In our continued efforts to provide educational outreach, the Baltimore County Master Gardeners (BCMG), volunteers who are part of the University of Maryland Extension, offer this newest installment in our monthly newsletters designed to provide timely, informative articles to assist you in your gardening activities.
This month as we prepare for the fall planting we offer some timely information. How about perennial vegetables? Do you like flowers? Try planting Tulips and Narcissus. Get to know the good bugs that help us.
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Mix It Up! Perennial Vegetables
by Deana Karras, Baltimore County Master Gardener
Most of us plan our gardens each year with abundant annual vegetables to harvest and enjoy. There are, however, several perennial vegetables you may want to consider adding to the mix, some familiar and others, perhaps, less so.
Perennial vegetables have some attractive benefits: they tend to be low maintenance, are generally easy to cultivate, high-yielding, and often more pest and disease resistant than their annual brethren. On the downside, they can be slow to establish and, if they do succumb to disease, will often need to be removed.
One critical consideration in planting perennial vegetables is location. These are perennials and once established some will not be easy to relocate or, as in the case of sunchokes, to eradicate, so site them thoughtfully. And be certain to clear away any perennial weeds before planting.
Following are just a few selections for Maryland, ones I have personal experience growing. The most comprehensive and enlightening reference by far is Eric Toensmeier’s Perennial Vegetables (2007, Chelsea Green Publishing), which offers a fascinating window into the many options available for our area.
Yes, rhubarb is a vegetable although we use it more like a fruit, sweetened in pies and sauces. (An annual rhubarb crisp endeared my neighbors to me!) It is the stalks we cut and use as the leaves and even though much of the flower heads are toxic to people and animals.
Root crowns should be sited in full sun with ample space (plant 3 feet apart) as the clumps can grow to be 3-5 feet wide. Rhubarb really prefers cold climates and our z7 is about as far south as it will happily grow. A heavy feeder, it is good to provide extra nutrients with compost annually. Once mature, the attractive large-leafed clumps can be divided for propagation, which should be done every few years to re-energize the plant. Two or three plants will keep you in pies (but try it in savory stews and soups, too). Some growers recommend removing the showy flower stalks once they open. To harvest, twist or cut the stalk at the base and be certain to remove all of the leaves. Rhubarb will die to the ground in winter and in early spring you will see its lovely red buds swelling up from the earth. And you will know it is spring!
Ramps (allium tricoccum)
Here it is, an easy-to-grow shade-loving vegetable that also happens to be delicious! Often referred to as wild leeks, ramps are native to eastern and central North America. These early spring bulbs have wide leaves compared to most onions, growing to about 10” long. They die back with the coming of summer.
Ramps are found in the wild in moist deciduous forests. They prefer rich, moist soil, much like woodland humus, and form small clumps that can slowly spread to form large colonies. Harvest the whole plant leaving some bulbs for next year, or simply harvest some leaves. The smallish bulbs are like onions or garlic, the leaves like scallions or leeks.
Ramps are being over-harvested in the wild. This is yet another good reason to start your own colony (and move some into that forested land nearby).
Sunchoke (helianthus tuberosus)
Also known as Jerusalem artichoke (although neither an artichoke or from Jerusalem, go figure). These edible tubers are native to northeastern North America. Sunchokes grow 6-10 feet tall with cheery sunflower-like blooms in full sun or light shade. If sited in a wind prone area they will need support, or you can prune them back by a third to encourage bushier growth.
Sunchokes are very productive. Some varieties have knobby tubers while others are smoother (and easier to clean). They are sweet to the taste and rather nutty when roasted. Anything you can do with potatoes you can probably do with sunchokes. Harvest annually leaving some pieces of tubers with eyes 1-3 feet apart for next year’s crop. The flavor is best after a hard frost. A word about inulin: sunchoke tubers are high in inulin, a type of starch, which is not digestible by humans and can cause gas. Some people do not tolerate it well. Inulin does increase the ability to absorb calcium.
Here is where caution is required! Left to their own devices sunchokes will form large colonies - they are best treated like a mint using containing methods. I grew mine in a large raised bed and they gave me more tubers than I could use and a glorious mass of tall yellow flowers.
Cardoons (cynara cardunculus)
Found in the wild all along the Mediterranean, cardoons are more popular as a food crop in Southern Europe and North Africa where they are native. They are related to globe artichokes but are grown for the edible stalks rather than the flower heads, which taste like artichokes and are used like celery. Their dramatic spiny silvery foliage and beautiful thistle-like flowers, however, have earned them a place in many gardens. Perhaps as architectural interest in a border? Bonus: Deer won’t touch them.
Cardoons do best in full sun and well-drained soil, although they tolerate some light shade. Start them from seed 6-8 weeks before the last frost and transplant them after the last frost date. The first year they can grow 3-5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so plan some space. Plants have about a five-year productive life span. They can be divided in spring.
