Got questions about growing vegetables and fruit in Maine?

Extension experts identifies a plant sample for a client; photo by Edwin Remsberg

Ask the UMaine Extension gardening experts!

With years of experience in home horticulture and commercial agriculture, our experts help beginning gardeners achieve successful harvests, encourage gardeners and commercial farmers to donate excess produce to those in need, and use gardening as a vehicle to develop communities.

If you have a question about growing vegetables and fruit in Maine, you are welcome to


2019 Q&A

Answers are provided by Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, Penobscot & Piscataquis Counties; Caragh Fitzgerald, Associate Extension Professor, Agriculture, UMaine Extension Kennebec County; Kate Garland, Horticultural Professional, UMaine Extension Penobscot County; Kathy Hopkins, Extension Educator, UMaine Extension Somerset County; Tori Jackson, Extension Educator: Agriculture and Natural Resources, UMaine Extension Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties; Kathleen McNerney, Home Horticultural Coordinator, UMaine Extension Cumberland County; Marjorie Peronto, Extension Educator, UMaine Extension Hancock and Washington Counties; Elizabeth Stanley, Horticulture Community Education Assistant, UMaine Extension Knox, Lincoln, and Waldo Counties; and Frank Wertheim, Extension Educator, Agriculture/Horticulture, UMaine Extension York County.

Q: I would like to know which is the best microclover mix for my area. I live in Jonesport, Maine.

A: The best seed mix for your lawn will depend on your soil conditions and how much shade you have. I recommend taking a look at the Maine Yardscaping Program’s list of grass seed sources to determine which grass species suit your needs, and then contacting a supplier to find the microclover mix that includes those grasses. Generally, locally-owned garden centers are a great bet for carrying species that will work well in your area.

Q: When can I apply milorganite to my lawn and plants? I am in Kennebunkport, zone 5.

A: I recommend starting with a soil test to see if your lawn and other landscape plants require any additional fertility. If your pH is appropriate and lawn is healthy, you may not need to fertilize at all, particularly if your lawn is more than 10 years old. Well-established sod cycles nutrients efficiently on it’s own and generally does not require further inputs. Adding unnecessary fertilizers may just become pollution, regardless of the source. Please read Bulletin #2166, Steps to a Low-Input, Healthy Lawn for a more comprehensive look at sustainable lawn maintenance. If your soil test reveals a nutrient deficiency, follow the recommendations included with your results. Milorganite may or may not be appropriate for your yard.

Q: Zone 5, in Kennebunkport, I have afternoon sun on my front porch garden. What shrubs/plants can I put there that are low maintenance?

A: I recommend taking a look at native plants if you are interested in low-maintenance selections. Check out Bulletin #2500, Gardening to Conserve Maine’s Native Landscape: Plants to Use and Plants to Avoid which includes a handy chart of suggested species with their preferred light and soil conditions. Once you have a list of possibilities, visit a locally-owned nursery to choose high-quality plants to install.

ripe peaches on treeQ: How do I prune my 10 year old peach tree?

A: You can read all about care of peach trees in Maine in Extension Bulletin #2068, Growing Peaches in Maine. Here is an excerpt on pruning:

Peach trees are typically pruned to have a spreading or vase-shaped canopy, but can be trained in any shape or allowed to grow naturally. The vase-shaped training, also called “open center,” is preferred because is prevents the tree from growing upright and thus results in a shorter tree from which it is easier to pick fruit. To achieve the open center shape, prune the main branch at a point just above a side branch and keep four or five side branches. Prune off dead or broken branches. Prune the tree as little as possible in the next five years to encourage fruitfulness. Branches growing back into the center of the tree canopy should be removed each year. Peach trees are mature when they have full fruit production, which is usually 5 years after planting. Mature trees can be pruned annually, which will allow more sunlight to reach the lower branches and will lengthen their lifespan. Small branches on peaches frequently die in winter, and these should be pruned each year.

I also recommend the video The Peach Pruning Blueprint from PennState Extension that gives step by step instructions.

Holes dug in the lawn (left) and white grub (right) under the lawn.
Holes dug in the lawn (left) and white grub (right) under the lawn.

Q: My lawn has been invaded by moles or voles it began late summer and has spread tunnels are everywhere grass is dead what can I do to get rid of them?

A: If you have critters digging in your lawn, it is because they are hunting for and eating grubs. The best time of year to treat a lawn for grubs is in August. The adults (Japanese Beetles, June Beetles, European Chafers and Asiatic Garden Beetles) lay their eggs in the lawn’s soil in late July and early August and the newly hatched grubs are relatively small and are pretty susceptible to treatment at that point in time. In later fall and in spring the grubs have dug down deeper and are larger and more resistant to pesticides, so therefore, treatment is less effective.

