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Can you spot the naked-eye five?

As the sun sets, look to the southwest for Venus. With a clear view of the horizon, you might spy Mercury below and to the right of Venus at week’s end, but the innermost planet’s viewing days are numbered. Roughly 15 degrees above Venus, look for the ruddy glow of Mars.
    Thursday and Friday evening the thin crescent moon joins the throng, somewhat between Venus and Mars the first night and above Mars, forming a horizontal line with Venus the next. Venus sets within an hour of the sun, while Mars sets around 8pm. But night by night, Venus is gaining about a minute of visibility, closing the gap with Mars in the process and leading to a conjunction of the two later next month.
    As these twilight planets set in the west, another rises in the east. Jupiter is hard to miss, as it is the brightest object in that part of the sky. By 9pm it is high in the east, at midnight is near the celestial zenith, and as dawn nears it is ablaze above the west horizon. A dozen degrees below the giant planet is fainter Regulus, which marks the dot of what looks like a backwards question mark. This asterism is called the Sickle of Leo and makes up the head of the larger constellation Leo the lion. A triangle of stars to the left of the sickle marks the lion’s haunches, the brightest being Denebola, which in Arabic means the lion’s tail.
    Saturn rises in the wee hours of the morning, and by 6am it is well-placed in the southeast. Its rings are tilted our way so that they stand out against the planet’s surface when viewed with even a small telescope. Saturn sits at the head of the constellation Scorpius, with its red heart Antares 10 degrees below the planet and the creature’s body trailing away toward the horizon.
    The moon waxes to first-quarter phase Monday, when it is almost directly overhead at sunset. Wednesday after sunset it is just a few degrees above and to the left of Aldebaran, the glaring eye of Taurus the bull, and the Hyades star cluster. Higher still are the stars of the Pleiades cluster, the Seven Sisters. While the moon’s light may make both clusters appear as fuzzy spots, simple binoculars will reveal many distinct stars in each.

The underground story

Did you know that your bare garden soil is losing its nutrients to winter?
    That’s just what’s happening in your vegetable garden unless you planted a cover crop last fall. And in your flower garden, unless it’s planted with perennials or woody plants.
    Here’s the underground story.
    During the growing season, plants do not utilize all soil nutrients, whether applied as fertilizers or released from animal manures or compost. Nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and boron, to name a few, are quite soluble. Unless they are absorbed by roots of plants, they leach downwards into the water table, into streams and eventually into the Bay.
    A good garden soil is biologically active all year long except when soil temperatures drop below 34 degrees. At that temperature microbial activity stops, nutrients are not as soluble and most things stay in place. However, as you penetrate deeper in the soil, temperature rise and nutrients that have penetrated to that depth continue to leach downwards. Thus you want all soluble nutrients to be absorbed by roots before they seep too deep where roots do not penetrate.
    The physical movement of soil particles during periods of freezing and thawing causes soil particles to move about, creating crevices, thus facilitating the downward movement of soil particles as well as nutrients in solution. Established roots help to stabilize soil and prevent particles from either blowing away in drought or washing away through erosion. Both cover crops and perennials absorb available nutrients. When the cover crop is plowed or rototilled under in the spring, its roots, stems and leaves will decompose, and those nutrients, like compost, will be slowly released in the soil.
    While soil temperatures are above freezing, roots are absorbing nutrients. Roots of some species are capable of growing in soil temperatures as low as 36 degrees. Roots can grow all winter as long as the soil does not freeze. Unlike the top of plants, which stop growing when they begin to go dormant in late August and early September, roots continue to grow and absorb nutrients and water.
    I tested this concept in the mid 1970s by transplanting young dogwoods between the greenhouses at the University of Maryland in College Park. Half of the dogwoods were transplanted above a buried steam pipe. Snow there never lasted more than a few days, while between adjoining greenhouse the snow stayed in place. In the spring, I dug up the dogwoods in each area. The root system of the trees where the snow melted rapidly were two to tree times bigger and more fibrous than the roots of the dogwood trees from where the snow remained and were then five to six times larger.
    Never allow land to remain fallow without vegetation. Keeping the soil covered with growing plants not only protects the Bay but also maintains biologically productive soil for you to grow crops. Nutrients belong in the soil and not in the Bay.