For eating, the stalks are usually blanched (protected from sunlight), to make them more tender and easier to cook, in the fall. This is done by tying the plant into a bundle and wrapping it with cardboard or newspaper to 18 inches then leaving it alone for a month. Hill up the soil around the stems. Cut the stalks off at ground level. Alternatively, you can harvest just some of the fleshy leaf stalks. Clean the leafy bits from the stalk (it will look like a celery stalk), peel away the outer skin, and parboil them before using in recipes to mitigate any bitterness.
Asparagus (asparagus officinalis)
Last on this list but probably the most widely known and loved perennial vegetable: asparagus. This edible shoot is a native of Eurasia but has naturalized throughout North America.
Asparagus can live for 15 years and longer, so situate it thoughtfully. (I well remember helping my dad pull out an ancient asparagus bed as a kid. Suffice to say it involved a tractor and chains.) It requires full sun and good drainage. Annual applications of compost or well-rotted manure keep it productive and plentiful water all season will keep it happy. It is easy to grow from seed but generally, year-old rooted crowns are planted in early spring to speed the time to harvest. Plant them 15-18 inches apart in wide beds or rows, with 4-5 feet between rows. All male varieties will not seed (females have berries) and tend to be more productive and disease-resistant. A broad selection of asparagus are available including lovely purple varieties (white spears are blanched).
Spears develop from the underground crowns in early spring. Do not harvest at all in year one and harvest lightly in years two and three. Spears should be snapped off or cut at 6-8 inches. After 8-10 weeks let the spears grow. They will form a lovely, tall, fern-like frond. After frost the foliage will yellow and at this point they can be cut down to 2 inches. Asparagus can have a number of pests and diseases. Purchase resistant varieties, keep patches weeded, and remove all foliage after frost for best prevention.
These are but a few of the interesting options available to you!
For more information on asparagus: https://extension.umd.edu/resource/asparagus.
Photos Getty Images; asparagus in dew my own.
Fall Planting Spring Beauty
By Norman Cohen, Baltimore County Master Gardener
“Article appeared first in the October 2018 issue, JMORE Magazine, JMORE's website”, Reprinted with permission.
In October until the ground freezes, late winter and spring flowering bulbs can be planted. The term bulb is generic and applies to true bulbs, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and lilies; corms, crocuses; tubers, anemones and rhizomes, irises.
Bulbs have a long history. Cretan frescoes and vases, dated to 1600, B.C. are decorated with iris and lily motifs. In 17th century Netherlands, the prestige of tulips increased among wealthy Dutch burghers who invested heavily which created stock market-like speculation. In 1637 the market crashed, investors who had bought without the assets to back up their purchases were instantly bankrupted. Although a financial catastrophe for many, the foundation for a thriving tulip bulb industry in Holland commenced.
Sometime in late August, a myriad of bulbs start appearing at the box stores, garden centers and the delivery of mail-order bulb catalogs to your house. The best bulb selection and highest quality although more expensive is through specialty bulb catalogs. You can order as late as October through catalog and have them delivered at the optimum time of planting in October or November. When purchasing at the local level, the bulbs should be plump and firm, bulbs available at the proper planting time. Avoid shriveled or light weight; soft or squashy, those that appear damaged from digging, ones with mold and discoloration
Large hybrid tulips come in every possible color; grow from 6 inches to over 3 feet; March to May flowering; single to double flowers; grown as annuals; suitable for containers. Planted in clumps, masses, drifts or in containers. Species or species hybrid tulips have an informal appearance, grow on 6 to 10 inch stems, flowers are red, yellow and white, grown as a perennial in our climate zone, lend themselves to rock gardens or in the front of mixed beds.
All “daffodils”, “jonquils” and “narcissus” are all properly Narcissus. In garden terms “daffodil” refers only to the large-flowered varieties, while “narcissus” describe small flowered, usually early flowering and bear four or more flowers on one stem. Jonquils have small fragrant blossoms which are borne in clusters of 2 to 6 on one stem and grow to a height of one foot. All Narcissus have 6 outer petals (the perianth) and a central structure which forms an elongated tube or a shallower cuplike structure called the corona. The Royal Horticultural Society of England has developed 12 divisions. Daffodils and other Narcissus can be planted under deciduous trees and shrubs, beneath ground covers, clumped naturalized and containers.
With the purchase, a planting guide is attached to the packaging with the following information: light requirements, planting depth, planting space between each bulb, watering and soil conditions
The soil should be prepared with the addition of organic matter: well-rotted manure or compost to improve drainage in heavy clay soils
The bulbs can be planted in groups of odd numbers or spread out to naturalize
Tulip bulbs are eaten by chipmunks and squirrels. The bulbs should be place in a makeshift basket in a makeshift made out of chicken wire especially bulbs planted in containers. Deer will eat emerging tulip flowers. Spray with deer repellent.
