Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Father's Day gift that will keep on giving

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It's a week early, but I have already received a Father's Day present from my daughter, Jennifer. She was so excited by her gift that she could not wait. Also, it's a little difficult to hide a plant when you have a nosy and obsessed gardener for a parent.

The plant is American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), not to be confused with the very aggressive and often invasive Chinese and Japanese wisterias. Its native range extends from southeastern U.S. to as far north as Illinois. Since it is hardy to zone 5, American wisteria will survive in all but the coldest parts of Berkshire County. At maturity, this twining vine can reach 20 to 30 feet in length and is best grown on trellises, arbors, posts or sturdy fences in full sun or part shade. It can be maintained at shorter length by pruning annually after flowering.

And speaking of flowering, the vine produces 5- to 6-inch-long drooping clusters of lilac-blue and slightly scented flowers on new growth from late spring into early summer. Usually, the vine will not flower until it is at least 3 years old. Fortunately, the plant my daughter gave me is in full flower right now. Of course, flowering will be best if the plant is growing in full sun. Also, it prefers a slightly acid soil with good drainage.

Another feature that endears the plant me is that deer are not endeared to it.

A GARDENER'S WORK IS NEVER DONE

Oh dear, here's a list of tasks for the week ahead:

- Perk up tired, spindly-looking houseplants by giving them a vacation outdoors. The ventilation provided by breezes and the cleansing action of warm rains will stimulate vigorous growth. (That must be why my mother insisted I spend more time outdoors when I was a wee youth.) However, gradually acclimate the plants to the outdoors. For the first week or two, place the plants outdoors in a shady location, but then move them back indoors at night time. Don't be afraid to prune back spindly plants before setting them outdoors. Also, pot-bound plants will either need to be divided or repotted in larger pots.

- Keep planting herbaceous perennials and woody plants. One advantage of the frequent rains we've had to endure this spring is that soils have been constantly moist, thus eliminating the need to water newly set plants. Just be aware that weather conditions can change abruptly. If soils begin to dry out, keep the watering can handy.

- Put a little sunshine in the shade by planting impatiens in the dimly lit areas of your mind ... err, your yard. Few other plants bloom in so little sunlight. Also, their flowers have a glowing, luminescent quality to them (Much like my writing style, aye! Aye??). If you plant the New Guinea hybrid impatiens, with their attractive variegated leaves, give them a brighter location, since they need more sunlight than their shade-loving relatives.

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- Plant white-flowered annuals along walks since they show up very well at night and will help guide visitors along the path to your front door. Of course, you could be a little more neighborly and leave a porch light on.

- Side dress vegetables and annual flowers with garden fertilizer to replenish nutrients leached by the frequent spring rains. Abnormally pale-colored foliage on plants is an indicator of nutrient deficiency. On the other hand, if you have been applying fertilizer to plants and they still look pale, that is most likely a consequence of cool, rainy and cloudy weather. In that case, wait it out.

- Pinch out the soft spur holding the spent flowers on rhododendrons. This will encourage development of new growth.

- Continue to harvest asparagus for another week, but keep an eye, maybe both eyes, out for asparagus beetles. With warming temperatures beetle activity will likely increase this week. It's easy to hand pick the beetles and drop them into a container of soapy water, but if that does not appeal to you, spray the spears weekly with a product containing neem oil.

- Plant some nasturtiums in the vegetable garden. Supposedly, they repel white flies while attracting aphids from crop plants. Even if the nasturtiums do not cure pest problems in the garden, you can harvest the peppery-flavored leaves and flowers to spice up a salad. Also, the seed pods can be pickled as a substitute for capers.

- Use a spreader/sticker (available at retail garden centers) in your fruit tree spray to get better coverage and retention of the spray. In the long run, this will reduce the amount of pesticide used since it increases the efficacy of each spray. If you are planning to plant apple trees, consider varieties such as "Prima" and "Priscilla," which are resistant to apple scab, the most common disease of apples.

- Stretch protective netting over the strawberry patch to keep our feathered friends from becoming too friendly with our fruit supply. Though more expensive, it generally works better than some of the gimmicky things, such as reflective foil and rubber snakes, that are often promoted for repelling birds.

                                                                                          

HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY!

Congratulations to the Springside Greenhouse Group on their 50th anniversary. Along with other member organizations comprising the Springside Conservancy, the Greenhouse Group has helped maintain and enhance the historic Springside Park in Pittsfield.


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