Here are links to a UMaine Cooperative Extension White Grub Fact Sheet and one from Cornell Extension,  Grubs in Your Lawn (PDF). The Cornell fact sheet mentions some treatments that can be used in September, though they note they are less effective than treating in August would have been.

When using any pesticide make sure you read the label carefully before buying the product, follow all instructions and take appropriate precautions as listed.

Q: I am putting together a raised bed garden, using standard cinder blocks. Initially I was going to use them for the walls of the raised bed. I plan on using plastic as a barrier to stop alkaline leaching from the blocks into the soil. As i look at the design, I have all these empty holes that are roughly 3.5×3.5×16. Can I line these, fill them with soil and plant things like summer squash, swiss chard, bush beans, and green peppers? Am I correct in thinking the roots need a volume of soil in which to perform their functions, as long as none of the dimensions of the soil space are too extreme?

A: Cinder blocks are a great material for creating permanent raised beds, but preventing direct soil contact with the blocks may be wise. While I have no Maine-based research on this, the University of Maryland Home & Garden Information Center advises gardeners this way:

“Cement block, cinder block and concrete block, all are made with cement and fine aggregates such as sand or small stones. Fly ash is also often included. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal and so contains heavy metals and other hazardous waste. Labels do not give specific information on exactly what aggregate is used in the manufacture of the block. There is also little research data on this topic. Ultimately, this becomes a personal choice based on your comfort level. If you plan to use block as a raised bed material — and many people do – and you are concerned about potential risks, you could seal the blocks with polymer paint. Or you can choose to use another material you are more comfortable with.”

In lieu of planting food crops in those holes, you might consider planting flowers to deter pests and attract pollinators, such as marigolds and borage.

Pepper plant with yellowing leavesQ: For a couple years the peppers have germinated and emerged properly but the first true leaves are very pale with discolored blotches and the cotyledons yellow from the edges inward; they tend to struggle after this point.

In the past I have tried epsom salts with no luck. I also tried switching from chlorinated tap to well water. I have considered light damage, salts, poorly mixed batch of soil, pH, Nitrogen, Potassium, Magnesium and Iron as possible issues but cannot pinpoint what is wrong. In the same exact setup I have onions, lettuce, wildflowers and herbs and they all look great!

A: It would be helpful to know what variety you are growing, as they vary in disease resistance. Also, did you save these seeds or purchase them? Peppers can be very finicky, so it is unsurprising that they are behaving a bit differently from the other seedlings you have started. The two things that stuck out to me when you described your setup were the distance of the lights to the plants and your media mix. Seeds should be started in a sterile, soilless media to prevent any disease organisms from attacking the young seedlings. They will not require any supplemental nutrition until after they have at least one set of true leaves. When they start to “look hungry” you can fertilize them with a weak, balanced soluble solution, but any nutrients applied before this can burn the plants. Also, your lights should be set up much more closely to the canopy, especially for the first few weeks. Once they get to be about as big as yours are now, you can transplant the healthiest looking seedlings into larger trays or pots. Check out Bulletin #2751, Starting Seeds at Home for some suggestions of how you might tweak your seed starting protocol.

Q: How do I germinate and grow white spruce tree seeds? I live in Woodstock Maine.

A: White spruce cones should be collected in mid-August. You will know they are ripe when they have turned from green to pale brown. They will need to be well-dried, either air-dried for about two weeks, or you can use an oven or kiln at 100-120 degrees F for 6-24 hours. The best time to sow the seeds from these dried cones is late fall. They should be sown just 1/4″ deep in a well-prepared seed bed. They will need partial shade for their first year and should be ready for transplanting after two years. For more information, see Growing Conifers from Seed (PDF) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Growing Wisconsin Trees From Seed (PDF) from the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

Q: I have a small hobby farm in Durham and would like to sell some of the excess produce from my garden, as well as eggs and honey at a small roadside farm stand (self-serve, honor system) on our property. Would I need any special licenses or permits to do this?

