Maine Home Garden News — September 2020

In This Issue:

September Is the Month to . . .

By Rebecca Long, Agriculture and Food Systems Professional, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Oxford County

  • Reflect on the growing season. Recording this year’s successes and challenges will provide valuable information when you are planning next year’s garden. Take note of which varieties you liked, what disease and insect issues you struggled with, and what you planted too much of (Hint: It’s zucchini).
  • Start your garden clean-up. Healthy plant debris can go in the compost, but plants that suffered from disease or pest issues should be discarded. This can help eliminate sources of insect larvae and fungal spores for next year.
  • Farmer pulling up a cover crop to show its roots
    Photo by Edwin Remsberg.

    As you get garden beds cleaned out, consider adding a cover crop! Winter rye is great because it can be seeded the latest. But before you plant, carefully consider how you’ll terminate the crop and deal with the residue next spring. Check out Bulletin #1170, Cover Cropping for Success, and these handy charts of Cover Crops and Green Manures for more information.

  • Whether black lawn or another foliar disease, it was a tough year for lawns made more susceptible by the stress of heat and drought. If your lawn is not showing signs of bouncing back, this is a good time to reseed, following these directions for renovating patches of damaged lawn. For next year, consider adopting low-input lawn practices to make your lawn more resilient.
  • Start slacking off on deadheading annual and perennial flowers. Those last flowers and seed heads of the season can provide winter food for birds, and the stalks can serve as nesting sites for ecologically important insects.
  • Learn about native insects. Every fall we get lots of calls about Fall Webworm from homeowners concerned they are invasive and destructive. Fall Webworm are actually one of our native tent forming caterpillars and an important food source for birds. Because they feed late in the season on leaves near the end of their useful lives, after trees have stored most of their reserves for winter, they are unlikely to impact the long-term health of trees. If you find they are an aesthetic nuisance, or they have engulfed a young tree in your landscape, their tents can be removed by hand and destroyed by dunking in soapy water.
  • Near the end of the month: keep an eye out for freezing temps and be prepared to harvest the last tender vegetables on short notice.

Cocktails in the Garden — Pandemic-style

By Lisa Colburn

Summer is meant for gardening!

Photo by Lisa Looke.

Maine gardeners tolerate cold, snowy winters. We spend those frosty days studying garden catalogs that tempt us with new plant selections that are bigger and brighter and we really must have. Garden magazines seduce us with pretty pictures and stimulate us to re-imagine our yards. We endure mud season. We start doing a little clean-up outside while waiting for the danger of frost to pass. Then, “blast off”! We hit the ground gardening!

With so many people spending time at home because of COVID-19, gardening has become incredibly popular. Big box stores as well as garden centers throughout Maine have seen increased sales of garden supplies and plants. In fact, the pandemic has created a boom in gardening worldwide. In the early days, garden centers and mail-order garden suppliers were even having difficulty meeting the spike in demand.

In addition, many home gardeners are growing food for the first time, much like the Victory Gardens seen during the world wars. While we may not be at war with other countries, we’re all in a war together to combat a viral enemy. Spending more time at home has provided many with the opportunity to create beauty in a world that feels a little threatening; perhaps it is food for the soul.

There’s no place I’d rather be than in my garden. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to do basic house cleaning or laundry in the summer because I’d rather be outside. Most people reading this post probably feel the same! The next best thing I like to do in the summer is visit gardens. Many of us plan our vacations around garden tours or trips to botanical gardens. We come back home inspired and filled with creative ideas. But the pandemic has made this harder to do.

Photo by Lisa Looke.

I belong to several garden clubs and garden-related organizations; no surprise there! An event I started in at least three clubs is called “Cocktails in the Garden.” This is how we’ve done it in pre-pandemic times: one of the members volunteers to host; email invitations go out with the details; the event usually runs from about 5:00 p.m. to 7:00-7:30 p.m.; members gather for snacks and a drink (alcoholic or not), and socialize a bit. Then the host leads the garden tour. It’s an opportunity for the host to discuss plans for the future, answer questions, identify plants, and ask for advice. We get to know each other better and learn about gardening. It’s been a popular event in every single club. Socializing and gardening … what could be better? Well, COVID-19 wasn’t going to cramp our style! We’ve been quarantined, isolated, and secluded, craving time with kindred spirits. So, this year in particular, we felt strongly that we had to find a way to safely share our gardens, which have been flourishing with all the extra attention.

