Sunday, July 14, 2024

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

By mid-June, we have reached late spring. Gardeners are faced with pressure from pests and will likely be ready to take a rest from planting and enjoy harvesting instead.

Luckily, we have things to harvest. Garlic bulbs planted last fall will shortly, if they haven’t already, send up the curly stems of a garlic flower, called scapes. These intriguing stems should be cut back to the first leaf node to ensure that plant energy gets sent to the expanding bulb (your garlic cloves) underground. Luckily, the scapes are edible. Chop up for stir fry or puree and add to soups.

Healthy garlic bulbs will be sprouting flower stems or garlic scapes. Cut these back to a leaf node (at red mark for example) and enjoy the mild flavor by chopping up for a puree, pesto, or stir fry.

While this week has been cloudy and relatively cool, warm weather will sap the moisture from your soil quickly as the days get longer. The easiest way to have healthy plants is to provide regular water. Always water soil, not foliage. A water wand has a shutoff near the handle and extends your reach either down to plant level, across a bed, or up to reach into hanging baskets. I might spray off dirt, dust, or mulch that mars the leaf surface, but I focus the water primarily down onto the soil until it seeps into the surface. Then I will take another pass and wait for the water to seep in again. By watering soil, you reduce chances for fungal spread and moisture evaporation.

Easier to do while plants are small, water the soil instead of watering the foliage from overhead. You will reduce the chance of fungal diseases and reduce water loss from evaporation.

If you are like me, you spot a new plant or a pretty combination and you want to tuck it into your garden somewhere. Just remember, new plants under trees need extra water to compete with established tree roots. In general, a new perennial, shrub, or tree will take extra attention when surrounded by more established plants.

Plants in bloom need to produce a high amount of food to maintain healthy growth. For example, apply slow-release fertilizer around roses now to help the plant fight pests and continue growing while flowering. Plants grow vigorously now. Visit your climbing roses, hydrangea, clematis, and other vines to wrap them around your trellis or tie to supports depending on the plant. Ties should be loose enough to accommodate thickening stems but strong enough to still support the growth.

The Lazy Berkshire Gardener’s favorite food to grow is more of a category: herbs. Herbs don’t need much attention. Most herbs are weeds (highly adaptable survivors) that have been selected for their ability to enhance our food. They don’t need rich soil, and they don’t need mulch. Quick-draining soil and warm sunshine are usually best.

Another hint about harvesting: Harvest snow peas while pods are flat and sugar snap peas when pods are plump. My peas are barely climbing their mini trellis. Still, I will remember snow peas should be flat and sugar peas should be plump.

Perennial flowers may also want to set fruit, but we gardeners usually want to discourage that in favor of encouraging the growth of a carefully selected and planted perennial. To keep plant energy focused on root and structural growth, you will want to deadhead your perennials. If multiple blooms come off one stem, cut back to the next bud or budded stem. If you have one bud per stem, deadhead by cutting the stem back to the leafy base.

Colorful poppies usually bloom abundantly but briefly. Unless you want to propagate the plant, cut the spent stems back to a leaf node at the plant base. If left to dry, the circled flower heads will be filled with poppy seeds.

My yew hedges have a beautiful, almost chartreuse, layer of fresh growth. I will need to prune them soon to keep them a manageable size. When pruning hedges or any evergreens, leave the bottom wider than the top. This ensures that light reaches all the branches and produces healthy green growth from top to bottom. Also prune back to a sprout of green growth or you may develop dead spots.

As the season warms, pests also emerge. You may see damage on evergreens like stippling of needles or brown sections. They may have spider mites that explode when conditions swing widely from wet to dry. Check needles or leaves of roses with a magnifying lens or try this trick with a sheet of white paper: Hold the paper under a branch and tap the branch. If black specks land on the paper and begin to scamper about, the plant has spider mites. Use horticultural oil at summer weight (read the instructions) to combat the mites.

That said, pests will just get worse for the next few months, and I can’t solve all the pest pressures. The Lazy Berkshire Gardener encourages the environment to help by attracting beneficial insects or bird predators and maintaining soil moisture. Healthy plants can battle many issues themselves. As a gardener, choose to use pest remedies only when damage is overwhelming your young plants and damage is severe. Otherwise, let the plant do the work.

Some strategies are highly effective but still easy. Aphids will appear on roses, butterfly weed, and other fast-growing summer plants, usually on the new growth. The process is fascinating. Ants “herd” the aphids and collect the sweet liquid produced by aphids as they suck a plant’s juices. Where you have aphids, you also have ant herders. A strong stream of water will disrupt the ants and their herd at relatively low expense. Most aphids—and other pests too—work on the undersides of leaves. Concentrate your efforts there.

Ant herders protecting the aphid herd under the leaves of dogwood (Cornus racemosa).

What is the froth about? The spittle seen on new growth did not come from some wayward uncle with a phlegm problem. Spittle bugs form bubbles in the plant fluid as they feed to hide their location. They do not seem to cause significant damage even though very visible. One common spittle bug is Philaenus spumarius. I will wipe the bug off young strawberries and other vegetables but don’t bother with it otherwise.

Spittle bug in a froth of its own making at left. The tiny pest revealed at right.

Pests of concern: Be aware of deer tick nymphs—tiny ticks that are harder to spot but still carry disease. They may only be the size of a pinhead! Use DEET-based repellents on clothes and inspect yourself when coming back indoors. Also, Berkshire County does not have a resident population of spotted lanternfly, but the pest has established colonies in nearby counties. Spotted lanternfly nymphs have unique polka dots all over. Keep vigilant and report any that you find.

From left to right, the four nymphal stages (instars) of the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF). Photo captured from the SLF tip sheet of The Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project, maintained by staff at the Massachusetts Dept. of Agricultural Resources. Image by Tea Montagna.

Father’s Day is Sunday, June 16. Honor the father figures in your life with treasures from your garden—either edible or flowering—or thank them for their garden contributions with a moment of rest! A bench or hammock might allow them to enjoy their handiwork. Happy Father’s Day!

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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In Varna, Bulgaria, the Sea Garden places a forest between the edge of the city and the edge of the sea, so the heavily used beaches feel not a part of the urban footprint, but rather a summer resort.


Water and heat have arrived this week. I welcomed the recent morning rains and also the afternoon rains. Less watering for me to do.


As I walk leisurely about on my day off, I continue to scout for the bigger gardening issues.

The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.