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Time your pruning for both desirable growth and flowers

While azaleas were blooming mid-month, I passed a home in the Deale area where the bushes were so large that it must have been impossible to look out through the lower part of the front windows. They must have been sheared at some point because the middle of the plants appeared very bushy.
    This is a common problem and one that is simple to correct — once you get out the pruners and get past fear. 
    Well-established azaleas are almost impossible to kill. Their only sure death is by over-mulching or repeated mulching with hardwood bark. The plants are very shallow-rooted; over-mulching them suffocates the roots. Repeated applications of hardwood bark lowers the acidity of the soil and releases high levels of manganese, which prevents iron from being absorbed by the roots.
    If azaleas are well established and growing too well, simply prune them back 12 to 18 inches below the windowsill now, as the flowers are wilting. The sooner you prune the better. Stems up to three-quarters-inch in diameter will sprout new branches by the hundreds. Do not prune all of the stems at the same height. Cut some stems back 12 inches, others 18 and others 24 to give the plant a more natural appearance.
    Within three weeks after pruning, you will see small green dots emerging from the bark. Each of those is a potential branch. If you allow all the green dots to develop, you will get too many branches, giving the plant a bottle brush appearance. To avoid this, in mid-June or early July, use your fingers to rub away half of the developing nubs. These newly emerging branches are soft, succulent and easily removed. In mid-August repeat the process, this time keeping the best-developed and strongest branches and removing the others.  
    Do not fertilize or mulch the plants with compost until after vigorous growth appears on the pruned stems. Keep them thoroughly irrigated during dry periods.
    Since azaleas initiate flower buds beginning in mid- to late September, avoid shearing the plants after the middle of August. Flower buds are initiated at the ends of newly developed branches. If you delay shearing until mid- to late September, you will be eliminating most of the new growth, and the plants will have no flowers next spring.

Let it guide you through the night

Friday evening, look in the wake of the setting sun low in the west-northwest for the nascent crescent moon and Mercury. Mercury is just a few degrees to the upper right, but both are so close to the horizon that you may need binoculars and you won’t have long. Within 90 minutes of sunset Mercury is gone. And that window is shrinking each day. Mercury is surprisingly bright — equal to any star. But don’t confuse its white glow with the much brighter and golden hue of Jupiter, 20 degrees higher.
    By sunset Saturday, the moon has climbed well above the horizon, leaving Mercury in the dusk. Now the thin crescent is just seven degrees below Jupiter, easily the brightest object other than the moon. The moon, Jupiter and Pollux higher still form a near-straight line.
    Sunset Sunday finds the waxing crescent moon well positioned in the west. Jupiter shines 10 degrees to its right, while below and to the left, making a wide triangle, is the first-magnitude star Procyon. The eighth-brightest star in the heavens, Procyon is one of two bright stars in the constellation Canis Minor, the Little Dog.
    Monday the moon is amid the dim stars of Cancer. Look a few degrees to the right of the moon for a dim patch of light at the constellation’s center. Unlike the sharp, clear light of a star, the hazy glow you’re seeing is the combined light of hundreds of newborn stars within the Beehive Cluster 570 light years away. While our own sun is 4.5 billion years old, the stars of the Beehive Cluster are only 600 million years old, mere infants in the life of a star. Binoculars are enough to distinguish dozens of these lights; a modest telescope reveals many more.
    Tuesday and Wednesday the moon is several degrees to either side of Regulus, the blue-white heart of Leo the lion. Regulus marks the dot at the base of what looks like an inverted question mark, called the Sickle of Leo.
    As twilight turns to darkness, Mars glows like an ember in the south. Far to the lower left is Spica. The red planet sets around 3am.
    Saturn shines in the southeast at sunset, is high in the south around midnight and sets in the west around 4:30am. The ringed planet is flanked by the two brightest stars of Libra — both second-magnitude — Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.
    In the hour before sunrise, Venus appears low in the east. At –4 magnitude, there’s no confusing the Morning Star for anything but an airplane or satellite — except that it holds steady in place until daybreak.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Gather under the stars for satins and sequins, top hats and tails and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness

It seems only yesterday we were urged to come and meet those dancing feet … on 42nd Street. But the 2001 revival of the 1980 Broadway hit (both multiple Tony Award winners) debuted as a 1933 Warner Brothers film starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers. Now Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre brings back this buoyant musical extravaganza, after a 20-year hiatus, in a show billed as a “bold celebration of the transcendent joys of Broadway.”
    Packed with show-stopping classics, it stars several dynamic leads guaranteed to satisfy the strongest nostalgia craving. ASGT’s stage can’t provide the same trademark visuals of Busby Berkeley’s film choreography, but the tapping is complex and tight, highlighting the virtuoso performances of Hannah Thornhill as Peggy Sawyer, the sudden starlet, and Summer Garden Theatre newcomer Nicholas Carter as her friend Andy, the dance captain of her star vehicle, Pretty Lady. Maggie (Allie Dreskin), the show’s wisecracking writer, is equally impressive for her singing.
    Because even the spunkiest musical needs a story line, no matter how flimsy, Peggy the small-town-girl takes the city by storm and wins the hearts of hard-nosed producer Julian Marsh (Brandon Deitrick) and sweet chorus boy Billy (Kyle Eshom).
    Meanwhile, aging diva Dorothy Brock (Allison Erskine) gives Peggy her lucky break, literally, when age trips over youth in rehearsal. Dorothy was due for a change, anyway, having tired of her sugar daddy who is the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Wendell Holland), and desperate to reunite with her secret love, Pat Denning (Thomas Brandt).
    For a show with two love triangles, there is nary a spark beyond the music. But with hits like We’re in the Money glittering green as a lotto commercial, Lullaby of Broadway with its great male harmonies, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo staged in train cars, the rest is fluff.
    Thornhill, ASGT’s star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago, has it all: voice, moves, personality and Renée Zellweger’s looks. Carter astounds as an Astaire for the modern age. Dreskin brings a Bette Midler quality to Maggie, wowing early on in Shadow Waltz, and dominating the stage for a third of the show. Newby Erskine’s strong contralto is best showcased in About a Quarter to Nine and I Only Have Eyes for You. Eshom shines in Dames. Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Lacy Comstock, Amanda Cimaglia and Trent Goldsmith excel in the tertiary lead chorus roles of Anytime Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine and Brent, featured in the big-production numbers.
    From an acting perspective, Aubrey Baden is worth mentioning for his terrific impersonation of a rehearsal pianist, despite the fact that he doesn’t play or speak. All the music, in fact, is provided by a tiny, tinny backstage combo. Holland is a quintessential milksop. Deitrick does a decent job with his famous pep talk, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star,” but he has trouble navigating 42nd Street in his solo reprise of the title song in the finale. Similarly, some dragging tempi and a lighting problem siphoned some of the show’s energy on opening night.
    Still, if you love satins and sequins, top hats and tails, and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness, you will thrill to this chestnut.


With Samantha Curbelo, Ashley Gladden, Debra Kidwell, Maureen Mitchell, Erin Paluchowski , Aaron Quade and D.J. Wojciehowski.
By Stewart, Bramble, Warren and Dubin. Director and choreographer: Kristina Friedgen. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Dance captains: Nick Carter and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan. Set designers: Friedgen and Dan Snyder. Costumes: Miriam Gholl. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra conductor/pianists: Hawk and Laura Brady.
Playing thru June 21. Th-Su plus Wed. June 18 at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
 

