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The many buckeye trees are ­pleasing to the eye, too

The most magnificent horse chestnut is Aesculus parviflora: the bottlebrush buckeye. This native shrub attracts pollinators extraordinarily. I planted it several years ago along a sunny fence; it now takes up an area about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.
    It blooms June to July with beautiful candelabra-like white flower spikes that are abuzz with all kinds of native bees and beneficial flies. The peachy-pink pollen exudes a delicate fragrance into the air.
    The flower spikes are followed by smooth red-brown chestnut-like seeds. Beautiful but not edible for humans, the seeds are valued by many small mammals and insects. The horse chestnut’s native range is southern Virginia to ­Georgia and eastern Alabama and Tennessee, but it does very well in Maryland.
    Aesculus sylvatica is the painted buckeye. It likes partial shade to sun and has similar growth habits to the bottlebrush buckeye. The flowers have shades of yellow, red, green and pink and are four- to eight-inch-long clusters in mid-spring.
    Aesculus pavia is the red buckeye. It likes moist, well-drained soil in sun to shade. It has a shrubby habit, forming a rounded mound about 20 feet high and wide. The red flowers are an inch and a half long, tubular and form four- to eight-inch-long terminal clusters in mid-spring. The fruit has a smooth husk, splitting open to release one or two glossy brown seeds. In flower, this plant is a hummingbird magnet. Its natural range is the coastal plain from North Carolina to Florida and Texas.
    Aesculus glabra is the Ohio buckeye, which is a large tree up to 75 feet high that grows in sun to partial shade. The flowers are greenish yellow and tubular in a four- to seven-inch-long terminal stalk. The fruit is a prickly husk that splits open to release seeds that are glossy and rich brown. Its natural range is western Pennsylvania throughout the middle states.
    Don’t confuse these native species with Aesculus hippocastanum, the medicinal horse chestnut that is native to the Balkans and western Asia. The Turks used those nuts to treat respiratory ailments in horses. Today, extracts are made into standardized horse chestnut pills used to treat hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It is anti-inflammatory, astringent and internally strengthening to the blood vessels.
    The seeds of all Aesculus species are poisonous.


Maria Price-Nowakowski runs Beaver Creek Cottage Gardens, a small native plant nursery in Severn.

Live-lining Norfolk spot sacrifices a fish to catch a bigger fish

The Chesapeake tide was ebbing to almost placid. Rockfish prefer their dinner be swept to them by moving water. But in this case the stalling currents allowed them more freedom to gather around the structures where we were fishing. Our bait was their favorite snack this time of year, Norfolk spot.
    Tom Schneider and I were drifting on just the slightest of current, aided by a mild southern breeze just off of one of the Bay Bridge’s more complex, eight-legged supports. Pinning 6/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks lightly just in front of small spots’ dorsal, we both flipped our fish over the side. The little guys jetted toward the bottom 20 feet down.

Fish Finder
    The rockfish bite is excellent for every type of technique. The one fly in the ointment, particularly on the Eastern Shore, is that the fish are concentrated in just a few areas. Commercial hook-and-liners in the same locations as recreational anglers can wipe out entire schools of fish with their mass live chumming and combined quota tactics.
    As Maryland Department of Natural Resources is financed largely by recreational funds and as recreational anglers outnumber commercials by almost 1,000 to one, it’s surprising to find the two factions in the same areas.
    White perch are here and there, but no one is bragging this season. Norfolk spot have arrived in good numbers but are mostly live-lining size. Croaker are generally missing this year. Crabbing in the mid-Bay is lackluster.

