Maine Home Garden News — August 2020

In This Issue:

August Is the Month to . . .

By Kate Garland, Horticulturist, UMaine Extension Penobscot County

  • Maine Farmers' Market infographic: Keep everyone safe! Stay home if you're sick. Thanks for wearing a face covering. Stay 6 feet apart. Don't touch food without permission. Wash or sanitize your hands often. Avoid socializing while shopping. Thanks for your support.Hit the farmers’ market for the best food shopping of the year! Read more in the article below about what to expect for COVID safety protocols and how you can play a part in making this a safe experience for fellow shoppers and our farmer friends.
  • Preserve local produce to enjoy all winter long. Whether you’re buying extra at the farmers’ market or enjoying bumper crops from your own backyard, take a moment to make sure you know the most recent safety recommendations for home food preservation. Check out the countless resources on our website. You’ll find workshops, videos, and bulletins all available for free!
  • Take note of what stays green when turf goes dormant. Most grass species used for traditional lawns go dormant (i.e. turn brown) in late summer when rain is less frequent, and bounce back to a cheerful green as the weather patterns shift to the more moist conditions typically seen in the fall. However, plants considered “weeds” can provide a steady green presence throughout, while also serving as food for a variety of insects. I regret not capturing photos of the contrast that was on display during our early season dry spell this year between the resilient, bright green clover and crispy brown turf. It was a striking reminder that it’s time to re-think what plant species should be greening our lawns.
  • Take cuttings of basil, coleus, and geranium to enjoy indoors. Many plants we consider annuals can make very good winter companions when brought indoors. There’s no need to dig up the whole plant; simply follow instructions on this website and have fun!
  • Visit your garden daily to keep up with the rapid changes happening this time of year. This will help you keep up with the harvest and catch problems early before they become unmanageable. If fruiting crops are harvested at the optimal stage of development, the yield often increases, because over-ripening fruits may trigger plants to slow production.
  • Scoop up plants at your local garden center to add interest to tiring container gardens or to fill gaps in ornamental plantings. Here are a few great cool-tolerant suggestions for sites suffering a late-season lull: ornamental grasses, million bells, succulents, ornamental kale, coral bells, mizuna, asters, eucalyptus, violets, and (of course) chrysanthemums. Each comes in a variety of colors, textures, and sizes. Let us know what unique plants or items you use to keep things interesting for the remainder of the season.
  • Harvest and dry your garlic (if you haven’t already done so). Hey, we have a video for that!
  • Order garlic and spring-flowering bulbs. Remember how quickly seedlings sold out this spring? The same might happen with garlic and spring bulbs this fall; so be sure to start looking for a source of “seed” garlic and other bulbs to plant in mid to late October. Be sure to purchase from a reputable source and never plant anything that appears damaged or diseased.
  • Browntail Moth Eggs by Liz Stanley.
    Browntail Moth Eggs. Photo by Liz Stanley.

    Help manage browntail moths (BTM). Report your detection to the Maine Forest Service if you find this invasive moth outside the areas where it is widespread (PDF). Reduce adult moth populations by using a wet/dry vacuum with a HEPA filter, filled with a few inches of soapy water. Also, keep outdoor lights off at night through the first week in August. Remove and destroy egg masses, usually found on the underside of the leaves of host trees (oak, apple, crabapple, pear, birch, cherry, and other hardwoods). These can be clipped off with gloved hands and soaked in soapy water for two days, then thrown away. See more images and information about the life cycle of BTM.

Gardener Profile: Carol and Vinal Smith

By Lisa Colburn

Carol and Vinal Smith both grew up in families that gardened. When they moved into their new home in Brewer in 1973, they immediately started a huge vegetable garden and containers filled with annuals. They hit the ground gardening and never looked back.

Carol Smith
Carol Smith

Carol soon became very involved in several organizations related to gardening. She’s a member of the Brewer Garden Club and has served in many capacities, including as president several times. She’s currently the President of the Penobscot District Garden Clubs and on the board of directors of the Garden Club Federation of Maine where her enthusiasm for anything related to gardening continues to be acknowledged.

Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'
Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

In 2003, Carol became a Penobscot County Master Gardener. One of her Master Gardener volunteer projects was to document the performance of trees planted in the arboretum around the UMaine Extension Penobscot County office so they could be evaluated for landscape use. Always interested in knowing more about plants, she’s taken National Garden Club-sponsored classes and has become certified in Landscape Design, Gardening Study, and Flower Show School. In fact, Carol is now a National Garden Club Accredited Flower Show Judge in Maine and Florida. She has an eye for great design!

After 47 years of gardening around their Brewer home, Carol and Vinal have made many changes. Garden beds have come and gone; and like many gardeners they’ve become more discriminating with plant selection. Carol fired off a list of plants they no longer grow because of maintenance issues, aggressiveness, or insect pressure. Japanese beetles have been a problem for a few years, and this year large swaths of their lawn were destroyed by grubs. They’ve applied beneficial nematodes to the affected lawn areas and believe it’s made a difference. One of their tasks later this summer is to re-seed their front lawn. Recently, tarnished plant bug is wreaking havoc in their gardens. Carol and Vinal are adamant that they won’t use harsh chemical insecticides on their property and have been experimenting with several organic approaches to control this new insect pest. Carol knows the value of protecting the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that are abuzz throughout their yard.

Hosta, Japanese Painted Fern and Podophyllum
Hosta, Japanese Painted Fern, and Podophyllum

Two years ago, they removed a few large trees in front of their house. This formerly shady area is now exposed to full sun. Carol and Vinal did what many avid gardeners would do: they took the opportunity to create a new garden! Shade-loving hosta, ferns, and epimediums have been moved and are now artfully tucked into the nearby woods where Carol cleverly plays with texture. She’s added dwarf goat’s beard, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and several perennials with unusual leaves for visual interest. They love trying new plant introductions. Echinaceas, daylilies, and other prairie flowers that can take hot, dry conditions provide swaths of bold color in the new sunny area. Carol’s artistry with plants is also evident in her large containers and window boxes. She’s a master in creating eye-catching combinations with perfect color palettes.

Hosta blooms
Hosta blooms

They’ve located vegetable garden beds in several areas on the property, some in the front yard, others in the fenced back yard, and still more vegetables can be found in flower beds. Large tomato plants surrounded by squashes and salad greens feature prominently in one area, corn and squash in another bed, chard and beets in yet another, each taking full advantage of the optimal growing conditions. Not to be outdone, grape tomatoes fill large containers near a seating area on the deck surrounding an inground pool. “If we want to have a snack, it’s right here!”

Carol and Vinal have tailored their garden to meet their needs. It’s custom-made for their lifestyle. They’re surrounded by lush foliage, bathed in vibrant color, embraced by their little piece of paradise. They’ll probably continue to change a few garden beds and experiment with their plant selection. They will always garden. They’re satisfied, experienced gardeners, living the good life in Brewer, Maine.

What Is It?

The Great Black Wasp
Photo by Reeser Manley.

Answer: The Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus)

“The great black wasp” (Sphex pensylvanicus), also known as “katydid hunter” and the “steel-blue cricket hunter,” belongs to a group of solitary hunting wasps collectively called “digger wasps,” a reference to the construction of their nesting tunnels in soft soil. We discovered our first great black wasp nectaring on a cluster of swamp milkweed blossoms. About two inches long, it was both beautiful and threatening, black as coal except for wings that reflected a shining metallic blue in sunlight. Read more.

Lead in Maine’s Soil

By Laura Heinlein, AmeriCorps Environmental Steward with the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Maine Conservation Corps

Lead is a poisonous element that is especially hazardous to young children. Before the 1980s, lead was a popular material used in paints, gasoline, batteries, and even pesticides. As these materials age and deteriorate, lead settles into the surrounding soils. Unlike other pollutants, lead remains in the soil for centuries. Sites near old barns or buildings once coated in lead-based paint, over former dumpsites, or beside busy roadways are all areas to avoid placing a garden to reduce your risk. Knowing the history of your property can help to assess which areas would be the lowest risk to place a garden, but the only way to know whether lead is present is with a soil test. 

collecting soil samplesHistorically, Portland’s Bayside, Parkside, and the West End neighborhoods were impacted by the Great Fire of 1866, which burned down a third of Portland’s peninsula. Debris from the fire became the foundation of Bayside and ash from the fire settled into the soil throughout the area. In 2007, Eileen Burk, an environmental scientist at the University of Southern Maine, collected over 100 soil samples abutting the foundation of houses in Portland’s Bayside, Parkside, and the West End neighborhoods to test for lead. Ninety-one percent had lead levels over the critical limit of 400 parts per million (ppm). The Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) is currently testing soil from gardens within the area that Burk focused on in 2007 for a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To date, 34 garden soil samples have been analyzed and 29% yielded results over 400 ppm.