You can get (most) anything you want — even a good book

If the medium is the message, then there’s more to be learned from Calvert Library’s huge festival of local authors than you’ll read in this week’s feature story, The Writers Next Door.
    Your neighbor may have written just the one for you, I say, introducing 33 authors and their latest (or favorite) books. These are quick introductions, the literary equivalent of speed dating, with a life compressed into one sentence and a plot into another. At the May 31 festival, you’ll meet even more authors from 9:30 am to 4pm.
    All that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
    The submerged message is that Calvert County’s ­public library system is ambitious in a big way to be a place where people connect with ideas and each other.
    You see it in the Prince Frederick library building, built in 2006 to change the way people use their libraries. Twenty-first century libraries will trend that way, using architecture and location to draw people in and interior design to make them feel comfortable, welcome and ready to stay a while.
    Libraries of the future will be community centers — with the visual appeal of bookstores — according to Anne Arundel Public Library director Skip Auld, who’s thinking toward a new Annapolis Public Library that will be state-of-the-art.
    Sending the message that your library is the center of your community is more than putting it in a place people are likely to go. It’s more than a light-filled building with maritime and local allusions, human-sized spaces and comfortable chairs.
    The medium of that message has to be that here, as in Alice’s Restaurant of Arlo Guthrie’s song, you can get anything you want.
    That’s just about true of our 19 libraries, in Anne Arundel as well as in Calvert.
    They’re open when you want to go. This year, Anne Arundel libraries regained the county funding to open every branch from 9am to 9pm four days a week, and until 5pm Fridays and Saturdays, with some Sunday hours in regional centers. Calvert’s libraries have always opened 9am to 9pm four days, with shorter hours Friday (noon-5pm) and Saturday (9am-5pm).
    Along with longer hours, the Anne Arundel library system added 31 new staffers.
    Many of Anne Arundel’s new service are devoted to kids. The libraries’ Early Literacy Initiative runs 144 programs a year for infants through five-year-olds, as well as reaching out to schools and Head Start centers.
    Bay Weekly’s Kids Time at the Libraries lists as many as 50 kids programs each week. Of course kids programs involve grown-ups as well, and often stuffed animals.
    That’s another part of the message: programs for people of all ages. Stories, songs, fingerplays and stuffed-animal sleepovers for kiddies … Legos, homework help and tutors on call for kids … pizza parties and games, both board and electronic, for teens … and for all ages, computers, shelves and shelves of books in print (large and small) and on recording, collections of databases, movies, music and games — and all for free.

Plan to dig, separate, store and replant in fall

As years pass, clumps of daffodils, narcissus, jonquils and hyacinths become crowded, resulting in smaller flowers. Shrunken flowers mean it’s time to dig and replant. Wait until after all of the foliage has died back to the ground.  
    Mark the location and flower color of clumps to be divided before all the foliage is gone. Make a large plant label and stick it in the middle of the clump.
    Dig with a garden spade, starting at least six inches away from the outer circle of dead leaves.  Assume the bulbs are now deeper than the original planting depth: Bulbs are equipped with contractil roots that pull them deeper in the ground at the end of each growing season. This is a survival feature as bulbs originated in arid regions. Thus when digging bulbs that have been in the ground for a long time, you’ll have to go two to three inches deeper than the original planting depth so the bulbs can be lifted from the ground without damage.  
    After you’ve lifted the bulbs from the ground, shake away loose soil; do not separate the bulbs from each other until after the soil has dried.
    Then separate the clusters of bulbs from each other and thin them, allowing only two or three daughter bulblets to remain attached to each large bulb. Dust the bulbs with a fungicide such as a five-percent solution of Captan. Place them in an onion bag and hang in a cool, dry place to protect them from rodents.  
    In late September or early October, the bulbs will be ready for planting.  To avoid future overcrowding, dig the planting hole at least 10 inches deep and amend the soil in the bottom with compost. The top of the each bulb should be at least eight inches below the surface of the soil. The deeper bulbs are planted, the fewer daughter bulbs they will produce because there is less oxygen available. Less propagating means less crowding.


Stink Bug Report

    A report from the University of Maryland Department of Entomology indicates that research at Virginia Tech found colonies of stink bugs that wintered unprotected outdoors have been killed by severe cold temperatures. 
    If this is true, it will help considerably in reducing the population, but it will not exterminate them. Stink bugs that managed to overwinter in the cracks and crevasses of homes and heated buildings will persist.
    Based on the invasion we are experiencing at Upakrik Farm in Deale, the cold winter has not made a dent in the stink bug population. On warm days, they pour out of their winter hideaways.
    The pheromone traps I tested last fall never attracted a single stink bug.
    The only defense that has been 100 percent reliable in capturing stink bugs is the Bugzooka. This vacuum gun sucks them into the barrel without killing them and smearing their stinking guts on windows or woodwork. It is fun to use and gives you the feeling of sweet revenge. Order at www.bugzooka.com.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Hundreds of shooting stars possible this weekend

