Maine Home Garden News – May 2022

In This Issue:

For Cindy . . .

This is the first issue of the Maine Home Garden News without the support of the talented and tireless webmaster Cindy Eves-Thomas who retired this April after 38 years with the University of Maine. Cindy was instrumental in making Extension’s websites user-friendly, attractive, and accessible. Her positive nature and willingness to go above and beyond with every aspect of her work made her a true treasure. She often shared her stunningly beautiful photos in the Maine Home Garden News whenever we needed a nice visual to complement an article. Her last very generous gift to us was to mentor some terrific colleagues to take on her work. 

Cindy, we will do our best to make you proud and continue to give you plenty of inspiration as you spend more time in your own gardens. Wishing you a very happy retirement! May your landscape be full of life and beauty. 

Your friend, 


May Is the Month to . . .

By Wanda Greatorex, Penobscot County Master Gardener Volunteer

  • Swallowtail butterfly on lilacStart a butterfly garden.  Offer an assortment of flowers to attract a variety of butterfly, moth, and skipper species. Clover, dandelion, bee balm, lavender, verbena, and goldenrod are all excellent sources of nectar. Butterflies prefer warmth, so a sunny and sheltered spot is good. Remember—no pesticides please! Learn more about site selection, design tips, larval food sources, habitat, and common Maine butterflies in our Bulletin #7151, Landscaping for Butterflies in Maine.
  • Make an herb garden. Create a little in-ground plot or grow herbs in pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes. Most herbs thrive in well-drained soil and full sun and many types will tolerate partial shade. Consider planting spreading herbs, such as mint and oregano, in their own bed or keeping them in pots to avoid having them outcompete neighboring plants. Perennial herbs can be planted outdoors in May, while tender herbs should be planted towards the very end of May or even early June (think basil) in central Maine.
  • Take care of your bird friends and understand the risks of exposure to bird flu.  Clean out all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders. With Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in our region this spring, it may be best to take in bird feeders to minimize the spread of this highly transmittable pathogen. Learn more in the article below about the current situation and factors to consider when deciding on whether to keep your feeders out this season. Information on types of feeders, placement, sanitation, and managing unwelcome visitors can be found in our Bulletin #7124, Bird Feeding Basics.
  • Check for standing water. Seek out and eliminate standing water, which could be excellent mosquito breeding grounds. Gear up for mosquito season by reviewing our Mosquito Management, fact sheet #5510.
  • Set up a rain barrel. Use netting to keep mosquitoes from having a site to breed. Rain barrels are an excellent way to reduce runoff and direct water resources to ornamental gardens and lawns.
  • man holding handful of rich soil; photo by Edwin RemsbergPrepare your soil. Perform a soil test with the Maine Soil Testing Service to find out what you need to improve your soil. The report you’ll receive will let you know whether you need to adjust your pH, add compost and incorporate any fertilizers to optimize plant growth. To learn more about applying fertilizers in home gardens, see Bulletin #2287, Know Your Soil: Applying Fertilizers on Your Home Garden. Please try to keep rototilling to a minimum to protect the soil structure.
  • Begin planting! When the soil doesn’t stick to your shovel when you go out to dig, onion, leek, broccoli, and cabbage seedlings can be planted. This is typically the beginning of May in central Maine*. Seeds such as endive, lettuce, scallions, carrots, beets, peas, radish, spinach, and turnip can also be planted at this time. Wait until the middle of the month to plant beans, corn, and potatoes. Tomato, pepper, squash, and pumpkin should be planted no sooner than the last week of May. It’s safest to wait until the beginning of June for eggplant and cucumber to go in. Check out our Planting Chart for the Maine Vegetable Garden for more crops and the range of dates on which they can be planted.
    *In coastal Maine, plant 10-14 days earlier. In northern Maine, plant 10-14 days later.
  • OR, mix and match different types of vegetables together.  The “Three Sisters” approach involves sowing corn, pole bean, and squash together. The corn supports the beans as they climb, the beans (through their association with rhizobia) contribute nitrogen to the soil, and the squash shades the soil thus maintaining moisture and reducing weed pressure. Learn about different ways to organize your garden, square foot gardening, companion planting, direct seed vs. transplants, proper planting techniques, and more in Episode 4 of our Victory Garden for ME series.
  • Pay attention to seasonal indicators as you plant your garden.  Have you ever heard the sage advice to plant your peas when the lilac leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear?  The flowering of many of our perennial plants, trees, and shrubs can give us hints as to whether it might be time to plant certain crops. For example, many long-time gardeners wait for the dandelions to bloom before they plant their potatoes. Learn more about this fascinating topic.

