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Learn the trick — and the science

Hardy mums planted for color last fall most likely survived the winter and are now rising in clumps in your garden. Here’s how to get them ready to bloom again this fall.
    To move mums to new spots: For lots of smaller plants, dig the clumps and divide them into smaller clumps of one, three or five stems each, with roots firmly attached. Transplant them 12 to 18 inches apart. After they have started to grow, prune the stems, leaving only three or four leaves near the bottom of the stem, for two to three branches per plant.
    To manage them in place: Get out the hedge shears and prune the tops away, leaving only a few leaves at the bottom of the stems. These undisturbed clumps will quickly generate multiple stems. Allow the new stems to grow about six inches before shearing away the upper half of the new growth. Continue shearing away the tops of the plants until July 23. Shear with a slight curve to make them naturally round like a large beach ball. This method will give you bushel-basket sized plants that will flower starting, depending on the variety, in early September until frost.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, meaning that they initiate flower buds when daylight hours are fewer than 10 to 12. Thus you stop shearing them on July 23 so the plants will have time to send up new growth before flower bud initiation begins at the end of each stem. Some varieties require 24 hours of total darkness, while other varieties require only 22 hours of total darkness for flower bud initiation. Exposing the plants to a flash of light from a flood lamp, street lighting or light from vehicles during the daily dark cycle may prevent the plants from flowering. Once the round flower buds become visible at the ends of the stems, total darkness during the dark cycle is no longer necessary.
    Chrysanthemums are similar to poinsettia with regards to short-day requirements. Other common short-day plants are garlic and Vidalia onions. Vidalia onions — planted in Vidalia County, Georgia, in the fall for spring harvesting — require short days to produce bulbs. Just as the Champagne region of France is the unique producer of champagne, Vidalia County is the unique producer of Vidalia onions. The soils in that region are low in sulfur, resulting in mild onions.
    Because of our harsh winters, Maryland is best for long-day (and intermediate) onions. Planted in the spring, these onions produce bulbs because they are growing during long daylight hours.


Pruning Photinia

Q A row of redtip Photinia between my property and my neighbor is over 20 years old and has been pruned repeatedly. They are now taller than the garage but sparse at the bottom. If I cut them down to about five feet, will they fill out? Or are the base branches too thick? I have attended your pruning seminars and I know you can cut back a lot of shrubs and they bounce back. But I want to make sure I won’t do any damage before I proceed.
    I thoroughly enjoy your column and often clip it to keep in my garden notebook.

– Bonnie Smith, Lusby

A Photinia is nearly impossible to kill by pruning, though you should have pruned them before they resumed growth earlier this spring.  When you cold-cut these plants down to the ground, they return like gangbusters.  If you cut them back hard now, they will sprout only at the uppermost branches. If you wait and prune them back early next spring, they will grow new sprouts at the bottom.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Founding father John Adams wanted to celebrate Independence Day July second rather than the fourth, but he was the visionary in celebrating with fireworks. The Adams family hosted huge Independence Day celebrations for generations.
    In a letter to his wife, Abagail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will … be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.
    Fourth of July fireworks displays became the standard in the 1880s.
    The first fireworks are believed to have been made in China around 2,000 years ago, when gunpowder stuffed into bamboo was detonated. Ever since, people have been fascinated by their magic. Fireworks were especially popular in Renaissance Europe, when royalty set them off to punctuate celebrations.
    In 1608 Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display on Chesapeake Bay to impress Native Americans.
    Today’s fireworks are complicated affairs with each color created by a mix of chemicals. Copper burns blue. Strontium salts and lithium salts burn red. Sodium burns yellow. Calcium burns orange. Barium burns green. Charcoal and lampblack burn gold. Magnesium, aluminum and titanium burn white or silver.
    Setup for large fireworks displays like the ones in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach or Solomons can take days. Each display is carefully choreographed and timed. It takes years to master the skills to pull off a dazzling show. Fireworks can also be extremely dangerous, so leave it to the pros to handle the light show this year.
    See page 12 for a listing of this year’s local fireworks, with some falling before July 4, which would please John Adams.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Mastering your electronics will increase your catch

