The Horticulture Report

Spring Ephemerals Bring Hope 
Andrea E, May 2024

What on earth are ephemerals? Well, they are a group of plants that last for a short time in the early spring. They are also herbaceous plants (which means they have leaves and stems that die back when weather gets warm) They typically grow in forests or woodlands, often while sunlight reaches the forest floor, before the canopy trees leaf out.   These plants have a short life cycle, with their growth, flowering, and seed production occurring rapidly in the early spring months. 

Spring ephemerals play a crucial role in early spring ecosystems, providing nectar and pollen for early emerging pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles, which may have limited food sources during this time.  They also improve the soil, structure, enrich the soil’s fertility, adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil when they decompose. Due to co-evolution, many of these native spring wildflowers have developed special relationships with the companions in their community.

Lets take a look at a few of my favorites ephemerals:

  1.  Mayapples, or Podophyllum peltatum, are perennial plants that emerge in damp wood land in early spring as a single stem about 12 inches tall with leaves that unfurl like a parasol. They spread by rhizomes which means they will cover a nice sized plot.

    Underneath the leaves a single white flower will form and if pollinated, it will produce a  yellow-green fruit, the size of a small apple. Thus the name Mayapple. Deer find this plant toxic. Believe it or not, I have a colony of Mayapples on my northside, close to the house and they are able to withstand the summer heat, lasting til late August. 

    Turtles love the fruit from Mayapples and then they leave and poop out the seeds a  distance away, which helps in the colonization of new areas. This is called mutualistic interaction, benefitting both species.

  2. Spring beauties, Claytonia virginica, is one of the earliest flowers to appear in spring. They are six inches high, bearing small delicate flowers that have five white petals with pink veins. Preferring moist part-shade, they grow happily in woodlands, meadows, and along streams.

    They also like Wiltondale yards where the grass and native flowers are allowed to grow in a part shade environment. If allowed to grow over time, they will form  a colony which resembles a carpet of pink and white flowers during the months of April and May. This spring plant closes its flowers at night to protect its pollen from cold and wetness. Since pollinators are only out during the day, this is ideal for bees and butterflies. The mining bee, Andrena erigeniae relies totally on the pollen and nectar collected from Spring Beauties to take back to her young. Ripe seeds are ejected up to four feet away from the Mother plant but the real dispersal comes from ants who carry them away.

  1. Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica can grow up to two feet tall with large rounded  leaves and nodding flower clusters on arched stems. Pink flower buds open to bell shaped flowers that are a beautiful blue. Like most of the ephemerals, bluebells grow best in rich, moist soil.  They tend to form large colonies in the woods or along the forest  edge. They are very attractive to long-tongued bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. 

    Bluebells like growing with oak trees;  the oaks are usually the last trees to leaf out in the spring, giving the ephemeral longer to develop its seeds in the dappled sun before going  dormant again in early summer.

These are just a few of the spring ephemerals that play such a vital role in maintaining ecosystem function, supporting biodiversity, and enriching the natural world. They deal with habitat loss, invasive species, overcollection, illegal harvesting, pollution, and climate change.  

Protecting and conserving these species is essential for the health and resilience of ecosystems and the well being of both wildlife and humans.

So………try to find some time to enjoy a casual walk along a path in the woods this spring and delight in the sights and smells of these precious plants during their brief visit.

Spring Cleaning 
Andrea E, March 2024

In memory of Dr. Ladd, Horticulture Professor, Towson University,  who always gave us the most up to date Hort Reports.  He was our beloved only male member back in the 90s.

Our long winter of discontent, except for garden catalogue cruising is coming to an end. We already have bulbs sending up strong shoots with other plants shrugging off dormancy on the brink of new growth. I have daffodils, hellebores, and crocus blooming. Freezing is less likely with trending warmer days. Several of our tasks are best accomplished prior to the growing season. Initially, just take a walk around the yard to access what is needed to repair from winter damage.


