Thursday, May 23, 2024

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The time to prune any flowering shrubs is right after the bloom. Give yourself about two weeks to do that or be willing to sacrifice some blooms. Being a lazy gardener requires choices!


Showers in May also bring flowers! Ever notice that native shrubs, flowers, and trees bloom in white right now? I think they must have evolved as the most attractive color for spring pollinators. I have found hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blooming in the woods as well as serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis tree forms) similar to Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) the smaller, multi-stemmed variety. Hobblebush has four- to five-inch bloom clusters that seem to float in mid-air. These woody plants will also grow well in a part-shade to shade garden because they are understory plants, occurring in the wild on the edges of woodlands or under much taller deciduous trees. Find a place for one of these among your native plants.

Though I started seeds indoors of tomato and zinnia this past week, I waited until the weekend to weed the rest of my raspberry garden. As I said before, this was hard work because I didn’t keep up with the weeding last year. But I have created a good edge to the row that can be mowed with a push mower. The mower will make quick and routine work of stopping the creeping lawn and ground ivy from invading the raspberry bed. A one-inch layer of mulch should reduce any weeds blowing in from germinating, too.

Forsythia shrub flowers have started to fade, and this is the time window to prune the shrubs for shape and future flowers. My forsythia finally looked like something this year with blooms up and down the branches. Now that most of the blooms have died, I trimmed the longest branches back to similar lengths.

Forsythia growth is out of proportion on the left. On the right, branches have been reduced by about one-third. New growth will come from the plant’s center and shoot to the sides of branches where the leaf buds appear.

I then trimmed a few overlapping branches. The trimmed branches will send out new growth and branches from the opposite leaf buds. Because I want the shrub to branch outwards, I trimmed off the leaf buds growing toward the plant center. Also, by snipping ends off all the branches, I spur new growth. The growth from the upcoming summer will set the flower buds for next spring.

At left, the forsythia branch has been cut above a pair of leaf buds. At right, the inner leaf bud is removed to encourage outward growth.

I find the forsythia is the most forgiving shrub on which to practice my pruning skills. They are hard to kill. The pattern of opposite leaf buds makes it easier to choose where to cut. Even if you cut them down to the ground, they shoot right back up the next year.

The time to prune any flowering shrubs is right after the bloom. Give yourself about two weeks to do that or be willing to sacrifice some blooms. Being a lazy gardener requires choices!

Like on this past rainy Sunday, I opted to prune my forsythia. I am working to develop some better-looking plants as my early spring “pop” along the driveway. As a result, I ignored another large shrub border that needs weeding. I only have so much energy (despite the season’s requirement), and I made the choice to put off more weeding until drier weather.

However, the mulch bags have been waiting for me for 10 days now. We placed the bags conveniently around the shrub border to use after I weeded. And they still wait. Whoops. Now the grass has died from the heavy, wet bags. I accept that the grass has died. Nobody’s fault but the lazy gardener’s.

Bagged mulch rather than bulk mulch has a certain convenience. Bulk mulch gets dropped in one place usually 2 cubic yards at a time. That can be overwhelming, plus lugging the mulch by wheelbarrow or shovel rubs the lazy gardener the wrong way.

Instead, I get my mulch in bags. The bags keep the mulch together and make it easier to move from place to place. I am not a fan of all the plastic; however, I reuse the bags as garden waste bags and general garbage bags. You could also use the plastic to solarize sections of soil to kill weeds or potentially other pests.

Bags of mulch conveniently placed near the shrub border have killed the grass because the Lazy Berkshire Gardener chose to do something else for 10 days. Oh well, the grass will come back.

A few pests to know about this week:

  • Watch for tiny quarter-inch spongy moth caterpillars blowing in this week. Hopefully the pest numbers were reduced by last year’s wet weather. If numbers explode, protect young oak or fruit trees from young spongy moth caterpillars by spraying with products that contain the biological pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis spp. Kurstaki.
  • Tiny pinholes in leaves of rhubarb or young cabbage and broccoli come from flea beetles. These pests damage the appearance of the leaves but otherwise don’t harm the plants.
  • Lastly, tan and water-soaked streaks on iris leaves indicate iris borers. Squish any borers you find.

Mother’s Day approaches on May 12, and this mother tends to buy what she wants for the garden when she wants it. That said, a gift card to the right store makes a lovely present. Whatever you choose—flowering hanging basket, lilac bush, or crabapple tree—make sure the lucky Mom knows how to take care of it or offer to help! For example, rhododendrons need shade from midday to afternoon but otherwise need some sun to put forth the best blooms.

Rhododendron “Olga Mezitt” has abundant pink blooms on this garden-center specimen ready for Mother’s Day. Those growing in the landscape will be blooming soon.

Also, the Berkshire Botanical Garden Plants and Answers Plant Sale is May 10 and 11. Take Mom where there is a great chance to pick up some new plants, talk with knowledgeable gardeners, and support the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

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

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