    Using medium-action casting rods with small Abu reels spooled with fresh 20-pound mono and even fresher 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders, we could feel the spot, unencumbered by weight, pulsing down. We had to be careful not to give them too much slack or they would circle the nearest column and foul the line.
    The most serious activity for the baitfish was evading the stripers that lurked among the concrete piers awaiting any small fish, crab or morsel of seafood. We already had two fish in the box, 22- to 23-inch specimens, a perfect size for dinner. But we were hoping for some larger adversaries and had moved a number of times seeking them.
    Aside from location, a number of factors can tweak the game in the favor of the angler. Sometimes shifting the hook location in the bait can change things up by making the baitfish’s actions more enticing. A nose- or mouth-hook position on the spot triggers an attack by rockfish. A more rearward hook placement, such as behind the dorsal fin or on the underside, can also affect their swim movements.
    The best live-lining presentation is always weightless. But if it becomes necessary to add weight, the absolute minimum that will get the bait to the level desired is always superior. I prefer to use split shot or rubber core sinkers well up on the leader. When the tide is really roaring, I’ve found switching to a heavier soft plastic or metal jig is more productive than attempting to present a live bait.
    On this outing last week, our problem seemed to be simply a preponderance of barely legal fish eating our baits. We kept moving from pier to pier, thinking that the bigger fish would be by themselves or in small groups and not hanging out with the little guys. Eventually we blundered onto them.
    My spot suddenly stopped its wiggling swim and morphed into slow and powerful acceleration. Lifting the rod tip, I stopped my line and hoped that the circle hook would find its place in the predator’s jaw. A hissing drag and an arcing rod indicated that it had.
    Next the beast altered its direction and headed back across the nearest pylon. Putting my motor into gear, I nudged the skiff forward to lessen the line’s bearing on the structure, thanking my stars that there was little current to complicate things. When my rod tip and line cleared the column, the fish really began a run. But now its path was toward open water beyond the column. I snugged the drag down and added thumb pressure.
    The fight was brutal, but within a few long and strenuous minutes, the fish was alongside the boat. But it evaded the net. Catching a glimpse of the hook firmly in the corner of its jaw, I relaxed.
    Eventually worn out, the big fish slid into the net. The handsome 32-incher came onboard and into the box, making the two keepers already in ice seem mighty small.
    Within a few minutes both Tom and I were hooked up, again with powerful fish.
    Tom’s 30-incher eventually went into the box, and my 27 was set free to swim another day, hopefully educated to the treachery of a free meal.

Sooks are vital for the species, so let’s keep them safe

     We’ve heard great news about blue crabs. The total population has risen this past year to almost 600 million, according to the 2019 Winter Dredge Survey.
      Best of all, the sooks, our female spawning-age crabs, have reached a population of 190 million, only 35 million under the target level for healthy reproduction success that we should be striving to maintain all along. The spawning-size female population is the major factor in maintaining a healthy blue crab population.
     This is cause for celebration, not news to take for granted. Just last year, the female population dropped by more than 35 percent after particularly frigid wintertime temperatures. Yet Department of Natural Resources allowed regular commercial female harvest limits in 2018. 
     As we were not in actual crisis, merely headed that way, DNR gambled on the fecundity of the blue crab to gradually restore the female stocks. Another deadly winter was discounted.
     Luckily, this time the wager was right. Thanks to mild temperatures and an unusually generous Mother Nature, the female population bounced back this spring with unexpectedly significant gains. We are once again, and almost miraculously, approaching the female population target of 215 million achieved only twice in the last 30 years.
     We’ve been slow to recognize the necessity of an ample female spawning population. Only recently has science debunked the assumption that female crabs spawned only once and thus could subsequently be harvested without limit or consequence.
      Now crab managers have set commercial female harvest limits and banned recreational harvest of sooks. Since then, the blue crab population has tended to stability.
      Another help in achieving stability was the establishment of two species-management benchmarks: a minimum threshold of 70 million female crabs and the target threshold of 215 million. Both figures are founded in good science. 
The target threshold is the population level necessary to allow the species to be comfortably resilient to natural population fluctuations. 
     The minimum threshold is the critical level that, if crossed, could send the species spiraling into population collapse.
     Numbers between the two thresholds don’t justify complacency. This year’s count of 190 million females does not make it safe to harvest females. It’s courting crisis to allow harvests that push the population down near the minimum level.
      It’s easy to succumb to temptation to harvest more crabs. Maryland consumes virtually every blue crab harvested in its portion of the Bay, every year, plus some of the crabs harvested by Virginia and a substantial portion of the crabs harvested in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. In lean years, a bushel of crabs in Maryland can bring more than $300.
Maryland’s 4,000 licensed commercial crabbers have only a few months to make their annual income. It’s natural to want to make hay while the sun shines.
      Further complicating conservation efforts is demography. Female crabs favor the southern, more saline portion of the Bay. Hence watermen there are far more dependent upon the sooks for their income.
      All of these factors translate into intense pressure to allow generous female harvests — despite their critical value to the overall population.
     So I’m arguing that this year’s achievement makes a fine foundation for an even-brighter future. There is plenty of room in the Chesapeake for an expanded crab population. Not too long ago, our Bay held more than twice as many blue crabs. It is neither naive nor optimistic to manage more forcefully toward numbers just as high.
 
