view counter

Features (All)

Three steps to keep them happy indoors

Some houseplants have to be repotted every six months, while others can stay put for two or three years. Frequency of repotting also depends on container size, quality of care, productivity of the rooting medium and frequency of nutrient applications. Annuals — such as grape ivy, begonias and marigolds — have very vigorous habits of growth and should be repotted at least twice yearly. Foliage plants such as ficus, schefflera and crotons tend to grow slowly and can be left alone for a year or two, depending on the age of the plant and container size.

Step 1: If root-bound, repot
    As you move houseplants in for the winter, check first whether they are root-bound. Knock the plant out of its container, holding the still-potted plant with your fingers on each side of the stem, then turning it upside-down amd rapping the top of the container sharply on the edge of a solid table or bench, dislodging the root ball. If it is covered with a solid mat of roots, the plant is root-bound.
    To stimulate root-bound plants to produce new roots, take a sharp knife, and make four or five cuts through the root mat from the top to the bottom of the root ball. Using your fingers, loosen as many roots as possible, and shake out old rooting medium from the center of the ball.
    Unless the roots of a root-bound plant are disturbed during repotting, the plant will stay root-bound despite having fresh rooting medium and a bigger container.
    If using a larger container is not feasible, apply the bonsai root-pruning practice, cutting out one-third of the root mat to allow new roots room to grow.

Step 2: Use active potting soil
    Repot into freshly blended potting medium. Try this recipe: Mix equal parts by volume garden soil (less for plastic or ceramic pots), compost and perlite. Place in a microwaveable container and microwave at full power for 15 minutes for each gallon of potting soil. Cool before using. Store the unused rooting medium in a plastic bag so that it will remain moist.
    Or improve commercial media by adding one-third by volume compost such as LeafGro. Peat moss-blended media shrink over time; avoid them.
    If you have old potting medium, whether homemade or purchased, make sure it is biologically active. Old potting soil that has been allowed to dry out and remain bone dry for months is biologically dead. To make old dried-out potting medium usable, moisten and blend it with either fresh compost or new potting medium.
    Add all the old rooting medium to your compost pile.
    Place some fresh potting medium in the bottom of the container. Replace the plant, adding and tapping down more medium as you go. Using your thumbs, press the rooting medium firmly into the center of the root ball and between the root ball and the walls of the container.
    Leave a half-inch free space between the top of the root ball and the top edge of the container for proper watering. Finally, bounce the bottom of the container sharply on a hard surface so that the loose potting medium fills in the voids.

Step 3: Water generously
    As soon as you finish potting, flood the surface with water several times until you see excess water flow from the bottom of the container. This washes the medium into cavities around the roots. After the water drains, fill with additional medium. Allow to drain thoroughly before bringing inside.
    A later column will explain indoor watering.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Our estimable forefathers were as bad — maybe worse

If you’re disheartened by the tone of this year’s presidential election, you won’t find refuge in the good old days.
    Historical presidential contests were as bad as — perhaps even worse — than what we’re seeing. In fact, we seem downright civil compared to some of the low-down dirty tricks and harsh rhetoric of prior elections.
    The 1800 election, pitting then vice president Thomas Jefferson against president John Adams, was heated. Jefferson’s team called the president “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
    However, the lie that could have had the biggest impact in that election was Adams’ camp’s declaration that Jefferson was dead. Jefferson won anyway.
    Even Abraham Lincoln was not above political mudslinging. In the 1860 campaign against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s camp took shots at Douglas’ appearance, calling him Little Giant because he was only 5 foot 4 inches, and noting that he was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”
    Perhaps setting the standard for ugliness was the 1828 election, pitting Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Supporters of Adams called Jackson “a slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.”
    His supporters, in turn, went so low as to call Jackson’s dead mother “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers.”
    Jackson’s supporters said that Adams was a pimp, claiming he had provided the Czar of Russia with an American prostitute while Adams was Russian ambassador. Both campaigns took shots at the other’s wives and created lurid stories about their pasts.
    While it would seem that ugly mudslinging is a part of our electoral heritage, I don’t know that we should be heartened by that fact.

