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Mid-Atlantic: March/April Gardening

A Maryland Master Gardener shares tips and gardening news for early spring

A common question

“What are those webby white things with squiggly bugs in my tree?” and “How can I get rid of it?”

Answer: Wild cherry is the Eastern tent caterpillar’s favorite springtime hangout in southern Maryland. Overwintering eggs hatch in April. The ensuing caterpillars spin protective webs that can become massive caterpillar homes in the tops of these native trees.

Most years, the caterpillar is more of an annoyance than a threat to the wild cherry, but sometimes the insects take up residence in landscape trees, such as apples, crabapples and cherries. Fortunately, the gardener can don heavy gloves to remove the caterpillars by hand. Very young caterpillars may also be killed with a spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis (sold under various brands such as Thuricide, Dipel, and Safer Caterpillar Killer with Bt). Or you can just wait. The mature caterpillars climb down the trees to find the perfect place to spin cocoons and become moths in early summer.

Top 5 to-do’s in March and April

  1. St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) is a traditional southern Maryland reminder to plant potatoes, onions, cabbages and other cold-hardy veggies.
  2. March is also a good time to prune out dead wood and broken or crossed branches from trees and shrubs.
  3. Also, prune bush-type roses and shrubs that flower on new wood, such as rose of Sharon, while they are still dormant.
  4. While woody plants are still dormant, apply any needed fertilizer, according to package directions,
  5. Late winter and early spring is also a good time to plant new trees and shrubs, or to transplant trees and shrubs already in your landscape.

Recent gardening trends

Interest in vegetable gardening is on the rise in Maryland, if the overwhelming response to recent Master Gardener vegetable gardening training is an indicator. The initial response last fall was so enthusiastic, a larger meeting room was found to accommodate them. Fresh-picked, organic produce from your garden plot or patio container—what a treat.

The water quality Bay-Wise Master Gardener Program is also growing rapidly in Charles County as residents strive to make their landscapes and their communities environmentally sound and safe for the Chesapeake Bay. As homeowners improve their landscapes, they may become eligible to receive a certificate and a sign to display in their gardens.

Favorite volunteer activities

The Charles County Master Gardeners volunteer hundreds of hours each year to educational community activities, including:

  • Landscaping assistance for the homes selected by Christmas in April (which rebuilds and repairs homes of elderly, disabled, and low-income residents).
  • Providing exhibits and educational materials for our county fair and other public forums.
  • Involving students in various horticulture projects, at their grade level, such as planting a woodland garden at Nanjemoy Environmental Education Center.
  • Conducting seminars in horticulture for Charles County Detention Center inmates eligible for work release programs.

About Carole

My favorite plant changes from season to season and year to year, but I would have to put my new passionflower, I received from a gardening friend, at the top of my list as I anticipate warm weather and beautiful blue and white blooms climbing over my fence.

I completed the Charles County Master Gardener training class in March 2004 and am active in our program. I have been working with other Master Gardeners to create a sensory garden at Lions Camp Merrick in Charles County, The sensory garden (with plants to hear, see, smell, taste, and touch) will enhance the residential camping experience for deaf children, blind children, children with diabetes as well as other campers.

My husband and I are mostly retired, though I still enjoy writing freelance articles. I have three grown sons, two of whom are serving our country--one in the US Navy, the other in the US Army. My third son is an ironworker who helped build the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge outside of Washington, DC. When it is too cold or wet to garden, I read, sew, knit and study seed catalogues.

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