Maine Home Garden News — April 2020

In This Issue:

A Note About Master Gardener Volunteer Activities

All in-person Master Gardener Volunteer related activities are suspended until further notice, including, but not limited to plant sales, meetings, and workdays.

There will be modifications made to the volunteer hour reporting requirements for all new and existing Master Gardener Volunteers in the near future. Please contact your MGV Coordinators if you have any questions and/or concerns. The situation will continually be assessed and updates will be provided to all active Master Gardener Volunteers and partner organizations.

April Is the Month to . . .

By Robert Diamante, Master Gardener Volunteer Trainee

In March we leapt an hour ahead; spring arrived. But it’s still too early to trust that nature won’t heave one last sigh of winter upon us. Better to remain pragmatic and first organize your “outside” world from the inside.

April is a time to do all those things we put off

  • Awaken power tools: Fall ends, so you tuck your mower into the shed. Maybe you’ve drained the fuel, but that’s the extent of your end-of-season maintenance. After wintering over, it’s time for a tune-up. If you’re not mechanical, then leave it to abler hands. By April, have your appointments made for tillers, chainsaws, mowers, and so forth. Expert maintenance ensures safer equipment.
  • Arborists: Deciding to take down large established trees is never easy. But trees that have lived past their prime can be dangerous. However ruthless it may feel, certain trees should be removed to make way for new things to grow. Old wood can be used for hugelkultur and various gardening projects. Firewood is always wanted. You can even make birdhouses from the old wood. Call your arborist to make an appointment. I guarantee they are already busy, so don’t put it off!
  • Landscape supply: Every winter much of my gravel driveway ends up plowed into my side yard or has sunk deeper into the mud. Every year I expect to haul in more stone. Topsoil, loam, mulch, woodchips, gravel: calculate your needs and reserve your landscaping supplies early. Little doubt your supplier will be happy for the early-bird business and your supplies will be there for you as soon as the frost stops biting.
  • chickadee perching on birdhouseBirdhouses: Chickadees have already begun to flirt in the witch hazel by March. By April they’ll want a room. Wintered-over nesting structures should be checked for damage and spruced up, and those that were stored can be brought out. Is it correct to clean them, or do you leave old nesting? Research the habits for common birds in your yard and follow instructions for maintaining their homes, Birdhouse Basics (PDF). Mother Nature is counting on your complicity!

Worth repeating

  • Fatal attractions: Every October it’s impossible not to admire the flamboyant scarlet Burning Bush or the rich cordovan of a bronzing Japanese Barberry. How beautifully they present. But they are invasive. You’ve heard it a million times: chop them down. Just do it. April affords you plenty of time to consider replacements, something native, or even for the bees if you’ve a mind for it.
  • Print a poster for your shed wall: Invasive Terrestrial Plants Prohibited From Sale In Maine (PDF).

The “perennial” April to-do list

  • Start your seedlings indoors: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, ageratum, aster, castor bean, celocia, marigold, salvia, sweet pea, and more.
  • Clean your beds.
  • Assess your designs.
  • Directly sow beets, peas, radish, and spinach into the garden in mid to late April.
  • Learn how to identify native plants. Our editor recommends this new Extension favorite (PDF) in honor of April 1.
  • Turn a friend into a gardener!

Last June, I hired an arborist to remove a stand of more than 13 spindly and brittle Norway Maples. In an afternoon, the character (and potential) of my in-town Bangor yard was transformed. I’m using the logs for hugelkultur beds and permaculture projects.

The Witchhazel is staying, but 2019 was the last year for the burning bush.

Photos by Robert Diamante.

Meet Your Farmers: Peter and Julie Beckford of Rebel Hill Farm, Liberty, Maine

Interviewed by Naomi Jacobs, Master Gardener Volunteer

Central Maine gardeners who shop at local nurseries have probably purchased plants sporting the Rebel Hill logo. The Beckfords have been growing organic perennials and herbs for more than 25 years, beginning in Clifton and moving to Liberty a few years ago. They specialize in native plants and perennial medicinal herbs.  Pete took some time out of spring tasks to answer questions for our newsletter.

How did you get interested in working with plants?

A gardening course in college got me hooked on farming vegetables. Then I apprenticed on a farm via MOFGA (1981) and never stopped. I really like working outdoors in whatever the weather brings, laboring at the simple tasks required to grow plants. It’s a pleasure to get to know the native perennials in all their endless variety of form, ways of setting seed and dispersing it, rooting habits, the insects and caterpillars they host, and the conditions they like.