Rewild Your Connection With Nature

By Colleen E. Griffin, Registered Horticultural Therapist, Master Gardener Volunteer, Oxford/Cumberland County

In our technology-driven existence, the natural world is too often managed as a commodity; something to be manipulated and exploited for profit.  This attitude has become so ingrained in our society that it is common to believe humans are separate from the natural world.  Yet as we have all experienced, Mother Nature has very unattractive, even devastating methods to prove how absurd this perspective is.

Today, a reawakening is occurring across the globe.  This is due in large part to rapid climate change on top of debilitating pandemic fatigue.  Rewilding offers a path forward; implying that an immersive human-nature reunion has never been more critical.  Rewilding promotes stewardship and reclamation of ecosystems that will serve all species.  This of course includes meaningful interactions between people and plants.

“Rewilding is an ecosystem perspective on a landscape scale.” — Michele Weber, Evolutionary Biologist


Rewilding is a conservation practice designed to revitalize natural landscapes and establish ecosystems.  In short, this effort strives to restore much of what has been lost due to human mismanagement and destructive activity. We cannot erase past harm humans have inflicted upon the world’s natural habitats, but we can adopt a future focus that will promote healthy human-nature interactions.  We now have a greater understanding of how our local environment affects human health.  Research has unequivocally proven that if the ecosystem you live in or near is not healthy, it will directly influence your health.  Rewilding may seem like an overwhelming responsibility, but there is plenty you can do to further this effort right in your own backyard.

Urban Rewilding

Many of the world’s major cities have adopted the concept of urban rewilding.  Preservation of existing parks and green spaces along with the creation of accessible mini-ecosystems are cropping up across the globe. Most often the newly created ecosystems are purposefully designed using plants native to the region.  The need for maintenance is reduced by using native plants that require minimal care, less water, and few pesticides.  This practice will mitigate the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, thus helping to lower pollution levels.  Tree-lined streets and roof-top gardens will keep buildings cooler in the summer, provide shade, and reduce flooding of city streets by curtailing rainwater runoff.

Living in a “Biophilic City” affords great benefits to all inhabitants.  Recent research is exposing the importance of human interaction with nature.   It is now proven that our psychological and physical health improves with meaningful interactions with plants and natural landscapes.  Due to pandemic lockdown, many people the world over are beginning to identify access to a natural environment as a critical component for health and wellness.

“The way we garden today will determine what the world will look like tomorrow.” — Doug Tallamy

Horticultural Interventions

The word “rewild” may give you pause and make you wonder just what the term suggests.  The benefits of rewilding are extensive, not only for the gardener but for the local ecosystem.  Take note that this concept will require a different perspective.  Recent garden culture necessitates human management and interference.  Any gardener can tell you that keeping their garden space weed-free and perfectly dead-headed is exhausting.  The unintended downside of this practice is a sterile environment, hosting few pollinators or other beneficial insects.

Frances Tophill, author of Rewild Your Garden offers a different approach, “Let nature make the decisions.”  Tophill suggests the gardener should redefine what is truly a weed.  This is important because many beneficial insects require specific host plants to lay their eggs and provide a food source.  Often, the host plant is native to the region yet may be considered undesirable in your garden.  When specific host plants are not available, the beneficial insects move on and out of your garden.  This pristine approach to gardening has contributed to the endangerment and even extinction of many insect species.  The goal of rewilding is to create an environment that will support a multitude of insects, which in turn will attract many more species of birds and wildlife into your garden.  Keep in mind that the beneficial insects and native plants will maintain a healthy balance in your garden through predation and competition, greatly reducing the need for chemicals. To rewild is to adopt this approach as a “horticultural intervention” that benefits wildlife, the local ecosystem, as well as the gardener. 

