Thursday, May 23, 2024

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The last two weeks of May, I’m thinking about planting decorative containers of annuals. Like shopping for new clothes, I want to satisfy the basics but also want to try a new texture or color combination.


May has brought the sunshine and, this past weekend, the breeze that keeps insects away.  Dare I say it, “Weeding was pleasant” last Saturday.  Maybe that’s why we can be enthusiastic in May and less so during buggy June and humid July.

I selected edging my perennial borders as my project of choice this past weekend.  Grass had threaded its way into the asparagus and rose borders. By cutting back those greedy rhizomes, I give my preferred plants better access to water and nutrients.  It may not seem very lazy, but when I give my plants a better chance at success by removing the competitors I save myself time later. Again, after weeding, add mulch on top.

By now, the leaves on most trees and shrubs have started to sprout, if not fully unfurl.  Some exceptions might be the Rose of Sharon shrub, Hibiscus syriacus and its perennial cousin, Hibiscus moscheutos.   These don’t usually show their leaves until June.  I have seen a bit of bud break this week.  A tree that should have flowered and leafed out is the Weeping Higan Cherry, Prunus x subhirtella. We’ve had a few calls at Ward’s wondering what to do about established trees that haven’t flowered and have sparse leaves.

Since there have been numerous damage reports in south Berkshire County, we think some weather event this past winter killed the flower buds and perhaps the leaf buds on these trees.  Your strategy?  Wait and see.  If your tree hasn’t flushed out in 3 or 4 weeks, you may have lost it.  Soil moisture is still good, but if we don’t have a good day of rain in the next 10 days, it might be worth watering your weeping cherry. Don’t fertilize until you have leaves showing on all the branches.


This Weeping Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella) is late to show flowers or leaves this spring.

Set up a trellis for your climbing peas even if the mature height is 3 feet.  Propping up the vines will make it easier to find the tasty pods and reduce the tangle.

Leafy green seedlings are up, along with my arugula.  These could co-mingle in the same row, but I use the arugula in different parts of the raised beds as a pest distractor and companion plant. If you don’t want spicy arugula mingling with sweet-natured lettuce but can’t see the difference from one seedling to another, taste it! Or let them grow to about 3 inches in length and you might have a better idea of which is which. Instead of pulling the whole plant, use scissors to cut just the leaves and let the roots stay in place.  By thinning this way, you don’t disturb the leafy greens you want to keep growing.

Mini-greens:These seedlings show arugula sprouts on the left and a mix of salad greens on the right.

Warm days brought some obvious growth in the vegetable garden.  Cool weather will slow that down in the next week.  Because my vegetables are in raised beds, I will be watering them every few days unless we have a full day of rain. The soil drains very well but it can also dry out quickly.

Garden phlox and aster are up and getting taller.  Cut some of the stems back by about 1/3 to stagger the flowering season.  Trimmed stems will flower later.  Also, trimming a few stems in a clump to the ground will let more air swirl around the remaining stems and reduce powdery mildew infections. Like all pruning projects, thinning early in the growing season or when the plant is young will be easier and you are less likely to damage the stems you want to keep. You will not notice a difference when the plant is in bloom—except there will be less disease!

As of this writing, I expect frost to greet me and my plants on Thursday morning about the time The Berkshire Edge hits my inbox. If you left out a hanging basket of Million Bells or Petunia, those flowers are likely blackenend and maybe some of the leafy stems too. Hopefully you brought things inside or covered them with light-weight fabric. If not, those flowers and leaves will not bounce back.  Remove them.  If only the tips of plants were singed, the rest of the plant should re-sprout with more warmth and sunshine.

Lettuce, spinach, arugula and beet will not be bothered by a little frost.  However, you’ll know strawberry flowers were bit by the frost by their black centers.  These flowers will not develop into fruit.  Remove the damaged flowers to encourage the plants to put out fresh buds.  Thursday morning’s frost is likely the last until September.  But, call up your Mother – Nature, that is, and check her schedule for the next few weeks just to be sure.

The last two weeks of May, I’m thinking about planting decorative containers of annuals.  Like shopping for new clothes, I want to satisfy the basics but also want to try a new texture or color combination.  For containers, the basics are types of plants that serve a design purpose — upright, filler or trailing.  I also have a container for hot full-day sun and another in half-day part-sun. Use the plant tags as your guide to color and cultural needs.  Perhaps most importantly, plan your watering routine and combine plants with similar water needs in the same container!

A parting visual – The Lazy Berkshire Gardener likes how this landscape serves the eye and the pollinators by always having something blooming. The Cornelian Cherry, right front, and Serviceberry, right rear, have done their bit, now the Fothergilla x Mt Airy is taking over the show. Viburnum trilobum is on deck at the left rear.


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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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.