“Seeing them in their native plant communities when we take a hike is like meeting up with old friends.”

Why grow organic?

Growing organic was really the only option. It’s more natural and safe. Also, being certified organic helps build the movement of caring for the earth.

How has your business changed?

Thirty years ago, we grew whatever perennials would sell. We started focusing on natives because we loved them, before it was cool and before anyone wanted to buy them. It’s been nice to see the change.

Much of our retailing is at one-day sales organized by groups that want to support the use of native plants. We also do some pre-order sales and work with shops that care about organic and native plants.

What are the advantages of growing native plants?

One practical advantage is less winter-kill. All our plants are over-wintered in the field, without protection, and the only ones I worry over are the non-natives, like lavender or sage. Ecologically speaking, there is nothing better.

“If you want your garden to play a role in nature, as opposed to being decoration that doesn’t do much else, you’ll plant native trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses and herbaceous perennials. Then you’ll be a part of the web of life; the critters that eat the leaves will be eaten by the birds that eat the berries and seeds and so on.”

What are your biggest challenges growing in rural Maine?

Perennials seem a lot easier than veggies. I rely on six-foot fences to deter deer and turkeys, traps to move woodchucks and porcupines, and Reemay row covers if there’s a woodchuck I can’t catch. We might just stop growing a plant if it is susceptible to a pest or disease.

Winter rain is always a worry, especially hard rains that wash away protective snow cover and erode beds. And there are always non-perfect weather conditions, like too wet, too dry, too hot, too boringly nice. But really, doesn’t Maine have it good? I think so.

What are some native plants that should be used more widely?

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)

Definitely the goldenrods. Maine has 18 or so, with huge differences in color, form, habit, bloom time, and cultural needs. They are among our best hosts for insects. One October I saw a planting in a Belfast garden that knocked my socks off! But gardeners seem afraid of them. Maybe they think because goldenrod grows in the wild, it has no place in their garden. People are missing out. Really, all of the late bloomers get short shrift: asters, helianthus, doellingeria, as well as goldenrods.

Some great underutilized east-of-the Rockies North American natives are Liatris aspera (rough blazing star) and Liatris scariosa (Northern blazing star), Ageratina altissima (white snakeroot), Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), and Rosa virginiana (Virginia rose). Salvia azureus (blue sage) is an amazing shade of blue late in the season. Everyone should grow one of the Pycnanthemum (mountain mints) species. Physostegia (obedient plant) is a sweet Maine native. Verbena hastata (blue vervain) belongs everywhere and is all over Maine; Vernonia (ironweed) is large, tall, and happy in a wet spot; Zizia aurea (golden Alexander) has nice foliage, lots of yellow flowers, a bushy form, yet no one buys it. That ought to change!

For information about where to buy Rebel Hill plants or to inquire about buying at the farm, just call Julie and Pete Beckford at 589.3023.

For more information on the Beckford’s operation, see the Portland Press Herald’s article “Field-grown perennials: Don’t be spooked by the esoteric label.”

What Is It?

Thanks to Chris Helzer, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska, we are lucky to have not one, but six mysteries to solve this month. Enjoy!

The Prairie Ecologist, Quarantine Quiz (Part1)

The Nature Conservancy: protecting nature, preserving life

Pruning Raspberries and Blackberries

Excerpt from: Bulletin #2066, Growing Raspberries and Blackberries

By David T. Handley, Vegetable and Small Fruit Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

David Handley stands beside a row of properly pruned raspberriesPruning is a vital part of maintaining a healthy raspberry planting. This practice greatly inhibits the spread of raspberry diseases and improves fruit quality and yield. In the late winter or early spring, before the buds break, remove all of the old canes that fruited the previous year. These have gray, peeling bark and branches (they are dead and won’t fruit again). Remove canes that have emerged outside of the desired 12- to 18-inch row width. Maintaining this narrow row width will assure adequate light penetration and air circulation to promote healthy cane growth and reduce disease problems. Only the most vigorous canes, those with the greatest height and basal diameter, should be left in the row. Continue thinning until only four to five canes per foot of row length remain. These remaining canes should be attached to the trellis wires with twine. Finally, remove all of the plant waste from the field. Plant waste can harbor diseases and insects that may attack healthy canes.

During the summer months, regularly remove all new canes that emerge outside the desired plant row width of 12 to 18 inches. This improves light penetration and air circulation for the canes in the middle row that will fruit next year. Also, remove any canes that show obvious signs of insect or disease injury.