You’ve got a treasure; take care of it

Back in the mid-1940s, the advent of the spinning reel made angling a popular America sport. Spin reels opened up light-tackle fishing to millions for the first time. The easy-to-use casting mechanism allowed anglers to throw their line, lure or bait a good distance without worry of tangles.
    Penn spin reels became the saltwater standard of the day. By the mid-1970s, their price approached $100. This was a considerable sum, but they were rugged quality reels made in America. You could count on a Penn. The reels were easily maintained with an occasional squirt of oil, and customer service was great.
    If you had problems with your Penn that you couldn’t handle yourself, it could be returned to the company and refurbished promptly in the neighborhood of $10, as I recall, and that included return postage. People treasured and passed down their Penn reels from generation to generation.
    However at the same time, manufacturing of fishing tackle began to shift to offshore anglers, which resulted in lower costs and increased product competition. Design and materials improvement accelerated as angling became even more popular in the U.S., then worldwide.
    As prices dropped, when a reel was damaged or began to malfunction, it became more convenient to replace it than to bear the cost and inconvenience of shipping and repair. Plus, constant technological advances and better engineering made most newer models superior.
    Today’s reels are nothing short of magnificent, and their costs have risen accordingly. Material and engineering development have matured to the point that these mechanisms are not going to get noticeably better in the foreseeable future. As a result, it’s starting to make sense once again to take care of the gear we have, keep it in good working order and maintain it for its full life expectancy.
    Manufacturers have also sensed this change in the dynamics of the market and improved their customer service. Looking online you’ll find all the better tackle companies offering on-line schematics, parts lists and detailed maintenance instructions. Plus, many websites discuss specific repairs and how to accomplish them on virtually every brand and model of spin reel now available.
    More and more anglers are, once again, providing their own intensive maintenance to their reels to ensure performance and longevity and — while they’re at it — even upgrading mechanisms to include friction-free ceramic bearings, carbon-fiber drag washers, newer high-tech low-friction lubricants and, in general, keeping the gear up to any angling task and in top condition for years to come.
    For anglers, the disposable-equipment culture may at last be over.

Just a little care will do it

This summer, I harvested my biggest crop of garlic ever, with my elephant garlic the size of a baseball. I attribute my success to incorporating an inch-thick layer of compost just before planting, mulching the garlic with Maine Lobster Compost just before the ground froze and giving the garlic plenty of room to grow. I planted elephant garlic in a six-by-six-inch spacing and the Italian garlic in a four-by-six-inch spacing. Come summer, I stopped hoeing the weeds as soon as the foliage was sufficiently dense to shade the ground.
    Plant your garlic before November here in southern Maryland. If you have not had your soil tested in the past three years, do. The pH of the soil must be between 6.0 and 6.5 with five percent organic matter and medium to optimum levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and boron. Even with five percent organic matter, spade a one-inch-thick layer of your homemade compost or LeafGro into the soil just prior to planting.
    I had problems purchasing garlic bulbs from seed catalogs. In recent years I purchase my garlic bulbs from large grocery stores where you can select firm and well-developed bulbs. Grasp the bulbs and squeeze them gently. If they feel spongy, keep selecting until you have bulbs that feel firm and solid.
    Separate the cloves, making certain that the basal plate is not damaged. Each elephant bulb should give you five or six firm cloves. Using a trowel or a dibble, plant elephant garlic cloves at least six inches below the surface of the ground and Italian or German garlic four inches deep. Rake the soil while filling the holes, and irrigate well. Until new leaves appear above ground, irrigate only once weekly. When the foliage is close to a foot tall, mulch with your homemade compost, Maine Lobster Compost or compost made from crab waste. Maine Lobster Compost used as a mulch is free of weeds as compared to homemade compost.
    Compost made from lobster or crab is high in nitrogen, which is slowly released. This is especially important come next spring when plants are growing. The slow-release nitrogen means that every time you water in the spring, the roots are being supplied with nutrients from the compost. If you mulch with your own homemade compost, I suggest that you apply either an organic or chemical fertilizer as soon as the plants resume growth.
    Next spring, take great care when weeding with an onion hoe. Avoid any contact between the steel of the hoe and the stems of the garlic. To control grasses, I apply Preen at about the time forsythia drops its flowers. Pigweed, lambs-quarters, oxalis and clover will have to removed by hand.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Their night flights bring us treats, not tricks

