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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.

What about your pruning tools? Baltimore County Master Gardner helps in the community. Another article by Norman Cohen. A watermelon growing method to try spring.

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Pruning Tools, Selection, and Care
Video by Paul Dorsey, Baltimore County Master Gardener 2012

Winter is the time for pruning small trees and shrubs.  Watch this informative video as Paul Dorsey demonstrates which pruning tool is correct for any job - Pruning Tools, Selection and Care. Using the correct tool avoids damaging the tool and, just as important, avoids injuring the plant.
Taking proper care of your tools is very important in order to have years of useful service.  Paul will guide you on the best ways to get the most useful life from your pruning tools.

Baltimore County Master Gardener in Action

Elizabeth Wagner, Master Gardener 2019, (on the left in the photo) spearheaded and directed the St. Pius X Giving Garden since its inception. The effort has resulted in the project receiving a Bay-Wise Certification for 2021. She spends a minimum of 6 hours/week teaching, monitoring, mentoring, and working in the garden throughout the 9-month gardening season.

The St Pius X Giving Garden was initiated in the fall of 2018, for the purpose of providing fresh vegetables to local food pantries.  During the 2019 growing season, over 600 pounds of vegetables were delivered to the GEDCO (Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation) CARES Pantry.  St Pius X parishioners logged over 300 volunteer hours working Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings throughout the season from March through November. These totals were surpassed in 2020 despite the pandemic, as they delivered 750 pounds with 410 volunteer hours. In the current growing season, they are already 100 pounds over last year. The project has expanded to include the Assistance Center of Towson Churches (ACTC) (Tuesdays) while continuing to deliver to CARES (Saturdays), with recent averages of about 100 total pounds/week.   The 20 volunteers who support this effort are largely generous individuals with little or no gardening skills and include 5 children.
A pilot project, this past spring, was to build and install raised beds in the yards of 3 pantry clients who expressed an interest in learning to grow their own vegetables.  Each client has been successful in harvesting tomatoes, beans, peppers, greens, and herbs, and has expressed a desire to plant fall crops soon.
Congratulations and continued success to Elizabeth on this project!

Norman’s Patch 45- Poinsetta
By Norman Cohen, Baltimore County Master Gardner

Starting in mid-November, the Poinsettia is ubiquitous. They can be purchased everywhere: Home Depot, the Giant, Walmart, Valley View and Wegman’s. In fact instead of counting straight species native plants, I was counting Poinsettias in my sleep.

The scientific name for Poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, a member of the Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) family. The botanical name Euphorbia derives from Euphorbos, the Greek physician of king Iuba (or Juba) II of Numidia (52–50 BC – 23 AD); the Latin adjective pulcherrima means very beautiful.  The common name is derived after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant in the U.S. in 1825.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico and found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. In its natural habitat the plant grows up to 13 feet.

The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

The American Poinsettia industry was created by the German immigrate Albert Ecke in the Los Angeles area in the early 1900’s. His son, Paul Ecke, developed the grafting technique, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope's Christmas specials to promote the plants.

In 1923, the Ecke’s had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technique that made their plants much more attractive. They produced a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes' technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant. Their monopoly was broken in the 1990’s when their grafting methodology was published by a university researcher.  

In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf. While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia's toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.

The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. The trick is to keep the plant in an environment of complete natural darkness from sunset to sunrise each day starting from mid-October for 4 to 6 weeks. Total natural darkness means no light other than natural evening light sources (moonlight or starlight) during this period of darkness. In addition the temperature in the room should not be kept below 65 degrees during this time.

Good luck but this is more trouble than its worth! For only $5.95 you can buy another in late November or early December and toss it in January.

Growing Watermelon Vertically
By Rochel Schwarz, Baltimore County Master Gardener

This season, at the request of my children, I took another attempt at growing seedless watermelon.

I started by buying a packet of seeds for an icebox-sized seedless watermelon, only to find there were only 3 seeds in the package. Needless to say, those seedlings took top priority this year. Since seedless watermelons need a seeded variety in order to pollinate, I also bought the sugar baby variety, which was recommended on the packet.

The seeds were sown in mid-April. I definitely over-seeded the sugar babies to improve success. Only 2 of the seedless variety germinated, and I thinned the sugar babies to keep 6 seedlings.

They grew pretty nicely under the grow lights. They were fertilized with a liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks. I only transplanted them once into a quart-size pot being careful not to disturb the roots. I lost one plant after transplanting. In the future, they would probably do germinated right in a larger pot to avoid transplanting.

When the weather finally warmed up to 60 degrees at night in mid-May, I hardened them off by gradually exposing them to increasing amounts of wind, sun, and rain.

I didn’t have 5 feet available per plant in my 100 sq ft garden, so I decided to grow them vertically with whatever I could find. They needed something sturdier than the cucumber metal trellis that I had. A metal table that was missing a tabletop was finally put to use. I wanted to be sure the trellis was in place before the plants were transplanted. The plot area was about 4-5 sq ft.

I spaced them every 18-24 inches apart, alternating between a seeded and seedless variety. They are heavy feeders, so I added lots of blood meal before putting the plants in the hole.

In addition to the watermelon, I planted companion plants surrounding the patch. Marigolds to bring in pollinators and repel pests, onions to repel some other pests, and chamomile to help repel fungal disease and still more pests. The onions and chamomile didn’t survive in that square. Zinnias would be another good companion plant to encourage more pollinators.

I also used a soaker hose that I had set up on a timer. Watermelons need consistent water. After all that was set up, I topped it off with some mulch. I had a free delivery of wood chips from a local arborist, so I used that.

It didn’t take long until those seedlings started to reach the bottom of the trellis. It was time to train the vines up with velcro strips. It’s an almost daily job to keep them growing upright. Even before the vines reached the top, I started getting babies!

After a couple of weeks, they were so heavy that they needed a sling. The hosiery didn’t seem to work as well as the netting I used. I suppose it’s because it didn’t create a “sling” on the first try. When I finally got a female seedless flower, I hand-pollinated it from a male sugar baby. That watermelon turned out much bigger and more uniform than the other seedless watermelon.

After about 6 weeks from pollination, the watermelons were ripe. The signs of a ripe watermelon are the dried tendril where the watermelon connects to the vine, a hollow sound instead of a high pitched sound, and a yellow spot where the watermelon rested on the ground. The first 2 watermelons I picked had a dried tendril, but disappointedly they were white inside. The first was fuzzy, so I rearranged the soaker hose to give it more water. The second was white but crispy. After that, I researched and found that with the sugar baby variety, it’s not ripe until 6-10 days after the tendril dried out. Since the melons were growing vertically, the only sign I could not count on was the yellow spot.

The next few melons were ripe and absolutely delicious. They were so sweet, crunchy, watery and the white part near the rind wasn’t bitter! Remember the days when watermelon had seeds? My kids couldn’t believe that they had so many seeds!

I was hesitant to pick the seedless watermelons too early. Well, with the big rain we had, it had gotten so heavy it fell out of the sling and rolled down the hill. It was slightly overripe but still delicious. Now that we’ve picked all the melons, we started getting new babies. Had I fertilized again while the melons were growing, I may have gotten a better yield. I did fertilize them again, hoping for a second crop.

Now that we’ve finally grown successful watermelons, they’ll be requested each year by my husband and kids. My son decided to take credit for growing the watermelon since he picked it!

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