Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Getting the garden planted, despite Mother Nature


It's a good thing that today is Mother's Day. Otherwise, I'd be uttering some profanity directed toward Mother Nature and her propensity for dowsing my garden with rain every few days. The rains may not have been heavy, but they have been persistent to the point of making it difficult to till the garden and sow seeds or set out seedlings of early season crops. Even soil in my raised beds is often saturated. At least I solved that problem by placing an umbrella of clear plastic over the beds.

Also, as described a few weeks ago in this column, I've abandoned any attempt to rototill at this point and have gone to a no-till approach. That simply involves making a furrow with my hoe, sowing the seeds, and then covering them with a porous mix of compost and perlite — coarse sand can be used as a substitute for perlite. It has worked well, as witnessed by my peas and fava beans happily poking through the mix.

Since I am getting impatient to set out seedlings of broccoli, rapini, cabbage, onions, leeks and other hardy crops, I'll try the same approach with those, that is, backfill the planting holes with my mix. In addition, a row cover will be placed over the seedlings. Using row covers is something I'd normally do anyway as a means of protecting early transplants from wind, frost and insects. This time around, they'll function to deflect some of the rain.

Hopefully, you ignored my suggestion of a few weeks ago to make your first planting of potatoes. There may be no problem where soils are coarse-textured, but it would not have worked out well in my heavy soil. So, I'll wait a bit longer to plant potatoes.


You don't have to wait to tackle these tasks:

- Start seeds of squash, gourds and melons by sowing seeds in peat pots. In four weeks time, the seedlings — peat pot included — can be set out in the garden. Starting these crops in peat pots eliminates the stress of transplanting such tender plants.

- Examine emerging seedlings of radish and leafy greens for flea beetles. These tiny beetles are about 1/16-inch-long and are named for their habit of jumping like fleas when disturbed. They chew holes in plant leaves and can severely retard the growth of many vegetable crops. If already present, apply organic controls, such as kaolin clay (Surround WP), diatomaceous earth, neem oil, pyrethrum or spinosad. If not yet present on your crops, place a floating row cover over emerging seedlings and transplants. Yellow sticky traps are another option as the beetles are attracted by the yellow color and get stuck on the sticky stuff covering the trap.

- Use yellow sticky traps to manage fungus gnats on house plants. These tiny gnats make a home in the soil of potted plants, especially when the soil is kept constantly moist. The flying gnats do not feed and pose no harm, other than to fly into your face and eyes as you sit next to your houseplants, reading the comics page of The Berkshire Eagle. On the other hand, the larvae of fungus gnats will feed on roots of house plants. Besides employing sticky traps, allow the potting soil to dry between watering. If those strategies fail, drench the soil with a pyrethroid-based insecticide.

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- Protect newly transplanted annual flower and vegetable seedlings from cutworms.Cutworms are now active or will be shortly. A protective collar of cardboard or aluminum foil wrapped around the base of the stem of seedlings at planting time and inserted an inch or two into the soil will dissuade cutworms. A scattering of diatomaceous earth on the soil around the base of plants is another and easier option for controlling this pest.

- Plant bergenia as a ground cover under shrubs. They are especially effective beneath mock orange and other top-heavy shrubs that are open around their base. The broad leaves of bergenia do a super job of retarding weeds. A couple of hybrids that I've particularly liked are "Bressingham White" and "Silberlicht."

- Carefully cultivate around peonies to aerate the soil. Peonies are a great garden plant because they have very few problems and the fragrance will knock your socks off (saves having to bend over to remove them before bedtime). Peonies will make a nice gift for Mom today.

- Don't be too anxious to prune out apparently dead twigs of trees and shrubs. There may have been some winter injury — quite common this year — but they may still be alive. To check twigs for signs of life, use your finger or pocketknife to carefully scratch a tiny area of the bark. If the underlying wood appears white or light green and is somewhat moist, it is still alive. If the wood is dry and brown, the twig is dead and should be pruned back to a live stem.

- Clear grass and weeds to create a 3- to 4-foot diameter circle of where an ornamental or fruit tree is to be planted. This will eliminate competition and prevent injury to the tree from lawn mowers or string trimmers. Studies have shown that a layer of wood chip mulch around a tree, but not against the tree trunk, will hasten its establishment and growth rate.


Occasionally, I'll cite a particular website as a source for further information on some topic presented in this column. Well, recently my good friend Sweet Pea, as she is affectionately named by her family members, took me to task for overlooking libraries as sources of information. I should mention that Sweet Pea is a former librarian. In any case, she is correct; libraries are a "go to" site for gardening information. And if you can't find the information you need in the form of books and gardening journals, a library provides access to computers so that your "go-to" site can be a website.                                                  


While some may not be happy with Mother Nature lately, one can always find love, comfort and support from their real mother. Honor your mom this day.


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