Winging its way through the eerie gloom, the bat is a potent symbol of Halloween. Far from its menacing reputation in seasonal lore, bats’ contributions to the natural world are many and essential.
    In tropical and desert ecosystems, bats serve as pollinators for plants such as bananas, mangoes and the agave plant used to make tequila.
    Bat pollination is strictly a fly-by-night operation. Come sundown, these furry creatures take to the air in search of the trademark scent of rotting fruit emitted by bat-pollinated flowers. As bats sip the nectar on tap at these flowers, they get a face full of pollen, which they carry on to other flowers of the same species.
    Another important role played by bats is disperser of seeds.
    “As they fly through the rainforest, bats spread seeds to create new plants. Papaya and cacao are two plants for which seed dispersal by bats is particularly important,” says Devin Dotson of the U.S. Botanic Garden.
    Bats are also protectors of plants. As they devour insects in their nightly forays, they reduce pest damage and lessen the amount of pesticide needed to grow crops such as coffee and cotton.
    Maryland’s 10 native bat species are all insect eaters. One little brown bat can devour up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour.
    Protecting bat habitat is a good way to ensure that bats continue to thrive.
    “Bat houses are a great idea, and we encourage communities to get involved,” says Micaela Jemison of Bat Conservation International.
    To see live bats and learn more about them, parents and kids join Bat Bonanza at the U.S. Botanic Garden on Saturday October 29 (10am-5pm; free, no registration needed). For added fun, come in costume as a bat or a plant pollinated by a bat: www.usbg.gov.

When the rockfish wanted to wrangle, I was more than ready

Trepidation is the condition of being uncertain of a situation’s outcome to the point of anxiety. Trepidation was also an apt description of my mental state as I prepped my casting rod and checked the three-quarter-ounce surface popper I had chosen to begin my quest.
    I had just lowered my skiff’s Power Pole anchor onto the far end of a sunken rock jetty that ran for a good 70 yards from a boulder-encrusted shoreline. A few years ago this time of year, I had many a fantastic late afternoon tempting rockfish into attacking virtually anything that splashed or popped through the rips that formed here.
    Over the last few seasons, however, the area had become mysteriously bereft of fish. Though I continued to visit, my efforts had mostly resulted in a lot of nothing.
    As I tried yet once again, I steeled myself for another angling defeat in spite of the excellent conditions: calm water, a good high tide and little wind. Waiting some long minutes for the wake from my skiff’s arrival to dissipate along the empty shoreline, I finally lifted the rod and sent an easy cast arcing out over the water to what had once been a sweet spot in a prominent rip.
    It’s my habit to thumb the cast as it approaches the water, not only to prevent an over-run but also to eliminate any slack in the line and make certain that the lure lands tail-end first. As soon as it splashes I give it a short spurt, my theory being that the prompt movement assures any striped predator alerted to the noise of the fall that that particular creature is alive and attempting to escape.
    My effort to action the plug was a failure — due not to any slack in my line but to something big having already eaten the lure. As I came tight, I added a little extra effort to ensure a hook set. The explosion that followed sent a column of water almost as high as my soaring spirits.
    One of the pleasures of hooking a good fish on a top-water bait is seeing it try to shake loose from the attacking lure’s grasp. This hefty rockfish rocketed from the water sideways, swinging its head and body recklessly across the top of the rip, submerged and re-emerged in a frothy surface tantrum. Then it headed for deeper water.
    After a patient struggle, I led an exhausted and silvery fish into the net. Exhilarated, I removed the lure from the fish’s mouth, took a quick picture and eased it into a bed of ice. I planned to celebrate this victory more than once.
    Another cast toward the same rip was rewarded with an instant blowup. Nerves somehow in check, I managed to keep from striking at the sound of the exploding water. My plug hung suspended about two feet in the air above the roiled surface. As it fell back, it was attacked and, again, sent flying, then sent flying again. Apparently these fish were in a mood to play with their food. Eventually retrieving the lure, I sent it out to a different area. The same thing happened, but this time one of the fish finally caught a hook, and another fight was on.
    This extravaganza went on until dark when, despite the lingering bite, I picked up and headed home. A clear sky and big moon gave me plenty of light to avoid the crab buoys as I exulted all the way home.