Rewilding Resources

Converting your garden spaces into mini-ecosystems does not mean you have to dig up your current garden plants.  It’s quite the opposite.  A slow purposeful redesign of the garden will start you off on the right foot – and give you time to do some research.  Adding plants native to your region is a simple yet effective way to rewild. Flowering shrubs will host many beneficial insects and provide food for birds.  Doug Tallamy, the author of Nature’s Best Hope, states, “The way we garden today will determine what the world will look like tomorrow.”

Choosing plant materials that serve your needs as well as support a wildlife habitat is the best way forward.  But where can you access reliable information?  Good places to start are botanical gardens and your county cooperative extension office.  Another dependable source is the Audubon Society Native Plant Database webpage.  Many nonprofits dedicated to native plant use and rewilding are springing up across the U.S.  A quick internet search will produce many more sources of information and advice on how to start your rewilding project. You must remember the category of wild plants includes not only flowers but also grasses, lichens, fungi, shrubs, and trees that require little to no human interference to survive in your area.

“Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity”

During the past two pandemic years, we have witnessed relentless struggle and hardship.  We have seen climate change advancing at an alarming rate.  It is no surprise that our collective stress level has risen dramatically.  Yet a reawakening has emerged out of this adversity; an indisputable awareness that human health is entwined, even dependent upon the health of the natural world, and that world is in trouble.   

We, as Master Gardener Volunteers can take this opportunity to foster a symbiotic relationship between ourselves and the ecosystems in our area.  Start with redefining what a weed is.  Educate yourself about how to create wildlife habitats and support ecosystems.  Planting a wild seed, collecting the dried seed heads, and harvesting that seed to share with others serves not only your gardening goals but also will provide a sense of well-being for all involved, through stewardship of the land.  Embrace rewilding, it will enhance your health and the health of your garden.

Consider your Bird Feeder: Risk Management for Bird Flu, Spring 2022

By Anne Lichtenwalner DVM Ph.D., Associate Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science; Director: UMaine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

cardinal in Orono Anne B Lichtenwalner 2010Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been in our region this spring, along with the welcome arrival of migrating wild birds. There is an ongoing discussion about the best ways to support our wild birds between regional animal health and wildlife entities. Should you keep your bird feeders filled for those migrants, as well as our normal, year-round resident wild birds?

In many places, there is still some “wild” food available (which is always the best resource, since it’s usually more nutritionally diverse and also does not function to “aggregate” birds unnaturally, an activity that spreads diseases (flu, salmonella, mycoplasma, etc.).  So- in some places, feeding birds isn’t a great option for the health of the birds, and may not be needed. Conversely, feeding birds can be supportive for some bird species, and is certainly helpful for people who otherwise would not be able to observe wild birds.

If you have poultry, it’s clear that you should not encourage wild birds (of any kind) and your poultry to mix, for the good of both the wild and domestic birds.  So- backyard and commercial flock owners should NOT keep wild bird feeders around.

If you have no poultry, and you routinely feed wild birds, then it’s still better to cease the practice for now (since avian flu is still a potential risk for people).  Also, there is always a risk of salmonella or other diseases getting spread by bird feeders.  SO- if you decide to keep your feeders up, then clean and disinfect them weekly (wear gloves, soak the feeder in a bucket of very dilute bleach solution, being sure to get all the old debris out).

If you are not sure what to do, please check out the IFW website for updates.  If you miss your bird feeder and just want to learn more about birds, please check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  There are also some great podcasts (free) for birders to keep up their skills.  With time and the return of warm, sunny weather, the risk of HPAI spread will diminish.  Despite HPAI, bird populations can rebound when natural forages and cover are available for feeding and nesting.  Whether you are a farmer, bird-fancier, or naturalist, please do your best to support our wildlife and to keep our poultry safe.

Quince, The Forgotten Royal Fruit

By Laloo Meyer, Kennebec County Master Gardener Volunteer

Decades ago, behind the house I had just moved into, I stood in front of a small tree trying to figure out if I was looking at something that produced pears or apples. The fruit looked like a pear and an apple had collided into a bumpy, yellow, slightly fuzzy, hard pome that wafted a heavy scent of rose crossed with an apple.  A friend informed me that the tree, which grew in a twisty, gnarled fashion, was a quince (Cydonia oblonga). They told me that supposedly Eve was tempted in the Garden of Eden by a quince, not an apple, giving me the impression that this was a very old and very forgotten fruit.

