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Each week the University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Have a question about your home or garden? Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Blooms on many hydrangeas are minimal or nonexistent this year. Here's why.

Does my neighborhood have an emerald ash borer infestation? On many ash trees (including mine) the top branches are dead or dying, but the lower part has new

Seeds can carry diseases and insect pests, just like other plant parts.

Test soil about every three years. Do it more often on a problem site

Topping is a technique that is no longer performed by reputable tree service companies, because the new growth that it stimulates is weakly attached.

Mason bees are very beneficial and important because they emerge early in spring and pollinate at a time when there are few pollinators out and active.

Because of the invasive insect hemlock wooly adelgid, we've lost trees that fill a specific niche in the forest — dense shade

Normally, Leylands tolerate pruning well and even can be made into a tall hedge. However, extreme pruning stresses them and can make them susceptible to canker disease or insect attack.

Walnut trees, especially black walnut trees, are allelopathic — meaning their roots excrete the juglone toxin, which may kill or inhibit nearby plants

Clay soil is usually fertile enough to plant in, but minute particles are packed so close together that they restrict root growth, aeration and water drainage in or out of the soil. (

Annuals are not frost hardy. The traditional "safe" planting date is Mother's Day, but in most areas of Maryland you can plant before then.

Nature offers its own grub control to your lawn, including grub diseases and predators — especially a small native wasp.

"As soon as soil can be worked" refers to how wet the soil is. A "workable" soil has some moisture, but not too much.

You must install a drip irrigation system under the plastic or water at the base of each plant, because rain will not penetrate plastic mulch. Landscape fabric/weed barrier is an easier option.

Spotted-wing drosophila fly is a relatively new problem with small fruits. Crops affected include grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and strawberries.

Cool, or passive, composting involves the regular addition of materials and no turning, while hot composting involves putting all of the material in at once and turning regularly.

All sawdust and wood shavings can be as mulch around your ornamental plants unless they are from pressure-treated lumber.

It's important not to remove anything from woods that is native or supplies wildlife needs. That includes dead trees, standing or downed.

Pussy willows are easy and fun, but you can also collect branches of flowering cherry, pear, apple, quince, redbud, forsythia and some viburnums to force into bloom.

Each plant could have a different species of scale with unique life cycles. Unless you know when each is vulnerable to insecticides, you can waste time and money

Heavy salt application creates salt-laden runoff that flows into streams and rivers, raising salinity to abnormal levels for freshwater fish and aquatic creatures.

The traditional use of cleared rocks is for building walls, but there are several other ways to take advantage of them.

It is estimated that 100 million to 1 billion birds are killed each year from collisions with building windows.

Blueberries thrive in soil that's acidic and high in organic matter.

Two or three rows of plants can cut down noise by over seven decibels.

It is not possible to eliminate every ant around your wood pile, and that may be especially good in this instance because ants are the archenemies of termites.

You can mow your lawn anytime the soil is not frozen and the turf not frosty.

Loose leaves are effective, but small mammals like voles or mice can use the leaves — and wood mulch, too — to nest and provide cover as they nibble bark during the winter.

Mice numbers can escalate quickly but are usually manageable. Figure out how the mice are entering and seal off all points of entry.

When several colors of a plant are planted and only one appears, a common cause is that one color variety is more vigorous, outgrowing and outcompeting the others.

Dragging the netting will likely tear it, at great cost to you.

Cigarette beetles are commonly classified as pantry pests — a group of insects most often associated with dry grain products, spices, nuts and dried fruit found in the kitchen.

In the case of hydrangeas, the plants may hang onto their foliage for a while before shedding them.

As weather cools, water evaporates more slowly and plants need less water because they are not growing as quickly.

Your pachysandra experienced some stress as its leaves adapted to increased sunlight. Stress always makes plants more susceptible to problems.

The certifying agency for arborists is the International Society of Arboriculture.

Corn gluten gives little weed control. More problematic though — corn gluten contains nitrogen.

Loose bark indicates dead wood underneath it. If it is on a branch, simply prune off the branch (do not leave a stub).

Spider webs are normally washed away by rain, but during drought, webs remain longer.

Maryland's fertilizer law says that fertilizer cannot be applied within 10 feet to 15 feet of waterways. All homeowners need to know what application times (fall is best) and amounts are permitted.

