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Nurseries want to sell, and planting time is right

Many garden centers and nurseries have fall sales to reduce their inventory. What doesn’t sell, they have to spend money protecting in winter or suffer losses.
    These sales are timed right for you, too, because early fall is a great time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials, as the plants have time to establish roots in their new soils before winter sets in.
    Plants produce new roots faster when their tops are going dormant. In preparation for winter, most woody plants stop growing leaves and new shoots starting in mid-August when daylight hours grow shorter and evenings become cooler. Thus, all of the sugars being produced by the foliage are directed toward growing new roots. New roots this fall means more top growth next spring.
    Container-grown plants you buy now have been growing in that container all summer. Therefore, it is likely that the outer edge of the root balls are encircled by roots, a good indication that the plants are root-bound.  If you transplant such plants without disturbing the roots, it is unlikely that they will survive the winter because new roots cannot break through the mat into the surrounding soil.  
    When removing plants from their containers, examine the root balls carefully. If the roots have filled the container, pull them loose or slash them with a sharp knife.  I prefer slashing the outer edge of the root ball from the top to the bottom approximately one inch deep at three- or four-inch intervals. By slashing the outer roots, you will be forcing the fine roots to branch and form new roots in the new soil.  
    An alternative method is to crush the root ball until you see the roots loosen, and use your fingers to pull the loosened roots away from the ball. This method requires more time but achieves similar results.
    Never dig the transplant hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball. Ninety percent of the roots of trees and shrubs are in the upper six inches of soil. Plant with 10 percent of the root ball above grade. Back-fill with a mixture of one-third by volume compost blended with two-thirds by volume existing soil.
    The compost will provide not only the essential nutrients for good root growth but also a transition zone for roots that have been growing in a soilless mixture. If you are transplanting azaleas, blueberries and related species, blend one to two tablespoons of gypsum into the soil before backfilling. Acid soils are nearly always deficient in calcium, which is essential for good root growth.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Only a very good friend shares a perch honey hole

My small spin rod was bent down deeply, and the delicate six-pound mono sizzled through the water as a small but mighty fish cut hard away, my spinner bait sparkling at the corner of its mouth.
    The sound of the lightly set drag feeding line was a sweet melody to my ears, reassuring me that its measured resistance would be unlikely to tear the hook from the perch’s delicate mouth. I intended to let that rascal run until it tired; then I would invite it to dinner, that very evening if things worked out.
    Behind my skiff’s console seat sat a small cooler designed for a six-pack of canned beverages but in this case perfect for another purpose. Half-full of crushed ice, it already nestled four 10- to 12-inch white perch that I had scored that morning. It had taken me over two dozen releases of smaller fish to garner these heftier prizes.
    I wanted these fish for a fry-up, and I knew from experience that the thicker fillets from perch that size would retain just the perfect amount of interior moisture and flavor yet yield a nicely crisp panko-coated exterior for a crunchy-on-the-outside-savory-in-the-middle dining experience. The thought of golden-brown fillets bubbling in hot peanut oil and the willingness of the numerous perch in residence to continually smash my small lures was turning my morning into a fine day.
    Recent problems with the rockfish bite in the mid-Bay had me baffled. Three straight six-hour outings with only undersized or barely keeper stripers to show for my efforts made me reconsider my strategies. Then I remembered an old axiom: If at first you don’t succeed, the heck with it. Try something else.
    The something else in this case was switching to white perch. The fact that I’ve also been having trouble consistently finding decent-sized perch did give me pause. The past season I had already had to write off extensive areas that had produced some great fishing over the past several years. The fish there had simply disappeared. Whether it was from over fishing or some environmental change, I was unsure, but there were no longer perch in residence. As tributary white perch are generally territorial and don’t move far from their home waters, I guessed it might take quite a long time for these locations to recover.
    My only option was to begin searching out new territory.
    The first attempts produced little success until a friend took pity on me. Fatigued by the unrelenting tales of my recent angling frustrations, he offered to show me the nearby location of his better perch successes. Of course he swore me to secrecy.
    I held out little hope that the area would live up to the hype. But having no better options at the time, I spent a morning with him testing the area.
    The shoreline we visited turned out to be one long honey hole. We were into good fish for more than three hours. The best white perch that day was a 13½-inch beauty boated by my friend. I easily iced down enough thick and heavy white perch for the dinner I had in mind.
    By then it was just 11am. Though overcast skies and a flood tide were extending the perfect conditions almost indefinitely, we quit the area for the day. It’s always wise to limit the harvest on a good fishing hole, saving the bulk of the population for later trips.
    Now I’ve got to redouble my efforts at discovering new perch fishing territory. One good spot is not enough to rely on for anywhere near the rest of the season. Besides, I’ve a favor to return.