Everbearing or fall-bearing red raspberries bear a late-season crop on first-year canes. If they are pruned in the same manner as the summer-bearing types, they will bear two crops per season; one in the summer on the second-year canes, and one in the fall on the first-year canes.

Everbearing raspberries can also be managed to produce only the fall crop. Simply mow all the canes down early each spring. During the summer, cut down any new canes that develop outside the 12- to 18-inch row width and thin the remaining canes to about six inches apart, leaving the sturdiest. This technique greatly reduces pruning labor but also eliminates the summer crop. Unfortunately, most everbearing cultivars, such as Heritage, produce the fall crop too late in the season to escape damage from frost in most of northern New England.

Blackberries should have the growing tips of the new canes pinched off when they reach four feet. This encourages the canes to form side branches, or laterals, which will bear the fruit in the following year. Remove all canes that fruited following the harvest. In the early spring, thin the remaining canes, leaving only five to seven of the sturdiest per hill. Cut the side branches back to 12 buds (usually about 12 inches in length) and tie the canes to the wire or post for support.

Remove all plant waste from the field after pruning and destroy it, preferably by burning. Leaving dead canes in the planting will encourage the spread of diseases.

More information

The Garden Primer…a Synopsis and Review

The Garden Primer
Excerpted from The Garden Primer, Second Edition by Barbara Damrosch (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2008. Used with permission.

By Clara Ross, Master Gardener Volunteer in Cumberland County since 2004, now part of the Penobscot County Master Gardeners Volunteers

Barbara Damrosch first published The Garden Primer in 1988, which she  followed with a second edition in 2008 to acknowledge and address home gardeners’ wants for “more sustainable, non-toxic methods, eat from the garden all year, enjoy more wildlife, mow less lawn, avoid invasive species, grow plants better suited to their climate and, in general, make peace with nature rather than fighting her all the way.”

Using the above guidelines, Damrosch’s book covers a wide range of topics for chapters including What plants need; Planning your landscape; Gardening gear; How to buy plants; Annuals; Perennials; Vegetables; Herbs; Fruits; Bulbs; Roses; Lawns; Ground Covers; Vines; Shrubs; Trees; Wildflowers; Houseplants; and, yes, a well-outfitted appendix.

The Garden Primer answers many fundamental questions about gardening for a “newbie.” However, it may also guide and support a more seasoned gardener through specific areas, such as raising edible native wildflowers, unusual salad greens, or alternative ways to grow an abundance of potatoes.

I’ve utilized The Garden Primer for about the past 15 years. Although Barbara Damrosch wrote the book primarily as an introduction to gardening, I’ve found it to have a wealth of information to help me to fill in gaps. Primarily, the book has been my “go to” resource when I’m questioning “Why in the world did I do that?” after I’ve fouled up something royally. The book has helped me to sort out plant companions, prune unruly grapes and blackberries, put in a new asparagus bed, and manage all the offspring of strawberry mamas. Damrosch alerted me to the sensitivity of my beautiful enormous basil plants to cold, driving me to an annual full-on day of pesto-making prior to frosts. The book helped me differentiate between snap (strings!) and snow peas and the value of each. Moreover, her input helped me to grow beets (love ’em!), which look and taste good.

This is a book to be read and consulted as it is not full of beautiful photos or artwork to be admired as many gardening books are arranged. However, there are well-placed illustrated directions and plant identification drawings which I have found to be valuable. There is one down-side to the book. It is a thick, 820-page paperback, which means that if you like a flat book, this book’s spine will crack and pages may fall out. But fear not, I am now on my second copy purchased at a book sale for $1.00. I have recommended and given this book to many people.

Barbara Damrosch lives in Harborside, Maine, with her husband, Eliot Coleman. Their farm is a nationally recognized model of small-scale sustainable agriculture. To give you an idea of Barbara’s values, she finished her introduction for the book: “On balance, gardeners make the world a better place. So when they show me battered, sun-bleached, mud-spattered copies of my book and tell me it has coaxed them into the garden, I feel that I have done the job I set out to do.”

Tiny Swede Midge Causes Big Crop Damage in Maine

By Dave Fuller, Agriculture and Non-Timber Forest Products Professional, UMaine Extension Franklin County

First found in commercial farms in Farmington and Aroostook County’s Hodgdon in the summer of 2019, Swede midge larvae cause significant and persistent crop losses in broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, kohlrabi and other members of the brassica family.

