The Lazy Berkshire Gardener: Week of March 28, 2024

The Lazy Berkshire Gardener: Week of March 28, 2024


Forsythia stems in the east window will brighten the view until spring arrives outside.

I’m glad I cut back some forsythia branches. They came in full bloom. Keep any cut flowers at cool temperatures if you are indoors. Early morning or northern light is best. It will last longer. The bright yellow helped offset the wet gloom of last weekend.

It was a rainy Saturday! I have mixed feelings about that storm. If the temperatures had been three degrees colder, we would have gotten a foot or more of snow. The snow will melt slowly. Instead, I had a rush of water and little puddles everywhere. I did no Get the peas in the ground yet. When the sky cleared on Sunday, the soil of the raised bed was so waterlogged that she couldn’t do anything. I will wait until the peas drain and plant them when about four dry days are expected in the future. I’m not worried; There are many cold days ahead, and the peas will be fine.

Areas of your lawn or property that regularly flood may need some remodeling and reconfiguration by a landscaping contractor, or you can embrace wetland native and endemic plants.

After rain, freezes and thaws, the “lawn” – if you can call it that – has many puddles that take days to drain. I planted a redtwig dogwood (Horn silk), willow, and chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) in these places where it usually rains. These native shrubs thrive in moist soil, and you don’t have to worry about mowing those areas.

If you have a lot of grass, or your attempts to grow grass in an area always fail, maybe you should plant something else there. An ideal solution might be to create an island of shrubs with perennial ground covers or just an island of annuals with a few perennials to anchor them. The moss is beautiful to walk on and greens beautifully too! Steep slopes need some type of vegetation to reduce erosion. Low-growing junipers, Russian trees, or even a patch of daylilies will fill out the slope and simplify maintenance compared to mowing that area.

However, I have some young bushes planted about three years ago that could use a better maintenance regimen. The shrubs are now spreading, but the grass has moved into the planting area. I need to select a grass-free substrate for these shrubs that will be easier to get rid of. Last Sunday, I had to tear up the creeping grass so I could fertilize around the bushes and put in a new layer of mulch.

If I expand those planting islands into borders, I can plant clumping perennials or slow-spreading ground covers. This will help preserve the soil and keep aggressive weeds away. Even mature trees can benefit from removing grass below the drip irrigation line. The drip line is the radius from the trunk to the wider branches that may drip after rain. Mature tree roots often rise to the surface of the soil and prevent the grass from growing well anyway. Save yourself effort and your tree’s health by spreading a layer of compost in that area and two inches of mulch. There’s no need to cut that area now, and you’ll avoid potentially damaging the roots with the mower blades. You may have to manually pull weeds from time to time, but regular mulching will help.

Spread fertilizer occasionally and then add a new layer of mulch. Check to make sure your fertilizer formulations contain slow-release nitrogen as part of the mix. Plants need nitrogen to grow, but the nutrient quickly dissipates into the air. Scrape fertilizer onto the soil surface and cover with mulch so rain draws nutrients to the plants’ roots. It’s a good idea to use a fertilizer now in early spring that contains a mix of quickly available nutrients as well as forms that take longer to break down and will be available to the plant later in the growing season.

You can still prune now. I find it very relaxing to stare at my plants for a while and imagine how I want them to grow. I prune to open up the center of the bushes to more light, to cut off old stems to make room for new ones, and to keep the plants at a manageable size. Pruning regularly will help them mature into stronger specimens. Shrubs or trees that are pruned now (especially to remove dead or broken branches) will heal wounds more quickly at the beginning of the active growing season and before the fungi have a chance to grow.

Detection of animal damage to shrubs and trees. Pruning parts with large cuts in the bark or rough ends. Rabbits take clean bites, but deer rip off their leg ends.

Since soil and temperatures still prevent planting, look for damage to shrubs and trees. Rabbits nibble flower buds or scrape young bark from branches. Small damage will heal quickly, but if large portions of bark are shaved off, prune that portion of the trunk. Crushing the deer’s torso instead of cutting cleanly. Trim back tips that have been gnawed by deer to help the plant build up tough material more easily.

Rhododendrons are invading the porch and the manicured shrub with nearly a third of the stems cut off.

Our house has a mature rhododendron plant that has not been pruned for many years. The internal branches are a mess. However, the plant looks healthy and is growing well. I have begun what will be an annual pruning to remove crossed branches and reduce their overall size. The house is scheduled to get a new coat of paint as well. Branches were wrapping around a pole and tapping against the wall. I cut a few of the more twisted branches back to a leaf node and away from the pole. I cut off less than a third of the leafy growth so that the plant can easily recover from any shock. The cuttings all had fat flower buds, and I placed them in a vase of water in the hope they would flourish indoors.

Rhododendron stems in a pot. Fingers crossed for the beautiful blooms!

It’s almost time to start pepper and tomato seeds indoors. Start by placing these seeds in a warm place or on a heat mat. The soil temperature should be around 75 degrees for good germination. I do this in the first week of April. After eight weeks, the seedlings can be hardened off and the garden soil should be warm enough for the young plants outside. Planting after June 1 helps reduce cold weather setbacks. Planting these heat-loving seedlings in cold soil will delay your harvest. Do not rush!

I had more justification for my lazy gardener program. I cut back dead stems of perennial hibiscus in the fall but always leave about six to eight inches of stem mostly as a way to find plants the following year. They come later than most perennials. I recently spotted a chickadee pecking at the top of a dried stem! I’m just guessing, but I think the bird must have pulled out the pulp and grown the fibers to line its nest. This is a reward for me to see the bird in action, and a reward for the bird, as it is organic material that is easily accessible.


I call myself the lazy Berkshire gardener because I don’t want to work hard on my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to monitor my landscape and let the compost happen, or the water pool, or the tulips to plant myself. I look for ways to do the bare minimum for the greatest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding throughout the season. I look for beautiful, low-maintenance plants that will thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.

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