If you’re not a night owl, you’ll want to set your alarm clock for early Saturday. Before dawn that morning, earth will plow through the trail of a newfound comet, providing what many astronomers are predicting to be the best meteor storm in years.
    Comet 209P/LINEAR orbits the sun over a five-year period, yet it was only discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project. It belongs to a family called the Jupiter Comets, which are steered and propelled by the gas giant’s own gravitational pull. Every so often, these comets come a little too close to Jupiter, and like a leaf buffeted by the wind, their course is set anew.
    That’s what happened in 2012 to Comet 209P/LINEAR. Not only did it alter the comet’s path, but it also warped the centuries-old trails of debris left with every five-year passing. Now the comet’s path comes within 280,000 miles of our own orbit — little more than the moon’s distance from earth.
    Not that the comet will actually pass that close to earth. At its innermost point of orbit, 209P/LINEAR is 90 million miles from the sun — roughly the same distance from the sun as earth, give or take a few million miles. May 29 the comet will be just 5.15 million miles from earth, the ninth closest approach by a comet ever recorded.
    Even at its closest, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to spot this small, dim chunk of ice and rock without a decent-sized telescope.
    In this case the sizzle is far better than the steak, thanks to the countless bits of dust trailing in the comet’s wake after hundreds of years circling the sun. Between sunset Friday and dawn Saturday, earth plows full-steam through these bands of accumulated inter-stellar flotsam.
    Astronomers are predicting a brief but intense period of activity, peaking around 3am with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of meteors an hour. Some models even predict a meteor storm with as many as 400 meteors an hour! And unlike most prolific meteor showers, which streak past in a matter of seconds, those from P/209 LINEAR will drift through the sky like falling snowflakes.
    Cloudy skies? Check out the meteor shower via a live feed starting at 1:30am Saturday at http://tinyurl.com/olywq6k.
    The waning crescent moon won’t interfere with the meteors, but it will make a nice appearance with Venus low in the east before dawn Sunday morning.

Help stomp out Emerald Ash Borers and Hemlock Wooly Adelgids

You don’t want to know the hemlock wooly adelgid. The invader — no bigger than a period — is terrorizing towering trees, both hemlock and spruce.
    These pests threaten to wipe out eastern hemlock forests, a loss that could be as dreadful as the loss of American chestnuts. The bug is loose in half the evergreen’s geographic range, 11 eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts.
    The fight is on, with two Maryland agencies injecting insecticide into thousands of hemlock trees and soil on public lands across the state. The wooly adelgid, which leaves telltale white, woolly wax spots on young hemlock twigs, is at its worst in our western counties.
    The pencil-tip adelgid joins the ranks of Maryland public tree enemies. The emerald ash borer, here a decade, gets special attention May 18-24, days designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
    The iridescent beetle that can fit on a penny has been eating its way through Maryland’s ash trees — and ash in many states east of the Mississippi. To stop its decade-long advance, Maryland foresters have set up a movable quarantine barrier with sentry traps hung in trees throughout susceptible areas.
    The ash tree is a popular city tree as well as an important woodland tree in the Chesapeake watershed and a mainstay of the timber industry. Ash contributes wood for furniture, flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, guitars and baseball bats.
    Losses from the ash borer could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone.
    What can you do to help?
    In all counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River it’s against the law to transport firewood because ash borers could have infiltrated the wood. So far, the Eastern Shore is uninvaded. If you have ash trees, look alert. Ash borer infestation shows up in eaten leaves, diminished tree canopy and shoots or sprouts emerging below dead portions of trunk. Woodpeckers are drawn to the trees to feed on the borers. Beneath the bark, D-shaped exit holes tell you the borer was there.