It takes a lot of preying to make so big a bug

In summer’s abundance, praying mantises grow like corn.
    Emerging in spring warmth from their tan, papery egg masses, they are tiny, pale-green nymphs. By autumn, after several exoskeleton sheddings and many good meals, the tan, winged adults can be six or seven inches long.
    The habit of folding their long forearms gives the species the name praying mantis. They might better be called preying for they use those arms to grasp food, mostly other insects. Thus they’re good bugs for your garden. Their predation can include male mantises that, useless after mating, may be turned into food by the females making eggs for next year’s generation.
    Like corn, mantises mostly wait for their food to come to them, as they are ambush predators. With two protruding compound eyes and three small simple eyes, they see well. All the better as their flexible necks enable them to rotate their heads, almost 180 degrees in some species. Most of the members of the plentiful order are camouflage artists, with our praying mantises copying twigs. The unsuspecting bug that comes too close to this twig becomes dinner, held in those praying arms for devouring.
    Also like corn, mantises are ­annuals, productive for one season but doomed by cold weather.
    Corn has been harvested in most of our fields. But mantises are around a while longer.

Water now or expect poor fall color — and a killing winter

This year’s dry late summer and early fall will put a damper on foliage colors. Don’t expect a long, lingering colorful fall. Many trees are already dropping their leaves due to the drought conditions we are experiencing. There is even premature coloration in the foliage of red maple, dogwoods and sweet gum.
    Much of the early leaf drop can be attributed to the buckets of rain we had during the early parts of summer when trees generated an abundance of growth. Many deciduous tree species produced two and three flushes of growth, resulting in a super abundance of lush green leaves.
    Now that the water has been turned off, the roots are unable to meet the demands of so much foliage, and the trees drop their leaves. Leaves often turn brown just before dropping, but green leaves are also dropping. Sycamore and maple trees are often exhibiting marginal necrosis with the center of the leaves remaining green. Older leaves show the most symptoms.
    If you planted trees and shrubs in your landscape during the past two years, you should be irrigating them thoroughly each week this fall to assure their survival next spring. If they don’t absorb sufficient water this fall, they are likely to experience bark splitting or winter dieback in the spring.
    Woody plants absorb most of their water for winter survival during September and October. If there is insufficient water beneath the bark and near the roots, the bark facing south will likely split or flake off. You need to make certain that the soil surrounding the roots is moist before the ground freezes. Wet soils freeze slower than dry soils, and woody trees and shrubs can absorb water from the soil until the ground freezes. Wet soils don’t freeze as deep as dry soils. So don’t stop watering now.


What to Do When No Grass Grows

Q    Eight days ago, lawn thatched, I aerated, put down lime, fertilizer, fescue seed and straw on bare spots.
    Now, no sign of grass growth.
    Is it too late to scratch what seems to be impacted soil and reseed? We have some 70- to 80-degree weather coming up. But I will be gone next weekend, so watering each day would be a problem.
    I have worked hard and long. My stomach dropped at not seeing new grass come up! How can I save it? Or do I chalk it up, $200 down the drain, as another learning experience and do nothing until next fall?

