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Get cutting to ensure big-flowering mums and azaleas

With all the rain we have received this year, azaleas and chrysanthemums have produced an abundance of new growth. If you want those plants to produce an abundance of flowers — this fall for chrysanthemums and next year for azaleas — get out your shears this week.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, which means that they will start initiating flower buds around mid-August. Prune any later than this week, and they will produce fewer flowers, which will be smaller in size and on shorter stems. Later pruning won’t give the plants adequate time to generate new branches for flower buds to develop. For chrysanthemums, flower buds are not only developed at the ends of each stem, but also in the axil of the uppermost leaves.
    Azaleas generally stop producing new vegetative growth in mid- to late- August. As soon as the tops of the plants stop growing, they begin generating flower buds at the ends of every branch. If you wait to sheer azaleas in August, the plants will not have adequate time to produce new branches upon which flower buds can be produced. Since woody plants such as azaleas are slow to recover from being sheered, there needs to be sufficient time for them to produce two to three inches of new growth before initiating buds.
    When you prune, do it right. When cutting azaleas, always allow at least one, preferably two, inches of new growth to remain on the plant. If you sheer the top of the plant back to its original height, the new growth will have to originate from last year’s growth, which will result in fewer new branches for flower bud initiation. With one to two inches of new growth remaining on the plants, new branches will emerge from the axils of the existing leaves, resulting in more dense foliage with many branches upon which flower buds can grow and flower next spring.

Footnote for Azaleas
    If your azaleas lost most of their lower leaves last winter, you may wish to apply ammonium sulfate fertilizer after the first killing frost this fall. The loss of lower leaves is a clear indication that the plants are not absorbing sufficient ammonium nitrogen. Pruning will result in a greater need for ammonium nitrogen because there will be many more branches and flower buds to feed. By fertilizing with ammonium sulfate after the first killing frost, you will have not only healthier looking plants in the spring but also a greater abundance of flowers.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Turn on a light to observe National Moth Week

In the midst of National Moth Week, turn on your porch light any summer night and see who you see.
    Summer because moths get their wings in warm weather. Over winter, they are caterpillars. In spring they pupate, emerging winged from their cocoons to create new generations of moths.
    Night because drawn to light in perhaps some moonstruck phenomenon, most moths are nocturnal.
    Like butterflies, moths are members of the Lepidoptera family, with between 150,000 and 500,000 species, according to National Moth Week founders David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty. In the United States, there are upward of 11,000 moth species, 15 times more than butterflies.
    As caterpillars, moths are familiar nuisances: in our fields, cutworms and cornworms; in forests, gypsy moths, webworms and tent caterpillars; in our closets, clothing moths; and in pantries, the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella. Yet the hairy-bodied creatures are great pollinators, especially for night-blooming and white flowers.
    Moths come in big and small, from the size of small flies to as wide as large songbirds. They are dull, striking and extraordinarily beautiful.
    Beautiful like the pink, green and purple Pandora sphinx that flew into my still-lighted bedroom late on the night of June 29, 2014, lingering for photographs and drawings.
    Striking like the yellow Clymene haploa moth perched aside my front door on the evening of June 28, 2016. Was its yellow lemon, or butter or butterscotch? I couldn’t tell, and as the light faded, I tried all three, in colored pencil, watercolor pencil and watercolors. The color of its distinctive centered marking, something like an elongated fleur de lis, was clearly black.
    “The Clymene haploa moth looks like a Star Trek communicator badge as it boldly goes everywhere both day and night,” reports insectidentification.org, where I identified this visitor.
    Perhaps National Moth Week will bring a beautiful translucent green luna moth.


Join National Moth Week observers from 8pm Sa July 30 to 9am Su July 31 at Glendening Nature Preserve, free, rsvp (ages 18+): 410-741-9330.

Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website www.recyclemoreoften.com.
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

Fish favor a careful angler

We were drifting soft crab at the Bay Bridge for rockfish when I let my bait get too deep. It fouled on bottom debris. Gritting my teeth in frustration, I maxed my drag, froze my reel spool with my thumb and backed the skiff away. I had lost a number of rigs over past seasons on this particular support, so I assumed that this was just another dues payment.
    I felt my monofilament line stretch as I moved away until it finally broke free, and I reeled my line back. I was surprised to see my hook still attached. Checking its point to ensure it had not been dulled, I rebaited and we set up for another drift.
    When a short time later a good-sized rockfish took my bait, I realized two mistakes I had just made. The first was that I had maxed my drag setting when I snagged my line and had neglected to reset it. The second was that I had ignored the effect of putting so much strain on the line. When that big lunker headed away, the drag held fast. I desperately backed off the adjustment, but my line snapped before the effort could have enough effect. Slumping dejectedly as I retrieved the loose line, I felt like a fool. This was far from my first rodeo, and I had made these mistakes before. Together they spelled disaster.
    As you impart acute strain on a knot, as I did when trying to break off my snagged bait, it continues to tighten, stretching the line and causing it to cut into itself until the knot, or some other weak point in the line, eventually fails.
    Though in this case the knot had not broken and my bait had pulled free, the mono within the knot had already been critically weakened. Coupled with the subsequent stress of a big fish and an extreme drag setting, the knot failed — and a trophy-sized fish easily broke off.
    The lessons, of course, are that when you put high stress on knots, cut them off and retie them — or suffer the consequences. When you mess with your drag, always remember to adjust it back to the original setting.
    The next disaster due to detail happened just a few days later. My favorite hook for bait fishing is made by a quality manufacturer, but with one minor flaw. The shank gap where the hook eye was formed was just a little larger than I would have preferred.
    Early in the season, it made no difference because we were using 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders, more than adequate for our light tackle and thick and tough enough to withstand a questionable hook-eye gap. However, a few weeks later the bite changed. We went from fishing big baits deep with 30-pound leaders to live-lining small perch with sections of 20-pound leader.
    You can guess the rest. During a battle with a particularly large and powerful striper, I experienced a long-range release, inexplicably losing the big devil. When I retrieved my line, I discovered my knot was intact but had slipped through the gap in the hook eye. There’s an old Wall Street saying: To know and not to do is not to know. I had known of the flaw and had done nothing. Willfully, I remained stupid.
    I still use that hook as its other qualities are significant. But ­whenever I get a fresh pack, I anoint the gap on each hook eye with a touch of epoxy. I have not lost a fish to that defect since.
    Retying stressed knots … modifying or eliminating flaws in terminal tackle … always checking for nicks and abrasions in the your line … being sure that the ring inserts on your rod guides, particularly the tip top, are undamaged … continually checking your drag settings: All of these are small habits acquired by experienced anglers.
     The longer you fish, the more little stuff you remember. When that big fish is finally on the line, minor details can make all the difference.

But which butterfly is which?

Who’s that flittering around your summer garden? Most likely it’s a swallowtail butterfly.
    The swallowtail family includes more than 550 species, flourishing on every continent except Antarctica.
    Among North American swallowtails, a familiar sight is the large black butterfly with yellow spots and some blue and orange scales. That’s (Papilio polyxenes), the Eastern black or American swallowtail. Named after the mythological figure Polyxena —youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy — this winged beauty enjoys Queen Anne’s lace and the herb rue. Its caterpillar is called the parsley worm because of its love of the herb.
    Eurytides marcellus, the zebra swallowtail, is noticeable for its distinct zebra-striped black and white wings. The late-summer broods have long delicate tails; look close and you may see a red stripe in the hindwing. Look for them dancing around pawpaw trees this time of year.
    The familiar Eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus (shown above), is the handsome black and yellow fellow gracing your neighborhood. Females have an extra dash of blue scaling on their wings. You may even see them puddling, congregating on a patch of mud to draw nutrients and minerals from the ground. In 2013, Chesapeake Country saw a surge in their numbers.
    “Every few years, we consistently see a rebounding of swallowtail butterflies,” says Elmer Dengler of Bowie.
    He suspects the plentiful tulip poplar and cherry trees contribute to the robust swallowtail population.
    “These trees are the preferred food sources for swallowtail caterpillars. They do well when their food sources do well,” Dengler says.
    Concerted efforts to plant native species in our gardens have helped take a bit of pressure off all species of butterflies, although Dengler says he still hasn’t seen monarch numbers rise as much as he’d like.
    “We need to continue to spread the message that diversity in your lawn and garden contributes to diversity in butterfly populations,” he said.
    Take note of who’s visiting your flower patch, and be on the lookout for monarch caterpillars and chrysalises among the milkweed. They will be emerging soon to continue their northern migration and won’t hang around very long.

