Garden Q&A: How to get rid of poison hemlock

For The Baltimore Sun

We have a 6-foot-tall plant growing in our flower bed that I don't recall seeing last year. It resembles Queen Anne's lace, except it has a smooth stem with purple splotches and the flowerhead has lots of small white clusters. Leaves are lacy. Now it is forming seeds. I am concerned that it is poison hemlock. If so, how do we go about getting rid of it?

Poison hemlock has been very noticeable this year in ditches and roadsides. It is a biennial, so last year it was an inconspicuous rosette of just leaves. This year, its 6-foot stems and big white flowerheads are hard to miss. Its ferny foliage makes it easy to distinguish from the highly toxic giant hogweed. And it smells bad. The invasive poison hemlock is most potent when ingested but can also be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. If you’re pulling plants by hand, wear gloves. If you’re mowing them, wear long sleeves and a face mask. When you’re finished, take a shower and wash your clothes separately from other laundry. For more details, search “poison hemlock” on the HGIC website.

We found a small snake in our basement glue trap. It has black and grayish patches. It’s curled up, but we think it’s about 18 inches long. What kind is it and how do I dispose of it?

Sounds like a juvenile black rat snake, very beneficial for keeping down rodents. (Keep in mind, it is white-footed mice that primarily infect ticks with Lyme disease.) Take your snake outdoors to an area where you feel comfortable releasing it. A natural area is ideal. To free it, apply vegetable oil to the sticky area around it, then to the attached part of the snake itself. Sticky traps can be torture for snakes, usually young ones that accidentally wander in, and we don't recommend them. You can attach photos for a positive snake ID.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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