A: There are no licenses or permits required to sell fresh, unprocessed vegetables. It would be a good idea to check in with your town office to see if they have any requirements or restrictions on setting up a roadside stand, particularly if you have a sign (every municipality treats signage differently). As far as your eggs go, as long as your flock is under 3,000 birds, there are no license or permits, but you do need to follow several rules about selling eggs in Maine including labeling your containers. Whether you need any licenses or permits for your honey depends on what form you are selling it in. If it is raw and in the comb, there are no requirements. Once you process it in any way (even if it’s just extracting it from the comb), you will need to check in with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s Quality Assurance folks to see if you need a licensed kitchen to make your product. You can find much more information about selling food products in Bulletin #3101, Recipe to Market: How to Start a Specialty Food Business in Maine. I would also recommend speaking with your local extension educator about other considerations, like liability insurance and how likely an honor system farm stand is to work for you.

Q: Is there a difference in Zones 4a and Zone 4b for starting seeds/direct-sow and planting seedlings outdoors? I wish to consider the following plants, Summer and Winter Squash, Bok Choy, Artichokes and both types of lettuces (Head and Salad Greens).

In addition, is there a date range for each ones growing season? Also, the date range for the harvesting time?

A: The hardiness zones are most useful for estimating whether your trees and shrubs will survive the winter, and not so much for determining when to start annual seeds. The number of frost-free days in your area is much more important for your vegetable garden. The Northeast Regional Climate Center has a map indicating the average frost-free dates in the region so you can get an idea of when your growing season is and sites like Weather Underground have historical weather data you can search for your town. Many farmers and gardeners keep their own records as well so they have access to hyper-local data when it’s time to make decisions such as these. Once you know your average frost-free date, you can take a look at your seed packets for information specific to the varieties you have chosen. They will always include a days to harvest number as well, so you can estimate when you will be picking your veggies, based on your seeding dates. For more general recommendations, there is a chart included in Maine Vegetable Gardening: Keep Your Garden Growing to give you an idea of when to sew and transplant and Johnny’s Selected Seeds Seed-Starting Date Calculator allows you to plug in your own dates and get a customized calendar based on your selections. Of course, other practices like whether you use mulch, row covers, low tunnels, or other frost-protection/season extending practices will have an impact as well. Oh, and be sure to check out Bulletin #2751, Starting Seeds at Home for all kinds of tips as you get your seeds started!

strawberriesQ: I live in Rockland, and would like to grow strawberries in a raised bed. I was planning on a height of 2 – 2 1/2 feet high. Will this height cause problems for the plants in the winter? Are they more apt to freeze in a higher bed?

A: It is possible that a very high raised bed like you’re proposing would make June-bearing strawberry plants more susceptible to winter injury. It may be worth a try with a section of your raised bed so you can compare it with an annual system. If you prefer to keep the very high bed, completely understandable for ease of maintenance, consider planting day neutral varieties. The plants will be more expensive, but you can harvest this season. These would be for an annual system, so you wouldn’t need to worry about over-wintering them. For more information, check out Bulletin #2067, Growing Strawberries.

Highbush Blueberries at the UMaine Gardens at Tidewater Farm
Blueberries

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

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

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

Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata
Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata, our native swamp milkweed. Photo by Reeser Manley.

Q: I would like to plant a simple Butterfly garden for monarchs – maybe even all milkweed – with students at my school. Would starting with milkweed be a workable plan? If so, what kind (Freeport), and how much of it should we start with?

A: There are many resources for this. We suggest (like you seem to know!) to start simply.

There are a number of native milkweed species. I have seeds for three of them, so please let me know if you’d like me to send some for starting indoors and transplanting. Here are some good resources:

You may have a prepared site for your butterfly garden but if not, please let me know if you’d like a soil test kit for creating a new garden. For more information, Testing your soil.

If you’d like to do future work in the realm of horticulture with your students, feel free to book mark this part of our website, UMaine Cooperative Extension Garden & Yard.

Q: I live in Topsham and I have a very large holly bush (no berries). It is about 20 years old. For the first time ever, this winter the deer have eaten off every single leaf, leaving just the bare shape of the bush. Is there anything I can do to save it?

A: I’m sorry to hear about your holly bush. If there are no leaves left, there is little hope that this bush will survive as it has no way to photosynthesize. Late this winter, many deer resorted to eating species (like holly) that they usually are not interested in to avoid starvation. You can always wait and see if it tries to put out a new flush of leaves this spring, but you may want to begin thinking about what you want to replace it with.

Q: I am looking for an organic treatment to take care of cucumber beetles. Kaolin clay was mentioned, but I was concerned about the affects it would have on honey bees. Would the Kaolin clay mixture work on the cucumber beetles? If so, when and how should I apply it? Is it safe for humans, animals and honey bees?

