Maine Home Garden News — March 2020

In This Issue:

March Is the Month to . . .

By Pamela Hargest, Horticulture Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Cumberland County

  • Create a plan. Review your garden notes from last season, and select which vegetable, herb, and flower varieties you’d like to grow this year. Create a map of your garden and decide where everything will be planted throughout the season. This will help you determine how many seedlings or seeds you’ll need for each crop and when they’ll need to be started indoors or planted outside. Try using this planting chart for the home vegetable garden to help with your plan.
  • Order your seeds. Before ordering for the year, check the packaging date on your old seed packets and review this life expectancy of vegetable seeds chart to confirm whether or not your seeds are still viable. There are several reliable seed companies based out of northern New England, so consider ordering from a Maine company. Select varieties that are disease resistant and well-suited for our climate. Check out this list of vegetable varieties for Maine gardens for some tried and true varieties from our researchers at Highmoor Farm.
  • Start your own seedlings. Starting seedlings indoors will give you a head start on our short growing season, so you can get the most out of your garden. It also allows you to select unique varieties that may not be available at your local nursery. Supplemental light should be used when starting seeds indoors. Temperature is another big consideration, since most seeds need a soil temperature of 65-70°F for germination and many heat-loving crops prefer an even higher temperature. Learn more about the supplies and growing conditions necessary for starting seeds at home with this bulletin, and watch our video “How to Build a Seedling Stand” (below), which also includes helpful information about seed starting supplies and managing environmental conditions. Simply enter in your frost-free date (a safe estimate for central Maine is May 25) on this website and it will automatically calculate the best times to start different seeds indoors.
  • Sample local maple syrup. Maine Maple Sunday will be held on March 22 this year. This family-friendly event gives residents the opportunity to visit local sugarhouses and sample local maple syrup. Many farms also offer a variety of activities throughout the day. If you have sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees on your property, you can also try tapping and making your own syrup. The Forest Trees of Maine book can assist you with identifying maple trees on your property in both summer and winter. The opposite leaves on sugar maples can help with winter identification, since the trait is not common.
  • Prune woody landscape plants. Late March is a great time for pruning. Always make sure your tools are clean and well-sharpened. At this time of year, you can get a good look at the form of your shrub or tree, and more easily identify areas where thinning may be necessary to allow better air flow and light penetration. You’ll also want to remove any dead or broken branches, rubbing branches, downward and inward growth, suckers, and watersprouts. Pruning will improve overall plant health, increase its ornamental value, help reduce disease pressure, and make your shrubs and trees much easier to manage.

Volunteer Profile: Hospitality House — A Garden Analogy

By Becca Gildred, Knox County Homeless Coalition, Rockport, Maine

In a recent conversation with a Master Gardener Volunteer, I realized that the work we both do has more similarities than differences. Yet, for some reason, we were both standing there in admiration of the other’s work.

On the surface one might not easily connect the dots between homeless services and gardening. But, let me point out that each seed or plant has an ideal growing environment. They are not able to grow to their full potential if the environment is not suited to their needs. Water lilies will not thrive in a desert, just as cacti won’t be found in a swamp.

At Knox County Homeless Coalition (KCHC) we know that the people we serve each come with unique abilities and will thrive best if planted in an environment that brings out their strengths. No one would question why a seed planted in rough terrain cannot grow glorious fruit or flowers, yet people often question why the impoverished and homeless haven’t planted themselves on more hospitable ground, or why they aren’t reaching their growth milestones. Would you expect a sun-loving plant to move itself out of the shade or a new seedling to be able to navigate New England’s harsh spring with its sudden shifts in temperature? We know it requires the gentle hand of the gardener to carefully transplant those seedlings into the garden and watch out for a late frost, sheltering them from the inevitable weather that only the gardener knows is coming but the seedling cannot predict. Yet, so many times we treat the homeless as if they are responsible for the environment around them, as if they chose the soil in which they were planted and grew up. When their environment and life’s storms leave them gnarled, shriveled or pale, we ask them why they haven’t flowered, why they haven’t produced fruit, and in some cases why they haven’t paid it forward already and dropped their fruit, composted it, and fed the plant next to them.

At KCHC our holistic program is different. It’s client-centric, built on trust and a relationship with the individual. It works by removing each person’s unique barriers to independence while finding out what elements need to be added to build a foundation for a sustainable future. Does their soil need to be sandy? Do they need more phosphorus? Maybe they just need to be watered regularly.

