or send us a digital picture of the problem. Also check out UMaine Extension’s pest management for homeowners Web site.
  • Fertilize annual flowering plants regularly during the summer to maintain growth.
  • Dead head flowers to maintain flowering habit during the summer.
  • Got one or more woodchucks/groundhogs wreaking havoc in your garden? Live traps work for removal and traditional wire mesh fences, buried 1 foot below ground and 3 to 4 feet above, will help deter them. They are not a game animal so shooting them is always an option, too, but be sure to check local ordinance before taking that “final” step. The USDA Wildlife Services have wildlife biologist on hand to help with homeowner questions and concerns. You can reach them at (207) 629-5181.
  • Pull weeds before they set seeds and then add mulch over the soil to reduce future weed growth and to reduce fungal disease spores from splashing onto plant foliage. The mulch will also preserve soil moisture.
  • July can be a dry month, so be prepared to water. The garden needs an inch to an inch and a half of water a week. A 10′ x 10′ garden will need 60 gallons of water. Save your back from lugging all that water—see our publication on trickle irrigation, Bulletin #2160, Trickle Irrigation: Using and Conserving Water in the Home Garden.
  • Use proper canning and freezing techniques to preserve the bounty of your garden. If you don’t know proper food preservation methods, call your local UMaine Extension county office.
  • Learn something new! Attend a UMaine Extension event. To find out what’s going on, visit our calendar.
  • Visit a garden center or demonstration garden to get some new ideas for your perennial gardens. Among others, the Augusta Arboretum and the Boothbay Botanical Gardens are worth a visit. Contact a local garden club to see if there are any demonstration/destination gardens in your hometown. You never know one could be growing right in your backyard!

The Maine Garlic Project: A Participatory Research Project
By Steven B. Johnson, Ph.D., Extension Crop Specialist, and David Fuller, Extension Agricultural Professional,

garlicGarlic is grown in every county in Maine. Much of the management information used to produce garlic ranges from myths to reality has not been generated under Maine conditions. Despite this, respectable garlic crops are produced. Better organization and quality of production data can only improve garlic.

The Maine Garlic Project is a participatory research program with gardeners and market farmers in Maine. Gardeners and market farmers will be contributing to the overall knowledge of garlic and garlic production in Maine. Specifically, goals of the Maine Garlic Project include development of optimal planting and harvest times for different areas of the state. A benefit would also be cataloging fertility used to produce the crop, raising the awareness of home-produced food. The project may add a new crop to many home gardens. Participants will buy into the program for a $5 cost-recovery fee where they will receive a garlic bulb in the mail along with planting instructions and data collection information. Data collected will be the date and location where the garlic is planted (county and town), soil test number (from the Maine Soil Test Report), any added fertility, the variety of garlic, mulching date, emergence date, maturity date, harvest date, bulb measurements, and ratings on bulb appearance and flavor. Those wishing to participate with their own garlic stock are welcome to supply information. From collected data, it is hoped that the goal of optimal planting and harvest times for different areas of the state could be developed.

Growing Garlic in Maine
By Steven B. Johnson, Ph.D., Extension Crop Specialist, and David Fuller, Extension Agricultural Professional,


Garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years and is widely used in many cultures. Hardneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) produce a flower stalk, technically, a scape, and are difficult to braid.

Soils and Fertility

Garlic will grow in almost any well-drained, friable soil, preferably with good organic matter content and a loose growing bed. Ideal pH is between 6 and 7. Garlic is a heavy feeder, requiring more than 100 pounds per acre of N P and K. This is about five tablespoons of 10-10-10 for six cloves. Incorporate the fertilizer before planting. Additional N in the spring could be added as shoots emerge and again about two to three weeks later. Add about a quarter of the preplanting rate at each spring fertilizing.


Separate individual cloves from the bulb up to two days before planting. Cloves separated for longer than two days tend to dry out. Plant the cloves with the pointed side up so the point is covered with two to four inches of soil. Planting dates range from end of September to the second week of October, from north to south, or about two weeks after the first hard freeze. Plant the cloves in a row 6 inches apart and 8 inch spacing between rows.


About four weeks after planting, cover garlic row with a two-inch to four-inch layer of mulch. Remove the mulch after the threat of hard freezes is over.


Scapes (flower stalks with small aerial bulbels) may be removed as they straighten out, perhaps as soon as they come out.

Harvesting and Curing

Harvest dates range from late June to early August, from south to north. Harvest when half or slightly more than half of the leaves remain green. The bulbs should fully be developed and well formed with a tight outer skin. Dig the garlic with a garden fork with the shoots and roots still attached. Dry the harvested plants in a dark and well-ventilated area. After about three to four weeks of curing, the shoots and roots should have dried down. Cut the tops to about one-half to one inch above the main bulb and trim the roots close to the base of the bulb.