A: Cucurbits are most sensitive to the feeding injury and potential disease the cucumber beetle can vector when they are very small. Transplanting rather than direct seeding is a good start to prevent the early loss of your plants to this pest. If possible, choose a new location for your cucurbits this year, as the beetles overwinter near where they fed last year. Once your transplants are in the ground, immediately cover them with floating row covers to guard against infestation until flowers bloom. Once you see flowers, be sure to take the row covers off to allow pollinators access. If you see beetles during this time, kaolin clay products (such as Surround) can be used to deter the beetles. This material is not toxic to bees, animals, or humans- it is actually often used in makeup, soaps, and some food products. Be sure to read the label for information on how and when to apply with your sprayer. The article Managing Cucumber Beetles in Organic Farming Systems from eXtension.org includes other tips as well, such as mulching under your cucurbits with straw to encourage natural predators of cucumber beetles.

Q: What is the best date to start tomato seeds for a Western Maine garden (New Portland)?

A: The trick with tomato seedlings is to not plant them too early so you end up with leggy, weak transplants when it’s time to move them outside. You generally only need to start those seeds 5-7 weeks before you expect to transplant them into your garden. In New Portland, I’d estimate that’s usually mid-June, so you could start those seeds around May 4. If you have historically been able to move them out earlier, you can back that seeding date up a bit. Your seed catalogs and packets have a lot of information specific to the varieties you have chosen, so be sure to pay attention to those recommendations as well. You can also check out Bulletin #2751, Starting Seeds at Home for a complete guide to starting your garden seedlings. Have a great growing season!

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

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

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

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

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

Q: I would like to know the secret to raising beets and chard. I never have any success with them. I live in Dresden and have a lot of hard clay. Do we need to test our soil?

A: Yes, a soil test is the first step towards determining what you may need to do to amend your soil. You can stop by the Knox-Lincoln County Extension office in Waldoboro during business hours to pick up your form and boxes, or request them or download them online directly from the Maine Soil Testing Service website.

Q: Where could I find a time chart about when to plant, grow, and harvest vegetables?

A: Here is a planting chart for common garden vegetables in Maine. Harvest dates will depend on which varieties you choose. You can use the seed catalog or seed packets to find the days to harvest to estimate your own harvest dates.

Q: I want to start a wild flower garden. I would like to know what plants are native to Maine and non-invasive. I would also like to plant some milkweed for Monarch butterflies. I live in Winterport, and the area I want the wild flower garden is under pine trees.

A: Native flowers that will grow under pine trees will be very different species than ones that will grow in full sun. There are many resources for choosing dry shade plants. To give them a more naturalistic look, plant them in drifts, or larger colonies, like they would grow in the wild. Here are some resources and quite a bit of reading to help you plan. From UMaine Extension’s Garden & Yard website:

From UMaine Extension’s Garden Pro Answer Book

If you’re interested in the subject of native plants, there are wonderful groups promoting their use. From the Wild Seed Project:

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: Visit some of their woodland understory gardens with a notepad and camera to to get some great ideas. They have a great display of spring ephemerals.

The Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District has an excellent plant sale including native plants. If they are not close by, check out your other SWCDs to see if they have a sale this spring.
Where to buy native plants in Maine: Native plants, a source list.

In the first season, it will be important to water your new plants carefully at the root zone twice a week, depending on rainfall.

Let me know if you need basic information on how to plant perennials and if you’d like us to mail a soil test to you.

Q: We are planning to plant a tree in the spring with our daughter’s ashes. It was recommended we contact our local Cooperative Extension about what nutrients to add to the soil to counteract the toxicity of the ashes. Can you head me in the right direction?

A: Thank you for your question and so sorry for your loss.

It would be good to analyze your site and do a soil test before you add soil amendments for your memorial tree. If you send your mailing address, I’d be happy to send a soil test kit to you. It will give you information about your soil’s existing pH and nutrients.

Based on conversations with an Extension soil scientist, one urn of ashes should not impact a tree’s growth other than a slight chance they may raise the pH a point. A good way around that would be to dig a planting hole that’s quite a bit wider than the root ball. Place the ashes around the outside perimeter of the hole. This way, the roots won’t immediately touch the material until it’s had a few years to leach out.

Here’s a fact sheet with more detailed information: Selecting, Planting and Caring for Trees & Shrubs in the Maine Landscape.

For more information, feel free to book mark our website: Garden & Yard. Look for more ideas under Plants for the Maine Landscape.

Q: As a foundation plant, what is the best Oakleaf Hydrangea to plant under a window in Brunswick, Maine? When should it be put in?