The natural concentration of lead in Maine’s soil is around 50 ppm. It is safe to garden in soil with up to 100 ppm lead. The EPA recommends washing produce thoroughly and washing your hands after gardening. With lead concentrations between 100 and 400 ppm, do not grow root vegetables or leafy greens; only grow fruiting plants such as tomatoes, berry bushes, and fruit trees. If your soil has more than 400 ppm lead, only grow food in raised beds or container gardens filled with clean soil. Keep children away from bare soil, wear gloves when gardening, and leave shoes outdoors to avoid bringing soil dust inside. Cover bare contaminated soil with 6-8 inches of mulch to avoid contact with the soil. It is unsafe to consume produce growing directly in soil with more than 400 parts per million of lead. Children and pregnant women are of particular risk for lead poisoning and it is important to note that there is not safe a level of lead exposure for children under the age of 6.

The University of Maine’s Analytical Lab and Soil testing service analyzes soil for lead. You can request a free soil test kit on their website. The CCSWCD and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension are great resources for information and are happy to answer any questions. Multilingual fact sheets on soil lead can be found on CCSWCD’s website.

In addition, CCSWCD is providing free soil tests to gardeners and anyone interested in gardening in Bayside, East Bayside, Parkside, or the West End.

More information:

Ask the Expert!

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

Q. We have been offered a couple of Selaginella lepidophylla (resurrection plant or false rose of Jericho). We are wondering if we plant the two of them, will they become an “invasive species” that can’t be/would be difficult to control?

A. It’s always a good idea to confirm that an exotic plant won’t become invasive before planting it. The state of Maine has a comprehensive list of invasive and potentially invasive plants that can be a helpful guide for you. It’s very unlikely that Selaginella lepidophylla would become invasive here in Maine for a few reasons. It doesn’t appear to be hardy enough to withstand our cold winters and therefore should be treated as an annual. Also, it is typically found in a very niche habitat of the desert, which is very different from the climate we have here in Maine.

Q. We live in South Portland and there is a drought at the moment. How often should we water our vegetable garden?

A. Ideally, 1.25 to 1.5 inches of rain per week is enough for most gardens. A rain gauge can help you decide when to water. It’s good to get water down to 5-6 inches of soil depth, but there are a lot of factors at play: your soil type (sand or clay), how much organic matter your soil has in it, what growth stage your plants are in, whether you have raised beds, whether your garden is mulched, how much sun and wind there is, etc. When watering, it’s better to water deeply but less often; this encourages plant roots to move further down into the soil. Since roots need oxygen, never keep your soil saturated. Another important tip is to water at the base of the plant (rather than on the leaves) to prevent disease. This is especially important for tomatoes. How to Water your Garden is a new video we’ve just produced that will give you more info and strategies for dealing with this drought.

Rain gauge in garden

Q. I compost my tomato patch (6×10) every fall with two wheelbarrows of horse manure. I bury deep and space my plants 20 inches apart. Every year my plants grow “leggy” (tall, narrow stems), with frail vines, unable to support a good yield, despite adequate water, weeding, and TLC. Please advise.

A. The soil is likely the key factor, but it might also be due to limited light. Tomatoes and other fruiting crops need at least 8 hours of full sunlight for optimal growth and production. Plants growing in insufficient light will develop just as you described: thin, leggy stems, and very little fruit.

Aged animal manures are a common source of organic matter in gardens. While organic matter plays an important role in improving soil structure and the capacity for the soil to serve as a “bank” for nutrients, it is not a potent and immediate source of nutrients compared to traditional garden fertilizers. Annually adding aged manure or compost to mineral soil is a good practice, but it’s important to apply in moderation. Six cubic feet per 1,000 square feet (the equivalent of six 1-cubic-foot bags over a 20′ x 50′ area) applied in the fall is a good target application rate. Applying fully composted manure at the same rate in the spring is also a good practice. It’s possible to add too much organic matter to the soil. Over application can actually decrease production because the biological activity can deplete the soil oxygen levels.

