Gardener’s Checklist: Week of May 23, 2020

Get a few heirloom tomato varieties when shopping for tomato transplants to set out in the vegetable garden this Memorial Day weekend. 

Editor’s note: We are delighted to welcome Ron Kujawski and his weekly “Gardener’s Checklist” column to The Berkshire Edge.  Ron’s extensive knowledge as a horticulturist, writer and lecturer has made him a prominent and respected figure in the Berkshires gardening community. This column will appear weekly year round.

To do this week:

* Get a few heirloom tomato varieties when shopping for tomato transplants to set out in the vegetable garden this Memorial Day weekend.  Because of their outstanding flavor, heirloom varieties have become so popular that many garden centers now offer them.

* Put plastic milk jugs (empty ones, please) over tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash, melon, and cucumber transplants.  The jugs act as cloches or mini-greenhouses to protect the seedlings from wind while capturing some of the sun’s warmth to keep the seedlings cozy on these still rather cool nights.

* Sow seeds of sweet corn.  If space allows, include three varieties, an early, mid, and late season variety.  This will extend the harvest season by several weeks.

* Plant catmint (Nepeta x fassenii) in the perennial border.  It is an easy to grow, trouble-free plant that provides season long interest.  The plants will be blooming shortly and continue to bloom until the end of June.  If cut back sharply after the first bloom, they’ll bloom again.  Even without further bloom, the plants have attractive gray-green leaves.  ‘Walker’s Low’ is my favorite variety of catmint.  Our cat likes it too.

* Use a hand lens or magnifying glass to look for the crawlers of pine needle scale, an insect that sucks sap from needles of pines, spruces and firs, causing the needles to drop and branches to die.  Pine needle scale appears as white, oyster shell-shaped scales on needles of the aforementioned trees. Eggs of this insect are now hatching.  The resulting scale-less “babies”, called crawlers, appear rusty-red in color.  They are vulnerable to applications of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Question of the week:

Do ants that crawl on the buds of peony cause harm to the buds or are they necessary for flower buds to open?

Answer: “NO!” to both parts of the question.  Ants are attracted to nectar produced by tiny glands on scales that cover the flower buds.  Also, contrary to popular opinion, ants do not promote opening of the buds. Buds will open with or without ants.

In honor of those men and women who gave their lives in battle for our country, I offer these lines written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Your silent tents of green, 
We deck with fragrant flowers;
 Yours has the suffering been,
 The memory shall be ours.