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Lifestyle Home & Garden

Bait worms could bring invasive species to your garden

Fishing with my nephew made me wonder — would bait worms be good to add to my garden?

No! We think of earthworms as good, but some species can be very destructive. The latest non-native worm to establish itself in several states is the crazy snakeworm. Fortunately, it's not in Maryland — we don't want that nightmare here. The crazy snakeworm voraciously consumes the upper organic soil layer or mulch and turns it into grainy, dry worm-casting piles. Forest understory life is destroyed and other earthworm species disappear. Lawns are ruined, turned into huge piles of black castings. No effective control has been found, so it is crucial not to transport or introduce these invasive worms. A crazy snakeworm looks like a nightcrawler but moves startlingly fast, squirming so violently that it is hard to catch, and it will even jump or shed its tail to escape. They're often found in groups, unlike common earthworms. Also, the white band behind their heads is not raised. Crazy snakeworms probably came in on imported plant soil or soil amendments but can be spread as bait worms. Excess bait worms should be killed in a vinegar-water solution, never dumped on the soil.

I got cucumbers aplenty this year, but many of them were not fully formed. Instead of being rounded at both ends, one end tapers to a point (and is not usable). Is this a disease?

Deformed cucumbers that are normal at the stem end and shrunken at the far (blossom) end indicate poor pollination. A single cucumber requires eight to 12 visits from a pollinating insect. If it does not get enough visits, its fruit will not develop correctly. The pollinator may be one of our many native bees, such as a bumblebee or carpenter bee, or a honeybee (which is originally from Europe and not plentiful now). There are other pollinating insects, too, including some flies and wasps. Avoid any pesticides harmful to pollinating insects. Next year, you can attract pollinators with flowers and plants in the mint or umbelliferae family (carrot, yarrow, Queen Anne's lace, dill, anise, fennel and parsley) and perennial herbs such as thyme, sage, oregano, bee balm and basil.

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 its website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Spigelia, Indian pink

Spigelia marilandica

When plant guru Allan Armitage calls a plant "striking," "wonderful" and "stop in your tracks," you know you're on to something. With a bright red outside and pure yellow inside, this native perennial is rarely seen in gardens. But this may change when word gets out how easy, pest-free and long-blooming it is. Spigelia enjoys part sun or part shade, spreading slowly into a substantial, 18-inch tall plant, producing just enough seedlings that you're happy to see them. Its biggest key to success may be moist soil, but it doesn't need to be wet or soggy all the time; established plants tolerate some drought. Plant it in the front of a garden or wild area, all the better for ogling.

—Ellen Nibali

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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