To regroup, I would start by having your soil tested (midseason is still a good time to soil test) to get important information about organic matter content, nutrient levels, and pH as well as whether you have lead in the soil. Request a soil test kit here. Follow the recommendations on the soil test results to make targeted adjustments to create optimal growing conditions.

Also, it’s best to not grow tomatoes in the same location year after year. Disease and pest pressure can build when any crop is repeatedly planted in the same site. In landscapes where you don’t have an alternative site for crop rotation, consider alternating what you plan to buy at the farmers market and what you plan to grow. Here’s more information from Penn State Extension on why it’s important to rotate crops based on plant families: Plant Rotation in the Garden Based on Plant Families.

Sphex pensylvanicus: The Great Black Wasp

Excerpted and adapted from The Life in Your Garden: Gardening for Biodiversity, by Extension Educator Marjorie Peronto and Horticulturist Reeser Manley.

The Great Black Wasp
Photo by Reeser Manley.

“The great black wasp” (Sphex pensylvanicus), also known as “katydid hunter” and the “steel-blue cricket hunter,” belongs to a group of solitary hunting wasps collectively called “digger wasps,” a reference to the construction of their nesting tunnels in soft soil. We discovered our first great black wasp nectaring on a cluster of swamp milkweed blossoms. About two inches long, it was both beautiful and threatening, black as coal except for wings that reflected a shining metallic blue in sunlight.

It is the smaller male wasp’s responsibility to choose an underground nest site and keep competitors away while choosing his mate. The chosen female does the subterranean digging. The resulting underground tunnel is long, with multiple egg chambers. 

After constructing the nesting tunnels, the female wasp provisions each egg chamber with food for the developing larva. Katydids and grasshoppers, often much larger than her, are the primary prey. She supplies each chamber with one captured insect paralyzed by three stings, then lays one egg to its underside. Although immobile, the prey will live until the egg hatches and the larva begins to feed. 

During its development, a larva will consume between two and six katydids or grasshoppers, so the adult female spends a good portion of her time provisioning each chamber of her nest. (Forget the male at this point; he’s just the sperm donor.) When a chamber is fully provisioned, she fills it, pushing in soil and tamping it down with her head, often with the aid of a small leaf or pebble, placing the “tool” on the loose earth and pressing her head against it while vibrating her abdomen. After the egg hatches, the larva spends about 10 days feeding and then pupates through the winter.

Provisioning each nest chamber with sufficient food takes up much of the female’s time, and the task is made even more arduous when a captured and paralyzed insect never makes it to the nest. The female wasp may become a victim of kleptoparasitism (parasitism by theft) by house sparrows or gray catbirds as she drags her prey back to the nest. Researchers at University of Rhode Island determined that as many as one-third of a wasp’s provisioning attempts are thwarted by this avian theft.

These beautiful wasps join a legion of other insects in foraging for milkweed nectar and pollen. In late summer, when the milkweed flowers have faded, we find S. pensylvanicus foraging on summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia) and, in early fall, on goldenrods (Solidago spp.).

Unlike yellow jackets, hornets, and other colony-forming wasps, S. pensylvanicus and related solitary wasp species are essential insects in the Biodiversity Garden, pollinating garden plants as they forage and helping control herbivore populations as they hunt for prey to feed their young. While we might give the colonizing bees a wide berth, we can stand amidst the garden flowers, surrounded by numerous species of solitary bees and wasps, and never be stung. Even a great black wasp, as big and intimidating as it might look, is too focused on foraging and not interested in wasting energy on a sting.

Did You Know?

University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H is offering more than 50 summer learning activities throughout July and August for all youth ages five to 18. UMaine Extension 4-H staff and volunteers will offer a wide variety of experiential learning workshops both online and offline. Topics include leadership development, science and engineering challenges, creative cooking, art and photography, animal sciences, and natural sciences. Participants do not need to be enrolled in 4-H. Workshops are free, although some have suggested donations for materials. Register and find workshop descriptions on the program webpage

4-H'er working on a robotics project

The Buzz of Bees

Maine AgrAbility Program, University of Maine Cooperative Extension 

apiaryBeekeeping is both a popular hobby and agricultural enterprise. For people just learning about keeping bees or considering it as an agricultural enterprise, Maine AgrAbility recently developed Bulletin #2021, Why Beekeeping in Maine Might Be a Suitable Enterprise for Persons with Disabilities. This provides a brief overview of seasonal beekeeping tasks and chores, equipment needs, and considerations that could be helpful to any person considering keeping bees.