Fish Finder
     Rockfish season moves into its second phase May 16 with a two-fish limit (one may be 28-plus inches) in the main Bay. Tributaries and the eastern Bay remain closed to protect stripers still spawning.
     A few anglers are hooking big ones. Try trolling smaller baits or throwing soft plastics around structures. 
     If you’re determined to catch a fish, go after channel catfish. Big ones, some over 30 inches, are available to anyone soaking a bait anywhere on the bottom. Big bloodworms, crawlers, fresh alewife and cut white perch produce the best bite. Some trollers dragging baits close to the bottom are getting a few as well.
Blue catfish and flatheads are also beginning to show up in the mix; the blues have a small culinary edge over the other two species.
      There are reports of white perch taking spinner baits along estuary shorelines.
      Blue crabs are also showing up in seafood markets as well as in some recreational traps and on trotlines.
 

Autumn’s feeding frenzy will fatten your chances

      I finally got my second keeper rockfish at about 11am, but only after releasing some dozen undersized schoolies and more than two dozen burly and uncooperative channel cats. The sun had already been blazing hot for some time. I was scorched and pooped as I headed back in for a shower, a sandwich and a nap.
      I do love Chesapeake summertime, but I’ve now had enough summer, really. These endless 90-degree-plus days have left me limp and senseless. With surface water temperatures that soar into the 80s with the rising sun, finding rockfish early and fast has become a necessity. There’s not a lot of time to search before the bigger fish have fled down deep to cooler water and unknown locations. But that should change soon.
     Late August gave us a few nights in the 60s, and a lot more are to come now that September is here.
       One of my more reliable piscatorial analysts, waterman and soothsayer Leo James, tells me that he suspects that when the dolphin invaded the Chesapeake this summer and effectively pushed most of the mid-Bay rockfish up past Rock Hall, a lot of the larger fish went up the rivers to escape — and stayed there.
      As fall temperatures arrive, the baitfish in those tributaries will descend toward the mainstem. The big fish that have been feeding on them will follow them down. As the menhaden, silverside minnows and Bay anchovies form their wintering schools and stage for migration, all of our gamefish will start the fall feed-up in preparation for wintertime.
      The shortening daylight and temperature drops trigger all sorts of instinctive behavior in the many species of the Chesapeake. Just about all of it is good news for anglers. 
      To put on fat, our gamefish —rockfish, bluefish, croaker, spot and perch — will start chasing bait actively in the shallows, particularly early and late in the day. We’ll also spot them under birds, working the gathering baitfish schools in both deep and shallow water. The gamefish will stay on station longer, especially when there are overcasts and showers. Bluefish, particularly, will also become more active, especially in the evenings.
      Stock up on your favorite surface plugs, such as MirrOlure Poppa Dogs, Heddon Spooks, Storm Chug Bugs, Offshore Angler Lazer Eyes and, when you can find them, Stillwater Smack Its.
      Swim plugs and jerk baits such as the Rapala X Rap and Yozuri Crystal Minnow will become particularly effective, as will the Bill Lewis classic Rat-L-Trap series.
       Metal jigs like the Lil Bunker, Crippled Herring and the P-Line Laser Minnows will be great for targeting or getting under breaking schoolies for the larger rockfish below.
      Continuing effective are jigs including bucktails and the Bass Assassin; Sassy Shads; soft plastic types, especially the newer paddle-tail varieties; and the BKDs all in lengths to match the baitfish present. To avoid hanging up when targeting the shallows, use lighter jig heads and try fishing them slow and weightless, especially after dark.
      Lure color has always been a contentious issue with just about every angler I’ve ever met. The general rule has always been dark colors under low light conditions; lighter and brighter colors in higher light situations and illuminated areas. Of course the color the fish really want is always the one that you don’t have, so prepare accordingly. 
      Stay flexible in your approaches. Chumming and live lining will continue to produce limits up to wintertime, but light-tackle lure fishing can be far more exciting. If you haven’t tried it, now is the best time to begin.
      To reduce gamefish mortality and mouth-structure damage, consider replacing the treble hooks on your lures with single hooks — or at least flattening the barbs once you’ve got your limit. It may surprise you, but it doesn’t make much difference in the fish you eventually bring to hand.
 