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

It’s all a matter of layers

Whether in the sporting field, bird watching, horseback riding, hiking, fishing or other outdoor sports, options in dressing for freezing temperatures have never been better — or more complicated.
    Layering is the one key ingredient no matter what you’re going to do, as I’ve learned from experience. A base layer (undergarment) is followed by a covering layer (shirts and pants) and topped by the over layer (coats and overpants). The advantage of this approach is that as the weather changes or your activities vary, you can always take a layer off, if only temporarily.
    I’ve also found that if your cold-weather activity is mostly sedentary, such as bird watching, hunting, fishing or the spectator sports, the base layer is the most important. Fleece base layers, particularly expedition-weight types, are arguably the most effective.
    Fleece is comfortable next to the skin and holds in your body warmth best. If you’re preparing for sub-zero temps, a full body fleece undergarment is the way to begin.
    I’ve further discovered that the best types of fleece base layers are those with zip necks. Fleece is so efficient that even light exertion can cause you to heat up. Unzipping the top allows that body heat and moisture to escape. When that part of your activity is over, you can zip back up, maintaining a comfortable core temperature.
    Activities that include long periods of high intensity followed by periods of low intensity call for technical base layers. Such clothing is designed to maintain warmth with an emphasis on wicking moisture (sweat) away from your body to the outside of that garment. It can then evaporate or migrate to the mid-layer (where it also evaporates). Choose technical base layers designed for intense activity sports such as mountain climbing, big game hunting and skiing.
    Mid-layer clothing options are much less complicated. Flannel shirts are fine, cotton will do, medium-weight wool is great. Since the base layer has already done most of the work of temperature control, the mid layer is whatever makes you most comfortable.
    The outer layer (coats and over pants) is dictated by weather conditions. Since the development of the breathable membrane for clothing fabrics some 45 years ago, virtually all severe weather clothing has this feature as part of its construction. The membrane or fabric coating allows water vapor (sweat) to be vented out but prevents liquid water from penetrating. It is also a great wind barrier.
    Additional insulation is also an option in outerwear, depending on how extreme the temperatures are going to be and whether you’re wearing a base layer. But generally the final layer is intended for keeping out rain, snow and wind. Keep in mind that the bulkier the jacket (and your cumulative clothing), the more your movements will be hindered.
    Hats are essential as are facemasks and scarves for high-wind conditions. Make sure they are windproof and cover the ears.
    Gloves are application specific; the types you choose depend on what you’re doing. Waterproof and woolen gloves are best around the water. Mittens are warmest if you don’t need to use your fingers. Chemical handwarmers, such as Hothands and Grabber, are also effective. Position them on the back of your hands (where your blood vessels are) to keep your fingers warm.
    Footwear should be insulated if you’re going to be sedentary. Otherwise rely on lightly insulated boots and heavy woolen socks for superior cold and moisture control.
    Above all, be especially careful in colder weather and move inside at the first indications of hypothermia — shivering or a decline in coordination.