As with any type of farming, physical tasks are necessary. According to Jennifer Lund, Maine State Apiarist, honey bee colonies hit their peak during July, and beekeepers will be lifting filled frames that can weigh more than 10 pounds each. Depending on your specific limitations and goals, there are some “off-the-shelf” assistive tools (AT) and technologies available to make some of the chores less physically demanding. Some examples of these AT items can be found on our website link: The Buzz about Bees — AT for beekeeping.

Reach out to Maine AgrAbility if we can assist you or someone you know.

Maine AgrAbility assists farmers, fishermen, and forest workers to overcome disabilities, injuries or other barriers so they can continue to work safely and productively in agriculture. This material is supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under sponsored project number 2018-41590-28715. For more information visit Maine AgrAbility at or email

Covid-19 Information for Farmers Market Shoppers

From the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Market website

baskets of cherry tomatoes at a farmers' marketOutdoor markets can be a safer alternative to grocery stores for shoppers trying to social distance during the summer. Most farmers’ markets in Maine are now open with protective measures in place for the well-being of both vendors and shoppers per Governor Mills orders.

What to Expect at Markets

  • It is mandatory to wear a mask or face covering at markets unless you are medically exempt. (Executive Order 55)
  • Keep a 6-foot distance between you and all other people.
  • Most booths are full-service; farmers will pick out your food for you.
  • Follow market signage. Some markets have 1-way traffic flows; keep an eye out for signs directing foot traffic.
  • Stay home if you are sick, please.
  • SNAP and Maine Harvest Bucks programs are still in operation. Learn more.
  • Vendors are taking the following precautions:
    • Pre-bagging most food items
    • Offering contact-free payment options
    • Disinfecting surfaces frequently
    • Cleaning their hands frequently
    • Spacing out to allow for distancing
    • Wearing face masks or cloth coverings
    • Many other things behind the scenes to keep everyone safe!

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables! They’re key to a healthy immune system.

Looking for a market?

Bees of Maine: Family Colletidae

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

Nearly 4,000 bee species have been identified in the United States. Maine has more than 270, representing six families. This is the fifth in a series of articles where we explore the types of bees found in Maine and learn about their biology, foraging preferences, and nesting requirements.

Family Colletidae (Plasterer, Cellophane, Polyester, and Yellow-faced Bees) 

Female Colletids line brood cells with a cellophane or polyester-type substance produced from a gland in their head. The substance does not permeate the surrounding soil, so it easily separates from the soil. This substance is waterproof and resistant to fungus, which protects eggs and developing larvae. This family provisions its nests using regurgitated liquid food. There are two genera found in Maine. 

Colletes spp. (polyester bees) are 0.3 to 0.6 inches long and very hairy. Most are black with white hairs on head, thorax, and in stripes on the abdomen. When viewed from the front, their head tapers towards their mouth, giving it a heart-shaped appearance. They carry pollen in scopa on their hind legs. Many are specialist feeders, only feeding on a few species and all are soil nesters. Besides producing the cellophane-type substance, Colletes spp. also secrete linalool, which acts as a fungicide and bactericide. There are 10 species found in Maine. One species, Colletes inaequalis, emerges very early in the spring, often before the snow has fully melted.

Hylaeus spp. (yellow-faced bees) are small (0.2 to 0.3 inches long), slender, and relatively hairless.  Most are black with yellow or white markings on their faces, thorax, and legs. They are generalist feeders and collect nectar and pollen in their stomach (no scopa). Most species nest in twigs, plant stems, or small natural cavities and will readily nest in artificial bee nesting blocks. In Maine there are 10 species.

A Review of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2016)

Reviewer: Barbara Harrity, Penobscot County Master Gardener Volunteer

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2016), translated by Jane Billinghurst, is a fascinating book that highlights recent research about trees and forests and upends our view of trees as insentient objects.