Store the harvested garlic in the dark at 32° to 40°F with 60% to 70% relative humidity. Alternately, garlic can be stored at room temperature with 60% to 70% relative humidity. Temperatures between 42° and 52° F will cause sprouting; and humidity greater than 70% tends to promote rooting.

Recognizing and Managing Invasive Plants: Sweet Autumn Olive
By Dr. Lois Berg Stack, Extension Specialist, Ornamental Horticulture; Dr. Mary Rumpho, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Maine; and Dr. Donglin Zhang, Associate Professor of Horticulture, University of Maine. For more information, contact


Sweet autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) has long been planted by homeowners and land managers as an ornamental shrub, a hedgerow plant, and a provider of food and cover for birds. Unfortunately, over the years, it has become a highly invasive plant in New England and other regions of the United States.

sweet-autumn-oliveWhat does it look like?

Sweet autumn olive is quite distinct, particularly when it displays its fragrant flowers in June, or its colorful fruits in August-October. With a little practice, you can learn to recognize it easily even as a young seedling.

Sweet autumn olive is a twiggy shrub that reaches 12-15′ in height and width. Its leaves are bright green on top and silver-green below, 1-3 inches long, oval with a blunt or pointed tip, and they alternate along the stem. Their edges are often slightly wavy. If you look at the leaves with a hand lens, you’ll see an unusual texture: the lower leaf surfaces are covered with silvery-white scales. Few plants have this characteristic. The stems are slender and often spiny.

The shrubs reach maturity in as little as three years, at which time they produce 1/2-inch long, funnel-shaped flowers in June; these are pale yellow and highly fragrant. The fruits that develop from the flowers are 1/4″ – 1/3″ in diameter, slightly longer than broad, and juicy. If you look closely at the fruits, you’ll see another unique identifying trait: the fruits are covered with scales that look like gold-silver flecks.

How and where does sweet autumn olive invade new sites?

Birds eat sweet autumn olive fruits and distribute the seeds over long distances. Mature plants produce more than 60,000 seeds each and germination rates exceed 50%. The plants fix nitrogen, allowing them to survive in very infertile soils. They also tolerate salt, drought, and very acid soils. These facts, taken all together, explain why sweet autumn olive readily colonizes roadsides, abandoned fields, utility rights-of-way, woodland edges, and disturbed soils in landscapes.

How can I control sweet autumn olive?

No single method controls this plant. By combining the following methods, you can manage it:

  1. Do not purchase or plant this species. Scout your neighborhood; you might be able to organize a neighborhood management effort of prevention and management. Because birds carry seeds from one site to another, this is not a single-landowner problem; it’s a community problem.
  2. Learn to recognize the plant as a young seedling (see the photo in this article) and scout your property. Hand-pull young seedlings when they are easily removed from the ground. By removing them before they reach maturity, you can prevent future seed crops. Watch for the seedlings as you weed your garden.
  3. Mowing or cutting back to the ground is not effective, as sweet autumn olive readily produces new growth. However, if you are unable to eradicate the plants, you can cut back the stems before the fruits mature in the fall, thereby preventing a new crop of plants.
  4. Several herbicides are labeled to control this plant. E-mail for specific recommendations.

If I remove this plant from my landscape, what can I plant in its place?

Most people who plant sweet autumn olive value it for its rapid growth, fragrant flowers, and fruits that feed birds. Some alternatives that are native to Maine include

  • Dogwoods: Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), silky dogwood (Cornum amomum) and gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) produce abundant fruits for birds over many weeks. More than 100 birds are reported to eat gray dogweed fruits.
  • Chokeberry: Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) produces beautiful white flowers in May and black fruits that disappear quickly as birds eat them in August. As a bonus, most black chokeberries develop spectacular red/maroon/scarlet/orange fall color.
  • Winterberry: Ilex verticillata is a popular landscape plant, whose red fruits support birds in late fall and early winter.
  • Viburnums: Maine boasts seven native viburnums. While all are susceptible to viburnum leaf beetles, they are excellent landscape plants where the beetles are not problematic. Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and wild-raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides) are widely available at nurseries. [Note: while not native, two other viburnums, Burkwood viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii) and Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) produce very fragrant flowers in spring, and are much less susceptible to viburnum leaf beetles.]

Where can I find more information?

Check our fact sheet Autumn Olive / Russian Olive, Bulletin #2525.

Protecting Yourself from Ticks
By Kathy Murray, Ph.D. Entomologist, Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources,


Deer tick or black-legged tick (left); American dog tick (right)

Ticks and tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are much in the news. With good reason — the incidence of Lyme disease and its vector, the deer tick, also called the black-legged tick, have been increasing annually, with record numbers in 2010. There are about a dozen additional tick species in the state. Ticks aren’t enough to keep Mainers indoors but you should take steps to protect yourself, your family and your pets.  Here’s how.

