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Gene splicing is latest form of ­systematic plant breeding

What do I think about genetically modified plants? Here’s my answer to that question I so often hear.
    We have been genetically modifying plants for many centuries. We can blame the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel for initiating the science of plant breeding, which has resulted in improved quality and yields of vegetables, grains, fruit, flowers and ornamentals. It all started after Mendel crossed smooth peas with wrinkled peas and yellow peas with green peas. From these crosses, he concluded that there are dominant genes and recessive genes and introduced the possibility of hybrid vigor.
    The science he founded, genetics, has enabled farmers to produce ­higher-yielding crops, better-tasting fruit and vegetables, disease-resistant and disease-immune plants, plants resistant to insect damage.
    The next time you look at a seed catalog, look for the word hybrid in such terms as F1 hybrid and double-cross hybrid. All those hybrids are the result of systematic plant breeding.
    I saw hybridizing for myself in a course in Cytogenetics in which we used an old dental X-ray machine to irradiate germinating corn seeds. The exposure to different levels of radiation and periods of exposures resulted in numerous physical changes in appearances of seedlings that survived. The changes were due to genetic alteration. The previous semester class had performed the same experiment, then grown the corn to maturity. We grew seedlings from their corn and compared differences between our seedlings and the parents. Only a few of the seedlings resembled the parent. The majority expressed tremendous variations in appearance. Some changes were beneficial, while many were not. These experiments had been performed for many years, with a large collection of photographs for comparison.
    The science of genetics has made tremendous strides since Mendel. The helical structure of chromosomes was first reported in 1961. Since then scientist have identified the number of chromosomes in many organisms and the location of specific genes on those chromosomes. Using genetic engineering techniques, it is now possible to select specific genes and transplant them into desirable locations on specific chromosomes. This new method of cross-breeding has significantly reduced the time to generate improved varieties.
    Genetic modification in corn and soybeans has made those crops immune to damage from the application of glyphosate. This GMO significantly reduces the need to apply weed killers, which is beneficial. But only time will tell if GMOs will have any effect on quality and safety of these crops.
    There have been environmental problems with GMO cotton and other such crops. But with regards to vegetable crops, there is now a GMO sweet corn that can be grown without insecticides to control corn ear worm. There are raspberries that can be grown free of crown gall. These are just a few of many crop improvements that are the result of genetic engineering and the development of GMO crops.
    The Florida citrus industry is fading rapidly. Viruses are mutating at a faster rate each year, killing citrus trees. If the citrus industry is to survive, it will most likely depend on the development of plants genetically modified for immunity to these viruses. Once the gene that makes some plants immune to viruses can be located, there is a good possibility it can be transferred to citrus trees, thus making them immune.


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

Learn the trick — and the science

Hardy mums planted for color last fall most likely survived the winter and are now rising in clumps in your garden. Here’s how to get them ready to bloom again this fall.
    To move mums to new spots: For lots of smaller plants, dig the clumps and divide them into smaller clumps of one, three or five stems each, with roots firmly attached. Transplant them 12 to 18 inches apart. After they have started to grow, prune the stems, leaving only three or four leaves near the bottom of the stem, for two to three branches per plant.
    To manage them in place: Get out the hedge shears and prune the tops away, leaving only a few leaves at the bottom of the stems. These undisturbed clumps will quickly generate multiple stems. Allow the new stems to grow about six inches before shearing away the upper half of the new growth. Continue shearing away the tops of the plants until July 23. Shear with a slight curve to make them naturally round like a large beach ball. This method will give you bushel-basket sized plants that will flower starting, depending on the variety, in early September until frost.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, meaning that they initiate flower buds when daylight hours are fewer than 10 to 12. Thus you stop shearing them on July 23 so the plants will have time to send up new growth before flower bud initiation begins at the end of each stem. Some varieties require 24 hours of total darkness, while other varieties require only 22 hours of total darkness for flower bud initiation. Exposing the plants to a flash of light from a flood lamp, street lighting or light from vehicles during the daily dark cycle may prevent the plants from flowering. Once the round flower buds become visible at the ends of the stems, total darkness during the dark cycle is no longer necessary.
    Chrysanthemums are similar to poinsettia with regards to short-day requirements. Other common short-day plants are garlic and Vidalia onions. Vidalia onions — planted in Vidalia County, Georgia, in the fall for spring harvesting — require short days to produce bulbs. Just as the Champagne region of France is the unique producer of champagne, Vidalia County is the unique producer of Vidalia onions. The soils in that region are low in sulfur, resulting in mild onions.
    Because of our harsh winters, Maryland is best for long-day (and intermediate) onions. Planted in the spring, these onions produce bulbs because they are growing during long daylight hours.


Pruning Photinia

Q A row of redtip Photinia between my property and my neighbor is over 20 years old and has been pruned repeatedly. They are now taller than the garage but sparse at the bottom. If I cut them down to about five feet, will they fill out? Or are the base branches too thick? I have attended your pruning seminars and I know you can cut back a lot of shrubs and they bounce back. But I want to make sure I won’t do any damage before I proceed.
    I thoroughly enjoy your column and often clip it to keep in my garden notebook.