After much discussion via email, we developed the guidelines below and are comfortable meeting in our gardens again.

Cocktails in the Garden — Pandemic-style

  • “Cocktails in the Garden” always takes place outside. We cancel if it rains.
  • Many hosts provide hand sanitizer.
  • Hosts who allow others to use their bathrooms will provide soap, hand sanitizer, and individual hand wipes.
  • Everyone wears a mask when arriving. (Some masks have been very creative and real fashion statements!) When we’re eating and drinking, the masks come off. When the host leads the tour, we wear our masks again. Some people choose to keep their masks on throughout the meeting.
  • Bring your own chair. Any chairs provided by the host must be wiped down with sanitizer. Chairs will remain six feet apart except, of course, for spouses or other people who share a “bubble.”
  • Bring your own food and drink. Throughout the summer this rule has been relaxed a bit, but we avoid any community serving items where multiple people would touch the same spoon or pitcher. We’ve allowed individual servings only if the cook has worn a mask and gloves when preparing the food. Some people are still not comfortable eating food prepared by others, and that is fine. Everyone brings something for themselves to eat or drink. I’ve even seen elaborate picnic baskets filled with wine glasses, matching dinnerware, and gourmet treats!

We’re not sure what we’ll do when cool weather begins. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Meanwhile, we’ve had some of the best-attended “Cocktails in the Garden” meetings yet! There’s nothing like spending time with fellow gardeners, passionate dirt-diggers, and kindred spirits in each other’s little piece of paradise on a warm summer evening.

What Is It?

Azalea leaf

Answer: Azalea Leaf Gall

Azalea leaf gall (Exobasidium vaccinii), an uncommon fungal disease in Maine, is more likely to appear when early season conditions are wet. Although Exobasidium fungi may cause swollen shoots and stems, witches’ brooms, and sometimes red leaf spots, we’re more likely to notice strange and variable white growths on leaves and flowers like this.

Read more: Azalea Exobasidium Gall

Gardener Profile: Lisa Colburn

By Judy and Herb Crosby

Lisa Colburn
Lisa Colburn

Lisa Colburn hails from one of the most northern towns in Maine: Fort Kent. Her parents, Rey and Rita Dubois, maintained vegetable and flower gardens in their backyard. Her grandparents operated a dairy farm and grew extensive vegetable gardens. In fact, almost everyone she knew growing up in this small town had some sort of garden, so Lisa never considered not gardening.

Her interest in anything related to plants led her to take numerous classes in environmental studies, forestry, and botany at UMFK, though she ultimately earned a degree in Business at the University of Maine in Orono.

While raising her son in the small town of St. Agatha, she ran a stained and fused glass business, creating and restoring stained glass windows for churches. Her beautiful work has enhanced the worship experience in 27 churches in Aroostook County. In addition, her windows and tiffany-style lamps adorn public buildings and private homes throughout northern Maine. Her business, Spare Moments, was featured in Made in Maine, a MPBN television show, in 1999.

While living in northern Maine, Lisa established impressive ornamental and vegetable gardens around her home. She had a network of gardening friends, knew what would survive in Zone 3, and had mastered reliable strategies for success. When Lisa moved to Orono in 2000, she realized that she could expand her plant palette. All of a sudden, she was in a Zone 5 garden! Yippee!