My tomatoes have little white tough spots under the skin. And my friend bought a tomato last week that had white tough areas deep inside. Is this a disease?

We are approaching fall breeding season, when deer rub their antlers to remove "velvet" and polish them. Deer rub on sturdy shrub trunks as well as younger tree trunks.

Harvest watermelons when the tendril nearest to the stem turns dry and brown and two other nearby tendrils die.

Most tomato plants take at least 70 days to achieve maturity and bear fruit.

This is a new rust disease called pear trellis rust. This may become a yearly problem, but we do not recommend a chemical control.

Gravel mulch tends to keep the soil cooler and more moist than organic mulch, and its sharp edges can abrade plant tissue as plants move in the wind. Abrasions and overly moist soil provide the perfect entry point for the fungal spores that cause root rot.

Grass plants are some of the most aggressive plants in the world. Typical lawn grasses do not grow under barriers (though weed grass such as Bermuda grass and quackgrass can), so a depth of 1-2 inches should suffice.

Bean production has peaked and it is winding down; don't try to get every last bean out of the plants.

The causes of weak and spindly asparagus spears and low yields are usually cultural.

Tomato leaves get several leaf spot diseases. Some start at the bottom of the plant and get splashed upward by rain and watering.

To move along the process, increase the surface area of the stump exposed to decomposing organisms.

This is caused by four-lined plant bugs having a banner year, piercing and sucking the chlorophyll from leaves of herbs and perennial flowers

If you live in an area critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, it is essential to use the correct herbicide.

Eastern tent caterpillars are especially fond of cherry trees, but they are native insects with lots of predators that evolved along with them.

These butterfly bush varieties tend to be smaller than the straight species and do set some seed, just a much smaller amount than the species ¿ so they are not completely sterile.

As painful as it is, for June-bearing varieties of strawberries, fruit and flowers should be removed the entire first season.

A white dot on the back is an identifier of lone star ticks. They can cause itchy pustules, especially on the legs.

The upper exposed leaves or needles were desiccated by salt, whereas plowed and shoveled snow piled on the base of the tree may have protected lower branches.

Spring-blooming plants, on the other hand, are usually pruned after they bloom. Spring pruning cuts off many flower buds, and those flowers will be lost.

First, match the ultimate plant size and requirements for water, soil and sun to your site, which will mean no pruning, no watering (after the first two years), no fertilizing and no shaping plants that lean out or stretch up to reach sunlight.

The rule of thumb based on nature's timing is to apply a pre-emergent herbicide for crabgrass when forsythia drop their blooms.

Many fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, can grow well in partial shade.

The neonicotinoid class of pesticides is systemic, spreading throughout plants, including roots and pollen, which has implicated it as one factor in the country's pollination crisis.

Sugar is not a recommended fertilizer. Sweet and sour are old-fashioned terms used to describe soil pH.

Some flies, such as a drain fly or sewer fly, breed in wet, rotting material such as drain gunk.

Mushrooms live on dead organic matter, such as wood. They also need moisture and warmth. This suggests that your house has water problems.

Seeds with a VFN (verticillium, fusarium, nematode) designation are disease-resistant, but this does not mean disease-proof.

It could a crack from frost, sunscald, insects, herbicide damage or simply a natural growth crack.

A small, vertical interruption is better than a rope or wire encircling a trunk for too long, cutting off flow around the entire trunk and killing the tree.

In a season of gray and brown, winter gardens add color, variety and action.

Rotating crops mean growing vegetables of a specific family in different areas of the garden each year to avoid soil-borne diseases and nutrient depletion.

Pine needles make an attractive, highly sought after mulch. They have been mulching pine trees naturally for eons.

You can deter rabbits from vegetable or flower gardens by erecting 2-foot chicken wire fencing held tight to the ground or buried several inches.

Your warm house will cause the eggs to hatch prematurely, and you will have tiny and cute, but fragile, praying mantises running all over.

Termites' presence in the tree indicates that part of it is dead, meaning it may be weakened and prone to falling.

When left in the same pot as the main one, there will be less space, moisture and nutrients for the bulblets.

There are now millions of these alien trees spreading over the Eastern U.S. This displaces native trees necessary for our wildlife and a healthy environment.

The multicolored Asian lady beetles were introduced to eat pest insects. However, they can be a nuisance in the fall when they look for overwintering sites in homes.

What the middle band on a woolly caterpillar really tells you is that the caterpillar had a good summer.