Even invisible, it tugs our tides mightily

Look for the waning crescent moon in the southeast before dawn Friday. Golden Saturn is just a couple degrees above, while fiery Antares is less than 10 degrees below. The trio rises around 4am, and by 6am they are well placed above the southeast horizon.
    Tuesday marks new moon — the first of January’s two Supermoons. What? How can new moon be a Supermoon? The criteria for the relatively new term Supermoon isn’t that we can see it, but rather that the moon, sun and earth are all three aligned in conjunction with the moon’s closest point to earth in its monthly orbit, called perigee. This can happen during both full moon and new moon. There will be six Supermoons in 2015, with January, February and March coinciding with new moon and July, August and September with full moon.
    New or full, a Supermoon can create super tides. The alignment of earth, sun and moon at new and full moon creates a gravitational tug resulting in strong spring tides. High tide is higher than normal, and low tide is lower. A Supermoon’s closer proximity to earth adds to the pull, creating even greater swings in what are called perigean spring tides.
    Look for the nascent crescent moon to reappear low in the west just after sunset Wednesday, with Venus just a few degrees to the moon’s left and Mercury between the moon and the horizon.
    Mercury and Venus were one degree apart last week, but now the innermost planet is sinking back toward the western horizon and the glare of the sun. They are still within three degrees of one another Friday, but by Wednesday the gap will have grown to almost 10 degrees.
    Mars is above and to the left of Venus and Mercury at sunset, visible until 8pm. Monday the red planet appears within 15 arc minutes — one-quarter degree — of distant Neptune in a rare planetary conjunction. At magnitude 8, Neptune demands binoculars or better yet a telescope. Start at Mars and scan above and to the left.
    Keep the binoculars handy, and look for Comet Lovejoy Saturday eight degrees west-southwest of the Pleiades star cluster, high overhead above Taurus the bull after dark.

Potted outdoor plants need cold-hardy roots to survive winter

Did you know that the roots of plants are not as cold-hardy as the stems and branches? What’s more, the roots of different plant species are killed at different temperatures. This is information you need to know when selecting plants for growing in above-ground containers that are to remain outdoors all year long.
    Below four feet, soil temperatures seldom drop below 28 degrees. If the ground is covered with mulch or snow, temperatures may be several degrees higher. If the soil is wet at the time it freezes, soil temperatures will also be higher. Dry soils freeze faster and achieve a lower temperature than moist or wet soils.
    In above-ground containers, temperatures will equilibrate to the ambient air within hours of a 10-degree change in temperature. The temperature change will occur faster if the rooting medium is dry. A dry rooting medium freezes faster than a wet rooting medium.
    If you intend to grow ornamental plants outdoors year-round in above-ground planters, select plants with cold-hardy roots. Choices are many, including Alberta spruce, Amur maple, azaleas, birch, chamaecyparis (or false cypress), mountain laurel, Pfitzer juniper, red cedar, rhododendrons and sumac.  The roots of these species can tolerate temperature down to zero and below. However, rooting media should be kept moist during the winter months as well as during the growing season.
    Avoid planting Atlantic cedar, boxwoods, camellia, Chinese hollies, Colorado spruce, dogwood, Japanese hollies, magnolia and viburnums in above-ground pots. Some of these species have roots that are killed at temperatures as high as 24 degrees. In many years, the roots of these species will be killed before the holidays.
    Information on low root-killing temperatures of perennial plants is important when selecting plants for containers and rooftop gardens. On rooftop gardens the problem is not as severe if the garden is installed over a heated building, because heat loss through the roof is generally adequate to prevent rooting media from freezing. However, if the garden is being installed over an unheated parking garage, selecting plants with cold-hardy roots is of utmost importance.


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

Solunar theory predicts fish and animal activity cycles

‘Fishing Charlie’ Ebersberger has spent as many days on the water as any angler in Maryland and arguably acquired more knowledge in his constant conversations with like-minded customers at his store, the Angler’s Sport Center.
    How was the Solunar watch working out? I asked as the instrument celebrated its first anniversary on his wrist. Seems that its predictions of fishing success based on peak times for fish activity are much better than either of us expected, according to the story he told.
    We were after marlin off of Ocean City and had not had any action for quite some time. Our electronic finder was indicating that we were over some good marks but nothing was eating.
    How many fish do you see now? one of the party called out.
    The question wasn’t directed to the finder screen but to my Solunar watch. Its display showed from one to four fish symbols depending on how active the bite was forecast at any particular time. Three to four fish mean a good bite.
    It’s beginning to show three, I said.
    Just then one of the starboard lines went down and fish on, fish on began ringing out from the stern. A few minutes later, my watch face moved into the four fish category. For the next three hours the action was hot and constant.