Fish Finder
      As the temperatures drop, the bite heats up. Driven by their fall instinct to feed for the coming winter, rockfish are getting more aggressive, especially in low light. Trollers using small bucktails and soft plastic jigs are finding bigger gatherings of rockfish on the hunt. Light-tackle sports are also increasing, throwing plugs and jigs along anywhere there is current and structure. Bait fishers are getting their rockfish on soft crab, fresh menhaden and big bloodworms.
       Spanish mackerel are showing up in breaking schools all the way up to the Bay Bridge, hitting swiftly moving lures such as Clark’s Spoons, Kastmasters and Hopkin’s Jigs. White perch, spot and croaker are in mixed schools just about anywhere there is a shell bottom at 15 to 30 feet. Crabbers should anticipate a surge when the waters cool a bit.

But where have the bigger fish gone?

Cutting the engine a good distance from the shoreline, we drifted quietly toward a projecting erosion jetty. It was the one that reached farthest from shore, creating a sort of false point along an edge full of shoreline protections. 

Nearing casting distance, I lowered my anchor, and we skidded to a stop. When our minor disturbance subsided, we prepped light spin rods.  

They were five- to six-footers with small 1,000 series reels spooled with ultra-thin, misty copolymer monofilament, ideal for the pursuit of white perch. All the better, they were tipped with gaudy spinner baits irresistible to the species.  

These long, narrow rock piles are common structures along the Bay. Perch gather there for relief from tidal currents and use the nooks and crannies for hiding from the many predator species in the Bay. Various critters such as minnows and grass shrimp that the whities feed upon also visit these jetties. 

My cast was met with an instant attack, a hook-up, then the buzz of my drag. It was a long, intense struggle to keep connected to the obviously large perch. A lot can go wrong during a perch battle, from a hook tearing away from too much rod pressure to a dislodged hook from too little. 

My buddy’s cast was firmly intercepted as well. Those first two fish measured 10 and 11 inches. They were also the biggest we would land, though we would eventually catch and release more than 75 fish. 

Perch aficionados repeat what I fear: The number of perch 10 inches and over has decreased to a distressing degree. 

White perch can reach 18 to 19 inches. But few encountered these days in the middle Chesapeake exceed nine inches; most are much smaller. That’s not a great recreational fishery.  

Informal (and off-the-record) conversations with Bay fisheries biologists suggest that diminishment is an unintended consequence of our commercial fisheries policy. Netters have few constraints beyond an eight-inch minimum size. Reporting is voluntary. Thus we have no solid basis for species management.  

Male perch begin spawning by two years old and females at three, when they are four to five inches long. The fish that grow slowest will spawn the most until they reach legal commercial target size of eight inches. Thereafter they are fair game. As the market for the fish has become ever more lucrative, I suspect harvests have grown — though nobody knows given the current voluntary reporting. 

Is that why we’re seeing and catching so many small white perch, at least in the middle Bay? 

Department of Natural Resources budgets and salaries are supported by the license fees from about 300,000 Maryland anglers, who rate the white perch as their most frequent catch. Seems to me that managing the species to create a quality recreational fishery is an appropriate objective. What do you think?  

 


Fish Finder 

Middle Bay fishing has been ever more miserable, with rockfish scarce and of barely legal size. A large school of quality stripers north of Swan Point (Hodge’s Bar) was quite hot and productive last month. But it was the only bite, and their numbers have been worn thin. Most areas from the Bay Bridge south on both shores remain barren. The fault has been laid in many directions, from an unusually cold spring, to dolphin pods chasing the rockfish north, to dead zones, to excess netting over winter, to a rumored increase in recreational poaching. 

Crabbing is another disappointment. Recreational harvests have become consistently miserable, and now commercial crabbers are reporting that they’re barely breaking even. The cold spring was blamed for the poor numbers. But now it appears that the scarcity could be the result of the high winter mortality, perhaps higher than even the winter dredge numbers indicate. Nobody really knows, though the big rains certainly didn’t help. Nor the resultant vast releases from the Conowingo Dam. 