Its history goes back some 4,000 years and starts in the Caucasus region. Quince is, and historically has been, popular throughout the world in the form of pastes, preserves, jellies, butters, marmalades, tarts, pies, added to hard ciders, tea, and is featured in many traditional Armenian dishes. A couple of hundred years ago in New England, colonial settlers would commonly make “quince cheese,” which is similar to quince or apple butter, but even thicker. Quince is quite high in pectin. It was a common garden plant in the United States until commercial pectin was created. Quince has left its mark in our history books and lore. It played a part in the Trojan War epic; it was given to brides in Ancient Greece so they could take a bite to freshen their breath before their kiss at the altar, and it was presented in the form of a specially prepared marmalade to royalty (including Joan of Arc) in France in the Middle Ages. Often the images of Aphrodite depict her holding a quince, or as the Greeks called it, a “golden apple.”

Some varieties are sweeter than others and can be eaten raw, but usually, raw quince tastes quite bitter and acidic. I haven’t met a raw quince that doesn’t pull my cheeks inward. It is more often peeled and cooked, causing it to become sweeter while still holding its shape. Two books I recommend for quince recipes, culinary history, and growing information are Simply Quince by Barbara Ghazarian; and Quinces: Growing & Cooking (The English Kitchen) by Jane McMorland Hunter and Sue Dunster.

Cydonia oblonga is not to be confused with the ornamental flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica or C. speciosa,), which produces a fruit that is not worth eating. Cydonia oblonga is hardy to zone 5.  It is self-fruitful in terms of pollination, yielding about 75 pounds of fruit per tree if planted in full sun with average, moist soil. Quince will grow to 15 feet. For our region in the Northeast, one should pick a shorter growing season variety. They are susceptible to fire blight and quince rust. Quince is not very demanding. Give it some compost once every few years, but not too much nitrogen which could invite fire blight with the new growth. Hardly any pruning is required. It somewhat tolerates drought conditions. Expect harvests in the fall when the fruits turn yellow and smell amazing. The fruit bruises easily, so handle it with care. Enjoy and share quince with all who are royal to you.

Maine Public Gardens: Asticou Azalea Garden, Northeast Harbor, Maine

By Naomi Jacobs, Penobscot County Master Gardener

Open May 7-October 30, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Admission is free and open to the public, suggested contribution of $5 per person.

The Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor is a jewel of Mount Desert Island, beautiful at any time of year, and a must-see in May and June when the azaleas and rhododendrons are at their peak.

The garden was established in 1957 by Charles K. Savage, who ran his family’s historic Asticou Inn from 1922-to 1964. He aspired to create a calm, contemplative garden, melding traditional Japanese elements, such as stone pathways, bridges, and lanterns, with MDI’s natural features like conifers, rock ledges, woodlands, and water. As it happened, the great landscape architect Beatrix Farrand was dismantling her Bar Harbor summer home and gardens at this time. Savage was able to purchase all of Farrand’s larger plants with donations from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and other summer residents. Moved to Northeast Harbor, they became the basis for both the Asticou Azalea Garden and the equally lovely Thuya Garden nearby. 

The garden emphasizes flowering trees and shrubs, beginning with cherry trees in mid-May. Azaleas and rhododendrons build to a spectacular crescendo about the third week in June, and autumn brings another peak of color in October. The exquisitely tended plants with rich spring or fall color, reflected in the pond at the heart of the garden, make a great background for selfies or special occasions. 

Though the garden is small at 2.3 acres, one can easily spend an hour or more wandering its paths. In addition to azaleas and rhodies, you will find a wealth of unusual plants meriting a close look, especially delicate woodland species like Jeffersonia (twinleaf) groundcover, Uvularia (merrybells), choice ferns, and double trillium. Among the more exotic specimens is a fabulous tri-color European beech, with variegated leaves in pink, green, and white. A carefully raked sand garden, evoking the famous sand garden in Kyoto, is another attraction. With luck, you will see the gardener raking the sand into perfect, curving waves.