John Knight’s Solunar Theory
    The Solunar theory of the most productive fishing times was developed almost 90 years ago by an avid angler, John Alden Knight. After years of keeping logs of his frequent fishing efforts, he was perplexed at his inability to predict the best times to fish. He decided to apply scientific analysis to all the information he could gather.
    Starting with over 30 factors that seemed relevant, he eventually eliminated all but three as worthy of further examination. The prime factors, he eventually deduced, were sunrise, sunset and moon phase.
    Tidal phases and currents (caused by the moon moving in orbit around the earth) have long been thought the critical factors in saltwater fish feeding times. Knight discovered it was actually the relationship among the sun, earth and moon that was essential.
    Moonrise and moonset proved to coincide with intermediate or moderate phases of fish and animal activity. Most influential were the meridian periods when the transits of the moon crossed the earth’s line of latitude. High moon and low moon produced the most intense levels for the longest periods.
    Knight eventually worked out Solunar tables based on his theory to predict peak activities when fish (and game animals and birds) would most likely occur for any particular place and time.
    There are, however, mitigating factors that can negate or degrade the Solunar effect.
    A falling barometer generally precedes a period of poor fishing (as well as animal and bird movement) as do high winds, hard rain or snowfall and significant temperature fluctuations. These conditions, of course, are impossible to predict beyond the very near future. Still, they do have to be taken into account.
    Knight’s Solunar Tables have been in constant publication since their debut in 1936. Watches and time clocks have also been developed based on the Solunar formulas to make interpretation of the predictions ever easier.
    Using his Casio Pathfinder, Charlie has confirmed the accuracy of Solunar theory on the Chesapeake over the past season, not only by his own experiences but also with the help of many of his customers.
    “When they ask me what time of day is going to be best, I consult the watch. Whenever I could identify periods showing three to four fish, it was uncannily reliable that the time period predicted would result in up to three hours of great action.”
    If you’re looking to get an edge in the coming fishing season or need one now in hunting, Solunar predictions may be for you.

Early-spawning crappie already on the move

The new fishing year is blossoming before us. Since the passing of the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) on Dec. 21, 2014, our daily dose of sunshine has grown. January 8 gives us eight hours and 11 minutes, a trend in the right direction. We might not notice the accumulation of extra sunlight every day, but the fish do. It is one of the prime drivers of their urge to spawn.
    Crappie (properly pronounced with a broad a) are generally the first fish in the Tidewater to feel that stirring and start to move to the shallows. They are also known as calico bass, speck, speckled perch and, because of delicate mouth structure, paper mouth. That’s a point of anatomy to be considered when making the decision whether to derrick a hooked fish up out of the water or land it with a net.
    One of Maryland’s most overlooked fish, crappie are also good eating. Therein lies part of the problem of finding good crappie water: Their fans are loath to share that information. However, I can offer a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
    Now is not too soon to start looking. Any day temperate enough to tempt you out will be a good day to try. Crappie tend to bite early and late in the day, so that’s the first thing to take into consideration. I recommend scouting sites starting in the early afternoon (when it’s warmer) and fishing early mornings only on locations that has proven productive.
    Light to medium-light spin tackle with six- to eight-pound monofilament will be sufficient. Specs will take minnows of all types, but smaller ones are usually best. Try to harvest the minnows yourself with a dip net or a baited minnow trap, particularly from areas close to where you’re fishing. Fish the baits under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Concentrate on water 10 feet or less in depth.
    Since crappie have a larger mouth than most pan fish, any hook size from a #6 to a #1 will work. Thinner diameter wire hooks are superior because they are easier on the smaller minnows and keep them lively longer. No leaders are necessary.
    Night crawlers and red wigglers are two more fine crappie baits. Fish them the same way you would the minnow, under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Crappie are schooling fish. When you hook up one, there should generally be others in the immediate vicinity.
    Concentrate along shorelines of the fresher areas of local tributaries, targeting downed trees, submerged brush or tangles of floating debris. Bridges, piers, docks and other constructed water structures are also prime holding areas. Target deeper water during low tides when fish tend to congregate in the river’s holes and pools. When the water warms up past 50 degrees, these fish will be more likely to take a lure. For now, live bait is best.
    Crappie are widely distributed in Maryland. On the Eastern Shore the Wye Mills impoundment — as well as the stream (and bridge) below the spillway — is a good place to look for big crappie. The Tuckahoe River is also a prime location, again both the impoundment and the waters below it.
    The Upper Choptank is a particularly good tributary for a hot bite in early springtime. Greensboro is a great place to try, especially if you have a small boat. Going upstream and targeting laydowns, tree stumps and submerged brush will generally get you some nice fish. Higher up the river at Red Bridges can also be excellent for shore-bound sports.
    The Pocomoke River near Snow Hill can be outstanding. One of the better fly and light tackle guides on the Chesapeake, Kevin Josenhans specializes in fishing that river just for crappie this time of year. Check out his blog at http://josenhansflyfishingblog.com/ for an early season report.
    On the Western Shore, the Patuxent is one of the better rivers. Starting at Wayson’s Corner and up to Queen Anne’s Bridge and Governor’s Bridge, you’ll find good spec territories somewhere along the way. Also try the Jug Bay Wetlands area for good fishing and scenery.
    Almost all of the upper reaches of the Western Shore tributaries can hold crappie, but these fish have a low tolerance for salinity so you will not find many farther downstream.
    There are also a multitude of freshwater impoundments in Maryland where crappie lurk, especially Urieville and Unicorn Lakes and spillways. Find a full listing of all the inland waters available plus listings of the species that frequent them at http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/hotspots/index.aspx.

