Berkshire Garden Journal: A lesson in planting too early


And now, for an update on the weather, here is crack meteorologist Mother Nature: "Gotcha!"

Uh, thanks MN. I guess you did catch some gardeners with their plants down this week with that frost. I have to admit, it was a rather stern message to those who tried to fool you by setting out tender annuals and some warm season vegetable plants in the wake of the summer-like weather earlier this month.

The take-home message: It's still May, and we need to be patient with tender plants.

Patience is not needed for these weekend tasks:

• Make a sowing of sweet corn. No, I'm not contradicting the above message. Sweet corn seedlings can survive a light frost if floating row covers are placed over the seeded area. Row covers warm the soil, hasten seed germination, protect emerging seedlings from frost, and keep marauding crows from dining on the sprouting corn. Remove row covers when corn is about 6 inches tall.

• Use the "cut and come again" technique for harvesting leafy greens. With a sharp knife or scissors cut off the young leaves just above the crowns of the plants. New leaves will continue to emerge from the crown of each plant, yielding many more harvests. No leafy greens yet? It's not too late to plant some. Sow a mix of greens -- sold in packets as mesclun.

• Plant some new shrubs in the landscape. I prefer shrubs with multi-season appeal. One of my favorites is fothergilla, native to the southern Appalachians but hardy in this area. In spring, fothergilla produces cream or pale yellow spikes of flowers with a spicy fragrance. In summer, fothergilla stands out as a dense shrub with leathery blue-green leaves. In fall, these leaves turn golden yellow with scarlet overtones.

• Stand in the center of the front or back yard and take a deep breath. Smell anything, besides the neighbor's defective septic system? If not, maybe itís time to consider planting some shrubs that can enhance the landscape with the addition of fragrance. Lilacs, Korean spice viburnum, fragrant snowball viburnum, Burkwood viburnum, and daphne are good choices.

• Follow the one third rule when mowing lawns. The rule states that no more than one third of the length of leaf blades should be removed at each cutting. So, if grass is 3 inches tall, cut it back to no less than 2 inches high. Also, keep mower blades sharp throughout the mowing season. Dull blades shred the ends of grass leaves, a situation that invites disease infections.

In other news:

If it seems to allergy sufferers such as me that it has been a particularly bad year, you're correct. However, don't attribute the more than usual itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and general malaise to pollen from the crabapples and lilacs now blooming. The more likely sources for the allergy inducing pollen are white pine and spruce trees. Some experts have attributed the abundance of pollen from conifers this year to stresses on the trees from the hot, dry conditions of last summer. It is not unusual for stressed conifers to produce a surplus of reproductive structures such as pollen cones.

In the meantime, someone please pass me the eye drops, nasal spray, and box of tissues.

Weeds of any sort are good indicators of lawn problems. A dense population of dandelions indicates poor turf density. The dandelions are simply filling in the empty spaces between grass plants.

Killing dandelions with herbicide is futile unless the turf density problem is fixed. How? Mow high, leave the clippings on the lawn, and apply fertilizer in spring and again in September. If that doesn't work, pass the box of tissues.


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