Falling leaves are one reason why it is best to sow grass seed early in fall, even in late August, so it is mature enough to withstand leaf removal.

I just learned that we've lost about half the world's nonhuman vertebrate animal population since 1970. This is shocking. One of the two main culprits is habitat loss. Can Marylanders help without turning their yards into woods?

The shorter grass can make leaf collection easier, among other things.

Many of the weeds that move in die off in winter or do not produce the thick root system a healthy turf provides. This invites erosion.

Many summer weeds are now loaded with thousands of seeds. Also, many weeds known as winter annuals start now and will explode with growth in spring.

As one of the big polluters of the Chesapeake Bay, it's important to prevent phosphorus from being washed into storm drains or waterways that lead there.

Fortunately, tomatoes do not need to ripen on the vine to have good flavor

Unfortunately, giant ragweed pollen causes highly allergic reactions, just like the more familiar species

Pumpkins are coloring ahead of schedule by about three weeks this year because of the cool summer.

Squirrels, voles and chipmunks can all be the bane of bulb gardeners, but there are lots of rodent-proof choices — including daffodils, which now come in shades from pink to white with orange highlights, as well as many fascinating forms and fragrances.

Compost piles need many insect species on their decomposition team, but wasps don't make the cut.

Erect clusters of red berries belong to our harmless native sumac, a good source of food for wildlife.

Crazy snakeworms probably came in on imported plant soil or soil amendments, but can, tragically, be spread as bait worms. Excess bait worms should be killed in vinegar water, never dumped on the soil.

Plant late and protect. Put out transplants or plant seeds in mid-June.

The Asian tiger mosquito, which bites ferociously during the day, has forced people to reexamine and get smarter about mosquito strategies.

A whole slew of unwanted pests — from wasps, earwigs, stink bugs, carpet beetles and sod webworm to various beetles that eat flowers and leaves — are all attracted to lights.

Tomato plants are like canaries in the coal mine when it comes to herbicide injury. They are super sensitive to the chemical 2,4-D and its family of growth-regulating herbicides, including clopyralid.

Most vegetables don't like wet foliage. Choanephora wet rot is a fungus encouraged by warm, rainy days with overcast, humid conditions.

Norway maples in general are notorious for strangling themselves to death.

Remove non-native invasive plants to encourage a functioning native ecosystem, which includes predators for the white-footed mice that are deer ticks' main host.

Some Leyland cypresses were, indeed, killed by this severe winter or are still in the process of dying slowly.

Normally, native insects such as lady beetles and parasitic wasps keep this scale under control, but if you see a lot of white flecks a plant could suffer yellowing, stunting or dieback.

Determinate tomatoes grow to a set size and stop, however they usually produce over a long period. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, continue to put out new growth all summer.

Some pesticides, such as horticultural oil or soap, are effective and have low impact on beneficial insects.

Here are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's seven simple steps to stop the spread of invasive plants, pests and diseases.

"Invasive" doesn't mean garden-variety nuisance — it means a foreign invader spreading aggressively until it has destroyed environment, economy, even human health.

An easy indoor way to test for the viability of old seed is to plant some in potting soil. Water it and see how well it germinates.

Retaining lower limbs and not pruning a tree into a high, sharp V shape will lessen broken branches.

Three of the fine fescues are the most shade tolerant: creeping red, chewings and hard fescue

Discula anthracnose was a fungal disease that slowly killed many dogwoods — particularly stressed ones — in full sun and poor soil. However, because of the genetic diversity of the dogwood, this disease is no longer the rampant threat it once was

You can do a simple home test by planting annual ryegrass seed in two containers, one filled with suspect soil and the other with healthy soil.

You can't put the trees into the ground until the soil is workable, meaning it's dry enough so a clump crumbles in your hand when squeezed

Organic matter in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic (oxygen-poor) situation, which causes it to release methane — a greenhouse gas. Your own compost pile will not.

Some evergreen species tolerate deer "pruning" well and put out new growth in spring, although lower branches won't bounce back as fast as upper branches would

Big composting productions use large machinery to turn the manure as it composts to keep it properly aerated; sometimes this is done on a macadam or gravel surface and rocks can get mixed in.

Pruning stimulates new growth, but you can control the direction of the growth. The trick is to select a leaf bud that is pointing in whatever direction you want growth to go.

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