Fuller.Swede midge two larvae red circleSwede midge (Contarinia nasturtii) has 3 or 4 overlapping generations in Maine, emerging in May, when nighttime temperatures reach 50 degrees, and remains active until late September. Adults are tiny, slender flies only 1/16 of an inch long and the light yellow larvae (maggots) are but 1/8 of an inch long. Adults lay eggs on the active growing points of brassicas. In the case of broccoli and cauliflower, this is deep in the center of the plant where sprays cannot reach. Newly hatched larvae feed on the tender plant tissue, causing curling and distortion. Plant damage by Swede midge is caused only in the larval stage. The resulting damage on broccoli expresses itself as badly distorted or missing heads. Side shoots are then attacked by later generations of Swede midge. Cauliflower heads are distorted and scarred. Leafy brassicas are distorted and unmarketable. Brussels sprouts have missing sprouts. Cabbage plants have numerous, smaller heads.

Corky stemsManagement strategies for Swede midge include three-year rotations, which are marginally effective in small gardens, and lightweight row covers (brassica crops would suffer from accumulated heat under heavier-weight row cover) where Swede midge has not been detected. Brassica transplants are also at risk of Swede midge damage and for this reason, transplants from affected areas may be a source of Swede midge movement to unaffected areas. There are no effective spray options for home gardeners. Once Swede midge has been established in your area, make sure you remove harvested brassica plants and bury, chip or cover in compost to prevent Swede midge numbers from building. Weeds in the brassica family such as rocket, shepherd’s purse, and mustard should be controlled as Swede midge will use these plants in their life cycle, as well.

Swede midge is expected to continue to spread in Maine. Being informed and prepared is the best way to deal with this new and destructive pest.

For more information see Swede Midge.

Did You Know?

Maine has banned the sale of 33 invasive plant species. A full listing can be found at 33 Invasive Plants Prohibited From Sale or Import in Maine (PDF).

Impatiens glandulifera in bloom
Impatiens glandulifera (ornamental jewelweed). Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College,

Family Apidae, Bees of Maine

By Jennifer Lund, Maine State Apiarist, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Division of Animal and Plant Health

Apidae family on Mt. Katahdin.
Apidae family on Mt. Katahdin. Photo by Megan Leach.

Nearly 4,000 bee species have been identified in the United States. In Maine, there are more than 270 species of bees, representing six families. Over the next couple of issues of Maine Home Garden News, we will explore the types of bees found in Maine and learn about their biology, foraging preferences, and nesting requirements.

Family Apidae (Bumble, Carpenter, Cuckoo, and Honey Bees)

This is a very diverse family containing many of the most recognizable species of bees. Members of these families display a wide range of nesting, foraging, and social behavior.

Bombus spp. (bumble bees) are medium to large (0.4 to 0.9 inches long) in size, very hairy, and have yellow, white, black, orange or red bands and markings. Bumble bees are generalist foragers, visiting a wide variety of plant species throughout the season. Mated queens, from the previous fall, emerge from their hibernation site in the early spring to search for a suitable nesting site, usually abandoned rodent burrows, hollow grass tussocks, and cavities in snag trees. Once a site is chosen, the queen builds several wax cups that she fills it with nectar, pollen or a mixture of both. The queen lays eggs. After hatching, the larvae are fed a mixture of pollen and nectar. Once large enough, the larvae pupate and emerge as adults. Once the queen’s first batch of daughters emerges, she no longer participates in raising young and focuses solely on egg-laying. The colony can grow to a couple of hundred individuals as the season progresses. In the late summer/early fall, the colony produces new queens and drones (males). After mating, the new queens locate a place to hibernate for the winter. The first hard frost kills the colony including the old queen. Check out the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas for more information on the bumble bees of Maine.

Bumble bees. Photos by Megan Leach.

Nomada spp. (cuckoo bees) do not construct their own nests but lay their eggs in nests provisioned by other bee species. When the cuckoo bee larva hatches it consumes the host larva’s pollen ball and if present, will kill and eat the host bee’s egg and/or larva.  Adult Nomada spp. come in a variety of different colors and patterns.  They loosely resemble wasps in that they have reduced body hair, thick or sculptured exoskeletons, and large mandibles. Since they do not care for their own young, female cuckoo bees lack pollen-collecting structures (the scopa). In Maine, there are 27 species of Nomada.

Western Honey Bees
Western honey bees. Photo by Megan Leach.

