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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of April 13, 2023

If you have just started your gardens, I hope you include spring ephemerals in your part-shade flower beds. Plus lots of other early spring tips.

And ah, the warmth!  We’ve had bright, warm sunny days with more to come. However, don’t be fooled… cold weather can still materialize. I feel a bit dorky but truly, the weather and the weather forecast have everything to do with my gardening plans.

Warmer temperatures mean flower buds on shrubs will start to swell. Cautiously remove mulch around roses and other tender shrubs like Butterfly bush (Buddleia) or Bluebeard (Caryopteris.) Don’t prune until you can see exactly where leaves are starting to open. Cut back to the swelling leaf buds those branches that were killed by the winter cold.

I wanted to be outside when the weather called last week.  It made for a great time to prune late season bloomers.  They bloom on wood that forms in the spring and summer. This past week I attacked a Hibiscus syriacus (the hardy shrub, Rose of Sharon). My shrub had previously split apart and, being ignored, rooted into a sprawling mess of late-summer pink blooms.  Often thought dead because they leaf out late, Rose of Sharon shrubs come back with vigor and a lovely show of August blooms.

This Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) split into three distinct branches and then rooted some time ago. The author has removed some of the ground-hugging branches to lift the whole plant higher and to make room for easier maintenance underneath. Cut branches are circled in red in the background. Over half the woody material has been pruned away but this shrub can take it.

My messy mound of Hibiscus had too much thistle and golden-rod nestled weedily among the thick ground-hugging branches. I took drastic action. I cut back over half the existing woody structure because this is an OLD plant with plenty of root mass and it’s still dormant with a full growing season ahead. I pulled up woody trunks that had rooted into the ground. It was not a lazy activity, but I enjoyed doing it! Pruning now will create a healthier plant this summer. By clearing the area around the growing branches, I can EASILY mow or use a string trimmer to cut back the troublesome weedy volunteers that I wish to control.

I checked on the seeds that I started last weekend. They are all up! Now the trick is to prevent damping off but still keep seedlings warm and soil moist. I lifted the dome and added some water to the tray under seed cells. I’ll check the moisture level every day or so.

I learned that the carrot seed row I planted outside needs to stay moist until the seeds germinate. If allowed to dry out, the seeds are toast; that is, dried up! The warm weather this week is drying the soil surface. I will be watering daily (and keeping straw over the row) to make sure the soil is moist enough for the carrot seed to germinate. If you toasted your carrot seed, fear not! Plant another row and keep the soil moist. Carrots will need 60 to 80 days from seeding before they are ready to harvest depending on the variety.

Reminder – it’s a fine time to start seeds of tomato, eggplant and sweet peppers indoors so they will be ready to acclimate to the outdoors in late May/early June. Or you can purchase a few started already from garden centers and farmers’ markets later and right before planting time. Lazy or practical?

Ephemeral Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) has a distinct foliage – a single leaf blade that is spotted like the back of a trout (top). These appear in April along sunny outcroppings in our local woods before deciduous leaves on trees emerge. The yellow flower, as seen in this nursery grown pot (bottom), is a sweet, nodding lily shape. Made up of small bulbs, a mat of Trout Lily leaves will disappear by late May but reappear next year if left undisturbed. It takes a number of years before a stand matures enough to bloom.

If you have just started your gardens, I hope you include spring ephemerals in your part-shade flower beds. Spring ephemerals are perennial plants that show up around now and bloom before leaves form on our deciduous trees. These plants take quick advantage of early spring sunshine and make themselves available to the early pollinators of the season.

Pollinating flies, moths, wasps, and bees emerge as the temperature rises. They need pollen. The native spring ephemerals draw these early season insects by blooming, mostly in April, but will be done and either disappear completely or leave behind distinct foliage to create food through the growing season. Spring ephemerals are akin to flowering bulbs but the flowers and foliage are more delicate. Plant them where you can enjoy their brief show on a daily basis.

Thank you to friendly readers who have made a point of mentioning that they enjoy this column. I hope everyone feels capable of being a gardener. Mistakes are made. Lessons are learned. Nature will continue whether we direct it or not.

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I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up or daisies to self-sow.  I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season.  I look for beautiful low-maintenance plants that thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.

 

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