Avoid Tick Habitat

Wooded areas with shrubby undergrowth, grassy edges adjacent to woods, and open grassy areas are favorite tick habitats. Walk in the center of wooded paths and avoid vegetation along path edges or avoid tick-infested areas when possible. Keep pets out of tick-infested areas too.

Cover Up Outdoors

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants that are tight around the wrist, ankle, and neck. Tuck pants into socks. Yes, you’ll look like a nerd, but it beats getting Lyme disease!
  • Use a repellent containing DEET according to label directions — particularly on shoes, socks, and pant legs. Avoid applying high-concentration products to the skin, especially on children.
  • People who must be in areas where ticks are prevalent may pre-treat protective clothing with a permethrin-containing product which both repels and kills ticks. Caution: this is not for use on skin; use only as directed on the label.
  • Inspect yourself, your clothing, your children, your companion, and your pets for ticks when you return indoors. Ticks often attach in body folds, behind ears, and in the hair. If possible, shower and wash clothes immediately. Heat drying is effective in killing ticks.
  • To protect pets, consult your veterinarian about tick repellents or, in high risk areas, the Lyme vaccine for dogs.

Create a Tick-Safe Zone Around Your Home

Tick numbers can be reduced by making simple landscape changes to your property.

  • In transition area between lawn and woods, keep a well-manicured border. Trim back tree branches that overhang the lawn. Clear out low brush, vines and leaf litter. Keep weeds cut. Install a wood chip, mulch or gravel barrier where your lawn meets the woods. The dry barrier makes it more difficult for the ticks to migrate.
  • Reduce habitat for small mammals such as mice that support tick populations by clearing away brush, leaf litter, fallen trees and rocks each year. Compost or bag and remove leaf litter. Avoid use of ground cover vegetation in frequently used areas. Place woodpiles far from the house.
  • Mow grass and brush low (3-4″).
  • Move bird feeders away from areas where people and pets play. Don’t feed birds in spring and summer. Birds and rodents (that feed on spilled feed) carry ticks.
  • Select deer-resistant flowers, shrubs or trees (see Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance, Rutgers: New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station) to keep deer and their hitchhiking ticks away.

Removal of Ticks

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool (readily available at stores) to remove attached ticks. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove mouthparts with tweezers.
  • Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious organisms.
  • Do not handle the tick with bare hands because infectious agents may enter through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.
  • Apply antiseptic to the bite and wash hands with soap and water.
  • Consult a physician if you remove an engorged tick. Save the tick for identification in a small vial of alcohol. Medical care should be sought when a person is bitten by a deer tick or is exhibits Lyme disease symptoms.

For More Information:

Maine Home Garden News — May, 2010

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

May is the month to . . .
By Dr. Lois Berg Stack, Extension Specialist, Ornamental Horticulture

  • Check temperatures to determine planting dates. Use a soil thermometer to track the temperature of the soil in your vegetable garden. Insert the thermometer probe to the depth you will sow seeds (1-2″). Test the temperature in the morning. When the soil temperature reaches 45°F for at least three consecutive days, you can confidently direct-seed these vegetables: broccoli, spinach, peas, lettuce, carrots, beets, onions. When soil temperature reaches 50°F, you can direct-seed these vegetables: radish, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard. When the soil temperature reaches 60°F, you can direct-seed these crops: beans, corn. When the soil temperature reaches 70°F, you can direct-seed these crops: cucumber, pumpkin, squash, pumpkins, melons.
  • coldframeHarden off seedlings before planting. If you’ve grown your own seedlings indoors, it is important to acclimate, or harden, them. You can do this in any of these ways: (1) Set seedlings outside during the day and bring them indoors each night. (2) Put seedlings into a coldframe. (3) If you have a high tunnel or hoops covered with plastic, put the seedlings inside them. Whichever method you use, acclimate your young plants for 10-14 days before planting them into your garden. During this time, check the plants daily, and water and fertilize them normally. If you purchase your seedlings, ask if they’ve been hardened off.
  • Make sure all your tools are functional. Sharpen pruning shears, loppers, and saws. Inflate the tires of your garden carts and wheelbarrows. Sharpen lawn mower blades. Repair leaks in hoses, replace hardened or missing washers, and replace leaky spray nozzles.
  • Inspect before buying! Inspect straw and other mulch materials before purchasing them, to be sure they do not contain excessive weed seeds and are not moldy. Do the same for loam and topsoil. Check the root balls of trees and shrubs, to make sure they do not contain weeds that you could transplant into your garden, or European fire ants that could become established in your landscape.
  • Plant some cut flowers. Even if you haven’t grown cut flower seedlings, you can grow cut flowers for very little money. Try gladioli; plant several corms every ten days from late May through late June for a continual supply of cut flowers from midsummer through early fall. Direct-seed zinnias, perhaps the most productive cut flowers, in late May or early June. Direct-seed calendulas now; they can be used as colorful cut flowers or as additions to salads and herbal vinegars.
  • Keep records of plant performance. Start with your spring bulbs. Even daffodils decline after several years, and need to be dug up, divided, and replanted. Assess your bulbs as they flower this spring. Mark with a stake in the garden, or make a note on your garden map, any bulb plantings that need to be divided this fall.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after their flowers fade. Forsythia, rhododendron, fothergilla, lilac, and flowering almond are among the shrubs that flower in spring. After you’ve enjoyed their display, prune them for form (check Bulletin #2169, “Pruning Woody Landscape Plants” for information about timing, techniques, and tools). They’ll have the rest of the summer to produce vigorous new growth, plus flower buds for next spring.
  • Fertilize your lawn, but only if needed. If your soil test results recommend fertilizing, early May is a good time to do it. Apply not more than one pound of fertilizer per 1000 square feet of lawn. When shopping, look for a lawn fertilizer with at least 50% of its nitrogen in slow-release form, and with little or no phosphorus. Most home lawns in Maine do not need supplemental phosphorus, which can run off into lakes and streams where it causes serious problems. And remember … all summer long you can fertilize your lawn by using a mulching mower that returns the clippings to the lawn, allowing you to reduce the fertilizer you need to buy by one-third.
  • Manage your vegetables for high yield. Thin carrots to one-inch spacing, so that they have room to mature. Also thin lettuce, spinach and beets. Harvest radishes before the heat of summer. Mulch new vegetable plantings with straw to conserve water and reduce weed growth.
  • Use the “Early Detection/Rapid Response” method to manage invasive plants. Learn to identify invasive plants as young seedlings, and remove them promptly. Multiflora rose, shrub honeysuckle, and sweet autumn olive plants are easy to pull out when they’re young seedlings. If you wait until they’re large plants, the process is more time-consuming and causes more disruption to your plantings.