Move crowded azaleas this month

Perhaps you planted young azaleas close together to achieve instant effects. Within a few years, those young azaleas will be crowding each other. Unless you remove some of them, they will grow tall and spindly.
    September is the best time of the year to dig and transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda, mountain laurel, blueberry and related species. By early September, the plants have stopped growing and are setting flower buds. When plants stop producing stems and leaves, they start producing roots. Thus, transplanting in September gives the plants time to establish themselves and be ready to resume normal growth in the spring when they begin to flower.
    When transplanted in the spring, the plants will flower, but new growth will be limited because the plants have to grow new stems, leaves and roots at the same time.  
     Azaleas and related species are very particular about where they grow. Unless irrigated during drought, they are best grown in light shade. On the other hand, the more direct sun plants receive, the more flowers they produce. Under dense shade, they will produce good dark foliage but few flowers.
    It is always best to grow these  plants in deep organic-rich soils that are acid in nature so they can absorb nitrogen in the ammonium form. Ammonium nitrogen is more readily available in acid soils than in neutral soils such as those good for growing annual flowers and vegetable gardens.
    To avoid problems, have your soil tested before planting. A good soil test will provide the pH of the existing soil, the amount of calcium and magnesium present as well as other essential nutrients essential for good plant growth. Never fertilize these species with lawn fertilizers; they contain nitrogen in the nitrate form, which will cause stunting.
    Acid soils tend to lack calcium, which is essential for good growth. Calcium is as important in plants as it is in humans. Thus, to supply calcium without making the soil neutral or alkaline, blend a few tablespoons of gypsum (calcium sulfate), into the soil before planting. If the soil is low in magnesium, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulfate.
    Successful transplanting also depends on careful watering. A newly transplanted shrub or tree should be watered thoroughly at three-day intervals. Light daily watering does more harm than good.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Hot weather is hard on anglers and hard on the fish, too

The first big fish came rather promptly, though in the end it proved a questionable blessing. I had flipped the half soft crab out to one of the bridge pilings and fed line under my thumb. The tide was crawling along, just slow enough to allow my quarter-ounce lead to sink the bait into the sweet zone.
    The sweet zone that day was at about 15 feet, halfway to the bottom. That’s where the fish arcs had shown on the sonar with our first exploratory drift past the bridge support. On our next pass we had dropped the baits.
    I felt a tap-tap, then a steady pull. Having been plagued by undersized rockfish the last few sorties, I did not want to deep-hook a fish that had to be released. So as soon as I had any indication that my quarry had the bait, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    My rod bent down, line feeding out against the firmly set drag, as the fish headed directly for the nearest concrete piling. Thumbing the spool a bit to slow that tactic convinced the clever devil to double back toward us … then to cross under the boat. The only thing to do in such circumstances is to plunge the rod tip deep into the water and hope the line doesn’t contact the hull. Fishing line rarely survives contact with a boat’s propeller or any of the other sharp metal edges down there.
    I struggled with the powerful rascal until the tidal current and wind twisted our skiff away from the structure. Then I put the helm hard over and shifted into reverse to clear the line from under the bottom. With the edge now in my favor, the bass began its surrender. When it flashed a few yards off of the gunnel, my partner readied the net.
    No need to measure this one, I thought. The fish was definitely in the 25- to 26-inch range, heavy and well proportioned. Then as it rolled into the folds of the net, I saw the ugly red sore on its shoulder. Without bringing the afflicted fish aboard, I removed the hook and turned it loose.
    The rockfish looked healthy enough otherwise, and I hoped that the coming colder water would kill the bacteria causing the infection so the fish could regain its health.
    The next few rockfish were undersized releases; then we got lucky with a fat 22-incher and put him on ice. But after that, no matter which bridge pier we drifted to (and there were many), the shorter rockfish plus some sizeable perch showed up to consume the rest of our supply of soft crabs.
    Heading back to the ramp tired and with just one fish in the box, we were happy to be nearing the end of summer. The latter part of August had not been kind to our efforts. Foul hot weather, temperamental fish (too many of them bearing sores) and the arrival of large numbers of undersized schoolies had jinxed us.
    September and the coming of autumn hold the promise of better things. Colder weather and cooler water seem to improve the vitality and size of the Bay’s rockfish. Plus, from recent reports and the count of boats launching in late afternoon, there is every evidence that the shallow water bite may come early this year.
    Fishing has often been described as the most optimistic of sports, a triumph of hope over experience. With the changing seasons, that pretty much describes my attitude.

