Unpredictable spring weather has arrived


Hail? Hail, yes!
I stiffened as I stood in the doorway watching pellets of hail descend onto my flats of carefully tended flower and vegetable seedlings last weekend. Earlier in the day, I had moved the flats indoors to protect them from heavy downpours. Then the sun came out as did my plants, and I thought "all is well."

That evening, all was hell.

A thunderstorm snuck in while I was distracted watching the Red Sox lose another one. Alerted by a clap of thunder, I raced to the door to rescue the plants but there wasn't much I could do at that point. Fortunately, the storm was brief and the pellets of hail fine enough not to cause any damage to the seedlings. I was lucky.

As I sit here this Memorial Day morning, frantically typing away to beat my deadline, I'm made aware of a forecast of potential heavy rain and hail for tomorrow night. Here we go again.

Hail events in Berkshire County are not unusual at this time of year. Unfortunately, there's not much one can do to protect plants once they're in the ground. In small gardens, placing flower pots, buckets, baskets or other sturdy items over plants will do, but in large gardens and in landscapes there are no practical ways to protect plants.

Fortunately, larger plants will survive, albeit with leaves tattered to various degrees. Smaller plants are more likely to suffer. For those which do survive, I follow up with application of a light dose of fertilizer, such as seaweed emulsion, to hasten wound healing and development of new leaves. In addition, since wounds created by hail offer opportunities for infections by disease causing fungi, applications of a copper or copper/soap based fungicide or a biofungicide, such as Serenade, are a good idea. Read the product label before applying these.


Put thoughts of hail aside for the moment and dive into these tasks this week:

n Set out tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings, but be sure there is no forecast for frost. It was only three years ago that we had frost on the morning of June 2.

n Don't neglect the thinning of vegetable crops. Most seed packets recommend seed spacing that is much closer than the final spacing for growing the vegetables. That's because a certain amount of seeds will fail to sprout or survive for one reason or another. The seed packet will also give you the recommended spacing after thinning. The best way to thin crops is to cut off unwanted seedlings at their base. Pulling up seedlings can disturb the roots of remaining plants.

n Provide shade for radishes and leafy greens to slow their bolting. Bolting is the formation of flower stalks, a normal occurrence for radishes and certain leafy greens (spinach, arugula, mustard greens). Once they bolt, they develop a bitter flavor. Shade provides cooler temperatures and can slow the bolting process. Use shade cloth suspended over the vegetables or set up sections of trellis or snow fence to make shade. Later in the season, plant greens and radishes in the shade of taller vegetables such as corn and pole beans.

n Grow annual herbs -- i.e. basil, chervil, cilantro, marjoram and parsley -- in pots. They grow faster and larger in pots than in the garden. Also, leaves of container-grown herbs are cleaner since there is less splashing of soil onto leaves when watering or during rainfall. Spreading pea stone on the soil around potted herbs and other potted plants will prevent splashing of soil when watering.

n Examine azaleas for Azalea Sawfly caterpillar. It is pale green, almost the same color as the new foliage on Exbury-type azaleas, its primary host. It feeds along the edges of the foliage, eating all but the mid-vein of the leaves. When occurring in large numbers it is capable of completely defoliating its host plant within three weeks. Spinosad products work well for this pest.


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