Deer in My Garden!
By Donna Coffin, Extension Educator, UMaine Extension, Piscatiquis County,


Illustration by Cindy Eves-Thomas

A few weeks ago, you spent some time tilling your garden spot and planted a large crop of peas and beans. Last year you remember that just before they started to blossom, deer came into your garden and ate all your nice succulent, tender young peas and bean plants leaving you empty handed.  What can you do to prevent this from happening this year as you look out through the kitchen window at a herd of five deer waiting at the garden’s edge for the plants to get big enough for them to eat?


Although building a fence isn’t always feasible, fences are the best deer deterrent. Many kinds of fences have been designed to exclude deer and each has advantages and disadvantages. Factors to consider include cost, appearance, the size of the area to be enclosed, and the degree of control required. Few are 100 percent effective.

For a small garden patch, a four-foot high fence, or snow fence will work because deer avoid small, fenced-in areas. For a larger lawn or garden, a fence made of wire angled away from the yard creates both a psychological and physical barrier. Deer hesitate to jump over something in which they fear they may become entangled. The fence should be six feet high and have a 30 degree angle to be effective.  Also, wire mesh fence with 6″ x 6″ openings (used in cement floors) laid on the ground around a garden can deter deer, again for fear of getting their feet entangled in the wire.

Electric fencing with a low impedance charger is used frequently by vegetable, small fruit, and tree fruit growers. Strips of aluminum foil smeared with peanut butter affixed to electric fencing lure deer to the fence where they lick the peanut butter and get a shock. Electric fences attached to a higher voltage charger can deter deer because they can hear the hum of the charge through the wires without touching them. However, electric fences may not be suitable for all areas, especially when children are present.
For more information about electric fences and how to build them, see the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (Cornell University, Clemson University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Utah State University).


Some people claim to get good results with repellents. But there are many kinds of repellents and results seem to vary from place to place and from year to year. Contact repellents are applied to the plants, causing them to taste bad. Some repellents are simply placed in the problem area where their foul odor has a repellent effect. Six repellents were tested in a recent Connecticut study. Generally, repellents were more effective on less preferred plants. Here are the findings:

  • Big Game Repellent, also known as Deer Away, made from putrescent (rotten) whole egg solids was 46 percent effective.
  • Hinder, made from ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids, was 43 percent effective.
  • Thiram, a bitter tasting fungicide, now commonly used in repellents, was 43 percent effective.
  • Mesh bags of human hair, collected from hair styling shops, was found to be 34 percent effective. (Hair should be dirty, not collected after a shampoo.)
  • Magic Circle deer repellent, a bone tar oil which was soaked into 10 by 30 cm. burlap pieces, was 18 percent effective.
  • Miller Hot Sauce, containing capsicum, an extract of hot peppers, was 15 percent effective.
  • Repellex is another recently introduced deer repellent for ornamental plants. It comes in two forms. One is a liquid which is sprayed on the foliage. The other is a dry product with a fertilizer analysis of 14-2-2. This form is a systemic repellent. It is worked into the soil surface and then watered in. The plants absorb the repellent, and one treatment is said to be effective for up to two years.