Take care of yourself and the fish

Temperatures flirting with triple digits mean difficult times on the Chesapeake, not only for anglers but also for the fish.

The young and old are the most susceptible to heatstroke, but everyone needs to be aware of the danger, as it can be fatal.

Heatstroke often gives no warning, ­quickly rendering you unconscious. So take special precautions if fishing or paddling solo. Staying hydrated, continually drinking water, is a must when the temperatures go above the 80s. It would be particularly foolish for the solo adventurer not to don a life jacket.

Should you experience confusion, dizziness or unusual weakness during these hot days, immediately seek cooler conditions and slowly ingest cold drinks to lower your core body temperature. If the symptoms persist or the sufferer begins to lose consciousness, seek emergency medical care promptly.

Fish, too, are at risk during high temperatures. Catch-and-release fishing should be avoided once the mercury passes the 80-degree mark. Mortality skyrockets for rockfish (particularly those 24 inches and larger) hooked during these hot weather days, often despite best efforts to quickly release them.

A number of strategies will minimize heat problems for both the fish and you. Targeting the wee hours, from first light until 10am and from 6pm until last light will minimize exposure to the worst of the sun’s effects for both the angler and the game fish. Those hours are also prime times for the best bite.

Nighttime fishing is also an option for the more adventurous — as long as you are completely familiar with areas to be fished and prepared with good communications, extra flashlights, batteries, cold refreshments, a GPS and a fishing plan with specific locations in the hands of someone on shore. Wearing life jackets is also strongly recommended.

Rockfish are particularly active after dark and will often haunt shallower water in search of prey. I can attest that a striped bass will locate and inhale even a black fly or lure fished on a moonless night in three feet of water with no trouble. Your part as an angler is to exercise extreme stealth and silence in your approach.

It is illegal to be in possession of rockfish while angling after midnight and before 5am, rules that apply for shore anglers as well as boaters. Possession of any other legal species, though, is permitted. 

Croaker and seatrout are also very active after dark, often more so than any time during the day, and will move into shallower water and feed more aggressively. Use crab, bloodworm or shrimp as bait. Seatrout are suckers for Assassin-type soft jigs fished slowly near the bottom.

White perch in the larger sizes will likewise remain active in the darker hours. Searching with noise-producing lures such as one-eighth and one-quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps is particularly productive and can often attract marauding rockfish, a definite challenge if you’re using ultra-light tackle. 

They're convenient, can be planted early and give higher yields

    If your soil does not drain well and gardening is in your blood, you should build raised beds. If your land is sloping severely, terraces  will help prevent erosion. Terraces are essentially raised beds using existing soil,  and are quite common in many Asian countries and in South America.
    For beds used exclusively for growing flowers or fruit, the walls can be built of almost any type of material. However, if the raised beds are to be used for growing root crops and greens, avoid using lumber treated with copper chromium arsenate. The arsenate in the wood moves into the soil, where it can be absorbed by roots and translocated into leaves of plants. There is no evidence that it will translocate into fruit or seeds.
    Wood treated only with micronized copper can safely be used for building raised beds. Copper is an essential plant nutrient. Other species of wood that can be used without chemical treatment are redwood and cedar. The fibers in these species are composed primarily of lignins, making them rot-resistant. However, they will rot in time. Lining the inside walls with four- to six-millimeter polyethylene sheeting, to minimize soil contact, will increase their useful life.
    A Bay Weekly reader recently told me he built his raised beds with four- and six-inch-diameter black locust logs. Dry black locust is used by cattle farmers for fence posts because it resists rot for at least 40 years. This reader built his walls three logs deep and secured them by drilling three-quarter-inch-diameter holes and pounding rebar through the logs into the ground.
    Cement board and cement blocks can also be used for building raised beds.
    If the raised beds are to be used for growing flowering plants, greens and small fruit, they need only be eight to 10 inches deep. Root crops need a depth of 14 to 16 inches.
    A common mistake in filling raised beds is using potting mixes. Most potting mixes are extremely high in organic matter, and their volume shrinks rapidly. The cellulose and hemicellulose in the organic matter oxidize and are digested by microorganisms, causing shrinkage. Another drawback of organic matter is its inability to retain water and nutrients, thus making it necessary to water and fertilize frequently.
    Raised beds should be filled only with sandy loam soil. To drain well, the soil should contain a minimum of 60 percent sand and not exceed 15 percent clay. The remaining components will be silt and organic matter. Organic matter can always be added by incorporating compost into the top four to six inches prior to planting.
    If you have a choice, purchase a manufactured soil containing 65 percent sand, 15 percent clay, 12 percent silt and eight percent organic matter. For soil for growing vegetables, flowers and most small fruit such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries specify a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.  For growing blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda and the like, specify a pH not to exceed 5.0.
    Raised beds can be planted earlier due to warmer soils and offer higher yields per square foot. It’s also easy to use plastic mulch to control weeds and to conserve moisture in raised beds. Design them three to four feet wide, and the center will accommodate most mulching-grade plastics and can easily be reached from either side. Raised beds will also make you do less bending.