If you have hard scape incorporated into your planted areas, it is a good time to make repairs to stone and brick.  Paved walks may have heaved up and may need aligning.  Decks and patios may require power washing and outside furniture soaped down and rinsed. Dawn works great by the way. 
Bird baths need cleaning and bird feeders should be wiped down with a 10% bleach solution to kill bacteria and diseases. Maryland recommendation is to have bird feeders hung outside from November through April. Hummingbird feeders, taken down at last year’s first frost can be put up again.
Reorganize shed/garage and sharpen and clean tools.
Pruning is good for plant training, plant health, growth control/safety.
Evergreens can be pruned anytime of the year.  I just sheared back my acuba.  Spring flowering trees and shrubs such as redbuds, wild hydrangeas, and red twig dogwood do best trimmed right after blooming. January is the best time to trim deciduous trees unless weather is bad. Simply wait until February or early March. Performing the cutting while trees are dormant will add vigor without causing trauma. I finished pruning my crepe myrtles and Japanese Maple last week. Sterilize pruning tools regularly with isopropyl alcohol to avoid diseases. 
Fruit trees should be pruned before buds appear to avoid stressing the plant or diminishing the fruit quality.  Finally trim ornamental grasses all the way to the ground, leaving only one inch above soil line. 
Leaves left in the gardens for insects and birds can be removed as well as the weeds. One aggressive winter annual that pops out in winter and will cover turf as well as beds is Hairy Bittercress. (pass around plant, one with blooms and one without). If you can pull it out and it does come out easily) before it blooms, better are your chances to keep it from throwing seeds all over the yard and multiplying next winter.
Test soil every 3-4 years.  Readings for soil ph, phosphorus, kcl, calc, and mag are performed to test the health of your soil.  Once you have the results, amend accordingly. Maryland Extension will recommend amendments. When applying, break up soil and add layer of compost or organic matter.  
Early spring is the best time to divide fall blooming plants, prior to new growth. Late summer and fall is the best time to divide spring/summer blooms.  Moisten soil and remove dead debris, then insert two garden forks, back to back in the middle to separate plant into two sections. Dig hole twice as deep and wide, moisten, and throw in some organic matter before placing plant.
These are a few garden tasks so when active planting is in full season, you will be ready to go. Any questions? Refer to University Maryland Extension Home and Garden information center. 

Maryland’s Big Tree,  Right Here In Wiltondale
Andrea E,  April 2024

This past winter I have been working on acquiring the 20 hrs of continuing education units I need to maintain Master Naturalist Certification. The subject of one of my classes was trees. You know, learning to identify them by size, bark structure, leaf type, ecology, and habitat.

On one of my neighborhood walks, I stumbled upon a particular tree right on Yarmouth Road that needs mentioning. It is a white oak, living at 514 Yarmouth Road; it has lived through many generations of families with this address, and a horse farm before the neighborhood was established in the 1930’s. It was here prior to the settlement of Baltimore and Towson. As an aside, Wiltondale was the favorite horse at the farm, thus the neighborhood name.

The approximate date the tree sprouted was 1673, 351 years ago. It is now 17 feet/6 inches in circumference and 68 feet high, although it has been topped several times over the years to keep it from ramming into the home which sits feet away.

This tree is part of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources “Big Tree” program, and was celebrated as the Bicentennial tree.

It hasn’t been without it’s struggles as it has lived with anthraxnose, which is a fungus. Fortunately its current owners have it sprayed and pruned as it may need each year, although last year, as many of you may remember, a large branch broke off in one of our big windy storms, covering Yarmouth Road and and taking out a parked car, along with mangling two new maples across the street.

The car was totaled but the maples were saved. A tree service did a bit of cleaning up where the branch disconnected from the trunk but other than that, it was left to heal on its own.

In general, the oak tree services over a thousand types of insects, bees, and other pollinators plus birds. Birds love to nest there. The oak is the most valuable of all trees when it comes to supporting nature.

So, plant one…enjoy the ones we have planted already, and by all means, give them a hug of appreciation for their contribution to our planet.