I’ve had a great past two weeks fishing the Chesapeake. Nice rockfish to 34 inches were in multiple small mobs, hanging in 20 to 30 feet of water. When I located one on the finder, they promptly attacked any jigs or baits we dropped on them. A number of friends had the same experience.
    Yet later this week, I heard from anglers who had cruised the same waters and hadn’t been able to catch anything. What’s more, they told me, they generally had trouble catching rockfish, despite serious effort.
    Digging deeper I ferreted out a common denominator. All had electronic fish finders on their craft but weren’t up to speed on using them. Depth was about all they understood.
    It’s a dictum of fishing the salt that 90 percent of the task is locating the fish. The single most effective tool in finding fish on large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake, is the electronic fish finder.
    Locating fish with the finder does not guarantee that you will catch them. But it is impossible to catch fish that aren’t there, no matter how hard you try.
    Today’s fish finders are able instruments with multiple options to tailor them to your unique marine environment and detect just about anything underwater you’d care to find. Based to a certain extent on anti-submarine technology, these babies are so technically sophisticated that they remain illegal for export to foreign countries.
    But a few days ago I was reminded of just how daunting dealing with these instruments can be. My unit hiccupped during booting and failed to load. When I turned it off and back on again to reboot, I saw that most of my settings had been lost and the unit’s displays were unrecognizable.
    It had been years since I set the machine up and fine-tuned it, so I had no memory of how I did it. With multiple screen menus each with many options, I had to go back to the manual and start over.
    Turning on my unit with my boat on its trailer beside my house, I had no distractions. With the manual in my lap, I went through the setup again. A basic menu option on any recently manufactured unit is a reset to original manufacturer defaults. That’s where I started.
    If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with electronics, I recommend you begin there as well. There is little intuitive about setting up a fish finder, but most manuals are fairly helpful.
    If the original manual for your machine cannot be located, most manufacturers offer them on their websites. As a last resort, you can call the manufacturer and order a copy.
    Do not attempt to set up or review your settings while fishing; There are just too many distractions.
    Once you’ve entered your initial settings, take a short cruise (with the manual and without your tackle) to fine-tune them.
    Repeat, trying different options and watching your screen to observe the effects. If your choices end in confusion, reset to the default settings and start over.
    A well-tuned instrument will become a customized tool that meets your requirements, eye and angling techniques. The reward will come in terms of more fish in the boat and more confidence in your approach.

Chesapeake Curiosities

At the corner of routes 468 and 255 in Galesville, a lovely, tree-filled cemetery reminds us that one of the first Quaker communities was in Chesapeake Country. George Fox, the father of the Religious Society of Friends — the proper name for the Quakers — opened the meeting house in Galesville in 1672, uniting various Quaker groups in Maryland into the first organized West River Yearly Meeting of Friends.
    Fox advocated nonviolence, equality, obedience to God, simplicity and conviction of the Divine Presence within every individual. He promoted his cause in his native England, throughout Europe, then in the colonies.
    “Quakers first arrived in Maryland in the 1650s after being expelled from Virginia,” wrote Quaker historian Peter Rabenold in History of Quakers in Southern Maryland.
    Maryland was more tolerant of religions than other colonies. For nearly a century, the Quaker community thrived, with hundreds of Quaker families establishing themselves throughout the area. Galesville gets its name from the Gales, a prominent Quaker family, according to the Galesville Historical Society.
    The religion declined in the mid to late 1700s. Some families moved when residents were asked to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore as Quakers don’t swear oaths. Additional decline was due to the Maryland chapter of the religion outlawing slavery in 1777.
    “Friends who did not wish to give up their slaves became Episcopalians. Those who gave up their slaves moved out of the area, since they could not grow tobacco economically without slaves,” Rabenold wrote.
    By the 1800s the meeting house in Galesville had largely been abandoned. Today, a historical marker is the only evidence that the meeting house existed.
    The cemetery is distinctive because Quakers mostly do not mark their graves with headstones, following the Quaker principle that all people are equal and headstones differentiate and elevate one over another. Thus Quaker graves at the Galesville burial ground are unmarked.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

 

