Garden Plot: Get ‘sappy’ at the Frederick Maple Syrup Fest

‘Tis the season for trees that are sweet — or at least trees whose sap is sweet. To celebrate that sap, the Frederick County, Maryland, Forestry Board invites visitors to learn how maple syrup is made during their 50th anniversary Maple Syrup Festival at Cunningham Falls State Park, just west of Thurmond.

As the Forestry Board explains, “deciduous trees shed their leaves in the fall and begin storing energy in their root system in the form of starch.” The following spring, these starches are converted into sugars and move up into the ‘sapwood’ of the tree on their eventual journey to the canopy, according to the Forestry Board. In some trees, especially sugar maple, this sap has a high sugar content, and is collected and boiled down to produce maple syrup, they said.

The Forestry Board will celebrate this annual running of the sap on Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15, and the following weekend, March 21 and 22, at Cunningham Falls State Park with demonstrations of tree tapping and, of course, maple syrup tastings.

And you get to visit the tallest cascading waterfall in all of Maryland. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day and admission is $3 in cash per person.

Boxelder syrup? Who knew?

The Frederick County Forestry Board added this interesting bit of trivia to their release about the upcoming maple syrup festivals: “Over the years, additional tree varieties have been tapped for syrup, creating a booming niche market. Black walnut, butternut, sweet birch, sycamore, red maple, hickory, black maple and boxelder trees are being tapped for syrup, providing a wide array of flavors for all of us pancake lovers.”

Woods chips + dirt = future compost

Steve in soggy Ellicott City writes: “Last fall we had a large ash tree taken down and the stump ground up, as the tree had succumbed to the emerald ash borer. A 12-inch high mound of dirt and wood chips from the tree remained. We would like your advice on what to do with it. We thought about spreading it out in beds in the yard and then planting grass seed, or planting a tree or bushes it in. Or are we smarter to leave the mound alone?”

Much smarter Steve. A pile of dirt and wood chips will slowly decompose into good soil/compost. But if you spread it out in planting areas before that decomposition, it will suck up all the soil nitrogen and slowly starve the plants. Grass seed is an especially bad idea for two reasons:

  1. Grass is especially nitrogen hungry and would suffer the most.
  2. Grass seed sown in the cold soils of spring rarely — if ever — succeeds long-term. The seed of cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass should be sown in late August, not in the Spring.

Don’t boil sidewalk weeds

Steve in soggy Ellicott City, Maryland, continues: “I have read that weeds in sidewalk cracks can be killed by pouring boiling salty water on them — specifically a quarter cup of salt in 2 quarts of water. Following that, just sprinkling salt in the cracks will keep the weeds from appearing again. Is that a good idea?”

It is an extremely bad idea, Steve. How did you plan on getting the boiling water from the kitchen to the sidewalk without sloshing some of it out of the pot and onto your hands, arms, and/or legs? Boiling water burns are one of the most painful injuries you can suffer — and the pain lasts for a long time. And salt is bad for the actual material of the sidewalk, any nearby wanted plants and the environment.

Swap out sidewalk weeds

Steve in soggy Elliott City wants to get rid of the weeds that grow in the cracks in his sidewalk.
One good answer is to use a flame weeder to incinerate the unwanted greenery. You screw a small propane canister into the short end of the Shepherd’s Hook-like device, click the igniter and a small flame comes out the long end, allowing you to roast and toast your weeds away while you remain standing.

But new weeds will always appear, so a better long-term solution is to deliberately plant something of your choice in these cracks. There are many low-growing perennial groundcovers perfect for this job, including many that are aromatic, like creeping thyme. “Stepables” is the brand name for a wide selection of these plants, available at local independent garden centers.

Mike McGrath was Editor-in-Chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated Public Radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and Garden Editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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