Garden Q&A: Maryland's zone, apple tree struggles

What zone is Maryland in? I am trying to figure out when to start my vegetable seeds. Also, I've had plants die that were supposed to be hardy here.

Maryland plant hardiness zones ranges from 7b toward the Atlantic Coast to 5b on the western border. (The higher the zone number or letter, the warmer the temperature.) Urban areas and large bodies of water have a warming effect. Baltimore City is 7b. Most land around Baltimore is 7a. However, temperatures can vary greatly in counties around Baltimore. One "tongue" of 6a snakes down from Pennsylvania all the way to Howard County. Refer to a good zone map in a gardening book or online. Another consideration on your property is microclimates, such as a north facing slope or a low area where cold settles. Although a plant species may be considered a particular cold hardiness, some varieties within that species may be more sensitive to cold or other issues.

Five years ago I planted an apple tree called "Johnny Seek No Further." So far no fruit. A few blossoms, but nothing comes of them. I'm debating whether to chop it down.

Like virtually all apple trees, "Johnny Seek No Further" (commonly known as "Rambo") requires another apple tree of a different variety (or a crabapple) within about 100 feet in order to cross pollinate and produce fruit. Other factors that reduce fruit production are shade, over-fertilizing, lack of correct pruning, and the absence of adequate pollinators, i.e., bees, wasps, and other insects (so avoid spraying insecticides on or around the trees during bloom time.) Apple trees require an investment in time, labor, and money (i.e. pruning, spraying and fertilizing) to ensure an adequate crop. You can raise it strictly as an ornamental or plant a cross pollinator.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click "Ask Maryland's Gardening Experts" to send questions and photos.

Wood frogs

How do the first frogs of spring do it? The ice has barely melted, water is frigid, and they are out in force quacking like a flock of geese. Their shiny black bodies exuberantly pop up to the surface and splash under in ponds and temporary vernal pools. In a rush, eggs get laid by the thousands. If freezing temperatures return, not to worry, wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) are the only cold-blooded vertebrate whose range extends to the Arctic Circle. Their bodies have just thawed from hibernating in a frozen state, in which specialized adaptations prevented ice crystals from puncturing and destroying their cells. Eggs cope with freezes, too, because the outer jelly has a lower freezing point than the embryo, pulling moisture out of the embryo, thus resisting freeze damage. In 1 ½-2 months tadpoles hatch and quickly grow into teeny frogs able to hop away before their pool dries up and begin a life of consuming our insect pests.

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