I read this book as a gardener, mostly suburban, who has recently planted some fruit trees and wants to tend them as holistically as possible. Partway through the book, however, I realized this book should have been titled The Hidden Life of Forests because Wohlleben focuses on forest trees. In fact, the couple of chapters on urban trees makes one’s heart sore for these traumatized orphans.

Although the book doesn’t offer specific useful advice for growing trees, it does provide a framework for thinking about our place in nature and how we can better understand the plants we care for. Wohlleben, a German forester, relishes the breaking down of “the moral barriers between animals and plants,” (p. 244) that is, how we are willing to extend certain rights to animals when it comes to their treatment, but not to plants. The author’s basic premise can be summed up in this quote: “it is okay to use wood as long as trees are allowed to live in a way that is appropriate to their species…allowed to fulfill their social needs, to grow in a true forest environment…and pass on their knowledge to the next generation” (p. 243).

He argues this position by providing a wealth of information on trees and their habitats, much of which challenges our preconceived ideas of what trees are and what they can do. Wohlleben thinks people have a hard time seeing trees as something other than objects because trees’ time scale is so much longer than ours; they can live for centuries, or in some cases thousands of years, so all their responses can be leisurely. For example, where our nerves alert us nearly instantly when we stub a toe, electrical impulses pass through tree roots at one-third of an inch per second in response to stimuli. At this rate, we don’t see trees responding to events or communicating with neighboring trees, but they indeed do. The author describes trees growing in forests, where young trees live near their parents who provide support and nutrients, restrain too-rapid growth in the young trees, and communicate the presence of dangers. Wohlleben offers examples of trees sharing nutrients through their roots with neighboring ailing trees—even crossing species lines—of how, as part of a forest, trees can change microclimates, spread rainfall across a continent, and even lower blood pressure in human forest visitors.

The part of the book I found most fascinating deals with the wood-wide web—an underground web of fungi that connects individual trees to each other. One of these fungi in Oregon covers more than 2000 acres, weighs more than 600 tons, and is around 2400 years old. By growing into the trees’ roots, the fungi extend the roots’ reach and connect roots off all trees in an area, which facilitates the sharing of nutrients. The fungi extract payment from the trees in the form of carbohydrates, but they also filter out heavy metals and repel attacks from bacteria and harmful fungi.

The book is easy to read, with short chapters, and it presents recent scientific findings in accessible language. Some may find the author over-anthropomorphizes trees as he assigns them emotions and intentions, and I think some of the information on geology and climate science in the book is oversimplified, but this may be partly due to translation. Wohlleben’s love of forests and trees, however, is palpable and contagious, and I finished the book resolved to pay more attention to the forests all around us.


Gardener Confessions: Mistakes, We’ve Made a Few… (Part 2)

By Nancy Donovan, Oxford County Master Gardener Volunteer and Lavon Bartel, Hancock County Master Gardener Volunteer (with input from fellow gardeners who shall remain nameless to protect their reputation)

In the spirit of helping others, Master Gardener Volunteers have shared lessons they’ve learned the hard way. Let’s face it, if you’ve grown plants for at least one year, you can probably think of at least a few things you would have done differently, too. Here’s hoping you take note of these missteps so you don’t find yourself in the same situation. Find comfort in knowing others, even the most experienced, are also learning along the way.

Plant and be patient.

When a plant did not seem to be flowering, this gardener removed and discarded it. Later, she learned that it was a late-season bloomer. She now advises that if a plant is not identified as a weed, wait a year before removing it. It may be a treasure.

Shopping sprees = a lot of work when you get home.

Who doesn’t like a sale? This individual got swept up in the excitement of an end-of-year sale, purchasing a bunch of trees and saving a lot of money. However, their land had not been prepared to receive the trees. Therefore, they found themselves putting in long and late hours getting the newly adopted plants installed with less-than-ideal site preparation. They survived (both the plants and the person), but likely didn’t thrive as much as they would have if the planting hadn’t been so rushed.

Weeds love weed fabric.