– Bonnie Smith, Lusby

A Photinia is nearly impossible to kill by pruning, though you should have pruned them before they resumed growth earlier this spring.  When you cold-cut these plants down to the ground, they return like gangbusters.  If you cut them back hard now, they will sprout only at the uppermost branches. If you wait and prune them back early next spring, they will grow new sprouts at the bottom.

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

Neighbors joining neighbors to celebrate our independence

Is there anything more fun, more moving and more important than a hometown Fourth of July parade? Whether joining the parade or watching it, we celebrate our independence as a nation and as a people.
    Across the land, communities large and small decorate themselves, their dogs and conveyances from baby buggies to trikes and bikes to convertibles, tractors, fire engines and floats. In a partnership of faith and delight, we join as one entity united by shared purpose.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Annapolis Parade

From Amos Garrett Blvd., down West St., around Church Circle and down Main St. Parade at 6:30pm, fireworks at 9:15pm (Main St. and Spa Creek Bridge closed 6-10pm), Downtown Annapolis: www.annapolis.gov.

The state capital bursts with patriotic pride every Independence Day with a parade, music by the USNA Concert Band at Susan Campbell Park and spectacular fireworks over the harbor.
    Marching in the parade is a special honor, says Glenn Carr, a parent volunteer of a Special Olympics athlete who has marched for the last four years.
    “We’d been loving the Annapolis parade for a number of years,” said Carr, “and I started thinking Why can’t we be a part of the parade? We see a lot of other civic groups here and Special Olympics is a great cause that people love to support.”
    Anne Arundel Special Olympics athletes wear their uniforms and medals and march with a banner and wave flags.
    “This year we have a decorated van as part of our procession,” says Carr. “It’s a lot of fun, and we love to expose our athletes to the public.”
    The sight of these smiling marchers draws a lot of cheering and love from the crowds, he adds. “One of our athletes, a young lady who works at a grocery store, saw some customers at the parade that recognized her, and she was absolutely thrilled. I always tell them to ‘bring your flags and spread your happiness’. It’s a great day for our country.”
    Park at city garages and take the Circulator trolley ($1) to the top of Main Street. The trolleys run 8am-midnight. Shuttle service ($1) is also available from Gate 5 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to Lawyers Mall 5pm-midnight.
    The closer you get to downtown the harder it will be to park and the more difficulty you will have getting out of town after the celebration.
    Watching by boat? Because of the anticipated crowds, boaters are urged to select their preferred viewing area anchorage early and are warned to avoid the 1,000-foot safety zone around the fireworks barge.


Cape St. Claire Parade

Parade begins at 10am from the Cape St. Claire firehouse, travels one mile to River Bay Rd., then to the beach; fun continues at the main beach 11am-2pm: 410-757-1223; www.cscia.org/d/July4th-celebration.

The Cape St. Claire community joins together to celebrate Independence Day with a parade down to the main beach area. The atmosphere is family-friendly with lots of youth sports groups passing out goodies along the route. Rhiannon Dunn, coach of the Cape Rugby Football Club, says the kids in her co-ed touch rugby team plan to throw candy and trinkets from their float.
    “This is our third parade,” she says. “I love the Cape. I’ve lived here about 16 years, and I love the parade. It’s a chance for the whole community to come together and enjoy our neighbors. We are like a small town. Even being so close to D.C. and Baltimore, we still have that small town feel.”
    Dunn reports that for the players, it’s a can’t-miss-event. “It’s like one of their favorite things to do even being in the midst of our playing season.”
    Her favorite thing? “There are a couple of really interesting floats. For being a tiny community parade, the amount of effort and enthusiasm that goes into it is interesting. We are working on a float, but I am not sure how floaty it will be since just last week I realized that July Fourth was coming up. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.”
    Prizes are awarded for the Most Patriotic and Most Creative entries. Games and activities at the beach after the parade include tug of war, a sandcastle building contest, a water balloon toss, spoon and egg races and watermelon eating contest. Grillmasters compete to win the title of best Backyard Ribs in the Cape — guest judges sample entries and choose a winner.


Galesville Parade

From Anchors Way, between Galesville Park and Hardesty Funeral Home down Galesville Rd., turning right onto East Benning Rd., winding until it passes the community center, then out on West Benning and across to the Anchors Way starting point. Main St. closes at 12:45pm; parade at 1pm: 410-867-2648; www.galesvilleheritagesociety.org/July4th.shtml.

The historic waterfront community of Galesville began its Fourth of July parade tradition late, in 1994, with just fireworks, sponsored by the Galesville Heritage Society. A parade was added the next year. Each year the festivities grew a little more, until the fireworks brought in so many people that it overwhelmed the community’s resources. So the fireworks ended, but the parade lives on.