Volunteers at work in the gardens at Hospitality House
Volunteers at work in the gardens at Hospitality House. Photo by Becca Gildred.

We also find that differences between people, and homelessness in general, can sometimes create an element of “the unknown” that can turn to fear or at the very least make people shy away from getting involved. At KCHC, we can often dispel fear by dispelling myths about homelessness, because the rural homeless population we serve is very different from what Hollywood portrays. For starters, more than half our clients are families with children — delicate seeds needing care and cultivation if they are to grow into successful adults and break the area’s cycles of poverty and homelessness. For the most part, they are not sleeping on sidewalks and pushing grocery carts, as is common in more urban areas. They hide quite well in cars and sheds, hopping from sofa to sofa, and camping in places unfit for habitation.

And, though individual’s goals have targets for completion, our programs don’t have time limits because just like plants, people don’t emerge fully developed. Sometimes maturation can happen in a season, but sometimes it takes years, with careful pruning along the way. And, our program doesn’t stop with providing housing. We offer post housing support because the period right after “transplant” or housing is the most critical for our clients to establish good roots and growing patterns. No good garden is planted and walked away from; it requires periodic weeding, feeding and watering, just like the people we serve.

After five years of doing homeless services differently, we’re seeing marked changes, with a 90-95% sustainability success rate for clients who remain active in our complete program. We each have a unique role to play in beautifying our community, and we hope you’ll join our garden in any way you can—growing vegetables for the shelter’s kitchen in your own garden, or as a mentor, a volunteer, a donor, an ambassador, a landlord, or a policy advocate. For more information you can reach us at or 593.8151.

What Is It?

Photos by Amy Emery, Maine Forest Service. Used with permission.

The brown-tail moth causes significant harm to trees and humans. The caterpillars are responsible for defoliating a variety of hardwood trees and have poisonous hairs that can cause serious skin and respiratory problems in humans. It’s present in areas from the western Maine border to east of the Penobscot River. If you find webs within reach, now through mid-April is the time to clip and destroy the webs by soaking them in soapy water or burning them. Visit the Maine Forest Service website or call 211 for more information.

Five Favorite Ways to Use a Cold Frame This Spring

By Anne Bartoo, Master Gardener Volunteer (2014)

coldframeChilly spring temperatures don’t need to stop the enthusiastic home gardener from producing salad greens or hardening off seedlings. The concept of starting and growing vegetables during the colder months has been around since Romans employed cold frames in the first century to grow preferred food for the Emperor Tiberius.[1]  As greenhouses became a popular status symbol among the wealthy in 17th Century Europe, cold frames were employed as an intermediate home for young plants before they were moved to the outdoor garden. [2]

Today, home gardeners use a variety of methods to jump-start or extend the growing season, including cold frames and hoop houses. These are great solutions while we wait for the ground temperature to warm and the nighttime temperatures to stabilize in order to dig in young plants.

The process of building a cold frame is straightforward, but using it takes a bit of practice and savvy. To get you started, below are some tips from a few of my experienced Sagadahoc County neighbors and Master Gardener Volunteer colleagues:


  • If you can find them, old storm doors can be up-cycled to serve as covers for your cold frame. Try your local transfer station or a neighbor that owns an older home.
  • Plastic sheeting stretched over a simple wood frame is also effective. A layer of plastic on both the inside and outside of that frame provides even more insulation.
  • Plan to build your cold frame to the anticipated height your seedlings will reach, so they have plenty of room to stand erect in their temporary home.
  • Line the outside of the frame with stones or bricks to keep pests out.

For tips on construction see Bulletin #2763, Garden Equipment and Items to Make for the Maine Garden.


  • Shorter days require as much sun exposure as possible. Site your cold frame in the best south-facing area you have, away from trees or shrubbery that could cast shadows on the surface.
  • If you can abut your frame against an existing south-facing wall or structure, take advantage of the extra protection that could offer, but avoid locating your frame under a roofline where heavy snow deposits may fall and damage your frame.


  • Prepare to manage common pests such as slugs and mice that are attracted to this warm, moist environment.
  • Be sure to ventilate on warmer days. Set a timer on your phone or create a daily schedule to open and close the cold frame so it doesn’t overheat and create wilt.
  • Try utilizing condensation to provide moisture for the plants. You may be able to limit your watering thanks to this natural process.
  • Your cold frame could be put to work as early as the first week of March for broccoli, cabbage, and parsley seedlings. Perennial flower seedlings started indoors can be transferred to your cold frame in April.

