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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of May 23, 2024

While we busily plant our annuals as a rite of the start of summer, just like Memorial Day, don’t neglect your perennial gardens.

Time to plant! Especially time to plant annuals in containers or as fillers in your perennial gardens. Annuals form a flowering bridge because they will flower continuously from late spring through summer. You may need to trim away spent blooms once or twice, but that is worth it for the continuous color. Use annuals and interesting foliage plants to bridge from one perennial bloom (usually lasting about two weeks) to another.

I will finally get my Brussels sprout “starts,” onions, basil, cilantro, dill, and oregano into the vegetable or herb gardens this weekend. I will still wait to plant tomato starts for another week, but I could do it if I had the time. It’s hot! Waiting will not be a disaster. However, I already have tomatoes sprouting in my vegetable bed, self-sown from stray cherry tomatoes last season! I will select a couple to grow on and see what fruit develops. They won’t be large sandwich type or beefsteak tomatoes because I picked all those. I usually miss a few cherries though.

Mystery tomato seedlings have sprouted—most likely cherry tomatoes identified by red arrows. The Lazy Berkshire Gardener accepts this gift and will select a few to live on this summer.

Here is where a bit of laziness has paid off. My gentle turning of the winter rye, green mulch, has encouraged the tomato seeds to sprout. By not working the soil too much, I have tomato and cosmos seedlings coming along! I love the wait-and-see approach.

I will plant bean seeds, squash seeds, zinnia seeds, and cosmos seeds now in my vegetable beds. The zinnia and cosmos planted as row markers and around the edges will help attract beneficial predator insects and pollinators to my vegetables without competing too much for nutrients. I will wait to install the starts of peppers, eggplant, and, as I said, tomato until the first weekend of June to ensure soils are warm enough. It is not too late.

Quick note on vegetable gardens: You don’t have to dedicate all your sun to a large vegetable garden to have fresh-grown lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans. All these have selected varieties that can be planted in a container alone or with companions. Then the container could be positioned on a sunny deck, patio, balcony, or in the middle of your driveway—wherever you have full sun for six hours from June through September. Make your space do double duty and enjoy homegrown.

Plant sunflower seeds now as well. I seem to lose my sunflowers to rabbits every year, so I will be ready with repellents, fencing, or some smelly herbal companion plants to keep the rabbits away. Even when I plant sunflower amid goldenrod (which rabbits avoid), they seem to find the sunflower. Perhaps a barrier of castwork and plants would work.

Check back to last year’s column about dahlia bulbs. I pot my dahlias in large nursery pots that I will set into larger, decorative clay pots. They will be easier to remove in the fall, plus I can plant other annuals around the edges and keep the roots from competing. Last weekend, I managed to check on my dahlia tubers, and they have white stems emerging. When you check yours and prepare to divide the clumps, keep a few of the white stems connected to each division. Those are your anchors for blooms this season!

I spent this past weekend primarily weeding a large shrub border and removing the dandelions. I have mixed feelings about that. The dandelions have gone to seed, so I am not really preventing their spread. Also, the sturdy dandelion roots have broken up the heavy clay soil in that border, allowing seeds of beebalm to take root. Why remove the dandelions at all? Well, they will compete with my preferred plants for water and nutrients. Most importantly, dandelions are not rare. I know they will be back to assist in breaking up the soil again next year.

This patch of dandelions, ground ivy, and thistle continue to break up heavy clay soil. Once the Lazy Berkshire Gardener has time to weed out the pesky but useful weeds, this bed’s clay soil will be ready for more shade-loving perennials. Meanwhile, bees enjoy the pollen while sparrows and finches get to feast on the seeds.

An added benefit? Getting down deep into your flower borders brings you closer to what is happening at soil level. While rummaging through patches of dandelion and grass clumps, I discovered a few pine seedlings. I have allowed these to continue growing where they are and hope to transplant them to a better spot in a few years after they have reached some size. Hurray, free trees!

A pine seedling has emerged among the weeds and strawberry ground cover. Getting close to your gardens can yield pleasant surprises.

You can also stop the sprouts of invasive bittersweet vine while the plant is small. Leaves are rounded and the stem feels stiff. When you pull out the roots, you will see the tell-tale orange color.

Confirm you have pulled bittersweet vine by its orange roots.

While we busily plant our annuals as a rite of the start of summer, just like Memorial Day, don’t neglect your perennial gardens. We tend to rush into the garden centers in spring for those early flowers and forget to install plants that bloom now into June. Ready for their place in the spring sun are perennial iris, bachelor button, peony, poppy, and lupine. Shade-loving plants like Barrenwort (Epimedium), columbine (Aquilegia), ferns, and lungwort (Pulmonaria) put on a lovely show now and provide texture all summer long.

Epimedium (lower right and upper left) thrive in dry shade and make a beautiful ground cover under shrubs or trees. They also hold their own against bloodroot and dandelions.

Surprisingly warm, dry days have arrived. Make sure all your plants have enough water! When planting perennials or annuals, start by watering the planting area and the potted plant thoroughly. Prepare the planting hole by digging it as deep as the pot for the plant and an inch or two wider. Mix compost with your native soil from the hole at a ratio of one part compost to two parts soil in a wheelbarrow or trug. Add water to the empty planting hole to allow it to seep in. Then water the potted plant again. Knock the plant out of the pot by tipping it upside down into your palm and slipping off the pot. Set the plant into the hole and confirm the plant’s soil level is even with the surrounding garden level.

Return your amended soil to the surrounding edges of the hole and pat down gently until you have filled the hole almost to soil level. Water again to fill all air pockets with water. Allow the water to seep down and the soil to settle. Add more soil mixture until you have created a slight moat around the plant. Your moat will collect water and direct it to the outer roots as your plant grows, helping it get a good start. The crown of the plant should be slightly above soil level and above the moat. Water sitting on a plant’s crown will cause rot. A well-planted perennial is a problem-free perennial.


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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