These sensitive trees show you air pollution in action

If your Heritage birch is dropping yellow leaves, blame it on the Orange Alert of early August. Heritage birch is a clone of river birch, which is highly sensitive to both ozone and sulfur dioxide. Both of these gasses are present in an Orange Alert.
    An Orange Alert is announced to warn the elderly and people with pulmonary disorders to remain indoors in air-conditioning and minimize outdoor activities until the alert is lifted. Heritage birch, the deciduous trees most sensitive to air pollutants, have no choice but to remain in place and try to survive.
    Maple, oak, cherry, apple, dogwood and other tree species are not affected.
    Only older leaves are yellowing and dropping. Younger leaves closer to the ends of the branches are remaining green, and the trees are producing new leaves at the ends of the branches.
    Age is the cause of the leaf drop. The spongy layer of plant cells in leaves converts carbon dioxide into oxygen by absorbing air through small openings called stomata on the underside of birch tree leaves. These stomata are surrounded by guard cells that open and close depending on moisture, time of day and the presence of air pollutants.
    In younger leaves, the guard cells remain very flexible. As soon as they detect air pollutants entering the leaves they close, thus preventing damage to the spongy leaf tissues that absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, as leaves age, the guard cells become sluggish and sometimes stop functioning, thus allowing the polluted air to enter and kill the spongy leaf tissues. In other words, the guard cells are not as spry as they once were.
    Once the spongy leaf tissues are killed by the air pollutants, the older leaves react as if they had been damaged by an early frost.
    If the air pollution were to occur at night, it is unlikely the problem would be as severe because the guard cells close at about the same time the sun sets. The damage would be limited to only those leaves where the guard cells are stuck in the open position.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Finding feeding seabirds will save you time and speed up your catch

The seabirds, scores of them about 100 yards away, were wheeling, screaming and diving. We could see the splashes of fish wildly feeding just under the surface. They were not the explosive strikes of the big stripers we had hoped for, but it was impossible to ignore them.
    Running ahead but well outside of the feeding school, I chopped the skiff’s throttle, turned and eased within casting range. My partner and I flung our lures just to the edge of the action. I was fishing a half-ounce Bass Assassin, and Moe, a half-ounce gold Red Eye Shad.
    Moe’s rod dipped down almost immediately from a strike, and I felt a sharp tap, tap, tap. “Bluefish,” I snorted, “small ones.” I could imagine the toothy little devils reducing my five-inch soft bait to a stub.
    My friend landed, then carefully unhooked a wriggling nine-inch snapper blue from the treble hooks of his crank bait and released it. I pulled the shredded remains of the soft plastic body from my jig head and searched in my box for another to replace it.
    “This is not going to get any better,” I said, looking across the acre or so of small splashes. “Let’s vamoose.”
    Putting the boat up on plane and scanning the horizon, I soon saw another group of working birds about a quarter-mile away.
    Bigger birds, bigger fish.
    “Those are bill gulls over there,” I said. “Maybe we’re in luck.” Ten minutes later we had two fat rockfish thumping on the deck, though neither was a keeper. A few more casts and a look at the fish-finder confirmed the absence of anything approaching the 20-inch minimum, so off we went again.
    Across the Bay and into the distance were several groups of birds working over feeding fish. We had a job to do, and I was glad that I had remembered to top off the gas tank that morning.