What you’ll gain (and lose) — plus how to get started

Growing vegetables in raised beds is highly recommended when there is limited space, or if your soil does not drain well or is stony. But to be successful, the selected site needs at least eight to 10 hours of full sun if your intent is to grow tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplants, squash, cucumbers and snap beans. With less than eight hours of direct sun, you will be limited to growing lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli and kale.
    Raised beds give you the advantages of good drainage, additional growing space and easier management because you have less bending. There are disadvantages, too: having to irrigate more frequently, higher summer soil temperature, colder fall and spring soil temperatures and problems using power equipment such as tillers.
    A common mistake in establishing raised beds is using commercial potting blends, which are engineered for growing plants in pots and small pans. These shallow containers allow water to accumulate at the bottom, in a perched water table, within reach of the roots. Because commercial potting blends are rich in organic matter and porous materials, they have a high air-filled pore space, which does not make for good water retention. This means having to irrigate and fertilize frequently to obtain a desirable crop. The combination of higher growing media temperatures and low water-holding capacity demands frequent irrigations. More frequent irrigations result in a greater loss of nutrients as water moves through the soil.
    You’ll do better by manufacturing your own soil by purchasing subsoil containing 50 to 60 percent sand. Do not purchase topsoil, for it will be full of weed seeds and live roots of perennial weeds. Subsoil, the layer beneath, the topsoil, is relatively free of weed seeds and roots. Blend the subsoil with one-third by volume of compost if your raised beds are a foot or less in height. If the raised beds are deeper than a foot, fill to within three inches of the top edge and cover the soil with a two-inch-thick layer of compost. Spade or rototill the compost into the upper six inches of soil.
    Regardless of which method you use to fill the raised bed, allow at least two weeks before taking soil samples for testing. Since most subsoils tend to be acidic, most likely it will be necessary to add limestone, but without soil test results, the exact amount cannot be estimated.
    If your interest is in organic gardening, top-dress each year with a one-inch-thick-layer of compost prior to spading or tilling in the spring. Compost has a mineralization rate between 10 and 12 percent, which is essential to maintain a proper nutrient level for the garden to be productive. The mineralization rate is highly dependent upon soil temperature, and raised beds have a higher soil temperature than gardens.
    For conventional gardeners, follow the recommendations on the fertilizer bag. Commercial fertilizers tend to be acidic, so your soil should be tested every three to four years. Apply additional compost at least once every three to four years when using conventional gardening practices. Organic particles in compost deteriorate with time, and you are seeking to maintain a three to five percent level of organic matter for carefree gardening.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

First, catch some small spot

As I flipped my live perch over the side, my son did the same. Hoping that we would not have to wait too long for action, I let the small baitfish swim down and away from the boat. The lines streamed aft and out to port as a light wind pushed our skiff over the calm water.
    Within a few seconds, my line was feeding out unusually fast. I glanced around for orientation to gauge just how fast the tide was moving. My son called, “Dad, your line is crossing over mine,” but when I tried to check its flow, I discovered it wasn’t the current that was pulling out my baitfish. It was something far stronger.
    “I’m getting a run already; something took my bait.” I said, “You’ll have to bring your line in.”
    “I can’t. I have a fish on,” he answered. His rod was bent to the corks, and line was pouring off of his spool.
    Throwing my reel in gear, I came tight to my fish to the same effect, my rod bent down and a strong rockfish headed out and away. I did my best to keep my line from crossing my son’s. For long moments it was a delightfully difficult situation.
    Laughing and dodging around each other as we finally got separation, I had to warn John to push his rod tip deep underwater to keep his line clear of our motor’s lower unit. His fish had turned and managed to angle his line under the hull. I thought about raising the motor in assistance, then decided my hands were full. It was every man for himself.
    The response had turned us optimistic. When we arrived, I had been alarmed to see more than 50 fishing craft clustered in the area. Fortunately, most of the others were trolling or anchored and fishing bait. Neither would interfere with our live-lining tactics.