See time and temperature charts for vegetables in Bulletin #2751, Starting Seeds at Home.

Employing these steps can get you on your way to being cold frame savvy—and extending your gardening season!

More resources

[1] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

[2] Cunningham, A. S. 2000. Crystal Palaces: Garden Conservatories of the United States. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Ask the Expert!

You’ve asked us some great questions over the years! Here are a few examples from this month last year. To read more inquiries from fellow Maine gardeners and answers from Extension experts, check out our Ask the Experts website.

Q: My question relates to foundation shrubs. Are there any that deer may stay away from? I also have a gambrel roof that sends a lot of snow onto the plants. I need to replace broken plants this spring and just don’t know what to put in this time having done this twice already.

A: Foundations and under-eave areas are tough environments for woody plants. Especially those with brittle wood like rhododendron, or plants that don’t like growing in the dead-sand and curtain drains that surround most homes.

Herbaceous perennials would more likely survive your conditions. They look full, don’t interfere with windows and siding but die back in late fall. Examples: peonies, actea, larger hostas, catmint, salvia, etc. For accent plants, try purple smoke bush, but cut it back in the spring for colorful new growth in the spring.

C. Eves-ThomasPeony at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay.

But it’s tricky to make recommendations without knowing your tastes and important site conditions like light, shade and moisture. There are wonderful design books available in larger libraries. This is a great time to look at photos and make a list of plants that would fit your needs. Be sure to choose plants that are hardy to Standish: Plant Hardiness Zone for Maine.

As for deer-resistant plants, these lists may help:

Feel free to bookmark our Garden & Yard website where there are many other resources.

Q: How do I trim my blueberries and when? What should I feed them?

A: Highbush blueberry bushes should be pruned every year to produce high yields of good quality fruit. Prune the plants when they are fully dormant during the late winter or early spring (January through March). For the first two years after planting, simply remove any dead branches and all weak, spindly growth. Check out our bulletin, Growing Highbush Blueberries, for a great how-to video and to learn more about how to prune plants that have been established for three years or more.

Three to four weeks after planting blueberries, apply two ounces of a balanced fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10) or one ounce of ammonium sulfate around each plant. Organic equivalents, such as bloodmeal or composted manure, may also be used. Apply the fertilizer in a circle 15 to 18 inches from the base of the plant. Use the same amount the year after planting. Each year following, increase the amount of fertilizer according to the rates listed in table 2 here.

Book Review: Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe’s book, Native Plants for New England Gardens

Native Plants for New England Gardens book cover
Image courtesy of Globe Pequot. Used with permission.

By Jean Potuchek

There was a time when many ornamental gardeners eschewed native plants, considering exotic imports and highly bred cultivars as more refined and garden-worthy. Today’s gardeners are more aware of the importance of native plants in supporting other native species and of the role that ornamental gardens can play in environmental preservation. Still, it can be challenging to see native plants, formerly regarded as common wildflowers or weeds, with new eyes.

This is where Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe come in. In Native Plants for New England Gardens, Richardson (Director of Horticulture at Tower Hill Botanic Garden) and Jaffe (horticulturist, plant propagator, and staff photographer at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary) have created a guide to garden-worthy native plants for New England gardens.

The book begins with a brief introduction that defines native plants, introduces the principle of using the right plant in the right place, and provides guidelines for creating and maintaining ecologically beneficial gardens. It ends with useful appendices. In between are more than 200 pages introducing us to forty-five herbaceous plants, forty-one trees and shrubs, ten ferns, sedges and grasses, and four vines and lianas that are both garden-worthy and native to New England ecoregions.

Mountain laurel
Mountain laurel, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay. Photo by C. Eves-Thomas.

A typical entry in Native Plants for New England Gardens takes up two pages, with a half-page or full-page photo of the plant and an accompanying description. The authors pack an impressive amount of information into these relatively short descriptions. There is information about the garden-worthy features of each plant. We learn, for example, that “Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) has one of the most interesting and exquisite flowers of our entire native flora” and that it “is a subtle but exquisite shrub in the winter landscape” (p. 133). The entries tell us when a plant is at its best and often include suggestions for companion plants. All descriptions conclude with the sun, soil, moisture conditions, and cold-hardiness zones appropriate for the plant. My only quibble with these descriptions is that, having defined “native” in terms of ecoregions rather than political boundaries, the authors fail to tell us in which of New England’s ecoregions a plant is native.