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at [email protected] Include your name and address.
 

How could losing 147 million sooks be healthy?

    Good news is scarce these days, so I was relieved when I saw Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ results of the 2018 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.
    But I did a double-take when I read in the report,  “Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Population Healthy.”
    I was confused. Expecting to see the basis for the claims of health, I came upon the revelation of a 42 percent plunge in spawning female numbers. Wasn’t that seriously unhealthy?
    When, for the first time ever last year, the number of females reached the target level for healthy species reproduction, DNR celebrated. What had changed in a year? Wasn’t female abundance important any more? Aren’t spawning females key to growing and maintaining the overall population? How could losing 147 million sooks be a positive health indicator?
    Next I read that adult crabs were decreasing, too. We’d lost 23 percent — that’s 84 million crabs — in a year. Claims for a healthy crab population seemed to be getting more spurious.
    I was momentarily heartened when I read of a 34 percent increase in juvenile recruitment — until I recalled that last year’s juvenile counts were in the basement. Thirty four percent might not amount to much.
    By now, I suspected not-so-good news was getting a rosy package— not suprisingly as this is an election year.
    I found myself seeing the report as one more troubling signal that the commercial fishery may again be gaining political sway over species consideration. Among earlier troubling signs was the abrupt firing of Brenda Davis, the respected and successful manager of the department’s blue crab program. Rumor was that she had rebuffed a handful of watermen demanding the legal size of blue crabs be lowered by a quarter of an inch.
    That firing sent shock waves through the department ranks, already nervous after the sacking of some effective and popular fisheries program managers the past two years, again allegedly due to commercial displeasure.
    Then came the kicker. As I prepared a final draft of this column, the department published the annual Female Hard Crab Catch Limits for commercial crabbing based on the results of the 2017-2018 Winter Dredge Survey.
    Comparing these limits to last year’s, I hoped to see a reduction in female harvest numbers reflecting the severe winter mortalities. Yet this year’s limits were the same as last year’s — despite that 42 percent population drop. Yes, changes could come later in the season, post October 31 — just at the onset of cold weather, which is never easy on crabs.
    Arguably, but just barely, crabs could absorb another year of these now highly optimistic harvest limits. Unless, that is, we have another poor spawn or another severe winter. In that case, our beloved blue crabs may slip back into crisis, as they so often have. But the elections will be over by then.

Some plants want one, some the other

Anybody can shear plants, but not everybody can prune plants properly. Black and Decker, Stihl, Echo and other manufacturers of hedge clippers have caused many landscapes to look alike. Foundation plantings are shaped into cones, balls, cylinders or squares. Sheared plants lose their identity and begin to look alike regardless of species.

Pruning, on the other hand, helps plants exhibit their most desirable attributes. Spring-flowering plants like forsythia, weigela, spirea, viburnums and strawberry bush and summer-flowering plants such as roses, crape myrtle and hibiscus benefit from proper pruning.

Properly pruned forsythia, spirea and weigela should resemble fountains when in bloom. This characteristic can only be achieved by selectively removing the older stems near the ground and allowing only strong, healthy brownish-green stems to grow and arch. When pruned immediately after petals have fallen, the new stems will be covered with large flower buds that will burst open next spring. Properly pruned, these plants will develop stems four to six feet long in one growing season. They will need tending only once during the year. If you are shearing, you must do so almost monthly, if not more often.

With regards to viburnums and strawberry bush, you need only to prune out crossing branches and branches that are detracting from the appearance of the plant. Shearing these species removes most of the flowers.

