Stop stiltgrass in its tracks early

A new grass is invading our property and roadsides. It kind of reminds me of tiny bamboo. How can I control it?

Stiltgrass (also called Vietnamese or Japanese stiltgrass) is a non-native weed that spreads rapidly in forests and wetlands as well as home landscapes. The root system of this annual is shallow and can be easily pulled by hand — before it goes to seed — and composted. Once plants go to seed, place them in bags for the landfill. The tiny seeds spread like lightning. For your lawn, a spring application of crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide can prevent seed germination for the year. Time your application carefully; stiltgrass germinates about five days earlier than crabgrass. (Crabgrass pre-emergent goes down in mid-March for eastern Maryland, late March in central and early April in western parts of the state.) Stiltgrass produces tremendous numbers of seeds that stay viable in the soil for years, creating a "seed bank." Use the pre-emergent for several years until those seeds decay. For large pure patches of stiltgrass, you can use a herbicide containing glyphosate. But use caution; this product is nonselective and kills all vegetation. See our publication HG 88.

I'm starting vegetable seeds indoors for the first time. Do I turn the fluorescent lights on when I plant the seeds or after they sprout? Do I leave the lights on 24/7? Do I use a heat pads when I plant the seeds? Also, how do I get on the HGIC newsletter mailing list?

If a seed packet says not to cover seeds with soil, they may need light for germination. For all seeds, once they germinate, lights should stay on 14 to16 hours a day. You can use a timer. Place seedlings only 1-2 inches below the light fixture. Attaching a thin chain to either end of your light fixture will allow you to raise and lower the lights conveniently. Use a heating mat only until germination takes place.

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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

Plant of the week Castor bean

Ricinus communis

If you use large planters and are wondering what to grow this coming season, consider the castor bean. Castor bean is an annual in Maryland, but it grows quickly to impressive heights, reaching 5 to 10 feet in full sun. With large palmate leaves up to 18 inches long, often with red stems and a reddish cast, plus panicles of red or green flowers, castor beans add a tropical look to your garden. They can even be used as a screen or hedge to create more privacy. Pre-soak the seeds for a couple of days before planting them indoors in individual containers. Young seedlings can be set outdoors after the last anticipated frost, about the time you would plant tomatoes. When planting in the ground, space plants 36 inches to 48 inches apart. One word of caution: The seed pod is poisonous if ingested, so keep children away or simply snip off spent flowers to prevent seeds from developing. —Bob Orazi

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