Tips for Live-lining Success
    A number of details can make big differences in your rate of success. The bait must swim as naturally as possible; ideally no weight should be added to the line. Place the hook no deeper than one-quarter inch just in front of the dorsal.
    To maximize the bait’s freedom of movement, we use loop knots to secure a 6/0 live bait hook to the leader. Using at least 18 inches of no more than a 20-pound fluoro leader helps in the stealth department.
    When fishing open water, make your presentations to marked fish in drift mode to give you a definite advantage. Search until you have found good marks, move up current, then drift down over their location with your motor off. Your electronics will tell you how deep your quarry is and approximately when your bait will drift through them.
    Maintain constant but delicate contact with the baitfish through line tension. Knowing just how the bait is swimming — and lending pressure when it is to your advantage — will trigger strikes. When you feel the baitfish making evasive movements, snubbing it up briefly will make it move more frantically. The stripers are alerted to the bait’s distress and often respond with immediate attacks.
    A long pause, free of all line pressure, is almost always necessary after a rockfish grabs the bait. Unless you’ve got very small perch or spot, it’s difficult to get a hook set until the rockfish has really engulfed the bait. A long five count is the minimum.
    Strike with a firm, measured pull, not a hard strike. Particularly with bigger fish, if it has swallowed the bait, a forceful strike can rip the bait and the hook out of the soft tissue of the fish’s throat. During the fight, keep the pressure moderate for the same reason.
    Do not attempt to horse a fish in the last few feet nor snub a last-minute dash for the bottom. Be patient, set your drag on the light side, let them run and you’ll land ’em all — as we did that day.

Find out at Calvert Marine ­Museum’s Sharkfest

Millions of years ago, long before there was a Chesapeake Bay, sharks thrived in the saltwater marine environment of the flooded river we now call Susquehanna. Big sharks that could have swallowed a man whole, had any men or women been around to be eaten.
    The megalodon, ancestor of the great white shark, was the apex marine predator of those waters. Rivaling today’s blue whale, the megalodon grew up to 50 feet long.
    He’s long gone, but his kin are still with us.
    Perhaps a dozen kinds of sharks visit the Chesapeake. Atlantic mako sharks, sand and sandbar or brown sharks, hammerheads, bonnetheads, dusky, sharp-nosed, smooth and spiny dogfish sharks, chain catsharks. And bull sharks.
    “Bull sharks are one of the notorious sharks we need to watch out for,” says David Moyer, curator of estuarine biology at Calvert Marine Museum. “They’re the inspiration species for Jaws. They come all the way up into fresh water. That story came out of a whole lot of real-life shark attacks over a short period of time in fresh waters in New Jersey.”
    At Calvert Marine Museum’s Sharkfest on Saturday, July 9, you’ll learn all that and more.
    “The annual festival is the museum’s way to teach people that sharks are not the enemy and without them the entire ocean ecosystem would collapse,” explains museum educator Mindy Quinn. “Humans kill sharks at the rate of about 11,415 per hour.”
    At Sharkfest, you’ll meet the musuem’s resident chain dogfish, all about a foot long. Their better name, says their keeper Moyer, “is chain catsharks, for their eyes have slit-like pupils like a cat’s.”
    That adaptation may be because they live in deep waters without natural sunlight. They also luminesce, perhaps for the same reason, or perhaps to attract food or their own kind or to discourage predation.
    Also on hand this year is a horn shark from the north Pacific, a shark that creeps along the bottom rather than swims.
    You’ll see shark cousins, clearnose skates and cownose rays. Like the catsharks, rays are regular visitors throughout the Chesapeake. Skates, which prefer the saltier water of the lower Bay, are a specialty of the museum, which breeds the flat fish to share with other museums and aquariums.
     Also visiting are another shark cousin and Chesapeake Bay native, the Atlantic sturgeon, an endangered species being bred by GenOn Aquaculture in Virginia for reintroduction to the upper Potomac River.
    The scariest shark at Sharkfest is the full-sized megalodon, a 50-foot-long behemoth model created at the museum 15 years ago to put the past in chilling perspective.
    The biggest draw is the chance to touch the live sharks.
    The most fun is sliding down the jaws of a giant inflated shark.

SharkFest: Sat., July 9, 10am-5pm, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, $9; www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.

Is the Bay full of sharks?