The new fishing year is blossoming before us. Since the passing of the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) on Dec. 21, 2014, our daily dose of sunshine has grown. January 8 gives us eight hours and 11 minutes, a trend in the right direction. We might not notice the accumulation of extra sunlight every day, but the fish do. It is one of the prime drivers of their urge to spawn.
    Crappie (properly pronounced with a broad a) are generally the first fish in the Tidewater to feel that stirring and start to move to the shallows. They are also known as calico bass, speck, speckled perch and, because of delicate mouth structure, paper mouth. That’s a point of anatomy to be considered when making the decision whether to derrick a hooked fish up out of the water or land it with a net.
    One of Maryland’s most overlooked fish, crappie are also good eating. Therein lies part of the problem of finding good crappie water: Their fans are loath to share that information. However, I can offer a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
    Now is not too soon to start looking. Any day temperate enough to tempt you out will be a good day to try. Crappie tend to bite early and late in the day, so that’s the first thing to take into consideration. I recommend scouting sites starting in the early afternoon (when it’s warmer) and fishing early mornings only on locations that has proven productive.
    Light to medium-light spin tackle with six- to eight-pound monofilament will be sufficient. Specs will take minnows of all types, but smaller ones are usually best. Try to harvest the minnows yourself with a dip net or a baited minnow trap, particularly from areas close to where you’re fishing. Fish the baits under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Concentrate on water 10 feet or less in depth.
    Since crappie have a larger mouth than most pan fish, any hook size from a #6 to a #1 will work. Thinner diameter wire hooks are superior because they are easier on the smaller minnows and keep them lively longer. No leaders are necessary.
    Night crawlers and red wigglers are two more fine crappie baits. Fish them the same way you would the minnow, under a bobber or on high-low rigs. Crappie are schooling fish. When you hook up one, there should generally be others in the immediate vicinity.
    Concentrate along shorelines of the fresher areas of local tributaries, targeting downed trees, submerged brush or tangles of floating debris. Bridges, piers, docks and other constructed water structures are also prime holding areas. Target deeper water during low tides when fish tend to congregate in the river’s holes and pools. When the water warms up past 50 degrees, these fish will be more likely to take a lure. For now, live bait is best.
    Crappie are widely distributed in Maryland. On the Eastern Shore the Wye Mills impoundment — as well as the stream (and bridge) below the spillway — is a good place to look for big crappie. The Tuckahoe River is also a prime location, again both the impoundment and the waters below it.
    The Upper Choptank is a particularly good tributary for a hot bite in early springtime. Greensboro is a great place to try, especially if you have a small boat. Going upstream and targeting laydowns, tree stumps and submerged brush will generally get you some nice fish. Higher up the river at Red Bridges can also be excellent for shore-bound sports.
    The Pocomoke River near Snow Hill can be outstanding. One of the better fly and light tackle guides on the Chesapeake, Kevin Josenhans specializes in fishing that river just for crappie this time of year. Check out his blog at http://josenhansflyfishingblog.com/ for an early season report.
    On the Western Shore, the Patuxent is one of the better rivers. Starting at Wayson’s Corner and up to Queen Anne’s Bridge and Governor’s Bridge, you’ll find good spec territories somewhere along the way. Also try the Jug Bay Wetlands area for good fishing and scenery.
    Almost all of the upper reaches of the Western Shore tributaries can hold crappie, but these fish have a low tolerance for salinity so you will not find many farther downstream.
    There are also a multitude of freshwater impoundments in Maryland where crappie lurk, especially Urieville and Unicorn Lakes and spillways. Find a full listing of all the inland waters available plus listings of the species that frequent them at http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/hotspots/index.aspx.

