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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Harvest cucumbers while they are young

My cucumbers are big but not so beautiful. They have really hard seeds and are yellowish. What do they need?

A shorter life. To ensure tenderness, harvest cucumbers when they are young — no more than 5-8 inches long. Pickling cucumbers are ready at 2-3 inches. Wait until dew or rain has dried before harvesting to prevent spread of disease.

I'm afraid I may have giant hogweed. A new plant shot up 6 feet in my backyard and has big heads of tiny white flowers. How can I remove it without getting burned by the toxic sap?

Giant hogweed doesn't produce flowers until it has lived for over a year, so your plant is not giant hogweed. Growing 8-14 feet high, hogweed also dwarfs most look-alikes. You can identify your volunteer plant at this comparison webpage: http://extension.psu.edu/pests/weeds/weed-id/hogweed.pdf. Hogweed sap is phototoxic, i.e. it makes skin susceptible to severe burn when exposed to sunlight. The stems of hogweed are hollow and kids have used them as "spyglasses," with painful results. Our state has a program to eliminate hogweed. Hogweed patches should be reported for eradication to the Plant Protection and Weed Management Section of the Maryland Department of Agriculture 410-841-5920.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Hardy begonia

Begonia-grandis

This year many Maryland gardeners are growing annual begonias as replacements for disease-plagued impatiens. Like impatiens, these begonias will go back to the earth with the first frost, never to rise again. However the genus Begonia is huge, with over 1,000 named species, and one, Begonia grandis, is hardy in Maryland, returning year after year. Perennial begonias bear pendulous clusters of light pink flowers rising above 24-inch plants with light-green succulent, heart-shaped leaves. They flower from July to October, but even when not flowering, the leaves are attractive with red veining. Plant in partial to full shade in moist, not wet, conditions. Small bulbs will form in the leaf axils of the plant and will seed themselves nearby. In Zone 6, hardy begonias benefit from a winter mulching. They are late to emerge in spring, so be careful not to disturb them. — Christine McComas

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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