This gardener (okay, it was me, Nancy), spent a bunch of money and time installing landscape fabric on four beds intended for perennials. I topped it with a layer of mulch, cut holes to install plants (a big hassle) and watched over the seasons as weeds happily popped up through the edges of the holes and thrived in the layer of mulch on top. I observed that managing weeds that send out rhizomes became a game similar to whack-a-mole because it was impossible to get the entire root; new shoots would simply pop out of the hole nearest to where it broke off. Getting to deep-rooted perennial weeds, such as dandelions, was nearly impossible because there was no way to get a tool in the area to pry the whole root out. It was not a happy day when the decision was made to remove the fabric. Imagine the mess and frustration that comes with lots of cutting and roots entwined in the weave of the fabric throughout.

Weed fabrics are very appropriate and useful in the proper settings: under crushed rock pathways, in areas used as walkways between garden beds or within beds, but not topped with mulch. In fact, many cut flower growers rely on heavy-duty landscape fabric to reduce labor in the field. If you decide to use weed fabric, use it wisely, and beware of the consequences.

Be careful who you invite to your garden party.

3 deer in fieldWildlife corridors are essential to supporting a variety of species as our natural spaces become more developed. However, these gardeners found out the hard way that it’s important to consider the long-term goals of your site before you begin welcoming “guests.” After successfully developing a wildlife corridor between their camp and a natural brook in Downeast Maine, the owners transitioned their camp to a year-round home and transitioned part of their landscape (within the corridor) to a vegetable garden. Now, they’re finding themselves trying to “break the patterns” of travel for deer herds (up to 6 at once), porcupines, raccoons, and small rodents. This year, they’re trying out a 7-foot deer net fence and, if not successful, will spend the money necessary to install a solar electric fence.

Analyze your site before investing time and money in new plants.

This gardener really wanted a cherry tree and a rhododendron and wanted it NOW. However, her soil and sunlight conditions were not suitable where the plants were installed, resulting in disappointment and less money in her pocket. One should take the time to gather information about pH, texture, and structure of the soil; wind exposure; sunlight duration and intensity; moisture conditions; and, as noted earlier, the potential for wildlife feeding.

Don’t give up and be sure to learn from your mistakes.

Upon being asked for advice from a new gardener, one humble and truthful grower shared, “No one has killed as many plants as I have.” This gentleman wisely pointed out that there will be discouraging times, but it’s important to not give up. In moments of failure, it’s important to take the time to reflect on the cause and assess how to avoid it in the future.

The first installment of these garden confessions can be found in our July issue.

Maine Bureau of Agriculture Warns of Unsolicited Packages of Seeds from China

Do not plant them! Report it!

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s (DACF) Bureau of Agriculture issued an update for people receiving unsolicited packages containing seeds, purportedly sent from China. DACF is instructing seed recipients to visit Report Unsolicited Seeds and follow the instructions outlined on the form. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance Unit is currently investigating this situation across the nation.

About the mystery seeds

  • In Maine and across the US, people are reporting receiving unsolicited packages containing seeds. Recipients should hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, and refer to this form.
  • While the exact types of seeds in the packages are unknown, the seeds are thought to possibly be either invasive or pose a plant health risk, and not believed to be harmful to humans or pets. The seeds could pose a significant risk to agriculture or the environment. 
  • The seeds are usually sent in white packages displaying Chinese lettering and the words “China Post.” Most recipients say they did not order anything, and that the packaging was labeled as jewelry. Some recipients have reported ordering seeds on Amazon and receiving these seeds.
  • Recipients are asked to place the seeds and shipping envelope (if available) into a resealable baggie and mail them to the following address for identification and processing.

Do you appreciate the work we are doing?

Consider making a contribution to the Maine Master Gardener Development Fund. Your dollars will support and expand Master Gardener Volunteer community outreach across Maine.


Your feedback is important to us!

We appreciate your feedback and ideas for future Maine Home Garden News topics. We look forward to sharing new information and inspiration in 2020.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Subscribe to Maine Home Garden News

Let us know if you would like to be notified when new issues are posted. To receive e-mail notifications, click on the Subscribe button below.


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

Call 800.287.0274 (in Maine), or 207.581.3188, for information on publications and program offerings from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, or visit

The University of Maine is an EEO/AA employer, and does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender expression, national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veteran’s status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity, 101 North Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5754, 207.581.1226, TTY 711 (Maine Relay System).