A: Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak-leaf Hydrangea) ‘Sike’s Dwarf’  may be a good one for under a window. It only gets 2-3′ tall and also one of the hardier oak leaf hydrangeas. The Plant Finder at Missouri Botanical Garden has excellent information on many ornamentals, including other hydrangeas.

Brunwick is in zone 5a or 5b, so with protection from wind, ice and snow, it should be OK after getting established. Please read this information before you buy plants in the spring: Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Trees and Shrubs in the Maine Landscape.

Foundation plants: Keep plants at least 3-5′ away from the house so the plant does not interfere with siding and so roots are not in dead sand or interfering with curtain drains. Rain, ice and snow from the roof’s drip line can also be hard on plants. So in general, the foundation area is not always a great place to put woody trees and shrubs. Some herbaceous plants that are shrub-like but which die back every winter (like peonies) can sometimes be a better choice for a foundation area.

I hope this is helpful and feel free to bookmark our Garden & Yard website.

Q: One side of my house has a small garden area that is contaminated with lead. The previous owners of the house had a raised bed there. The site is very dry and hot and we do not want to continue to try to grow vegetables there. What might we do to improve the soil and is there a one-season ground cover that might capture some of the lead? The lead count was not extremely high.

A: Here’s information from the Maine Soil Testing Service about lead in the soil:

Lead is by far the most common contaminant of soils. Lead is very toxic to humans, and children are particularly likely to be affected by lead-contaminated soil by accidentally consuming soil as they play outside. Lead can also be taken up by plants and enter the human diet. We include lead screening in the routine soil fertility test for all soils from gardens, ornamental beds, and turf areas. You will be notified if we suspect your soil may be high in lead. For more detailed information: Lead in the Soil (PDF).

Q: In the past I have used a landscaping company to mulch my perennial garden. This year I need to try to do it myself. When is the optimal time to mulch in Spring?

A: The best time of year to mulch is when perennials are just emerging. Use a dark bark mulch from a reputable nursery. Mulch can be purchased in bags, but it’s probably best to have it delivered and dumped on a tarp, moving it to the garden with a wheel barrow or trug. To find out how much mulch you need at a 2.5″ depth, use a soil volume calculator.

Unless your soil test says otherwise, there’s no need to use bark mulch that’s pre-mixed with compost or other fertilizers. If you think you do need some added fertility or a soil conditioner for sand or clay, simply side dress each perennial with a few handfuls of bagged compost after cleaning up the area and before applying the mulch. Be sure you don’t bury the crowns of the plants. If you have any woody ornamentals in your garden, be sure you leave space between the trunk and the mulch to prevent rot.

For more information about gardening, feel free to bookmark our Garden & Yard website.

Q: I am trying a small crop of turmeric, as well as doing a larger crop plan for my course in Crop Production. I thought I would try turmeric as New England gardeners are having success growing ginger in hoop houses and turmeric seems like the logical next step. I am having a difficult time finding information on amendments, nutrients and micronutrients that is specific to turmeric. Do you have that information for turmeric, or can you recommend a resource for me? If not, since turmeric is part of the ginger family, and the information is abundant for ginger, would you recommend following that? There is a soil test for the larger crop plan, and I will be doing one at my home as soon as I can get to the soil, so I will know what my starting point is.

A: You are correct, there are not a lot of research-based cultivation recommendations yet for growing turmeric in high tunnels. As you noted, culture is very similar to ginger, so you are on the right track following those guidelines for now. There is a workshop coming up at Penn State on March 9th, Growing Turmeric and Ginger / High Tunnels that appears to be in-person only, but you might be able to register and even if you cannot attend, perhaps receive the handouts. For some basic culture information for Maine, check out MOFGA’s Growing Ginger in Maine and FedCo’s Growing Guide for Ginger & Turmeric.

Additionally, Ginger and Turmeric Production in High Tunnels (PDF), a presentation from Karen Scott at Oakwoods Farm in Granby, Missouri, includes photos and some of the tips and tricks they use.

Q: I’ve dried a variety of blue corn for cornmeal by hanging it in my cabin. Most all the kernels have become wrinkled, but a few are plump. There is no signs of discoloration. Are they safe to grind or should I pick them out and discard them?

Also in picking, drying, and using popcorn that I’ve grown, some of the kernels were hard and dry, but have a splotchy look, and most all one color. I do think those are spoiled kernels. What do you think?