The concept couldn’t be simpler or the results better

My life as a sportsman has undergone any number of wild, unorganized, swings of interest. Angling-wise, I have immersed myself for long periods of dedication to salt-water fly-fishing, freshwater bass and bluegill fishing, a few years of an offshore blue-water crusade and plenty of surf and inshore wade fishing. Only in the last three years have I become absorbed by bait fishing in the Chesapeake.
    Perhaps it is because I don’t quite have the excess energy so advantageous to wielding the long rod, plugging the shallows with a casting rod or thrashing the oceanside high surf with a big stick and heavy metal. Plus, rising well before dawn to get the jump on big fish in skinny water or staying up past midnight to work an opportune tide no longer have the old attraction.
    Bait fishing, I’ve found, is a more relaxed pastime. The open-water bite, particularly in the Bay, is just as good during the day as the night, so there is no reason to wreck sleep patterns or strain domestic relationships to enjoy a dance with our game fish.
    Its basic concept couldn’t be simpler: decide on a species; determine what they usually eat and present it to them where they are most apt to be found.
    On the Chesapeake, species selection is fairly straightforward. It’s rockfish and white perch for most of the year and croaker and spot during the hotter months. I’ve excluded bluefish, drum and Spanish mackerel because of their mostly tentative presence in the mid- and upper Bay over the last decade.
    Rockfish — striped bass — are the most sought-after species by area anglers and rightly so. A particularly handsome, silvery striped fish with excellent table qualities, rockfish is just selective enough in its eating habits to be a challenge to catch.
    It is also sufficiently numerous to provide fairly frequent limits of two fish to all but the most casual anglers. The fact that it can be encountered in the Bay in sizes from barely two pounds for a legal possession to in excess of 50 pounds adds drama to the pursuit.
    Presenting the freshest cut menhaden, crab or a big lively bloodworm as bait will result, as likely as not, in the relatively prompt attention of any nearby rockfish. Attention to your rod tip is mandatory, as on many days stripers will sip the bait off your hook with nary a twitch to betray it.
    Time your strike properly. Sometimes a quick pull on the rod is necessary, particularly with small, soft baits. Other times, and especially with larger baits, if you don’t give the fish time to get it well into its mouth, your strike will result in nothing but a water haul.
    Another challenging baiting technique is live-lining. Presenting a frisky baitfish such as a four- or five-inch white perch or Norfolk spot near structure where rockfish like to hang out can result in some electrifying moments. A 30-inch striper on a medium-weight spin or casting rod will make any outing memorable.
    White perch are often, and quite mistakenly, overlooked or regarded as undemanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The smaller sizes of perch are so eager to bite that they can amount to a nuisance, while the larger, those 10 inches and over, can be challenging and should be regarded as a premium catch, especially for the table. They like bloodworms, grass shrimp, crab.
    Norfolk spot and croaker can also be taken on the same baits as perch and are often found in the same areas. They are also frequently in such numbers that it is an ideal fishery for youngsters just starting out.
    The saying All good things come to those who bait is often spoken as angler’s jest. But in my time on the water, I have found it has a solid ring of truth.

Pros and cons of straw, paper, ­plastic and reflective mulches

It is a big mistake to mulch your tomato plants when you plant them. When organic mulches such as straw are applied at planting time on cool soil, the cool will linger. This will retard growth, flowering and fruiting. Wait to mulch vegetable gardens until soil temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees.
    Straw, the most common organic mulch, is generally weed-free and relatively inexpensive. Never use hay if you wish to avoid major weed problems in the future. Hay is often harvested after the seed heads are well developed, and some bales of hay may contain other plants.
    Newspapers are another common mulch, but some people fear that inks may contain heavy metals and glossy paper might contain chemicals. Nearly all black inks used are made of soy. I wish printers were still using zinc-based inks because many of our soils are deficient in zinc, an essential plant nutrient. The colored inks are also organic in nature. The gloss on some papers is the result of the paper being treated with special clay that is harmless.
    It takes 12 to 14 sheets of newsprint to provide adequate depth for weed control. To keep it from being lifted by wind, soak the paper with water immediately after laying it on the ground. Laying sticks across the papers or sprinkling on soil before wetting is also helpful.
    The best paper mulch is made of shredded paper. A five- to eight-inch-thick layer of shredded paper will quickly mat down to a one-quarter-inch layer that will easily stay in place after being saturated with water. By fall, the paper will have disintegrated, leaving little to no residue.
    Mulching-grade black plastic not only controls weeds but also conserves moisture. It is best applied soon after tilling the soil and before trans­planting. When transplanting, simply cut an X with a sharp knife for plants. Where seeds are to be planted, the black plastic mulch must be applied after the seedlings have emerged. Anchor the edges of the plastic with soil immediately after it is laid.
    Reflective mulches do a three-fold job: preventing weeds, reducing water loss by evaporation and repelling insects. Aluminized paper or plastic mulches are used primarily in growing squash, cucumbers and melons to repel the stripped cucumber beetle. The light reflected by the aluminum is polarized, confusing the insects as many navigate using light waves of different length. Reflective light also increases the amount of chlorophyll on the underside of leaves it reflects on. An early study with reflective mulches on tomato plants reported a one-third increase in chlorophyll in leaves, with most of the increase on the under side nearest the reflective light source. Several gardening catalogs advertise red mulch for under tomato plants.