Some people believe that blood meal deters deer. Others claim to get results by tying pieces of deodorant soap on the branches of trees. A large bar is cut into about six pieces and each piece is placed in a mesh bag. Heavily perfumed soap is preferred. Non-deodorant soap does not seem to work as well. Predator urine and manure are sometimes used to deter deer.

Here is a home made repellent to try: Blend two eggs and a cup or two of cold water at high speed. Add this mixture to a gallon of water and let it stand for 24 hours. Then spray the mixture on foliage. The egg mixture does not wash off the foliage easily, but re-application two or three times a season may be needed. (For a larger quantity, blend a dozen eggs into 5 gallons of water.) This mix is also said to repel rabbits.

Scare tactics

The effectiveness of light and noise scare tactics are usually temporary, but some people vouch for the “scarecrow” brand sprinkler which uses a motion detector to blast intruders (anything moving) with water. It costs $80-$100, depending on the source.


Hunting is the primary means of controlling Maine’s deer population as a whole. If you are not a deer hunter yourself and you live in a rural area, let the local game warden know you are having problems with deer and they can direct hunters to your area during deer season to help reduce the population of deer.

Deer resistant plants

People often ask for lists of plants that deer will not eat. There are many such lists, but they are not entirely reliable because deer eat almost any plants when they are hungry enough. See Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance (Rutgers) for a list of “deer resistant” plants.


Beth Jarvis, B. & D. Bavero, Coping With Deer In Home Landscapes, Yard & Garden Brief, University of Minnesota Extension Service, 2000,

Craven, S. & S. Hygnstrom, Deer, Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management,

Drake, D., P. Nitzsche, & P. Perdomo, Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance, E271,  Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension, 4/25/2003.

How to Rejuvenate Your Old, Overgrown Lilac
By Marjorie Peronto, Extension Educator, Hancock County,

Are you getting ready to prune an old fashioned lilac that has become completely overgrown? I’m talking about that dense shrub with stems as thick as small trees interspersed with suckers of all sizes; the shrub that is now reaching 15′ to 20′ tall, with all of its blossoms swaying way above your head.  How do you rein it in?

The first thing to think about is timing. If you are like me, you do most of your pruning work in the late winter/early spring, when trees and shrubs are dormant and bare naked, so you can really see what you are doing.  BUT, the flower buds that are on your lilac right now were formed last summer.  They made it through the winter and are now ready to burst forth. If you had pruned your lilac during this past dormant season, you would have removed part of this spring’s floral display. For that reason, many people wait until just after their lilac has finished flowering, then break out the pruning tools.  Once the flowers have faded, lilacs will start setting next year’s flower buds almost immediately, so don’t wait too long or you’ll sacrifice next year’s flowers.

If your plant is seriously overgrown, it may take you a few years to bring it back to a manageable size. Start by removing any dead, damaged or diseased wood that you see (“the three Ds”).  Once you’ve cleaned these out, look for the thickest, oldest stems, and remove them at ground level. Do not take out more than 1/3 of the shrub’s stems in any given year. This approach will accomplish a few things. It will make a noticeable reduction in the shrub’s height, as the oldest stems also tend to be the tallest. It will open the plant up, allowing for better air circulation and sunlight penetration. And it will stimulate the growth of vigorous new shoots which will bear flowers within sniffing range in future years. Most lilac flowers are produced on the top or terminal pair of buds. As branches age and get taller, flowers are produced farther and farther away from our noses.

Once you’ve removed the three Ds and some of the oldest stems, fine tune your pruning by removing the pencil-thin suckers and twiggy growth coming up from the base of the plant.  Leave the vigorous, healthy looking young shoots. Within a couple of years, these should be flowering. When pruning, keep an eye out for crossing, rubbing branches as well, as these will eventually result in wounds in the bark as they grow in diameter. Wounds are openings for disease organisms to enter the plant.

Plan to prune your lilac once a year to keep it thriving, removing no more than one third of the oldest, thickest stems.  Strive for a plant with 8 to 12 stems of various ages, all between 1″ and 2″ in diameter.

Earlier and Increased Yields by Using Plastic Mulches and Row Covers
By Mark Hutton, Extension Educator, Highmoor Farm,

Plastic mulch alone or in combination with row covers can be of great benefit in the home vegetable garden increasing earliness, yield, and quality. The benefits to using plastic mulch in the garden include

  • soil warming
  • decreased weed competition
  • moisture management
  • reduced nutrient leaching
  • disease reduction
  • decreased soil compaction

Row covers also increase early yield and provide frost protection and act as a barrier to insect attack.