Bloom sequence can vary quite a bit from year to year, so timing your visit “just right” is always a challenge. Spring on the coast, of course, comes later than inland. We often delay our annual Asticou pilgrimage until the lilacs in Bangor have begun to decline. 

The bloom schedule (PDF) on the garden’s website gives an idea of what to expect in a typical year.

Consider extending your visit with lunch at the elegant Asticou Inn, a leisurely stroll to the harbor on the Asticou Stream Trail, or a climb up the Asticou Terraces to visit Thuya Garden.

Here is a fascinating interview with the head gardener Mary Roper.

Here are directions to the garden.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

By Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo credit: Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

Perhaps the most anticipated migrating bird to return in your yard is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Weighing only three grams (the same as a penny), these birds have flown thousands of miles, making a trans-Gulf of Mexico nonstop flight to return to your gardens. Their small size but large attitude make them a joy to watch, as does their remarkable ability to hover in flight, often observed while feeding. You can attract them with a hummingbird feeder, filled with 4 parts water, 1 part white [table] sugar. Just make sure you clean the feeder regularly; if you wouldn’t want to drink the sugar water, they shouldn’t either. Even better, find a variety of flowering plants to add to your garden and spread out the bloom times so hummingbirds always have a tubular flower to get nectar from. Late spring bloomers like Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) will keep them happy until Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) blooms in summer. Let Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grow up in shady and wet areas and you’ll see the birds appreciating this important fuel source before they take off in the fall. For more native plants that attract hummingbirds, check out the Native Plant Finder and filter for ‘benefits hummingbirds’.

For more on the importance of Maine native plants to support birds and other wildlife, visit Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” webpage.

Tick Wise: Lyme Disease in Maine

State of Maine Dirigo seal/logoJanet T. Mills Governor | Jeanne M. Lambrew, Ph.D. Commissioner

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention
11 State House Station 286 Water Street, Augusta, Maine 04333-0011
Tel: 207.287.8016 | Fax 207.287.9058

With warmer weather on its way, Lyme Disease Awareness Month is here again! Health care providers reported 1,508 cases of Lyme disease in 2021 (as of March 25, 2022).

The 2022 Lyme Disease Awareness Month theme this May is “Tick Wise.” This reminds us to stop and practice tick prevention measures frequently. The easiest way to avoid tick-borne diseases is preventing tick bites. Please remember to be “Tick Wise” and:

1)   Know tick habitat and use caution in areas where ticks may live.
2)   Wear light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs.
3)   Use an EPA-approved repellent such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
4)   Perform tick checks on yourself, family members, and pets daily and after any outdoor activity. Take a shower after exposure to a tick habitat to wash off any crawling ticks.

Infected deer ticks can spread the bacterium that causes Lyme disease when they bite. For transmission to occur, the deer tick must be attached for 24-48 hours. Use frequent tick checks to find and remove ticks as early as possible.

In Maine, adults over the age of 65 years and children between the ages of 5 and 15 years are at highest risk of Lyme disease. People that work or play outside are also at high risk of encountering infected ticks.

If a tick bites you or you spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure to watch for symptoms for up to 30 days after exposure. Also be sure to call a health care provider if symptoms develop. The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a skin rash. This is better known as the “bull’s-eye” rash. The rash usually appears 3-30 days after the tick bite and can show up at the bite site or anywhere else on the body. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and joint or muscle pain. Lyme disease is treatable, and most people recover fully.

Lyme disease is not the only disease that deer ticks in Maine can carry. Anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi disease, and Powassan virus disease are other tickborne infections found in Maine, which saw record cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis in 2021 and tied the record number of Powassan virus disease infections statewide.

The deer tick is the only species of tick in Maine that can pass the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Still, there are several other species of ticks found across the state. Tick identification is important, especially when removing ticks. Free tick identification resources can be ordered at the Maine CDC website. University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick ID Lab also offers tick identification and testing services.


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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).

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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. The following staff and volunteer team take great care editing content, designing the web and email platforms, maintaining email lists, and getting hard copies mailed to those who don’t have access to the internet: Abby Zelz*, Annika Schmidt*, Barbara Harrity*, Cindy Eves-Thomas, Kate Garland, Mary Michaud, Michelle Snowden, Naomi Jacobs*, Phoebe Call*, and Wendy Roberston. 

*Master Gardener Volunteers

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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