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

Once trees reach a certain size, roots cannot re-stabilize the plant

The combination of saturated soil and strong winds has tilted trees and tall shrubs. If the trunk of a tilted tree is thicker than four ­inches, it is unlikely that the tree can be straightened and remain upright without permanent support. This is also true of large shrubs. The problem lies with the inability of roots larger than two inches in diameter to regenerate and develop sufficient size to stabilize the plant.
    This spring I have seen several large arborvitae, spruce and maple trees that appeared to have been blown over now supported with ropes and cables in an effort to straighten them. In most instances this is futile without a permanent brace, especially if the plant is part of a hedge or screen. In this case the problem is not only the plant’s inability to generate new roots from the large roots but also root competition from surrounding plants.
    Another problem associated with trying to straighten a large tree or shrub is girdling. Wrapping a cable, chain or rope around the stem of a plant and leaving it for more than a year will strangulate it. As the diameter of the stem increases, the binding will prevent the stem from enlarging above the point of contact, resulting in death of the higher portions. Whenever wrapping anything around a growing stem, readjust the ties periodically and pad them with wide straps or slats of vinyl or wood to distribute the pressure on the stem.
    Where plants growing in a screen or hedge have been blown over, it is generally best to remove the plant and allow the adjoining plants to fill in the space. With competition removed, nearby branches will occupy the vacant space with surprising speed. A common practice in commercial nurseries is to dig every other plant, allowing the remaining ones to nearly double their size in half the normal time because of less competition for light, water and nutrients.
    The problems with replacing blown-over plants with new plants is matching the existing plants in size, shape and color. After new plants are in place, they must be kept properly irrigated because the roots of surrounding established plants have a greater capacity to absorb water.
    Narrow-leaf evergreen screens and hedges have another problem, especially if they are dense, in bottom branches with no live needles. Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs, narrow-leaf evergreens are not able to grow new branches after needles have fallen. The complete loss of live green needles means death to that branch. Thus, for trees like arborvitae, pine, spruce, juniper, fir and chamaecyparis, dead-looking brown, brittle branches will never turn green again.


Free Gita Bean Seeds

    Over the years, I have recommended growing Gita pole beans in your garden. Fully mature, Gita beans will grow to a length of almost three feet. However, harvested when they are about 12" to 18" long with a diameter of a pencil, they are tasty and tender. Gita perform best in the heat of summer in full sun. The plants will grow up to 10 feet in height and will flower and produce fruit simultaneously. For the past two years I have been collecting seeds and testing them.
    If you would like to try growing Gita beans, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I will return to you a dozen or more seeds. Send your letter to F.R. Gouin, 420 E. Bay Front Rd., Deale, MD 20751.