Perhaps the most important benefit of plastic mulch is the increase in soil temperatures. Black plastic mulch can produce soil temperatures up to 5°F warmer at a depth of 2 inches compared to bare soil. In order to achieve maximum soil warming the plastic mulch should be in good contact with the soil surface and stretched tightly. Black plastic mulch warms the soil by physically conducting the heat into the soil. The soil remains warm because the mulch prevents radiant cooling trapping the heat in the soil. Clear plastic mulch increases soil temperature to an even greater extent (7-14°F over bare soil) than black plastic mulch by allowing solar energy to directly warm the soil. Clear mulches have the disadvantage in that sufficient light passes thorough the plastic to allow for weed growth.   Infrared transmitting mulches (referred to as IRT mulch) are green in color and are a compromise between black and clear plastic – warmer than black (6-10°F over bare soil) but not weedy like clear mulch.

Plastic mulches are put in place in the early part of the growing season when there is plenty of soil moisture. In most soils, the combination of adequate soil moisture when the plastic is put in place and lateral movement of moisture in the soil is sufficient for most crop needs. Supplemental irrigation can be provided by water in the plants through the planting hole or by installing trickle irrigation tubes under the plastic. Plastic mulch creates a physical barrier to weed growth. Organic mulches can serve this purpose.  However, organic mulches such as straw or grass clippings can actually reduce soil temperatures and delay harvest. Covering the soil in the garden with mulch reduces the amount of nutrient leaching from rainfall. Fertilizer applications can be reduced through banded fertilizer application under the mulch putting the fertilizer right where the plant needs it rather than broadcasting over the entire garden. Plastic mulches help reduce diseases in two ways. First, covering the soil surface around the crop can prevent disease organisms from splashing up from the soil onto the lower portions of the plant during rainfall. Additionally, mulches are a barrier between fruit and the soil which reduces fruit rots in crops like cucumber and melons.

spun row coverRow covers can be used in combination with plastic mulch to further increase earliness and yield. Row covers are used in two ways: as “floating covers” loosely applied right over the crop or held up off the crop in mini-tunnels. Floating row covers are woven or spun bonded polypropylene or polyester fabric. Row covers come in different weights (thickness) and sizes. The heavier covers can provide significant frost protection (down to 28°F) and are especially useful to extend the harvest of cool season crops late into the fall. Lighter covers are used in the spring and summer to increase temperatures around the plant and also as physical barriers protecting crops from several types of insect pests. Leafy crops like salad greens, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli benefit from the use of row covers in the early season and in the fall. Warm season fruited crops like cucumbers, squash, and melons show great response to the use of row covers and mulches. However, the covers must be removed at flowering to allow for pollination of the crop. Mini-tunnels are created using heavy (9 gauge) wire hoops arched over the crop and then covers with silted clear plastic or fabric row cover. Mini-tunnels will work for all the garden crops.  If you choose to use row covers with tomato, pepper, or eggplant mini-tunnels are essential. These crops grow fine under “floating” row covers, but yields will be delayed or reduced due to the abrasion of the “floating” cover rubbing on the plant, damaging the flowers. Row covers are a valuable addition to your garden “tool” box and with careful handling and storage can be used over several seasons.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information. Subscribe for free via Really Simple Syndication (RSS), which will automatically alert you when there’s been an update

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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around the state, with Professor Richard Brzozowski serving as editor.

Low Tunnel Production for Home Gardeners

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

spun row coversLow tunnels are an inexpensive, effective way for gardeners to extend the growing season, keep pests off crops, and improve growing conditions by providing a relatively sheltered environment. Using floating row covers and electrical conduit, gardeners can quickly build their own low tunnels. But that metal electrical conduit needs to be bent into an arc — not an easy task. To help, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Waldo County offers a low tunnel pipe-bending program.

To use the pipe bender, growers can call the UMaine Extension Waldo County office at 1-800-287-1426 (in Maine). We have 6-foot-wide and 4-foot-wide pipe benders available, which will be mounted on a secure surface if you want to bring your pipes to bend during office hours. We recommend that growers use 1/2 inch electrical metal conduit purchased in 10-foot lengths for the pipes in low tunnel construction. The UMaine Extension Waldo County office is on Route 137 in Waldo, adjacent to the Waldo County Technical Center.

The low tunnel “pipe bending lending” program idea was hatched at Rural Living Day, which was held in April at Unity College and featured a session on building and using low tunnels.

To learn more about the process, visit or call Rick Kersbergen at the UMaine Extension Waldo County office at 1-800-287-1426.

Maine Home Garden News — March, 2010

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

seedlingsMarch Is the Month To . . .