The move was exciting but also challenging. Finding fellow gardeners and obtaining localized garden information was more difficult than anticipated. She felt that making these connections shouldn’t be so difficult and suspected other gardeners would appreciate a little bit of help as well. Reaching out to the Maine gardening community for help, Lisa sent press releases to newspapers and placed ads in garden-related publications asking gardeners to participate in a 13-page survey. In response, enthusiastic, experienced gardeners from throughout the state shared a wealth of knowledge about the trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals they loved; the garden centers they frequented; the organizations they belonged to; the publications they subscribed to; and most importantly their favorite gardening tips, tricks, and techniques. Lisa compiled their detailed responses into a book called The Maine Garden Journal — Insider secrets from Maine people who love to put their hands in the dirt. It’s almost entirely illustrated with Lisa’s own outstanding photos. The book has a wealth of information for Maine gardeners and everyone who gardens in a short season, cold climate.

Today, Lisa and her husband, Steve, have a spectacular new garden in Orono. Visitors often stop on the street to admire the extensive drifts of colorful flowers and landscaping, including large granite stones, bubbling water features, unusual trees, and even tropical plants. The garden also incorporates massive boulders that Lisa salvaged from a road construction project several years ago. Her love of rocks inspired her to install stone paths throughout most of the garden. When she turned 50, her husband bought her a cement mixer, and when she turned 60, she requested a pallet of rocks as a birthday present — perfect gifts for a creative gardener! She’s created numerous concrete pots, orbs, and other interesting garden ornaments. She also designed a wonderful greenhouse, glazed with double-wall polycarbonate to increase frost resistance. Her greenhouse allows her to grow a bumper crop of heat-loving tomatoes, peppers, and basil.

Lisa has no shortage of garden interests. She’s passionate about cold-hardy succulents, tiny alpine plants, and extremely large-leafed plants.

Lisa belongs to a number of garden-related organizations. One group based in Orono looks forward to an event each summer called Cocktails in the Garden (YouTube video). This video is of Lisa’s garden during one such event, pre-pandemic, in the summer of 2019.

Lisa and Steve winter in Florida, where she’s president of the Allamanda Garden Club, a large club that’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization. It awards yearly scholarships to college students majoring in horticulture. Lisa has organized garden education programs for years and frequently speaks on a variety of ornamental gardening topics. She’s a Master Gardener in Florida as well as Maine. In addition, she is a member of Garden Communicators International and writes for the Burpee Seed Company and Maine Home Gardening News.

Despite an extremely busy life, when all is said and done, there’s really no place Lisa would rather be than in her own garden — her little piece of paradise.

Ask the Expert!

Q. I have been gardening in the same 30×60 plot for 40 years, growing mostly tomatoes, sunflowers, and squash. Although I try to carefully rotate the crops within that space, there are only so many possible configurations. I have generally had some fungal disease, which I have treated by cutting off diseased material and either burning it or putting it into the trash, and also using some fungicide. The disease problems have been increasing steadily. I would like to eliminate using that plot for some time and try to increase the health of the soil and decrease the incidence of fungal diseases. What are my options?

A. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Your idea of giving the garden plot a rest is a good one. We suggest you have your soil tested if you have not done that recently, to determine the pH, level of essential nutrients, and organic matter content. You may need to make some adjustments with soil amendments, and taking a season to do that is a good idea.
  2. Next season, it would be a good idea to grow a cover crop (or two or three) in your garden plot. Cover crops build soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and strengthen biological activity in your soil — all good things for healthy vegetable production. This bulletin on cover cropping is geared toward farmers, but the principles also apply to home gardeners: Bulletin #1170, Cover Cropping for Success.
  3. You’ve done the right thing in removing and disposing of diseased foliage when you see it. Plant diseases often develop in rainy or humid conditions. Most fungal diseases spread more rapidly when leaves remain wet for a sustained period.
  4. When you are ready to plant in this area again, these are additional good practices for disease prevention:
    • Consider spacing your plants a little farther apart for good air circulation.
    • If you use overhead watering, water only in the morning so that the leaves will dry during the day. Try to avoid wet leaves overnight. Consider using soaker hoses for drip irrigation. These target the plants’ root systems and keep the foliage dry.
    • Continue rotating your crops annually.
    • Look for disease-resistant varieties of vegetables in seed catalogs.
    • If you have a diseased plant, you can submit a plant sample to our diagnostic lab in Orono. Our plant pathologist will do her best to diagnose the problem and give recommendations for treatment.
    • Preventing diseases from developing is the best strategy, as once a plant is infected and shows symptoms, it can be very hard to contain the problem.