The teeth you find at beaches in Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties aren’t from sharks now living in the Bay. The teeth fall from the eroding cliffs around the Bay, where sharks lived during the Miocene Epoch, around 17 million years ago.
    At that time, Southern Maryland looked very different. We were a shallow, salty sea with a climate like North Carolina’s. Over millions of years, the sea receded and through erosion the land that was once the bottom of the ocean rose as Bayside cliffs. The fossils are remains of animals that once lived in the sea, from scallops to sharks.
    Shark teeth top off at seven inches, which means the Great White Shark that grew them was as big as a boxcar. But even an ancient tooth as tiny as a rose thorn can be a thrilling discovery. Learn about these treasures from Calvert Marine Museum, which has a fine collection and offers Fossil Field Experiences (the next is July 16), help in identification and the guidebook Fossils of Calvert Cliffs.
    In addition to shark teeth, a trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park, Flag Ponds or Chesapeake Beach Bayfront Park can yield finds of fossilized shells, whale bones and small sea creatures. The Maryland Geological Survey has a number of handy guides available on its website (www.mgs.md.gov) identifying the fossils you can find in the area.
    If you go fossil hunting, know that collecting fossils directly from the cliffs is prohibited. The regulation protects the cliffs and you: The cliffs are unstable, and a collapse can ruin your day. The best time to go searching for fossils is at low tide or just after a storm.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

When spot are missing, will they bite on white perch?

It was sunny and flat calm on the Bay, and I had made record time to get on site. But the area I had chosen was empty of boats. With such great weather, I assumed that at least a few sports would be working the flat. The schools of good-sized rockfish that had been teeming there were certainly no secret.
    On my fish finder, the water looked as vacant underneath as on top. With a sinking heart, I cruised slowly an irregular pattern in the general direction of previous good fortune. The bottom appeared featureless and empty; my scan of its 20-foot depth ran steady flat.
    I searched for a half-hour before my screen lit up. Netting a small but lively perch out of my bait bucket, I fitted a 6/0 hook just under the skin in front of its dorsal. I wanted that hook to break free with just a bit of a tug so it could easily find purchase in the rockfish’s mouth.
    One of the most frequent causes of losing big fish when live-lining is placing the hook too deep in the baitfish. Deep hooking obscures much of the hook gap, and it makes it more likely that, when the striper takes the fish down, the hook will turn back into the bait’s body and not into the rockfish.
    Motoring up current, well past the marks, I flipped the small perch out away from my skiff and felt it shoot down toward the bottom. I settled my nerves and waited out the drift with my thumb lightly on the reel spool. It was almost mid-day, and though the sun was high, its heat was not oppressive. The day couldn’t have been more pleasant.

What to Feed a Rockfish
    My trip had started out that morning, as it often does, with an unwelcome surprise. The perch I had planned to catch for bait were no longer where I had been finding them. Just a few days past, the area had been choked with schools of the little white devils, many just the right size, no more than five inches. This morning the bottom looked like a desert on my finder; no life anywhere.
    Moving about with my eyes glued to the sonar produced nothing but eyestrain. I gave up and headed for a sizeable creek where I had occasionally caught a few small perch. It appeared, at first, to be just as empty, but by moving about and trying every piece of structure, I finally found a small school of whities.
    It took another hour to get about 10 decent sized scrappers in my aerated bucket. The morning was wearing late when I finally fired up the Yamaha and headed for rockfish water.
    Would my perch baitfish work?
    The last few years, it has been virtually impossible to get rockfish to eat a white perch. If a live-liner didn’t have a supply of small Norfolk spot, it was unlikely a striper would be tempted to bite. Last year, the number of small spot in the Chesapeake dropped. This year, spot of any size seem to be missing. Since rockfish have to eat, I reasoned, perhaps it was finally time for white perch as bait.
    As I drifted over the area where I’d had likely marks, I felt my baitfish making a number of sudden dashes. Then it stopped. My line started up under my thumb in long, erratic bursts. I fed into the action, guarding against a spool overrun while trying to minimize resistance on the line. Giving the situation a long 10-count, I came tight again.
    When I felt solid resistance I struck, and the fight was on. The hiss of a smooth drag is lovely music to an old angler’s ear. It says big fish and means you’d better be extra careful. There are lots of ways to lose a big guy, as I well knew, but only one sure method to land it: patience combined with constant pressure and focus.
    Eventually that fat, healthy 32-inch fish came to the net and into the boat. As I buried it in ice, I marveled at how well things had turned out. My white perch had carried the day and I had more than enough to get another striper to fill my limit. But another fish didn’t really matter. Everything was already fantastic.