All parts of the Daffodils are poisonous and do not need to be protected
Photos -public domain
Five Good Insects for Your Fall Garden by Maureen M. Larkin, Baltimore County Master Gardener
While it’s true that we have little control over which insects decide to descend into our gardens, we can decide what to do about them once they’re there. Whether it’s Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, different insects will visit your garden. Some are beneficial to your garden and some are not. The key is to identify the beneficial insects and to allow them to thrive so your garden can benefit from them.
Let’s get to know five common insects that you are good to have in your garden this Fall.
Every gardener knows that our common Bumblebee is a wonderful pollinator in the Spring and Summer but did you know they are also beneficial in the Fall? Bumblebees do not eat “bad” bugs. Instead they encourage seed production and thereby, help to make your garden healthier next Spring. You can encourage bumblebees in your Fall garden by planting Asters. Asters are the perfect “bumblebee magnet” because they grow easily in Baltimore County and the bumblebees can easily get to the nectar in the flowers.
There are several varieties of Asters that bloom in Baltimore County in the Fall and keep blooming into early Winter.
Here are some suggestions:
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) Blooms: July-Oct
New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) Blooms: July-Oct
White Wood Aster (Aster divaracatus) Blooms: Aug-Sept
Why would you want to attract non-stinging parasitic wasps to your garden? Predatory wasps are small insects that pack a powerful punch.
These wasps parasitize at least 200 garden pests like aphids, grubs, cutworms, and caterpillars. Wasps destroy these insects either by injecting their eggs into other insects to use them for hatcheries or they kill and collect insects to feed their young. Once the wasp eggs hatch into larvae they eat the stricken insect from the inside and emerge as an adult wasp.
Parasitic wasps are small and hard to see so what can you do to encourage them in your garden? Experts are now recommending that gardeners do not clean up their gardens in the Fall. Many insects shelter and overwinter in fallen leaves and other organic debris so leave your spent perennials and other plants in your garden over the winter.
Syphrid, Flower, or Hover Fly
If you’ve got aphids in your garden, you need Syrphid Flies. These flies mimic wasps and bees and you will often see them hovering over fall flowers into November. The adult flies lay their eggs near aphids so that their larvae can immediately start eating aphids. The larvae also eat scale insects, thrips, and mealybugs. If aphids aren’t plentiful, the larvae will eat fungi.
To attract Syrphid Flies to your garden, plant Asters, Black-eyed Susans, and Goldenrods. Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) Blooms: Aug-Sept
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) Blooms: Jul-Oct
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) Blooms: Jun-Sept
Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago Caesia) Blooms: Aug-Oct
Ground Beetle (Family Carabidae)
Ground Beetles are voracious predators that eat all kinds of other arthropod species including aphids, maggots, earthworms, grubs, and other insect larvae. Fortunately for gardeners, Ground Beetles also love to eat juicy slugs and snails. These pesky mollusks are not welcome in our gardens because they eat all kinds of foliage and they damage fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. Slugs and snails lay most of their eggs in the Fall. A healthy population of Ground Beetles will keep these slimy pests under control. Encourage Ground Beetles to live in your garden by leaving spent perennials, leaf litter, and other debris in your garden until the following Spring.
The adult Green Lacewing has a soft body and two pairs of intricately-veined transparent wings. They blend right into vegetation and mostly eat nectar, pollen, and the honeydew left by aphids. Lacewing larvae have earned the nickname “aphid lion” because they can eat lots of aphids, mites, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, mealybugs, whiteflies, and other soft-bodied insects. During the two-to-three-week larval stage, a single Lacewing larva can easily consume 500 aphids. No wonder Lacewings are frequently released in orchards and greenhouses to help control pests on plants!
This summer, the leaves of my Swamp Milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) are thick with Oleander Aphids (Aphis nerii). I’ve squished them with my fingers and blasted them with water from my hose, but the pesky aphids keep appearing. Today I was delighted to discover several eggs had been laid by a female Green Lacewing. In a few days, I’m hoping to see plenty of aphid lions and fewer aphids!
If you want Green Lacewings in your garden, you can buy the eggs and larvae from biological supply companies. When the eggs hatch, the wingless larvae start scarfing up those pesky soft-bodied pests that love to eat your plants. If they run out of aphids to eat, Green Lacewing larvae will control their own numbers in your garden by eating each other. Fortunately for gardeners, Green Lacewing larvae are most abundant in late summer and fall.
To attract Green Lacewings, put the following plants in your garden:
Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) Blooms: June-October
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) Blooms: Summer-Fall
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) Blooms: Early Summer-Fall
Sweet Alyssum (Loloularia maritima) Blooms: Spring – First Frost
Aphid Fun Fact: After they suck all of the juices out of an aphid, the larvae sometimes stick the dried-out aphid bodies to their backs to camouflage themselves as they continue to hunt for more victims! Who knew that an insect could be so clever!?