April showers may bring May flowers, but the lack of April showers didn’t do a bad job at bringing April flowers.
It was a particularly showy month for flowering trees and shrubs. Among the woody plants that put on a rather spectacular show were magnolias, flowering cherry and early azaleas. Most came into bloom right after the snowfall of April 15 and 16. It was a bit early for these plants to be flowering, but I attribute that to the 70 degree temperatures over a period of several days about a week prior to the snow.
Unfortunately, the floral show was rather brief as hard freezes on the mornings of the 21st and 22nd left the colorful blossoms brown or shriveled.
DRY MONTH OR NOT-S0-DRY
Another weather oddity has been the lack of precipitation, or seemingly so. At the beginning of this week, the National Weather Service station at Pittsfield Municipal Airport reported a deficit of almost 4 inches for the year. Furthermore, as pointed out this past Monday by Eagle columnist Clarence Fanto, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists Berkshire County as abnormally dry.
So, what’s odd about that? Well, my garden soils have been quite moist so far this year and I have been slow to till and plant crops. Some seeds sown this past month have either rotted or are reticent to make an appearance. Of course, this is largely due to the high clay content of my soil.
I’m not alone; our friend, Lisa Martin of Richmond, told me of her pea seeds having rotted due to high soil-moisture levels. She asked if it was too late to sow pea seeds. My answer is a definite “maybe.” Generally, May is late to plant peas. However, the variety Wando has good heat tolerance and can be planted as late as mid-May. Wando is a popular pea variety and may still be available at garden centers.
TISK-TISK, TASKS EXIST
While the weather at this time of year may be fickle, don’t let it leave you in a pickle. Move ahead with these gardening tasks:
- Transplant onion and leek seedlings to the garden and then cover these with floating row covers. This is not just to help the seedlings get established, but also to protect them from allium leaf miner, a pest problem new to Massachusetts. Originally native to Europe, this leaf miner was first detected in this country in Pennsylvania in December 2015. The adult stage of the leaf miner is a tiny fly, which is actively laying its eggs now in the leaves of onions, leeks, shallots and chives. The larvae hatching from these eggs tunnel their way down the stems to the base of the plants. This is a serious pest. Last year, my entire crop of leeks was infested by leaf miners.
- Plant potatoes this month. If space allows, plant early, mid-season and late varieties. There are several ways to plant potatoes. The most common method is to make a 6- to 8-inch-deep trench and set in each potato piece, spacing them 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Cover these with 2 to 4 inches of soil initially. As the shoots grow, soil will be periodically hilled or mounded around the plants. Another method for growing potatoes, and one I am trying for the first time, is to set the pieces in a shallow trench only 2 inches deep and the cover with an inch of soil topped with 6 to 8 inches of straw. Every time the potato shoots are 6 inches above the straw layer I’ll mound or hill with more straw, just as I would with soil in the traditional method. The idea of hilling with straw rather than soil is to make harvesting easier; we’ll see.
- Plant several lavender plants near a patio or other outdoor sitting area. It’s not fussy about soil other than it must be well-drained. Lavender also prefers full sun. The fragrance of lavender flowers has been shown to have a positive effect on your mood by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, something we all need in these trying times.
- Boost the spirits of your mail delivery person by planting a vine — for example, hardy clematis or a fast-growing annual vine such as morning glory, cup and saucer vine or black-eyed Susan vine — at the base of the mailbox post. Uh, a little pruning may be needed occasionally, lest the mailbox become so camouflaged that mail delivery is thwarted.
- As thyme plants age, they tend to develop woody stems. Cutting them back in the spring every so often keeps them looking their best. Thyme can be used in the landscape or perennial border as a ground cover, in the vegetable or herb garden for culinary uses, in the rock garden, or between stepping stones. (Walk on it for the great fragrance — it won't hurt the plant!)
- Plant some miniature roses in containers. These will make attractive and fragrant plantings for a patio or deck. To promote vigorous growth, prune out old woody canes each year and divide the plants about every third year. By the way, to overwinter container grown roses, place them in an unheated garage, shed, outhouse or bury the pot in a mound of wood chips.