Q. My son received two apple trees for a wedding gift. He is ready to plant them. Any tips for fall planting of new apple trees? We live in Fort Kent, Maine.

gardener sets young tree in hole for planting and checks depth
Plant the tree in a dug hole that is wide enough to fit the root system and deep enough so that the that the graft union is 1” to 3” above the ground.

A. Your son should plant the trees as soon as possible, in hopes that they will put on root growth and anchor themselves in the ground before the soil freezes. Select a full sun site with good airflow. Avoid low spots and areas surrounded by dense woodlots. Fruit trees need a minimum of 18 inches of soil depth. The soil should be well drained, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your son hasn’t had his soil tested, it is worth doing. To learn how to have your soil tested, see the Analytical Lab and Maine Soil Testing Service website.

Please review the detailed recommendations on planting fruit trees in Maine at our website, Tree Fruits.

Q. I want to save my beautiful tuberous begonias and plant them again next spring. What process do you recommend for wintering begonias?

A. Carefully dig up the tuberous begonias within a few days after a killing frost. Leave a small amount of soil around each tuber. Cut off the stems about 1 inch above the tubers. Place the tubers in a cool, dry area to cure for 2 to 3 weeks. After curing, shake off the remaining soil. Place a layer of peat moss, vermiculite, or sawdust in a small cardboard box. Lay the tubers on the storage medium, then cover the tubers with additional peat, vermiculite, or sawdust. Store the tubers in an area with a temperature of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A spare refrigerator or a corner of an unheated garage that doesn’t freeze can be great places to keep tubers at the proper temperature. Do not allow the tubers to freeze.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

By Novella Carpenter; Review by Lavon Bartel

Due to Covid-19 and the need to socially distance, the Hancock/Washington County Master Gardener Book Club decided to finish out our 2019-2020 season on Zoom with the help of Extension staff. During this time of isolation, it was great to have so many adventures of the mind. Our last book of the season, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, felt like a favorite trip with a vibrant tour guide, and our time together discussing the author’s successes and foibles felt like “old friends’ day,” with smiles (and sometimes guffaws) even when some of the adventures got a bit graphic.

Novella Carpenter shares the joy and insanity of creating a plant and animal farm in a very urban California community. At the same time, she captures the community spirit of a multicultural neighborhood and unique perspectives of her farming actions. Her terrific adventures and youthful exuberance assured the read was enjoyed by all. 

One March, she challenged herself to spend the month of July eating ONLY foods she produced, foraged, or had previously grown and preserved. This “hair-brained” experiment taught her a familiar lesson in gardening, with not enough production in July and too many items to share in August after her “fast” had ended.

Novello’s adventures with animals were more unusual. Over time, she harvested a diversity of meat animals, killed a rogue opossum that destroyed two of her birds (a duck and a goose), excited the local Post Office with her live bee order, and chased a hog down Oakland streets. Her most expressive, sometimes yucky but always side-splitting adventures, emerged while foraging food from dumpsters to feed the farm animals. Two rapidly growing hogs, Big Guy and Little Girl, required daily calorie counts beyond comprehension. Oddly, dumpster diving gave her an “in” to interact with Christopher Lee, the owner and chef of Eccolo, an exclusive Berkeley restaurant. For a foodie like me, the book’s most fascinating segment is Novella’s tale of kitchen involvement in processing the meat of one hog into authentic dry-cured hams, salami, and pancetta. With its vivid descriptions, personal revelations, and weird circumstances, this book has something for everyone interested in local, urban food production, and farming. I fully agree with the New York Times reviewer who wrote, “I couldn’t put it down…. The writing soars.”

Did You Know?

You can find over 100 new recipes on our website, Food & Health!

