Thursday, May 23, 2024

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HomeReal EstateHome & GardenTHE LAZY BERKSHIRE...


On a dry morning (if we get a dry morning), peek at what you have growing. The recent rains should have helped your gardens get a good start, unless they have been flooded out.


I love this time of year when every day has new growth to see and celebrate! My one primrose—not sure why I only have one—has two flowers with more to come. Hooray!

We have passed the mid-April mark, and spring perennials have started to sprout in earnest. I have clumps of catchfly (Silene dioicus), poppies, columbine, geranium, and creeping phlox all greening up nicely. These will put out buds and flowers soon. My bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) plants have started to send up fragile fronds, as have the Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) and tarragon. Pointy tips of Hosta also poke through the soil surface.

The wildflower “Dutchman’s Breeches” (Dicentra cucullaria) have appeared in our neighboring woods. The foliage is like the bleeding heart. I knew when I saw it in the woods that my plants should be emerging soon.

Wild Dutchman’s breeches’ fronds (Dicentra cucullaria) on left and bleeding heart (Dicentra specatabilis) on right. The wildflower may not be as showy, but a stand of this pretty plant in the woods can still be breathtaking.

On a dry morning (if we get a dry morning), peek at what you have growing. The recent rains should have helped your gardens get a good start, unless they have been flooded out. If things continue to be underwater, plan to dig up your prized plants and improve the drainage around the planting area with trenches, gravel, and compost. And increase compost in the beds to improve soil drainage.

Review those garden dreams you had in January and February and get your plants in the ground now. Newly planted perennials, shrubs, and trees prefer cool, rainy weather to get established. Add in early flowering shrubs and perennials, especially native ones, to your garden plans. By adding a few native plants, you will support hundreds of pollinators that add to the ecological food web and support the health of our forests and wildlife.

Highbush blueberry is a native shrub to the Taconic and Berkshire hills, and it can tolerate some shade! Plus, they offer pretty bell-type white flowers, fruit, and terrific fall color. However, some swaths of the Berkshires have higher pH than blueberries need to grow. Get a soil test to be sure blueberry bushes will grow where you want them. A pH of 4.8 to 5.5 is ideal. Most garden soils (usually around pH 6.5) will need acidification every few years to support blueberry plants. But soil with pH over 7.0 might need more acidification than you care to do. If you have sweet soil, don’t overwork it; stop by the farmer’s market and support our local blueberry growers in July and August.

I discovered new growth on a container of dormant plants in the basement, so I brought the pot into the warmth and light of my family room. I finally determined this mystery plant was Salvia “Victoria Blue” that had resprouted. About five weeks later, this plant showed evidence of a spittle bug! To avoid this type of problem and similar overwintering pests, wash off bulbs and roots of dormant plants before repotting into fresh potting mix. Treat resprouted plants to fertilizer, regular water, and bright light for a healthy start. And observe your plants regularly and be diligent about pinching off any pest-ridden plant material.

This annual Salvia resprouted after being dormant in the basement. It could use some more TLC. Since it was stressed (needing more water and stronger light), it was probably more susceptible to the spittle bug that overwintered with it (on right).

Outside last weekend, I dodged the rain showers and placed peony hoops round the emerging red tips of my peony plants. I remembered that I had mistakenly placed the larger double hoop around the smaller peony last year, and I took a photo as a reminder for this year. I found the photo in my computer storage and identified which plant needed the larger support. Victory! Use your phone’s camera to record anything from plant placement to sunlight and shadow, to the timing or appearance of seed sprouting.

In my search for sprouting perennials, I have spied large collections of sprouting garlic mustard seeds. Boooo! I confirmed these were invasive garlic mustard by pulling the sprouts and crushing them between my fingers. Confirmed—they smelled of garlic. I will attack these soon with a hoe or gloved hand to prevent the sprouts from maturing. Nearby, I have also found the seedlings of touch-me-not jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that I will try to leave alone. The jewelweed is a native annual that thrives in moist and shady parts of my yard. Deer and rabbits will eat the jewelweed but not all of it. I want to nurture it along as part of my mission to encourage native plants.

Early weed identification can be helpful. Garlic mustard seedlings are on the left, and jewelweed seedlings are on the right.

I still have more winter rye to turn over in one raised garden bed, but I successfully turned two of my three. The last will have to wait until another dry weekend day.

I made another discovery! Smack dab in the middle of the bed, I unearthed an overwintering pupa of something, I knew not what! It was almost three inches long. A Google image search led to an African hawk moth that rarely succeeds in overwintering in Europe. Well, that couldn’t be right as my property is pretty far from Africa and Europe. However, I know that tomato hornworms develop into a different hawk moth, and I was turning the soil where tomatoes were last year. Sure enough. A search for the tomato hornworm pupa image turned up (haha) the exact match. I took that pupa out of the garden and placed it where a bird could find it—I hope.

The Lazy Berkshire Gardener found this treasure while turning over winter rye in the vegetable bed. It is a hawk-moth pupa—the next stage after tomato hornworm. That is a squash seed to the left for scale.

I turn the soil in my vegetable beds only once a year to limit the disruption to all the microorganisms living there. But doing a little at the right time helps me identify and reduce pests without resorting to pesticides. That’s right, a Lazy Gardener win!

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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I mentioned spongy moth caterpillars briefly last week. I hear Columbia County in New York has a tremendous outbreak now.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.