Great opportunities and satisfying careers for students of horticulture

Did you know that horticultural crops and services are major income-producing agricultural industries in Maryland? The green industries alone — including nursery plants, greenhouse crops, garden centers and landscape contracting — are the second largest agricultural income-producing industries behind only poultry. Horticulture includes fruits, vegetables, nursery crops, greenhouse crops, Christmas trees, landscape contracting, and garden center and arboretum management. 
    Horticulture is no longer trial-by-error agriculture. Horticulturists must be able to identify plants and know their growth requirements as well as the most efficient methods of producing them. They must also be able to identify and learn to control insects, diseases and weeds by using improved cultural methods such as biological systems, monitoring and properly using pesticides when necessary. The horticulturist is an environmentalist, aware of environmental restrictions so as not to become a contributor to pollution. Horticulture is a science learned through higher education and hands-on experience.
    The horticultural industries offer excellent opportunities for students with advanced training in plant science, soil science, entomology and pathology.
    In 2012, it was estimated that there were six to eight job opportunities for each student graduating with plant and/or soil science majors. Job opportunities include teaching, management, sales, research, production, consulting, horticulture therapy, landscaping and legislative support. Workplaces include arboretums and botanical gardens as well as farms, greenhouses and garden centers.
    All of the fruit, vegetables, nuts that we consume 365 days each year have to be produced, processed and transported under the supervision of people with plant-science experience. All of the flowers that decorate our homes, as well as all of the ornamentals that embellish our landscapes, were propagated and grown in a greenhouse or nursery.
    We enjoy eating fresh produce and seeing live plants throughout the year because of technological advances through horticulture.