Return of the King of the Monsters

Fifteen years after a catastrophic nuclear power plant collapse in Japan, engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston: Breaking Bad) is convinced that the government is covering up the real cause of the failure that killed his wife and countless others. He breaks into the ruins of the nuclear facility to prove that this disaster wasn’t a malfunction or a typhoon, but a vast government cover-up.
    Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson: Kick Ass 2) just wants his dad to stop getting arrested. Ford has moved on, starting a family and joining the Navy. Father and son rarely see each other — unless Ford is bailing his father out of a Japanese prison. To get his father to stop his conspiracy theorizing, Ford agrees to visit the nuclear plant ruins on one last mission.
    Imagine Ford’s surprise when he discovers his father was right: The government was hiding something — something big and angry. A drilling company in the Philippines crashed into a cavern in the earth, awakening an alpha predator that feeds on radiation.
    Ford joins the military in a global effort to stop the monster from destroying the world.
    A classic monster movie worthy of the 1954 original, Godzilla is a fun, light take on the Gojira series. Credit goes to the brilliance of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters). Following classic monster movie style, Edwards is slow to reveal Godzilla to the audience, teasing us with glimpses of a tail or a massive footprint.
    Clever camera work emphasizes Godzilla’s immense size compared to the human world. Edwards forces you into the action. Shots framed with panicked onlookers in the foreground put you in the midst of the pandemonium. When he treats us to a wide shot of the action, he mindfully keeps a person in the frame as a reminder of just how massive and terrifying Godzilla would be stomping down your street.
    Still, the nature vs. man storyline is secondary to the cataclysmic battles. As a result of Edwards’ innovative and interesting camera work, Godzilla is one of the best arguments for 3D graphics and IMAX visuals to appear in theaters this decade.
    You’ll see all the types you expect in a disaster/monster movie: a crackpot who’s been right all along, a square-jawed soldier, his attractive but personality-free family, a scientist and thousands of faceless military men to act as cannon fodder. It’s hard to care about the fate of Ford, his pretty wife and his adorable moppet son because they’re cyphers instead of developed characters. But most people buying a ticket to a Godzilla movie aren’t expecting a stirring family drama.
    Still, appropriately melodramatic performances by veteran actors like Cranston and Ken Watanabe (Unforgiven) keep us invested in the fate of humanity.
    Godzilla is the perfect summer blockbuster: a fun story, amazing visuals and a monster worthy of the big screen. So buy a bucket of popcorn, adjust your 3D glasses and get ready for a modern monster classic.

Great Monster Movie • PG-13 • 123 mins.

Many virtues make it my favorite sweetwater fish

This is a special time of year for me. There have been a number of 80-degree days, trees are filling out nicely and the strawberries in our garden are ripening. The day lilies are blooming, brightening the landscape, and birds are busy, singing their songs and building nests just about everywhere.
    Our freshwater ponds and lakes are also awakening. Water lilies are reaching up and extending their green pads and white blossoms above the surface. The frogs are croaking and peeping amorously, and along the shallow, tree-shrouded shorelines, saucer-sized beds are beginning to be scraped out of the bottom by a small but mighty fish.
    Each spawning site will be guarded with singular ferocity by a brightly colored male. His profile is as saucer shaped as the spawning site he has just created, and the little bull is relentlessly intent on attracting a mate. These fish are bluegills. A good-sized fish is only 10 inches long, but it is my favorite species in all of the sweetwater.

Hooked on Fishing
    Perhaps it’s because the bluegill was the first fish that ever pulled on the end of my line. I was about six years old and remember that tug as if it was yesterday because it was followed immediately by a bigger tug. Then the small, bamboo pole I held bent over in an acute arc.
    It was all I could do to hold it upright as my heart raced like never before. Somehow managing to get the brightly colored fish up onto the old wooden dock, I watched as the furious rascal beat a reckless tattoo on the weathered boards.
    My father was careful to subdue it without getting spiked by the critter’s sharp fins, and we soon had it back in the water on a stringer, which I checked every 30 seconds for the remainder of the trip. I didn’t catch anything else, but it mattered not a bit to me in my first flush of piscatorial victory.
    For the next two days, I paraded that bluegill about the neighborhood on the stringer, eventually boring all but my mother with repeated descriptions of the grandeur of the moment. The ’gill was a big one, I was told, and without anything else to compare it to I accepted that judgment unequivocally.
    By the end of the second day my parents convinced me to give the deceased a proper burial, explaining that it was gathering an odor and we had perhaps waited a little too long to serve it as supper. But I knew there were others out there, and I solemnly dedicated myself to their pursuit. I have held to that promise for over 60 years.
    These days I have exchanged the simple cane pole for a fixed line; a hook and a red worm for a light graphite fly rod adorned with a small black reel, a floating line and a little popping bug.
    In years past I have consumed at least my share of the tasty devils, but lately I have taken to releasing almost all of them. Each of my catches, I have come to realize, are either too small to eat or too large and grand to kill.
    Over the years, pursuing these bold swimmers while wet wading, from the shoreline, from canoes, kayaks, skiffs, bass boats, dingys and even inner tubes, I have found all of the experiences the same: fantastic. There is no other fish as willing to do battle, as eager to strike in hunger or defending its territory and as energetic and resolute in continuing the fight all the way to my hand.
    These fish are a model of life lived to the fullest. Each time I pursue them, I feel blessed to experience their fiery hearts and exceptional attitudes. My rod and reel are standing at the door as I wait for the wild springtime winds to die down. The ’gills are on the beds, I have an old promise to keep, and I can’t wait to fulfill it yet again.