A: Sorry both of your corn varieties did not cure well. It’s hard to know what conditions caused this, but probably a combination of too much moisture, not enough air flow, and fluctuations in temperature (causing condensation).

Most Extension publications on drying corn are for industrial scale production. I found this 1975 article in Mother Earth News that describes the process for home gardeners: How To Dry Corn and Grind it Into Corn Meal by Carol Suhr.

Here’s an article from Wisconsin Cooperative Extension about different varieties of corn for drying.

Based on your photos and descriptions, we would not recommend grinding and eating the dent corn or cooking and eating the popcorn because of possible pathogens.

flats of seedlingsQ: A friend who starts seedlings in his home are often leggy by the time he plants them. Do you know what he could do to prevent this or who he could contact for advice on starting seedlings indoors?

A: Leggy seedlings are often the result of insufficient light.  Seedlings need 14 – 16 hours of natural or artificial light per day. If using artificial light, the bulbs should be hung between 2″ and 4″ above the tops of the growing plants. Excessively warm room temperatures and over fertilization can also cause seedlings to put on fast, soft tissue. Lastly, if your friend starts his seedlings too early, or if they are crowded in their containers, this can also lead to legginess. I suggest you refer your friend to the following bulletin #2751, Starting Seeds at Home.

Q: I would like to buy and plant a couple of fruit trees. I do not want dwarf size. These are for birds, deer, and whatever other animals want to use the fruit or trees. I live in New Harbor. Where would you recommend I purchase fruit trees?

3 deer in fieldA: While we cannot recommend one private business over another, we do recommend using a local garden center to source your fruit trees. You can find one on the Plant Something! Plant Maine! website which lists independent garden centers. Dwarf trees have become very popular, so it may be a bit more difficult to find standard sized trees, but a local garden center will only carry varieties on rootstocks suited to your area and are likely to get you exactly what you need.

If you happen to have any wild trees on your property, you can learn to encourage them as well. Bulletin #7126, Wild Apple Trees for Wildlife has some tips.

In the spring, be sure to give your new trees a great start by following the best practices in Growing Fruit Trees in Maine.

Q: Will my plants get damaged if I thaw the ground 6 to 12 inches deep with a “ground thawing blanket”? We need to thaw a 3 x 4 foot area for a concrete pad. The plants are iris, tulips, mums, and pink flowers that look like mini carnations. We have the means to pot and protect them for the rest of the winter either indoors or in the garage, which has a 42-degree minimum temperature.

A: While I have never done quite what you are proposing, I do think that if you are able to quickly pot and hold these bulbs below 48 degrees until you want them to begin growing, they should make it through just fine.

Here are some tips on Growing Bulbs Indoors to help you plan for potting them up once the ground has thawed.

Please, let us know how it goes and send some photos along of the process!

Q: What species of milkweed should I plant to provide habitat for Monarch butterflies? I live in Machias, on the northern end of the coast. Will milkweed grow in my area/USDA plant zone?

Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata
Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata, our native swamp milkweed. Photo by Reeser Manley.

A: The species of milkweed that I recommend you plant in your home garden for Monarch butterflies is Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed. It is native to Maine, and unlike the rhizomatous common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed is a clump forming, self contained milkweed that stays put. Commonly found in swamps and wet meadows, it grows well in seasonally flooded sites and average garden soils. It is hardy to zone 3 (very northern Maine), grows to a height of 4′ – 5′ and a width of about 2′. It blooms in late summer/early fall, and comes in pink and white cultivars. It needs full sun. It might be hard to find in your area, but there are certainly larger nurseries around the state that sell it, and you can probably order it online. Also, on Saturday morning May 25, 2019, we will be having a perennial plant sale at the UMaine Extension Hancock County office in Ellsworth where we will have Asclepias incarnata for sale.

Q: I still have a row of collards in the garden that I can’t remove because they are frozen in the ground. Today I started pulling dead and gone-by leaves off the collards, thinking I could at least add some greens to my compost heap. As I pulled, I disturbed some kind of flying insects (at least a dozen) evidently living on the plants. They looked and flew like mosquitoes, but on closer inspection, their bodies were somewhat thinner (if that’s possible) and their legs were longer. How could they possibly exist, considering the weeks of sub-freezing cold we’ve been experiencing?

Crane fly
David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

A: After consulting with our Entomologist, we can offer you the following: There are many species in several families of flies that are cold hardy. Many resemble mosquitoes. There are many in the midge groups, including the Chironomids, which the hardcore fly fishers depend on to give them winter action. Your insect is most likely a winter crane fly. You can find more information at Bug Guide.


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