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

You’re not alone in loving soft crabs

In early morning, we were drifting bridge structure for rockfish on a slowly moving tide. I had already dropped down my bait, lightly weighted with just a quarter-ounce twist-on sinker, and fed out plenty of line. Thinking it finally near the rubble-strewn floor 30 feet below, I put my thumb on the spool and lifted the rod tip to give the bait a bit of motion. I may have waited too long. Apparently my rig was hung up on the bottom.
    Shifting the Yamaha into reverse, I crept back up-current to get a better angle to try to work it loose. But the line angled off in an unexpected direction into the water.
    Suddenly suspicious, I put the reel in gear, cranked in line to eliminate any slack and lifted the rod in a strike. Something powerful came immediately alive on the other end, unhappy with the sudden pressure. My spool blurred, and the drag hummed as a large and angry fish headed away. The king of baits had seduced another victim.
    Bait-fishing is about the oldest technique for catching fish on hook and line. It also remains the deadliest. From producing the most fish to securing the largest, it continues to be the ultimate method.
    However, not all baits are equal.
    Worms, baitfish of all types, clams, squid, shrimp and their ilk are all great producers at one time or another on the Chesapeake. But one bait in particular will outproduce all others: the soft crab.
    Like human epicureans, most of the fish in the Bay love soft crab. Its mere scent makes virtually every species of pan or game fish throw caution to the wind in their desire to find and consume it.
    Anglers determined to tempt larger rockfish from their lairs will often find that just a half or quarter of a soft crab is sufficient to get their attention. Many anglers prefer to present these baits on a treble hook, believing that the extra hook points mean a more solid purchase within the bait, so they can strike instantly upon noticing any degree of bite and be assured of a hook-up.
    The 34-incher below that bridge abutment was just the last of our limit that morning to fall victim to our supply of softies. The remainder of our baits we would use (in smaller pieces) to temp the lunker white perch that often populate the bases of the same bridge piers that larger rockfish like to frequent.
    Though rockfish consider most white perch legitimate prey, an 11- or 12-inch perch with big, needle-sharp spikes on its fins is usually safe from all but the largest rockfish. While these big perch are well experienced, having survived at least six or seven seasons and among the more difficult types to entice with the usual baits, they, too, cannot resist a piece of tasty soft crab.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a holiday to match Mother’s Day in honor of fathers because she and her five siblings were raised by a widower. She worked to gain — and found — community support. Her home state, Washington, was the first to have a recognized Father’s Day in 1910. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
    In the intervening years, the idea drew some controversy. In the early years, opponents criticized Father’s Day as a commercial invention, requiring gifts for a made-up reason. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement rose to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a unified Parent’s Day.
    The Depression and World War II cemented Father’s Day as retailers seized on the holiday to bolster business. During World War II, the holiday gained favor as another way to honor the men serving their country away from home.
    This year, consumers are anticipated to spend an average $125.92 on Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation’s annual survey. That’s up $10 from last year’s $115.57. Total spending is expected to reach $14.3 billion, the highest in the survey’s 13-year history but still below this year’s Mother’s Day total of $21.4 billion.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Big fish love to eat them

It started with a comment by an angling buddy who had been fishing for white perch the day before. “I was getting them two at a time, but they were nowhere near big enough,” he said. “I had to search another three hours before I found any keepers.”
    Early the next morning, I was on that very same site with my trusty perch tackle: a light six-foot rig able to handle drifting a two-ounce sinker and a hi-lo rig in deep water. My No. 6 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a small spinner, were baited with nice bits of juicy bloodworm.
    Slowly cruising the area, I found promising marks on my electronic finder and lowered the baits to the bottom 20 feet below. Within a few minutes, I had a thrashing beauty to the surface and then in my hand: a five-inch white perch. Another 20 minutes resulted in a dozen more swimming in my live well. These guys were going to be perfect baits to live-line for rockfish.
    I racked the perch rig in the console rod holder, fired up my Yamaha, kicked the skiff up on plane and headed for my new destination at full throttle. There was not a minute to lose. This was going to be a morning bite — if there was to be any bite at all.
    The bridge I had in mind had not been very productive of late. Jig anglers who normally target the structure for rockfish had migrated. Throttling down and approaching at slow speed, I noted that I had no company.
    Being the only angler in a normally congested area can mean one of two things: Either I was going to be the first to discover a good bite … or everyone else already knew something I didn’t. Hoping for the former, I netted the smallest perch I could find from the live well, gently slid the 6/0 hook just under its skin in front of the dorsal and flipped it over the side close to a concrete pier.
    As the released perch headed for the bottom, I lightly thumbed my reel letting the spool spin freely as 20-pound mono followed the fish into the depths. With no weight and a light fluorocarbon leader, I was depending on the perch to get down to the proper depth where, I hoped, it would be ambushed by a rockfish.
    I did not have to wait long. First I felt the perch make a number of rapid dashes, then all movement stopped. Slowly, then more rapidly, my line began to move away from the structure, going deeper, then heading for the other end of the concrete pier.
    When a striper takes a white perch, it inevitably does three things. First it disables the baitfish with a crushing bite. Then, because of the perch’s sharp spines, it turns it head-first in its jaws. Only then does it swallow the baitfish. Hoping that the fish below had completed these steps, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    The satisfying bend in my rod indicated success as the fish below went wild, pulling line off my reel. I let it run while I shifted my quietly idling motor into reverse to pull away from the bridge.
    Thumbing the spool to add more resistance to the running fish, I slowly increased separation from the bridge and began to draw my adversary into more open water where I could let it run at will. Twenty-pound mono is no match for barnacle-encrusted bridge piers.
    A few minutes later, I led a fat, shining rockfish into my landing net. After measuring and admiring the 23-inch fish, I deposited it into my fish box and covered it with ice. I had dinner plans for this one.
    It took another hour before I could put its twin on ice as well. Releasing the remaining perch from my live well, I fired up my outboard and headed for home, well before noon.