How to Catch Them
    Late August is the beginning of fishing for breaking rockfish under birds. A more exciting fishery just does not exist on the Chesapeake. We were following up on reports of a couple of acres of 30-plus-inch fish just off Love Point. We never encountered that school. We did, however, enjoy lots of hook-ups and releases.
    You can do a couple of things to make the most of these opportunities. First, you need a good pair of binoculars; models with image stabilizing are particularly helpful. Scanning the waters to find birds that have located the feeding fish will save you a good bit of time.
    Next, know your birds. Terns and young laughing gulls are the smaller birds you see wheeling about the Bay. They feed almost exclusively on silversides and anchovies. Bigger predator fish will sometimes key on the small baitfish, but this time of year these schools attract mostly smaller rockfish and bluefish.
    Mature laughing gulls are a bit larger, the ring-billed gull larger still, then the herring gull on up to the black-backed gull, the largest of all. When these bigger birds are on the feed, you can bet that the baitfish will be bigger and the game fish chasing them larger as well.
    The very best trophy fish-finders are pelicans and gannets with wingspreads of more than six feet. They’ll be working over the schools of the largest menhaden and the heaviest rockfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
    There are other protocols. Never run into the midst of a breaking school. That will put them down and anger anyone else trying to fish them. Turn off your engine while engaging breakers for the same reason, and don’t cast into their midst. You’ll avoid cutoffs from sharp gill plates of rockfish and teeth and abrasive tails of bluefish if you always work the edges.
    If the feeding fish on top are small, go deep. Bigger fish are sometimes on the bottom picking up baitfish injured by the frantic, smaller fish feeding on top.
    Squash your hook barbs if you’re doing a lot of catch and release. It will make things easier for you and the fish.

We have the knowledge but not the will to fix the problem

In a recent fishing trip with residents of the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, we could not help but notice how brown the water appeared even after several miles of boating into Herring Bay. One of the veterans asked why. I explained to him that what he was seeing was mostly clay in suspension.
    Where is it coming from?
    Clay comes from agricultural fields and home gardeners with exposed soils as well as from construction sites.
    “How can it come from construction sites,” he wanted to know, “as they are required to surround such sites with silt fences?”
    Silt fences remove only floating organic waste, sand and silt. They do not remove clay from water flowing through them or nutrients soluble in the water.
    Only two methods effectively remove nutrients and clay from waters penetrating silt fences. The water must be treated in a waste water treatment facility with tertiary water treatment or be passed through compost.
    Research has clearly demonstrated that water filtered through silt fences can be purified by passing the water through a berm of active compost. Because of the negative and positive charges in compost, clay particles are trapped along with nutrients. Growing winter rye in those berms of compost also helps in absorbing nutrients trapped in the compost.
    This information — common knowledge to us researchers — has been presented at many public meetings and published in trade magazines. One company manufactures Filtrex Sox, a mesh tube 12 to 18 inches in diameter and filled with compost. The tube has an apron that forces water to flow through it.
    This information has been presented to highway departments and at contractor meetings without much success. Rebuttals have been “we use bales of straw or mounds of wood-chips” to filter surface water. These methods do not solve the problem of trapping muddy water because neither has positive and negative changes attracting particles and nutrients.
    It’s an old familiar story: Research tells us what must be done, but great resistance rises against new and improved methods. Change comes slowly unless it is made mandatory.
    Enough said.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Our four have assisted all in their own ways

