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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of February 29, 2024

Garden centers have us gardeners pegged: We want color and we want it now!

I love starting this column with a pretty bloom. The florist hydrangea is a Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea) that will not tolerate freezing. I treat mine as a houseplant that goes dormant for a few months from late fall into early winter. Do not expect to add this hydrangea to your landscape unless you live in Delaware or cozy parts of Long Island, N.Y.

A Lenten rose (Helleborus) provides a show for weeks indoors as a houseplant but will survive beautifully as a perennial when planted in the landscape in May. Plus, the perennial bloom appears early—in March or April!

However, a Lenten rose (Helleborus) will grow successfully if planted in your Zone 5 garden. These early perennial flowers rival spring flowering blooms in their hardiness and striking appearance. Just about the time you think nothing will ever emerge from the garden, a hellebore will show its beauty. Garden centers offer these early blooming perennials now as houseplants, and by May the flowers will have faded. But this perennial can be planted in a shade-to-part-shade part of the garden around about May. The large leaves make a pretty groundcover that lasts the whole growing season. Plus, over time they will spread!

Garden centers have us gardeners pegged: We want color and we want it now! Spring bulb shows and floral displays entice us through March. Yes, rejoice in the color and fragrance, but also make note of the varieties and colors. Take photos; then make your list for fall purchases. Bulbs forced into bloom usually do not transplant well because the bulb is spent. If you plant a pot of forced bulbs into your landscape, plan to water the foliage and fertilize the bulbs through the growing season. You might be able to recreate their stunning display in subsequent years, but count it as an experiment.

Seedlings are up! These boxes need to be moved to a warmer part of the house. Despite the heat mats, the air temperature around the plants is only 55 degrees. They will do better with bright light and warmer air.

I have been looking for signs of spring-flowering bulbs on my property, but nothing yet. I have heard reports of crocus popping up as well as snowdrops. Take a look to see what is peeking through in your gardens. To reassure myself, I checked on my seed starts from last week. Success! Bunching onions, arugula, cilantro, basil, oregano, and dill have all emerged. To prevent fungus growth around the seedling stem, I sprinkle sphagnum peat moss. You could also use chicken “grit,” a fine gravel. These materials break up moisture beads that could otherwise encourage the growth of dampening-off fungus. That little bit of mold will weaken and kill seedling stems.

Keep tending to pruning chores. I visited my rugosa roses and found multiple rose galls. These stem growths form around the larvae of a tiny cynipid wasp. Rose galls could deplete the health of the roses, but I have found relatively few. I will continue to monitor. I have cut the galls off the shrubs. The galls have tiny larvae that would emerge right around the time of leaf break on the roses. Adults emerge and lay eggs on new plant growth to start the process again. I expect wild roses nearby have more galls and larvae ready to re-attack my roses. The damage is aesthetic only. I will continue to cut out the relatively few galls each year.

Rose wasp galls on rugosa roses. This doesn’t seem like an infestation, but the Lazy Berkshire Gardener wants to keep this damage to a minimum. Galls are pruned out and the larvae are exposed for the neighborhood bluebirds to find.

Oaks, maples, and perennial goldenrod will also develop galls from insect pests. Though the galls can be unsightly to some, they usually do little harm to the host plant. I will cut the galls in half and place near my bluebird house in hopes that the bluebirds find and consume the larval treat.

Inspect flowering shrubs now for crossed or broken branches. Prune one or more rubbing branches now by trimming back to the base of the plant. You won’t lose that many flowers and you will have a better chance of seeing the branches that need cutting now before they are covered in green leaves. For more dramatic pruning or shearing back overgrown shrubs, wait until after bloom to prune.

Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) egg mass at top and left. Spongy moth egg mass is tan to the lower right. Photo courtesy of Gregory Hoover. If you spot a SLF egg mass, report it and learn more about how to destroy it here.

And while you are out inspecting the landscape, look for spongy moth egg masses and spotted lanternfly egg masses. Spongy moth has been around for decades, but the spotted lanternfly has only recently become established in a few locations in Western Massachusetts (Springfield in 2022, Holyoke and Agawam in 2023). The horribly destructive spotted lanternfly prefers tree of heaven plants that don’t grow easily in Berkshire county. However, once established, the larvae of this pest will destroy a wide variety of trees by sucking the sap and could seriously affect timber, grape, and maple syrup agriculture in our region. Review what to know about spotted lanternfly here.

March has many opportunities to learn about garden tasks before you really get out there and have to do them. Here are a few links: Berkshire Botanical Garden presents the 27th Annual Winter Lecture with Fergus Garrett on biodiversity on March 2 at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School; Ward’s Nursery has a series of free garden classes through the month starting March 9 (with yours truly talking up composting!); and the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners offer symposia in Hampden, Berkshire, and Franklin counties on March 23, April 6, and April 13. All these learning opportunities will help you scratch the gardening itch without rushing the season.

Lastly, I enjoy theater, but I am not a fan of the dramatic swings in weather patterns. Our recent warm days will soon be followed by bitter cold. The flowering bulbs, witch hazel, and forsythia will flower but not die if there is a cold snap. Be cautious about planting too early. Don’t get ahead of yourselves! Relax, it’s spring in the Berkshires.

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.


The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.

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It seems this week has all the important gardening tasks scheduled for early morning.


A good editor knows what to excise, and what to enhance. With that in mind, I grabbed my chainsaw, and removed a magnolia.


Be lazy and take time to enjoy the flowers and the wildlife they support.

The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.