By Hannah Todd, Horticulture Aide, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Somerset & Piscataquis Counties,

  • Purchase seeds from a reliable source.
  • Start seedlings according to their temperature requirements (soil and air) and growing schedule.
  • Start plants such as head and leaf lettuce, celery, onions, pansy, and geraniums. By mid to late March, it is safe to start peppers, tomatoes, ageratum, and alyssum, to name just a few.
  • Take care while watering seedlings. If you have chlorinated water, allow water to sit in an open container for 24 hours before use.
  • Provide seedlings with adequate light (14 to 16 hours a day).
  • Wash pots with a 10 percent bleach to water solution.
  • Prune fruit trees and certain shrubs. Typically, shrubs that flower after June should be pruned in the late winter/early spring, but it is important to know what stage of bud development the shrub is in before you prune! Keep in mind the rudimentary three “D’s” when pruning: remove damaged, diseased, and dead branches.
  • Check fruit tree trunks for mice, voles and rabbit damage.
  • Prune raspberries and blueberries before the buds break.  See article on pruning in this issue.
  • Transplant cold-hardy vegetables (greens) to cold frames or hoop houses.
  • Plant greens and root crop seeds directly in cold frames or hoop houses.
  • Wait until your garden spot has dried before tilling. Tilling wet soils destroys soil structure and causes clumps of soil to form, which makes general gardening practices hard to perform (seeding, hoeing, etc.).
  • Attend your local Maine Maple Sunday event (always the 4th Sunday in March).
  • Clean your magnifying glass and get ready to look for spring pests. The lily leaf beetle will be showing up in April!
  • Start cleaning up perennial beds as the snow leaves by removing debris from last season.
  • Rake out mole hills on your lawn with a hard rake.
  • Consider starting a garden journal this year by keeping track of your garden related activities and items such as temperatures, tree bud break, bulb emergence, wildlife sightings, etc.

girl peeks into bucket that is collecting maple sapHow to Tap Sugar Maple Trees

By Kathy Hopkins, Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Somerset County,

No one really knows who discovered how to make syrup and sugar from the sap of a maple tree. However, we know that maple syrup was an important commodity in the North American Indian economy. Maple syrup and sugar were used for barter by Indians living along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

How Much Syrup Can I Get?

The yield of sap varies much with the method of tapping, the size of the tree, and seasonal differences. Sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum), also known as rock or hard maple, are usually the best producers. Red maples (Acer rubrum) also provide sweet sap. Sugar content can also vary by time of day. It may be high in the morning and lower in the afternoon.

What Happens in the Tree?

In the later summer and fall, maple trees stop growing and begin storing excess starches throughout the sapwood. This excess starch remains in storage as long as the wood remains colder than about 40 degrees F. Whenever wood temperatures reach around 40 degrees F, enzymes change the starches to sugars, largely sucrose. This sugar then passes into the tree sap.

As the temperature increases to about 45 degrees F, the enzymes stop functioning and sugar is no longer produced. In late March and April, depending on the weather, the sugar changes back to starch.

How to Do It

A tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter, measured at 4-1/2 feet above the ground, before tapping. Trees between 10 and 20 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap per tree. A second tap may be added to trees between 20 and 25 inches in diameter. Trees over 25 inches in diameter can sustain three taps. No tree should ever have more than three taps. The shape and size of the crown are also important. Trees with large crowns extending down towards the ground are usually the best sap producers.

Step 1: Drill the hole using a drill bit with a diameter of 7/16 inch, at a convenient height and two inches deep if you are using standard size spouts. If you are using small taps (5/16 inch), or the health spout (19/64 inch), use the corresponding drill bit size and drill the taphole only 1-1/2 inches deep. Look for unblemished bark. Do not bore closer than two feet directly over or under a former taphole or closer than six inches from the side of an old taphole. Drill the taphole with a slight upward angle so the sap flows out readily. Use a sharp drill bit to minimize rough wood in the taphole, which can reduce sap yield and cause sap quality problems.

Step 2: Tap in the spout so that it is tight and cannot be pulled out by hand. Don’t drive it in so hard that you split the tree. Tap on warm days when the temperature is above freezing to minimize the risk of splitting the tree.

Step 3: Hang your bucket or container on the hook of the spout if it is a purchased one; or, if you have made your own, fashion a length of wire to serve as a hanger. Be sure to cover the bucket to keep out rain, snow and foreign material.

Step 4: To boil sap, use a hobby-sized evaporator, an outdoor gas range or an outdoor fireplace. Prepare to boil the sap by making sure your selected fuel is ready in ample supply, and having a large pan or series of pans ready for the sap. (Do not plan to cook the syrup indoors on the stove, without a stove vent fan or a dehumidifier. Boiling sap creates a lot of steam.)

Step 5: Once the sap has started to run and you have collected enough to fill your pan for boiling, you are ready for the fire. Do not fill your pan to the top, as it will boil over.  A bit of butter or vegetable oil rubbed on the rim will often prevent boiling over.  As the sap boils down, keep adding more sap. Keep the sap at least 1-1/2 inches deep in the pan, or it may burn. You can pour cold sap right into boiling sap, or you can preheat it. It will take a lot of boiling to make syrup. Never leave boiling sap over a wood fire unattended. Sap can quickly boil away and burn the pan.