  • All recipes have been taste-tested. Many feature Maine produce. Recipes were created to be easy to prepare and use readily available ingredients.
  • Each recipe includes a new FDA nutrition facts label.
  • We are working to add pictures to the recipes, so keep checking back!

Food pictures

Food pictures

Wild Seed Project Profile

By Anna Fialkoff, Program Manager for Wild Seed Project

As we face the unprecedented, urgent, and entwined challenges of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, Wild Seed Project offers tools to be part of the solution. We are a Maine-based non-profit working to inspire people to restore seed-grown native plants in all landscapes. We do this through our beautiful website’s numerous free resources, talks and workshops, six issues of our annual advertising-free magazine Wild Seed, locally grown native plant seeds for purchase, and a new pledge to rewild initiative.

Pledging to rewild means committing to restore at least 70% native plant biomass in one’s home  landscape and eliminating harmful management practices in order to keep intact the delicate web of butterflies, bees, birds, and other forms of life that is crucial to a functioning ecosystem (Douglas Tallamy, Nature’s Best Hope). Anyone can take the pledge, whether you have a small balcony with only enough space for potted plants, or a front lawn large enough to be converted into layers of native groundcovers, shrubs, and trees. By browsing through the blogs, plant lists, and primers for seed sowing and ecological gardening, pledgers will find tools to rewild their own yards, roadsides, and public spaces.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Looke & Heather McCargo; used with permission.

Wild Seed Project empowers people to grow their own native plants from seed, and the impact is two-fold. First, seeds are the best way to preserve the genetic diversity within a species and ensure a species’ resiliency in adapting to future environmental stressors. Most nursery plants are cloned (hence genetically identical) and are grown with pesticides that can harm the wildlife that feed on them. Second, sowing seeds is a great way to get larger quantities of native plants out into the landscape. Hundreds of plants are produced from several packets of seeds versus a single plant in a 2-gallon pot, so you get more bang for your buck.

Native plant seeds are not only an abundant resource, but they are also much more cost-effective and less fussy to grow than annual veggies and flowers. Most native seeds are sown outside in the late fall or early winter, since they require a cold-moist period to germinate. This removes the need for coddling seedlings indoors and taking up precious spring gardening time. (Find out more about Autumn and Winter Seed Sowing.)

This September, Wild Seed Project will host our first member-sponsored plant sale. Every year in late December we test all the seeds we sell to ensure their viability and the methods we recommend. Many of these seedlings become stock plants for future seed collection. This year, the extra seedlings from last fall’s sowing will be offered for sale. All plants are potted in recycled pots and grown with organic potting soil. September is a great time to plant, and we are pleased to introduce people to this new concept of fall planting. Due to COVID-19 precautions, buyers will order plants online before in-person pick up with dates and times TBD. Keep an eye on the website for more details. Whether you buy plants, seeds, an issue of Wild Seed magazine, or membership with Wild Seed Project, supporting this crucial work enables a truly grassroots effort to invite nature into the places we call home and to support a wide diversity of life.

Anna Fialkoff

As the new program manager, Anna is ready to help Wild Seed Project further its educational programming, deepen relationships with partner organizations, and catalyze a movement to rewild Maine. Anna was most recently Senior Horticulturist at Native Plant Trust’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA, where she designed and installed native plant gardens, managed interns and volunteers, and taught the public ways to incorporate native plants in their own gardens. With a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic and an MS in Ecological Design from The Conway School, she brings with her a deep knowledge of native plant ecology, horticulture, conservation, and ecological landscape design. For more info, email

UMaine Extension Offers Pollinator-friendly Garden Certification

bee on astersGardens created to attract essential pollinators are the focus of a new pollinator-friendly garden certification available from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers program.

Pollinator-friendly gardens provide food and habitat for native insects and animals in a dedicated garden space. Maine gardeners can apply to have existing or new gardens certified when specific criteria are met. Guidelines and educational resources are included for each step of the process.    

Maine gardeners can apply online for a nonrefundable $10 fee. Certified gardens can purchase the permanent display sign for an additional $30. For more information or to request a reasonable accommodation, contact 207.942.7396;

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.

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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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