Berkshire Garden Journal: Hooray for elderberry abundance!


It seems every year there is some flowering plant that really jumps out at you, most likely because weather conditions are ideal for optimal bloom of that particular species.

Last year, I recall that the forsythia floral display was exceptional. This year, there are several plants currently in flower that dominate landscapes. In managed landscapes there's kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), and in the wild it's the invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and the native common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).

It is the latter that has my wife jumping for joy. She's taking note of the location of elderberry bushes in the area. These 5- to 10-foot-tall shrubs are easily recognized by their dense flat clusters of tiny white flowers. Most are located on moist sites in open woodlands or along roadside ditches. By the end of this month, the flower clusters will have produced masses of tiny dark purple fruit. My wife will gather the fruit, squeeze out the juice, and make an excellent elderberry jelly.

Here are some weekend tasks that will have you jumping for joy -- or not:

• Prevent development of powdery mildew on squash, pumpkins and melons by applying fungicides at seven- to 10-day intervals or according to product label directions. Among the organic products available for controlling powdery mildew are ones containing potassium bicarbonate, sulfur, mineral or botanical oils, or beneficial bacteria, i.e. Bacillus subtilis.

 Be alert to vegetable plants whose leaves may be getting pale or a little yellow. This is a symptom of nitrogen deficiency. Available nitrogen exists in soil in water-soluble forms and is subject to leaching. With the heavy rains of the past six weeks, many soils are now nitrogen deficient. Side-dressing crops with quick-release nitrogen, such as potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, or urea will help those plants showing deficiency symptoms. Organic gardeners can get good results with dried blood, fish meal, fish emulsion or cottonseed meal.

 Plant more coriander (cilantro) and dill if using the leaves in cooking. Earlier plantings are now going to seed and are not very useful for their foliage. However, don't pull up the plants that are producing seed. Allow the seeds to mature fully and then harvest these to use as seasoning. Fresh coriander and dill seeds are more flavorful than the store-bought stuff.

 Cut flowers for indoor bouquets when they are just beginning to open. Cut the flowers early in the day and immediately submerge them in a tub or deep tray of cool water. Leave the flower stems in water for at least four hours or overnight before using in arrangements. This treatment should extend their life by several days.

 Pick summer squash while the fruit are small and tender. Not only are these young squash tasty, but by harvesting them small the plant will continue to yield more squash. Allowing large, old squash to remain on the plant will cease further production.

 Pay careful attention to raspberries as they are ripening quickly. They're ready to pick when the berries separate easily from their core. Raspberries will keep longer -- up to a week -- if not washed until ready to use and if stored in the fridge.

 Protect blueberries from birds by placing netting over the bushes. Birds have a knack for detecting a ripening berry long before I do. Darn those birds!

The Lenox Garden Club's "Hidden Treasures of the Berkshires" Annual House and Garden Tour will be held on Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets can be obtained at or by calling (413) 298-3089 or emailing Proceeds support projects in horticulture, environmental conservation, historic preservation.


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