Step 6: Do not leave an accumulation of sap in the collection buckets, especially in warm weather. Sap is like milk: it will sour if left in the sun. Keep the sap in cold storage. Boil it as soon as you can.

Step 7: Sap becomes finished maple syrup when it reaches 66-67% sugar content and 7.1 degrees F above the temperature of boiling water. You can learn the boiling point of water, which varies depending on your elevation and the barometric pressure, by measuring the temperature of the raw sap when it begins a rolling boil. A syrup or candy thermometer is very useful. If you have a large operation, you might consider using a syrup hydrometer and testing cup to tell you when the syrup is done. Concentrations below 66% sugar content can sour over time. If the syrup is boiled above the 67% density of syrup, sugar crystals can form in the bottom of storage containers. Using a hydrometer is an accurate method of determining sugar concentration.

Step 8: When the syrup has reached the correct density and temperature, filter it to remove “sugar sand” before you hot-pack it in containers. Filter the syrup while it is still hot, through clean filter material such as wool or Orlon™, available from maple equipment dealers. If you don’t have filter material, you may put the syrup in a container and let it cool for 12 hours or more. The sediment will settle to the bottom and the clear syrup can be carefully poured off. This should be reheated to 180 degrees F (almost boiling) before it is poured into sterile containers for final storage.

Step 9: Syrup should be canned hot (180 degrees F). Pour the hot syrup into sterilized canning jars and seal. Fill them full so that very little air will be in the jar. Lay them sideways while cooling for a better seal.

Step 10: Store your syrup in a cool, dry place, with the jars turned on their sides to coat the air space at the top of the jar. After a container has been opened for use, it must be refrigerated. Should mold form on syrup that has been stored for several months, discard the syrup because of the possibility of contamination by microorganisms that may cause a food borne illness.

Step 11: After the season is over, clean your equipment with plenty of hot water and a solution of one part chlorine to 20 parts water. Use a brush or cloth to scrub any buildup or scum and triple-rinse with hot water. Never use soaps or detergents on any equipment, as these will leave a residue that will   contaminate the syrup with off flavors. Wash  filters with hot water only, as residues cannot be rinsed out of most filters. Store the equipment in a dry area.
You may want to visit a commercial maple producer to pick up tips on how to make syrup. Many producers hold open houses during the spring and will welcome your questions.  To see what sugarhouses are open near you visit and click on Maine Maple Sunday.

How to Prune Blueberry Bushes

Excerpted from Growing Highbush Blueberries, Bulletin #2253, prepared by David T. Handley, Extension vegetable and small fruit specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Blueberry bushes should be pruned every year to in order to keep them producing high yields of good quality fruit. Prune the plants when they are fully dormant during the late winter or early spring (January-March). For the first two years after planting, simply remove any dead branches and all weak, spindly growth. For plants that have been established for three years or more follow these four steps:

  1. Prune out any weak, low-growing or diseased canes.
  2. Prune out all canes that are over six years old (these are usually the thickest canes, which are gray in color with peeling bark). Blueberry canes tend to be less productive once they get more than six years old and should be pruned out in favor of younger, more productive canes. Cut the old canes to the ground level unless new cane growth has been sparse, in which case leave a four to eight inch stub above the ground.  New canes may sprout from these stubs.
  3. Thin the remaining canes, leaving those with the most vigorous shoot growth (long, thick branches with good fruit buds). Leave six to seven vigorous two to five-year-old canes and two or three one-year-old canes per bush.  A mature blueberry plant should have six to ten healthy canes varying in age from one to six years old.
  4. Remove any weak fruiting shoots on the remaining canes, especially those under six inches in length. Most fruit is produced on vigorous one-year-old shoots on healthy two to five year old canes.  The fruit buds on these shoots are large and teardrop shaped. Each bud will produce a cluster of five to eight flowers.  The shoots also have smaller, pointed buds that will produce leaves.

diagram showing how to prune a shrub

How to Prune Raspberries

Dormant pruning of raspberries should be left until the late winter or early spring. The first step in the pruning process is to remove canes that have emerged outside of the desired one and a half foot row width. This narrow row width will assure adequate light penetration and air circulation to promote healthy cane growth and reduce disease problems. Next, remove all of the old canes that fruited the previous summer. These have gray, peeling bark and branches (they are dead and won’t fruit again). Also remove any canes that are showing signs of insect or disease injury. Only the most vigorous canes, those with the greatest height and basal diameter, should be left in the row. Thinning should continue until only four to five canes per foot of row length is attained. These remaining canes should be attached to the trellis wires. Finally, all of the prunings should be removed from the field.  These may harbor diseases and insects that may attack the healthy canes.

diagram showing how to thin raspberry canes

For more information about pruning and growing raspberries, see Growing Raspberries and Blackberries, Bulletin #2066, prepared by David T. Handley, vegetable and small fruit specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.