–Ruth Gross, Bowie

A    If you can’t push a shovel into the soil to a depth of four inches, it means that the soil is too compacted to grow grass. If you can push a shovel into the soil, cover the area with an inch-thick layer of Leafgro and spade it lightly into the upper inch of soil. Then spread new seed evenly over the soil, and rake the seed into the compost-amended soil. Water well: until you see standing water on the surface. Now spread a thin layer of straw over the area. The compost blended with the soil will keep the soil moist for up to four days while you are gone, allowing the seeds to germinate and grass to grow.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Give your tackle a good cleaning

As much as we hate to admit it, this year’s fishing season is winding down. It’s suddenly colder, a lot colder than just a half-month ago. Fall’s remaining weeks will be punctuated by periods of frustrating, unfishable, windy weather. However this forced downtime can give the wise angler a head start on winterizing tackle.
    Looking about my study, cluttered haphazardly with an embarrassing number of rods and reels, I see that their once clean and glistening finishes have been overcome by the dull sheen of salt evaporation and fish slime. A few of the outfits have collected samples of amorphous unknown substances.
    Even rigs that I use until winter puts a full stop to fishing need a little maintenance during breezy periods. Renewing reel lubricants and checking drag smoothness can have critical impact in the remaining season, as the possibility of hooking a big fish that will test every aspect of your tackle is never better than at this time of year.
    Over my many seasons, I’ve discovered it’s best to begin the fall maintenance effort by giving everything an outside shower. I start by lining up every rod and reel I’ve used against my front porch and rinsing them with a soft spray from the garden hose, followed by a general soap-and-water scrubbing, then another gentle rinse.
    The rest of winterizing can be done in stages.
    After the general cleaning, use a stiff toothbrush or car-detailing brush dipped in a strong detergent (no abrasives, please) on the more stubborn areas of dirt accumulation.
    Next focus on each rod’s guide to ensure it is clean and has not been damaged. A cracked guide ring that can be hard to see will shred a line faster than a barnacle-coated piling.
    The best test for guide-ring integrity is pulling a short section of fabric cut from pantyhose through the ring. Any defect is snagged by its fine mesh. A damaged guide should be replaced ASAP; it cannot be repaired, and continuing to use a rod with a bad guide is a recipe for angling disaster.
    Then go over all of the rods’ reel seats, first removing the reel, then scrubbing the seat and its locking mechanism and giving it a good application of heavy-duty silicone. Don’t use grease; it will attract and hold dust and dirt.
    Wipe off each reel with a rag moistened with WD-40 as it’s a great solvent, then give it a light coat of silicone as well. Soak down the mono and braid on your reels with a line conditioner, a great antidote for the salt accumulated over the season. If you don’t use a conditioner, that salt will continue to suck the softeners and lubricants out of the line over winter.
    Next, scrub all cork rod handles with a wet sponge or rag (but never a brush) generously anointed with an abrasive cleanser. Rinse them well. When they are thoroughly dry, go over them with pure neatsfoot oil. That will repair the past season’s exposure damage and keep the cork young over the coming winter months.
    Finally, dress the male ferrules on any multi-piece rod by rubbing them with candle wax or paraffin. Thus treated, the sections will never stick together and won’t separate while fishing. Additionally, the thin wax coating will minimize ferrule wear.
    If you subsequently find that you have the need to use an outfit that you’ve already winterized, just think of it as a lucky break. You’re lucky to have another chance to fish again this season and lucky in the knowledge that your tackle is in first-rate condition and up to any challenge the fall finale might bring.

Reluctant osprey still have several weeks to enjoy Chesapeake fishing

“The osprey’s back again this morning,” wrote Ron Wolfe in early October. “This one, sometimes accompanied by another, apparently failed to receive the fall migration memo,” Wolfe, a fisherman, added. “I suspect it’s part of this year’s hatch and doesn’t want to leave the only home it knows.”
    Not to worry, advises Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Dave Brinker. “Birds are like people,” Brinker told Bay Weekly. “Some leave early, some leave late.
    “It really hasn’t gotten cool enough for most birds to start moving just yet,” he explained, noting that in the last week of September, “I saw osprey in New York, all the way up to Maine,” where he is banding saw-whet owls.
    “When the water temperature begins to cool, the fish are less active. Once the food source is hard to find, the birds will move on.
    So, Brinker concluded, “This bird hasn’t missed the boat just yet.”
    Compare previous years’ osprey migration patterns in ornithologist Rob Bierregaard’s long-term studies at www.opsreytrax.com.