Quibble aside, this book is a valuable addition to the library of any New England ornamental gardener. I have spent many hours looking at the beautiful photographs, reading with excitement about plants that I never before considered for my garden (even though some of them grow wild nearby), marking the pages with plants appropriate for my growing conditions, and making plant lists. Whether you are planning a new planting or considering how to include more native plants in your existing garden, you will find inspiration in Native Plants for New England Gardens.

Did You Know?

Past issues of Maine Home Garden News are available on our website. See a list of links to past issues and topics in our archives.

Featured photos of flowers frompast issues of Maine Home Garden News

Native Plant Profile: Amelanchier (Shadbush/Serviceberry/Juneberry)

By Ginger Laurits, Master Gardener Volunteer

Amelanchier, one of our most appealing native plants, has a host of common names that refer to its early bloom time and value as a food source for many animals, including us. Also known as shadbush, shadblow, serviceberry, sarvisberry, Juneberry, wild currant, sugar plum, and saskatoon, Amelanchier can be seen along the roadside edges, stream beds, and the woodland understory, coming into flower as pussy willow blooms are going by. The name “shadbush” refers to its bloom time, which coincides with shad running to spawn in local rivers. “Serviceberry” may come from “sarvisberry,” because its berries resemble the fruit of the sarvis tree or European mountain ash. A different explanation says that “serviceberry” was so named in Colonial times because it bloomed when the ground thawed, and burial services could be held for loved ones who had died in winter. If I could name this lovely small tree, I would call it “so-delicious-it’s-sinful” berry.

Photo by Ginger Laurits.

Casual in appearance, Amelanchier doesn’t bother with fine grooming, perfect shape, or show-stopping flowers. It is subtle and unrefined with its graceful, nodding 5-petaled creamy white flowers that resemble propellers haphazardly arranged on bare twigs. The tree’s muted gray bark and green/blue leaves give it an ethereal glow in a light breeze.

All native plants are an important source of food for wildlife, and Amelanchier is no exception. Its leaves support the larvae of many species of butterflies, including the viceroy. Its early blooms provide nectar for early spring pollinators. In June, Amelanchier bears dark blue berries, and one would be hard pressed to snag a taste before the birds and other animals devour them. The berries can be used in pies, though this requires patience due to their small size and tendency to be eaten during pie making. Native Americans mixed dried berries with buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican, a staple that carried them through the long winters.

Amelanchier tree in bloom
Photo by Ginger Laurit

Amelanchier is a great plant for the home garden, adding height, all season interest, and a bit of light shade and movement to the landscape. It grows naturally in moist areas, but easily adapts to a wide range of soils and conditions. Tolerating sun to part shade, it grows from 10 to 40 feet, depending on the species. A. canadensis and A. laevis are two popular species that bloom early and can be left multi-stemmed or trained to one main stem. Fall color is lovely with muted shades of golden yellow, soft orange, and light red. For its beauty, ease of growing, and value to wildlife, you can’t beat serviceberry. It’s a winner in my garden.

Planting ​Amelanchier​ in the home garden

Many cultivated varieties of Amelanchier — selected for berry size, disease resistance, and other traits — are available from local nurseries. However, recent research has found that cultivated varieties do not always offer the same benefit to wildlife as the straight (wild) species. Obtain seed-grown plants from reputable growers; or, to start your own, separate the seeds from the ripe berries and dry them, then sow in pots placed outdoors in fall to early winter. For more advice, see How to Grow Natives from Seed.

Growing shadbush, as with other native plants, is an exercise in patience and observation and well worth the time and effort.

wild shadbush in blossom
Photo by C. Eves-Thomas.

Goat farmer and child pulling a wagon toward the barn
Photo by Edwin Remsberg.

Rural Living Day, April 4, 2020

Rural Living Day is an exciting annual event, typically the first Saturday in April, hosted by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Waldo County Extension Association. A wide variety of workshops are offered each year by Extension staff and community volunteers on topics ranging from gardening, homesteading and alternative energy to food preservation, cooking, livestock and so much more.

For more details, visit the Rural Living Day website. Registration will be opening soon!

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.

For more information or questions, contact Kate Garland at or 1.800.287.1485 (in Maine).

Visit our Archives to see past issues.

Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine, with Katherine Garland, UMaine Extension Horticulturalist in Penobscot County, serving as editor. Special thanks to our 2020 Master Gardener Volunteer co-editors Naomi Jacobs and Abby Zelz.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2020

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