Berkshire Garden Journal: Memorial Day chores abound


Despite the summer-like weather earlier this week, I'm still holding off on setting out tomato and pepper plants. However, with this being Memorial Day weekend, I'll stick with tradition and plant tender annuals in hanging baskets and patio containers.

Speaking of patio containers, who hasn't had this problem? You get some gigunda (technical term for "pretty darn big") pots for creating a container garden on the patio and suddenly realize it will take a dump truck-load of potting mix to fill those big pots. Even if you make your own potting mix using garden soil, compost or peat moss, and coarse sand, it'd take a wheel barrow full just to fill up one or two of the containers. Not only are you using a humongous (another technical term meaning "lots") amount of soil, but those pots are going to be very heavy if they need to be moved.

For years I dealt with this problem by placing plastic water bottles, blocks of Styrofoam or packing peanuts in the bottom of deep pots. This worked well to reduce the amount of soil needed and lighten the pots, but then I had to deal with separating the trash from the soil at the end of the growing season. A few years ago, I discovered that if I first filled my big pots about half full of leaves saved from the previous fall I didn't need a lot of soil -- and the pots remained light. By the end of the gardening season the leaves rotted to create finished compost and I only had to dump the contents of my pots onto our gardens. Not bad, aye!


Here are some other ideas for this long weekend:

n Sow seeds of warm season crops including beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, sweet corn and cucumbers in the garden.

n Keep an eye on early planted radishes. They grow fast and get punky -- if not first riddled by root maggots -- when past maturity.

n Examine the leaves of bearded iris for signs of iris borer. Look for tan and water-soaked streaks on the leaves. These represent tunnels made by the borers as they feed inside the leaves. Squish the borers with your fingers. Squeamish squishers may prefer to apply sprays of natural products such as spinosad or beneficial nematodes.

n Pick some floral stems of lily-of-the-valley. Put these in a small vase and place the vase near your easy chair. Few flowers can match the delicate fragrance of these bell-like flowers. However, it should be noted that all parts of the plant are poisonous.

n Beware of poison ivy when working outdoors. It's easy to overlook. A good friend of mine came down with a severe rash after contact with this malicious vine. By the way, my friend is a weed specialist who goes around reminding people, "Leaflets three, let it be!" I promised I wouldn't embarrass him. I lied! Cultural control of poison ivy is tough and often results in contact with the plant -- all parts are poisonous. Therefore, a carefully directed application of an herbicide may be prudent.

n Plant bulbs, corms and tubers of summer bloomers such as cannas, gladiolus, dahlias, caladiums and tuberous begonias. Any of these that were started indoors earlier in spring can be transplanted, but only after they are gradually acclimated to the outdoors.

n Plant some native species of trees and shrubs if you want to attract more birds to your yard. Birds are familiar with native plants as sources of food, shelter and nesting sites.

n Be sure to soak bare root plants in water for an hour or two before planting. I like to buy bare root trees and shrubs when I can since they adapt more quickly to my soils than do balled and burlapped plants or container-grown plants. Buying bare root plants is often cheaper, especially when a large number of plants are needed for creating a hedge.


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