Four dogs have helped us run Upakrik Farm.
    Our first farm dog was a black cocker spaniel. Dixie moved with us from College Park but adapted to farm life. She quickly learned the perimeter of the fields and the joy of riding on the tractor. The sound of its diesel engine made her stop what she was doing and make a beeline for the tractor. Despite her short legs, she would jump onto the platform and sit behind my legs, watching as we drove. She was a great companion during the many hours I spent on the tractor preparing the fields for planting.
    For some unknown reason, she needed help getting down from the platform to the ground. I often suspected that she would have preferred staying on the tractor. Dixie was good at chasing squirrels and rabbits but to my knowledge never caught any. One night when she was 14 years old, Dixie walked away from the farm never to be found.
    Several months after Dixie left us, we adopted an eight-month-old golden retriever. Dandy was not much of a farm dog and did not like riding in the tractor or even a car. But he was a great companion who loved to play fetch and follow me around the farm. He always stayed within eyesight of me, and whenever I stopped to rest, he would come to me wanting to be petted. I never saw him chase squirrels or rabbits, but one day I found him licking baby rabbits in a litter under a tree. I watched him nudge the baby rabbits with his long nose and wash a few with his tongue while holding them between his front paws. I had to pull Dandy away so mother rabbit could approach and feed the babies. He paid daily visits to those baby rabbits until they left the lay.
    For a short time after we adopted Dandy, T.J. joined the family. He appeared to be a cross between a cocker spaniel and a basset hound. We adopted him from our oldest daughter, who was having difficulty training him. Within days, T.J. and I became inseparable. He followed me wherever I went on the farm and would lie patiently by my desk when I had office duties to perform.
    Since T.J. was a rescue dog, we knew nothing of his background except that he had a stiff rear right leg, evident when he walked or ran. One day while following me in the field, he tripped and fell while chasing a rabbit. He was in pain and unable to stand. Since the accident occurred in the evening, I carried him to the house and laid him on the foot of the bed. The next morning I brought him to the veterinarian where X-rays reveled breaks in the shoulder joints of both front legs. The X-ray also reveled he had a metal pin in his right rear leg, which caused him to limp. Because damage was extensive and with an apparent history of broken bones, I decided to have him put down. Clara and I both missed T.J. because he was the only dog we could take for a canoe ride, as he sat motionless and seemed to enjoy the changing scenery.
    Our current dog, Lusby, is a Carolina dog, a breed related to dingoes. She is a rescue dog from Georgia, where she was on death row. Lusby is a real farm dog and knows the territory. She has reduced the squirrel, rabbit and groundhog population and even catches mice. She prefers being outdoors and running beside my golf cart instead of riding in it. Lusby follows me all over the farm and stays within eyesight. When I stop to rest, she comes to check on me but is not a dog that likes to be petted much. She is my back-seat companion when I drive the truck.
    Lusby is great with children whose parents come to cut Christmas trees. She shows off by running at great speed in circles and follows the children through the trees. She will even fetch sticks and balls for children, though she will not fetch for me.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Gone all too soon

Dogs’ lives are too short.
Their only fault, really.

