Q: I’m running a bit late with starting veggie seeds indoors since I had to get some lights and trays for a new setup. Is there anything I can still start now?
A: You’re late for onions but on time for all other crops. Lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and collards are good candidates, plus peppers, eggplant, and tomato (though delaying tomato until five to six weeks before planting is best so they don’t get too stretched indoors).
Seed packs and catalogs will provide information about how long prior to last frost a certain variety or vegetable type should be sown. This ensures they get a jump start on growth but are not sown so prematurely that the plants begin to get weak or spindly as a result of insufficient light, lack of breezes, and constantly warm temperatures from our indoor environments. The last frost date across the state varies by a few weeks, but as a handy reference point, Central Maryland tends to see its final frost around Mother’s Day.
Our Vegetable Planting Calendar webpage and printable list provide handy information about the recommended sowing, transplanting, and harvest windows based on average Central Maryland temperature trends. Links to frost and freeze date data are also available on that page.
Q: What’s causing these black patches on the bark of my Black Tupelo branches? The tree seems to be growing well, but it looks a bit alarming. Something I should treat before it gets out of hand?
A: While it looks a lot like sooty mold or perhaps a fungal infection, this is actually the growth of a specialized group of organisms called felt fungi. They remain on the surface of the tree, not causing disease, and instead infect and take their nourishment from scale insects which are feeding on the tree. A common type of felt fungus is named septobasidium, and it creates a jet-black, very flat blotch of growth on the bark of branches.
This fungus has an interesting relationship with the scale. The individual scale insects are enrobed in fungal chambers which shield them from predators and the elements, though some are parasitized so the fungus can obtain nutrients. When breeding, the scale juveniles or “crawlers” wander about and some leave the confines of the fungus, carrying its spores with them as they settle-down on other parts of the tree (or, potentially, onto other trees). The fungus gets a means to spread and grow, and the scale, for the most part, get protection.
While this may seem like an issue that needs attention, especially since armored scale are capable of causing dieback when abundant, we don’t tend to observe tree decline associated with this partnership. If worrisome, you can trim off branches with the felt fungus patches, though be cautious about removing too much growth any one year in the process so you don’t stress or weaken the tree.
Treatment is not recommended for either the fungus or scale, but monitor the tree for indications it’s struggling if the scale population booms. At that point, consider working with a certified arborist so the most appropriate treatment is used to minimize pesticide exposure to other organisms. Otherwise, this is just an intriguing curiosity that doesn’t need intervention.