Woody species that are adapted to shearing include azaleas, camellias, fir, hollies, junipers, pine, privet and yews. When shearing, shape the plant so it is narrower at the top and broader at the bottom. When the top of the plant is broader than the bottom, the bottom leaves are shaded out, leaving the lower part of the plant bare.

Allow an inch or more of current seasonal growth to remain on the plant. Shearing away all new growth, especially on older plants, results in individual small branches turning brown and dying.

Do not shear azaleas or camellias after mid-July. Flower bud initiation for these species begins in mid-August, so shearing in late July and August will result in fewer flowers the following spring. Flower bud initiation occurs only on young, vigorous-growing new shoots.

Heavily shearing junipers often results in plants becoming infested with spider mites. To avoid this problem, shear only once a year. Most species of junipers will generate two flushes of growth each year. The first flush generally ends in late June, and the second generally does not begin until mid-July. Delay shearing until the beginning of the second flush of growth.

Soon after you notice new light-colored growth at the ends of the branches, begin shearing. This will allow the plant to develop a feathery appearance and will minimize conditions favorable for spider mites.

Do not shear pine or spruce until the needles of the new growth are at least half the length of mature needles. Shearing these species too early will result in breaking many of the new branches.

When pruning and cutting roses, pay attention to leaf patterns. The leaves on roses have either three or five leaflets. If you examine the stem, you will notice that the leaves just below the flower buds have only three leaflets followed by several leaves with five leaflets. To promote the development of strong stems, always cut the stem above the bottom five-leaflet leaf.  The vegetative bud in the axis of the five-leaflet leaf is always larger than the vegetative bud in the axis of the three-leaflet leaf, resulting in stronger and longer stems.

Never prune or shear boxwood plants. The disease that causes boxwood decline is easily spread from plant to plant on the blade of pruning shears and hedge clippers. Boxwoods are best pruned by breaking stems on a cold winter day.

 

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at [email protected] Include your name and address.

The true music of nature is silence

One evening several years ago, when the Chesapeake had experienced a generous influx of gray trout (weakfish), I found a school outside the mouth of a small tributary south of the Magothy. It was just after dark, the tide was falling and the fish were positioned a long cast from the inlet to intercept the baitfish, shrimp and small crabs being carried out by the tidal current.

Throwing a black Clouser minnow on an eight-weight rod with floating line, I was letting the weighted fly sink and swing across the current along the channel cut. On every third or fourth cast, just as the line straightened below me, a fish would gently take the fly and I would set the hook. 

They were nice fish up to 23 inches. The fish fights were often extended, uncertain affairs as seatrout are known for their delicate mouth structure. Avoiding putting too much strain on them was a perfect application for the long and supple fly rod.

Anchored close and off one side of the inlet, I was fishing out of a small 14-foot aluminum skiff that I had modified with flush fore and aft deck areas suitable for fly casting. It was a handy little boat with one drawback: Its thin metal hull could be noisy.

I was very careful moving about, and if I did make a noise, I would wait long minutes before resuming any activity. It was a lovely, calm night, and the waters were extremely flat.

During that particular evening, it was so quiet I could make out the distant croaking that the seatrout — members of the drum family — often make underwater when feeding in schools.

Bringing a particularly heavy specimen on board, I rapped it between the eyes with the weighty end of an aluminum flashlight. It quivered and stiffened. Assured it was sufficiently stunned, I slid it into the ice in my cooler.

Giving the night a few minutes to settle, I once again took my place on the stern casting deck. I had just missed a strike on my last cast when a violent thumping and rattling broke out from amidships. Apparently my seatrout had regained consciousness.

The sound in the still of that evening was loud and raucous, and despite the fact that I waited a number of minutes before resuming my casting, the bite was over and done. The school of fish had fled the area and did not return that night.

The lesson of that evening often comes into mind as I’m fishing. Fish have acute hearing and depend on it to keep them safe. Sound beneath the waves travels five times faster than it does above. Being a thousand times denser than air, water is also an ideal medium for propagation. Sound travels farther, much farther, underwater than above. And fish hear it all clearly.

The Chesapeake’s excellent angling makes it easy to forget that noise discipline is an important factor in fishing success. Sure, some anglers catch fish with their engines running, rock and roll blasting and themselves exuberant. But the smarter, bigger fish have most likely already vacated the area. That’s a fact to keep in mind.