–Agnes Turnbull

As I watched her clumsy frolic across the yard, attempting to catch the stuffed bear she had just tossed into the air, it was hard to believe that we had met almost 14 years ago. My dog, Sophie, a particularly comely German shorthair pointer, was just seven weeks old then.
    Our family had been without a dog for some time. Noticing an ad for a litter of German shorthairs in the pet section of the daily paper, my wife and I impulsively took a ride to the Eastern Shore just to look. Of course we did far more than look.
    The breeder, a woman of great knowledge and affection for GSPs, ushered us to her back yard. There, the whole litter of pups, some 10 or so, were engrossed in a wild melee.
    We noticed a small female in the middle of the scrum using her stature to unusual advantage. As her littermates attempted to dominate her, she dodged under and around the outdoor furniture scattered throughout the yard.
    Then, as she threaded through the forest of rough wooden legs and low seats, twisting and turning, she would double back upon an unprotected rear, sending that pup sprawling and rolling across the lawn.
    The breeder and her husband, a fellow bird hunter, tried to interest me in one of Sophie’s stouter littermates. But after meeting and holding the affectionate pup, we were not dissuaded.
    On the ride back to Annapolis, Deb drove while I held the pup. Alert at first, she peered out the car window as we departed her birthplace. Then she looked around us, curled up in my lap, pushed her head against my chest and slept all the way home.
    Our first few months together were an exquisite adventure. On our first trips to the Eastern Shore to exercise in a large, overgrown field, I would purchase a half-dozen or so pen-raised quail to release for her to seek out. She loved the game and became adept at locating the birds, pointing, then chasing after them for a few yards when I flushed them into the air.
    I marveled at how she mastered the sport.
    We were approaching the edge of a grassy field near where I had earlier released a quail when she went on an intense point. Sometimes if a gamebird sits for a time in one location, then moves on, the scent that concentrates in that spot will cause a dog to false point.
    That seemed to be happening because, as I kicked just about every bit of nearby cover, no bird flushed. The edge of that field was bordered by another field of freshly plowed vacant ground.
    I tried to call her off, but Sophie would not move. For every bit of five minutes, she continued to hold her muscle-quivering point.
    It was only when I looked over the abutting expanse of turned and barren earth that a tiny movement caught my eye. The quail was sitting 50 feet away, virtually invisible among the clods of dark brown dirt but in a direct though distant line with Sophie’s quivering nose. I never again doubted her.
    Those memories crossed my mind as I watched her returning across our yard with the stuffed bear held proudly. Then she stumbled and, unable to catch herself, fell. Slowly and with some confusion she regained her footing and resumed her way back to me.
    Sophie was failing and had been for some time. I doubted she would see Christmas this year.
    A dog’s only fault, I’ve read, is their short lifespan and Sophie’s was reaching its end. With a catch in my throat I welcomed her back to me, holding her and telling her what a great girl she was. It was all I could do.

How else to explain such a catch?

Pulling on the trotline one final time to straighten it and ensure proper tension, we dropped the red trailing float and released its anchor into the water, completing the setup. It was just after sunrise, an early start being a necessity when hoping for a good catch of blue crabs. Still, we also knew our job was not going to be easy.
    There had been nothing but bad news this season on the local population of jimmies. My friend Frank had invited me on this trip with the understanding that he needed a basket of crabs for a gathering later that very afternoon. But, perhaps, if we caught enough, a few fat males might come my way.
    That possibility, I knew, was slim to none. But hope springs eternal on the Chesapeake. We also had two lucky charms with us: two of Frank’s granddaughters, Emma and Sydney, ages nine and 10.
    If anything tugs at the heartstrings of crabbing’s Lady Luck, it’s a youngster on board, and two female youngsters pull on them that much more. Frank and I, of course, had no idea how much good fortune the girls would bring.

Fishing a Trotline
    A simple crabbing trotline has the chicken neck baits tied directly onto the line, generally one every five to seven feet. There is a drawback to that simplicity. When the line begins to be pulled up off the bottom, the weight of the crab grasping the neck flips it over. Often that startles the critter enough to cause it to drop off.
    Our trotline, however, was rigged with snoods. A snood is a dropper line about six inches long knotted onto the main line and rigged with a slip loop to hold the chicken neck. This tends to keep crabs holding on all the way to the surface as the line is pulled up.
    Our first run was startling. In recent seasons, the number of crabs in the Bay has dropped significantly, to about half that of years past and worse in some areas. If a sport crabber nets just a few legal (51⁄4 inches) males off a trot line with some 200 baits, lately that’s considered a good catch.
    When we reached the end of the line and lifted it off the roller, we rushed back to the culling basket and counted. Fourteen keeper-sized jimmies crowded the bottom, fiercely brandishing big, bright blue claws and daring us to come closer. It was an awesome beginning, but, we feared, unlikely to continue.
    Then it did. Taking turns, the girls netted crab after crab. Occasionally, the girls relinquished their nets to do a share of the culling, allowing us adults to make the catch.
    Within an hour, keeper jimmies were filling the big orange basket, climbing up and over the top to scuttle into the confines of the boat. That wouldn’t do. So we put a lid on the first basket and pulled out a second.
    Well before the end of the morning, the impossible was accomplished: Two bushels of big, beautiful blue crabs, one for Frank, and the other, quite miraculously, for me. Motoring back to the dock we all congratulated ourselves and, especially, our lucky charms.