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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of March 7, 2024

Thankfully, a slow ramp-up in March does force me to stop and form my garden priorities.

What a challenge to be a gardener right now—especially a lazy one! The ground was frozen on Thursday and a mud slick on Sunday. I wanted to leisurely putter around outside on Saturday and Sunday. My best laid plans continue to be wrinkled by fickle weather. Still, I try to be ready to get out there and do a little pruning and a little weeding as time, temperature, and rain allow.

Though my wildflower meadow and traditional flower borders have very little green (except the winter rye cover crop in the veggie beds), I spotted the tips of daffodil and hyacinth leaves poking up as I walked about the yard. I even spotted the tattered leaves of primrose—the only green among some wood chips. All the spring greens will be here soon! If you need reassurance, step into the woods where mosses of all shades and textures positively glow in morning light.

When March landscapes yield only shades of beige, it is time to appreciate the many shades and textures of green in the woods!

Thankfully, a slow ramp-up in March does force me to stop and form my garden priorities. This last weekend I decided to wait on pruning for a few weeks longer. Why wait? Well, the shrubs that will need pruning are young and will put out blooms soon. I could prune now and cut off the blooms, or I could do something else (like weeding), enjoy the blooms this year, and then immediately get into those shrubs and thin the stems. I am not putting it off for three years, just a few weeks. Thinning early in the season will encourage more growth through the summer and more blooms next year. I also ran out of time—I admit it.

Garlic mustard leaves are small in early March. Pull these plants by the roots and all now. They form vast colonies and change the chemical composition of soil. They must be stopped. The leaves are purple now (see pink arrow) because cold soils make it difficult for plants to absorb magnesium. The purplish-red color indicates magnesium deficiency in many early spring perennial leaves.

And, weeding is ideal right now. Days remain relatively cool and mosquito-free (for a bit longer) while the perennial weeds are young and weak. The creeping Charlie (AKA ground ivy) and invasive garlic mustard are about the only things visible in the perennial borders. They are easy to spot and easy to tease out of the soil.

Young plants of invasive bush honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica and hybrids) and oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) will be easier to dig out now from moist spring soil as well. In drier summer soils, these plants’ roots will break off easily and sprout new colonies. Just because you get at them early does not mean you are done. Both these plants need to be cut to the ground repeatedly through the summer and for multiple years to get them under control.

During my walk, I realized that the temperature was definitely above 40 degrees—perfect for spraying some more deer repellent on the raspberries, chokeberry, and my native Cornus alternifolia, which the deer love to nibble. It may make me boring, but I watch the temperature forecast for the day I plan to garden and let that tell me what garden tasks I should do. This past weekend: spraying repellent and weeding.

Next weekend I might broadcast some native milkweed seed or California poppy seed. These need cold stratification—where the seeds need to be chilled for two to four weeks to germinate. I will spread them on some open ground in the meadow and watch what germinates.

Won’t be long and the vegetable garden soil can be worked and prepared for peas! But that is a few weeks away. If you are a little seed crazy, start transplants of swiss chard, lettuce, and early season brassicas—like kale, bok choi, collards, and broccoli. Start indoors and they will be ready to transplant out in mid-April.

On the rainy days, I will keep gardening inside. I monitor the seedlings I started. Once sprouts have appeared, the dome comes off. Soils will dry quickly if you have the trays on heat mats. Better check your trays every few days to be sure the soil is still moist! If the soil is too dry, you can mist the top of the soil, but use your watering can (the one with the small opening that limits water to a trickle) to pour water into the tray below the seedling cells. The cells will absorb the water from below and you avoid disturbing the fragile seedling roots.

Schefflera stems dusted with rooting powder before the Lazy Berkshire Gardener pokes them into damp potting soil in a six-inch pot.

You can take cuttings of houseplants now to grow new ones. I trimmed my schefflera a few weeks ago but didn’t take the time to pot up the cuttings until last weekend. While the cuttings waited for the lazy gardener, they soaked in a vase of fresh water. At planting time, I trimmed off leaves about six inches along the stem and left a little stub to encourage those ends to develop roots. Then, I dusted the cut ends with rooting hormone and slipped the stems into damp potting mix. A few leaves remained to feed the plants new roots. I set the pots back from a southern window in a warm room, and I have watered them to fill any air pockets around the stem. Now, I wait for the schefflera to show signs of new growth on top which tells me roots have started to form in the soil.

Last tips for this week: If you haven’t already, bring in suet feeders at night, or stop feeding birds altogether. Bears are out and about! Your kitchen scraps for composting will need to gather in the freezer or a five-gallon bucket in the basement until about mid-April when bears should be able to find other food sources. Don’t attract bears; you will be sorry.


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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