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

The sky is awash in the sun’s absence

While winter has only just begun, it’s heartening to know that a little more sunshine is creeping into our lives day by day. Since a month ago, we’ve gained 15 minutes of light at day’s end, with sunset now after 5pm. Monday marked the latest sunrise of the year, at 7:25, and although it’s a slow go at first, that time will inch earlier hereafter. Heck, before you know it will be summer.
    The winter moon wanes through morning skies, reaching last quarter before dawn Tuesday, when it hovers less than two degrees north of the blue-white star Spica. Look for the two high in the south around 6am that morning. Look to the southeast for early-rising Saturn, which is roughly a dozen degrees above the red-giant Antares.
    Jupiter rises around 8pm, but it is high over the west horizon in the hour before sunrise. Look to its left for the backwards question mark known as the Sickle of Leo, punctuated by brilliant Regulus at its base.
    The real show-stoppers are Mercury and Venus, which will be within one degree of each other low in the southwest shortly after sunset most of the week. The two planets are at their closest Saturday, a mere 0.7 degrees apart. You should have no trouble spotting Venus, which outshines everything else visible and is more than a dozen times brighter than its neighbor. Even so, Mercury is one of the brighter objects in the heavens shining at magnitude –0.8. Look for them above the southwest horizon about 45 minutes after sundown.
    Mars, too, joins the fray, well to the upper left of Mercury and Venus. The red planet is no match for either of its kin, but its ruddy tint easily sets it apart from the similarly bright stars around it. Mars sets around 8pm.
    As darkness settles, the unmistakable hourglass figure of Orion the hunter appears above the southeast horizon. By 10pm, he stands high in the south, facing his quarry the bull Taurus to the west. Orion boasts two of the 10 brightest stars: Fiery Betelgeuse marks the shoulder of the hunter’s upraised arm, while icy Rigel marks his opposite foot.
    Perhaps most noticeable, however, are Orion’s three tightly aligned belt stars. Follow these stars toward the horizon and they point to the brightest star of all, Sirius in the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog. Another grouping of stars hangs from Orion’s belt, marking the hunter’s sword. One of these, appearing as a fuzzy patch of light, is no star at all but rather a stellar nursery, the Orion Nebula.

Knowledge makes power

The horticultural green industries — nursery, landscaping and greenhouse crops — are the second largest agricultural industry, second to poultry in Maryland and third in the nation. With home gardening the number one hobby, it is no wonder that the demand for trained horticulturists is so high.  
    Gardening is therapeutic, and those who partake in it realize great satisfaction from watching plants grow as well as enjoying the flowers, fruits or vegetables they produce.
    Nowadays, gardening is no longer limited to backyard plots. More than 80 percent of plants are grown in containers on decks, patios, balconies and windowsills or under artificial lights. Plastics have made it possible to design and manufacture containers that resist freezing and provide good drainage while looking attractive. Soilless light-weight rooting media, packaged in convenient-sized bags or boxes, are weed-free and engineered to satisfy the growing needs of most plants. Some containers can even keep the rooting media moist for several weeks.
    Advances in fertilizers in both organic and inorganic forms make it possible to limit the need to apply fertilizer on a timely schedule. Slow-release fertilizers are balanced to supply the needs of each nutrient based on well-established research.
    Greenhouses for home use were once expensive to build and maintain because they were covered with glass that was frequently broken by accident or by hail. Today’s small home-type greenhouses can be built inexpensively and covered with double-layer polyethylene or composites that can be shaped using a box cutter. These greenhouses are easily heated. Some of the plastic coverings can be used for several years, while composites have been known to last 20 years or more. Greenhouses allow you to start your own transplants for the garden and can be used to grow winter crops such as short-day onions, spinach, lettuce, radishes and Swiss chard with minimum heat.
    Many home gardeners are now starting to use low tunnels, small hoops 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 inches wide, in their gardens or raised beds. The tunnels allow them to start growing plants at least one month earlier in the spring and extend the fall growing season by at least a month. Clear polyethylene covers the hoops and is anchored to the ground by soil.
    A new method called Aerogation Green Wall Systems even grows plants on walls. These plants are grown in containers mounted to the wall; air from the room is forced through the rooting media, cleaning the air of impurities while humidifying and oxygenating it.
    Horticulture continues to evolve. When I joined University of Maryland’s Department of Horticulture in 1962, 80 percent of all nursery plants were grown in the ground. Container plants were mostly grown in greenhouses in clay pots. The rooting media consisted mostly of sterilized soil and peat moss. Plants were fertilized mostly with dry fertilizers such as 10-10-10 or 10-6-4 or liquid 20-20-20 using a hose-on-nozzle. Greenhouses were covered with glass and heated mostly by steam or forced hot water.
    Horticultural technology has made many dramatic changes and created many opportunities. The demand for trained horticulturists is greater now than ever before. Anyone can dig a hole, but it takes a good understanding of plant science to grow plants efficiently, protect them from insects and diseases and use them properly.


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