Apis melifera (western honey bee) is the only species of Apis found in Maine. Originally from Eurasia, the western honey bee is not native to Maine. With human aide, the western honey bee is now found on every continent except Antarctica and is the primary species maintained by beekeepers for honey production and pollination. In Maine, there are approximately 1,200 registered beekeepers who maintain nearly 10,000 hives. The western honey bee is eusocial, meaning they have a single reproductive individual (queen) and the non-reproductive workers cooperate in caring for the young. Western honey bees have developed complex methods of communication between individuals using pheromones and the dance language. A single colony can house tens of thousands of individuals made up of three castes: the queen, workers, and drones. Worker bees are the most commonly recognized members of the honey bee hive and the most abundant, making up around 99% of the individuals in a hive! They are female and responsible for all the activities in the hive, including foraging, cleaning, brood care, and guarding the hive. Workers have modified ovipositors (egg-laying structures) they use to sting. Drones are the male bees in a colony. They are larger than workers, are bullet-shaped, have very large eyes, and number in the low 100s. They have one job: to mate with queens from other hives. Since they do not have an ovipositor, drones are incapable of stinging. There is one queen per hive. She is the only fertile member of the colony, laying between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs a day during spring and summer months. Queens have longer abdomens and smaller wings than worker bees. After emerging as an adult, the queen will take a mating flight, return to the hive, and not leave again unless accompanied by a swarm.

A Note from the Editor

Gardening Friends,

These challenging times have truly brought out the best in our communities. Thank you to the countless helpers who are checking on neighbors, friends, and family to make sure they have supplies and emotional support. Thank you to the essential workers who are on the front lines making sure we have safe access to food, supplies, infrastructure, and healthcare. Thank you to the educators supporting those of us who are figuring out how to juggle a whole new work/life balance. Thank ALL of you for staying safe, positive, flexible, and caring.

While University of Maine Cooperative Extension buildings are CLOSED until further notice in an effort to ensure the health and safety of the community, and to help stem the spread of the Coronavirus, we are still here to help! Here are a few ways we’re available:

New Resources to Meet New Needs

  • Garden Chats: Growing Resilience From the Ground Up: 1-hour Zoom sessions Mondays at 9am, Wednesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6pm. For the month of April, all gardeners are invited to join members of the UMaine Cooperative Extension Home Horticulture team as they offer short online lessons on featured topics followed by a facilitated discussion with fellow gardeners from around the state and beyond. Check here, Garden Chats, for the full schedule of topics and more information. No registration is necessary. Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android. Visit the website for instructions on how to join in.
  • Maine Farm Products and Pick-Up Directory: The directory provides information on available local farm products and alternative pick-up options developed by farmers statewide to accommodate the recommended social distancing in light of COVID-19.
  • Learn at Home: Educational Resources to Use During School Closures: With novel coronavirus closing schools across Maine for several weeks, UMaine Extension has assembled a collection of helpful educational resources for parents and caregivers. From science to financial literacy, whether for toddlers or teenagers, we encourage you to take advantage of these activity books, guides, and other resources to help children remain engaged in educational experiences throughout their school closure.
  • Learn at Home with 4-H Friday Fun! Each Friday, watch for a new hands-on activity that you can try out with simple materials you have at home. Watch a short video clip to see how it’s done or download our 4-H Learn from Home activity sheets. Each activity outlines materials needed, easy-to-follow instructions, reflection questions for discussion and activity extensions.
  • Social Media: Many of our staff are stepping up efforts to communicate to audiences via social media. For example, see Rogers Farm Demonstration Garden’s short educational Facebook videos (also on Instagram).

New resources are being developed daily. Please check, UMaine Extension: Connecting with Maine Communities During COVID-19 for new updates on our outreach efforts. Your feedback and questions are welcome anytime.

Traditional Services Being Offered in New Ways

  • Identifying insect pests: Clay Kirby, Associate Scientist/Insect Diagnostician, will identify pest samples via images. See instructions for submitting an insect specimen.
  • Identifying plant diseases: Dr. Alicyn Smart will identify plant disease samples via images. See instructions for submitting a sample.
  • Tick testing: Ticks are being tested on a limited basis. See instructions for submitting a tick sample.
  • Publication orders: We are still processing orders from our publication catalog, including pesticide application training materials.
  • Soil testing: The Analytical Lab and Maine Soil Testing Service remains open and is taking samples with a priority on commercial samples. If you need to drop off a sample, you can place it in the box outside of Deering Hall; do NOT enter the building.
  • General gardening questions: Contact your county office. Emails are preferred. If it’s necessary to leave a voicemail, please leave your email address (if available) or a mailing address in addition to your phone number. Since most staff are working remotely, there may be a slight delay in response time to messages. Thank you for your patience.

Warmer, greener, and brighter days are ahead!


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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.

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