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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of May 2, 2024

The average last spring frost in our region is around May 20, but you would do best to keep your own records at your own property. Low-lying properties will often have a spring frost when higher elevations do not because dew and colder air settle to lower elevations.

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From frost warnings to low 70s this week: It must be spring. I continue to check the weather and plan my gardening activities accordingly. Last weekend’s relatively dry weather gave me plenty of time to weed and scout about for problem insect pests and new perennials.

The frost didn’t affect my peach tree last week because the flower buds were not quite open. They are opening now, and I will be watching overnight temperatures very carefully through May. May 18 last year brought a hard frost that ruined many a fruit crop. Usually, we don’t see such a low temperature (28 degrees for a few hours), but it could still happen.

The average last spring frost in our region is around May 20, but you would do best to keep your own records at your own property. Low-lying properties will often have a spring frost when higher elevations do not because dew and colder air settle to lower elevations.

However, today I want to advocate for planting a dwarf fruit tree in your garden. Peach varieties are especially good because they are self-fertile (you don’t need two to cross-pollinate), and the dwarf varieties can be pruned to stay small. Of all the fruit available in the Berkshires, I think it’s hardest to get a perfectly ripe peach unless you grow your own. Plus, the flowers are very pretty.

When choosing a tree, always anticipate its full, mature size. Even a dwarf tree can be 15 feet wide. It will need seven and a half feet distance between the planting hole and nearest structure. And speaking of the hole, don’t plant a tree too deep. The hole should be as deep as the container or root ball only so that the tree sits at the same soil level. The top of the root ball should be slightly above the grade. However, the hole should be about two times as wide. Once backfilled, the roots will more easily explore the soil around the tree while sitting on a firm base.

After checking on my peach tree, I put off seed starting (again!) to enjoy the nice weather outdoors and do some weeding. Yes, I enjoyed it! But about the seed starting, I only want to get going on tomatoes and some zinnias, but they will catch up quickly as the soils warm, so I have time. Carrots have been sown outdoors; I will quickly spread more lettuce and sow beets in the prepared raised beds this next weekend.

Like any task that hangs over my head, I try to plunge forward and make the most of it. That’s the case with weeding. I set myself up for success. I had a trug to hold the weeds I pulled. I had effective tools to use. I had multiple pieces of cardboard to protect my bum from the damp grass (and ants). Things moved along at a good pace.

The Lazy Berkshire Gardener prefers to sit while weeding and stretch from side to side. It saves the back (mostly). Cardboard pieces keep the pants dry and it’s simple to shift down the line of the bed as your weeding progresses.

I think I enjoyed weeding more this year because I have weeded these perennial gardens thoroughly the last two years. But I only weeded them once each year—that I remember—then mulched. This year the weeds were barely holding on and easy to remove. By making it routine, I have made it easier for this lazy gardener. In contrast, I did not weed my raspberry patch very well last year. I tossed some compost on it and figured, “Those grow like weeds, anyway.” Well, the fruit suffered partially because I did not attend to the soil (plus rabbits found them). Things were moist enough last year, but the weeds took over.

Among the weeds in the raspberry patch, I found hardy annual bachelor button (Centaurea cyanus), and annual black-eyed Susan were taking root. I dug those out and planted them in a catch-all, sun-loving perennial border. Because no mulch was applied other than compost and I avoided weeding, the raspberry patch soil was very hard and held the weedy roots tightly. By using a serrated edged trowel, I finally could dig out the bed edges and under the weeds to lift them out of the soil surface. I didn’t get very far very fast, but it was doable. I still have the other half of this bed to do next weekend. I expect the payoff will be next year’s weeding when the weeds will slip out just like butter. They better!

The raspberry canes were overwhelmed by clumps of grass (circled in red), ground ivy (circled in orange), and even a black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)—though it could be a bachelor button! Clearing the area around the raspberry canes helps the fruit get more nutrients from the soil. Obviously, more needs to be done!

I also like weeding for what it teaches me about my garden beds. By spending the time looking closely at the gardens, I learn more about the texture of the soil and how moist it is below the surface. I also find interesting bugs in various states of metamorphosis. I noted that, so far, I haven’t turned up any Japanese beetle larvae. They may be too deep still, but I am hopeful that fewer beetles will be eating my roses.

I also found a curious shiny, copper-colored capsule with holes like some insect had emerged. Consulting my Google lens, I discovered this was the empty cocoon of a mason bee. Mason bees are native pollinators. Good to know they exist in my gardens!

When poking about in the soil, you never know what you’ll find. The Lazy Berkshire Garden found this shiny, empty mason bee cocoon about the size of a kidney bean. Mason bees are fantastic native pollinators and very welcome in the garden. Hooray!

And indoors, remember the houseplants need water, fertilizer, and/or fresh soil now during their active growing season. Nice weather tempts us to put our plants outside right away. Be careful! If you intend to set houseplants outdoors for a summer vacation, plan to do it slowly. Even shady spots outside have stronger sunlight than southern windowsills.

Generally speaking, wait to acclimate plants until at least mid-May and daytime temperatures are at least in the 60s. Set out plants in the shade for one hour the first day, two hours the next day, four hours on day three, and so on, doubling the time in the shade each day. If you miss a day, repeat what you did two days before. The plant needs to produce different types of cells to adjust to the stronger light. Leaves produced for low-light conditions will get sunburn and the plant will shed them. After 16 hours in the shade, move them to their growing location for the summer for 16 hours. Then you can plant them (if seedlings) or leave them (like a potted tropical) in the final location overnight.

There are things we don’t need to worry about in the garden. Other critters are waking up on these warmer days. I found a western conifer seed bug wandering the glass of my breezeway. These are not harmful, but they will give off an odor if mishandled. It probably mistook my house’s wood siding for a tree where it hibernated through the winter. I scooped it up and released it outside.

And while you may not have a field of native wildflowers to offer pollinators this May, I bet you have some dandelions. Don’t destroy them, please. Dandelion roots help aerate compacted and heavy clay soils. The flowers feed bees and other insects before other abundant pollen producers bloom. Consider reserving a part of your lawn to grow long during “no-mow-May” or at least let the dandelions do their thing.

To the left, a western conifer seed bug might be an uninvited guest, but nothing to worry about. And let your dandelions bloom! The pollinators need them right now.

I want to share one more native flower of our woodlands. They don’t usually carpet our Berkshire woods, but you will find stands of them now. I can’t imagine having enough woodland space to plant these. I just like coming across them in the woods. The red trillium (Trillium erectum) has the easiest wildflower name for me to remember. It is all about three. Three leaves surround a stem holding erect a three-petaled flower backed by three sepals. If you miss the bloom, the three leaves will persist for some time with a fleshy fruit in place of the flower. When you spot them, make a note to come back earlier in the season to see this elegant flower.

Our native red trillium (Trillium erectum) can be found scattered in moist deciduous woods right now with three leaves, three red petals, and three sepals.

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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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of May 16, 2024

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

Ideally situated in the heart of downtown Stockbridge, and move-in ready

Elle Villetto and Jared Kelly of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty offer an 1860 colonial home, stylishly updated and move-in ready. See it now and be in before the summer!

A minimalist condo with maximum light

We often referred to this project as the “house of glass” because there is glass everywhere.

The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.