Doing Good with Saw and Lopper

Fruitful Pruning

To begin, I gave the bush in front of me a once over, eyeing it from top to bottom and assuring it that the next few minutes would be all to its good. It was time for my blueberries’ annual pruning, the goals of which were to keep them youthful (the stems, at least), fecund, and healthy.

Blueberries galore

I peered in at the base of the plant, eyeing now the thickest stems. Blueberry bushes bear best on stems up to 6 years old, so the next move was to lop or saw any of these stems — usually only 3 or 4 of them, more on a neglected plant — as low as possible.

Sammy & me, pruning blueberries

To keep track of the ages of individual stems, I mark off the age of them each year with a Sharpie. Just kidding! The thickest ones are the oldest ones, and …

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Northern Figs? Yes!

Faking The Subtropics

At first blush, the setting would not seem right for fig trees. There they were, in pots sitting on my terrace — so far so good — but with snow on the ground around them. Figs? Snow?

Figs seem so tropical but, in fact, are subtropical plants. And it does sometimes snow in subtropical regions. Climatewise, subtropics are defined as regions with mean temperatures greater than 50 °F with at least one month below about 64 °F. Further definitions exist but the point is that it does occasionally snow in subtropical regions; temperatures just never get very cold.

My potted figs couldn’t have survived our winters outdoors. They wintered in my basement, where winter temperatures are in the 40s. Cool temperatures are a must to keep the stored plants from waking up too early indoors, then, because the weather is too cold to move them outdoors, sprouting pale, sappy shoots …

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And The Season Begins . . .

 

St. Patty’s Day Passed; No Matter

Uh oh! St. Patrick’s Day was way passed and I hadn’t planted my peas. No matter. St. Patty’s Day is the right time to plant peas in Virginia, southern Missouri, and other similar climates, including, probably, Ireland.

Around here, in New York’s Hudson Valley, where the average date of the last killing frost is sometime in the latter half of May, April 1st is more like it. That’s the date that I shoot for, at least. Some springs, like the spring of 2017, earlier plantings would have done better. But you never know what bodes for the weather, so playing the averages is the best bet.

The problem with planting pea seeds too early is that the seeds will just sit and perhaps rot in cold soil. The problem with planting peas too late is that temperatures are too hot when the plants are supposed to be …

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Spring Inspires

Even Bob Got the Bug

As I write, daily high temperatures are in the 30s and snow is predicted. Nonetheless, just a few warm, sunny days and almost everyone is going to be inspired to garden. Or at least do something plantwise. Even my friend Bob.

Bob’s non-interest in gardening was demonstrated decades ago as I was starting my first very own garden at a house I was renting. Bob was there as I pushed my shovel into the clay soil of the lawn to turn over spadeful after spadeful. Bob watched peacefully lying beyond the proposed plot with his head propped up on his hands. (Not so another friend, Hans, who grabbed another shovel, and dug. Now that I think of it, perhaps I owned only two shovels.)

A crown of thorns (not Bob’s)

Bob’s current interest centers around one plant, a potted crown of thorns plant (Euphorbia milii). Crown of thorns …

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Peppers & Potting Soil

Concerned

You’d think that there’d be no reason for me to be concerned. After all, year after year I raise my own seedlings for the garden. Nonetheless, every day I take a look at the small tray of soil in which I had sowed eggplant and pepper seeds, waiting for little green sprouts to poke through the brown surface of the potting mix.

These plants are on a schedule. They get a start indoors — in a greenhouse now; under lights or in sunny windows in years past — so that they have enough time to start ripening their fruits by midsummer.

Italian Sweet peppers

Even an early-ripening pepper wouldn’t ripen its first fruits before October if seeds were sown directly in the garden once the soil had warmed enough for germination, which isn’t until the end of May around here.

Ingredients for Good Transplants

Not that raising transplants for the garden is difficult. All …

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Warm, Spring Weather is Coming

Poppies in Snow

Snow today (March 7) — a perfect time to plant seeds outdoors. Yes, really!
Obviously, not just any seed can be sown in snow. The ground is still frozen solid so I can’t easily cover seeds with soil. And cold temperatures are going to rot most seeds before the weather warms enough for them to germinate and grow.

I’m planting poppy seeds. It does seem harsh to sow a flower whose seeds are hardly finer than dust and whose petals are as delicate as fairy shawls. But early sowing is a must, because poppy seedlings thrive during the cool, moist weather of early spring. Covering the seeds with soil? No problem: Poppy seeds sprout best left uncovered. And because poppies don’t transplant well, their seeds are best sown right where the flowers are going to grow.

I’ll be sowing annual poppies, whose petals and leaves are more delicate than those …

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New Book by Lee!

A Book Is Born

            Finally, after all the hard work, I have in hand the first copies of my new book The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden. This book grew out of my long love affair with gardening—such a congenial confluence of colors, flavors, and aromas all seasoned with the weather, whatever pests happen to stop by that year—and the science behind it all!

            And the science behind it all is what this book is about. No, it’s not a comprehensive overview of botany and related sciences. It is some of the natural science that can be applied in the garden. Science may seem out of place in so bucolic an activity as gardening. After millions of years of evolution, seeds want to sprout, and plants want to grow, even in such diverse soils and climates as the Arctic tundra, the Arizona …

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This Bud’s for You

 

Swelling Buds

What an exciting time of year! After a spate of 50 plus degree temperatures, lawn grass — bare now although it could be buried a foot deep in snow by the time you read this — has turned a slightly more vibrant shade of green. Like a developing photographic film (remember film?), the balsam fir, arborvitae, and hemlock trees I’m looking at outside my window, have also greened up a bit more.

Going outside to peer more closely at trees and shrubs reveals the slightest swelling of their buds. Earlier in winter, no amount of warmth could have caused this. As a cold weather survival mechanism, hardy trees and shrubs are “smart” enough to know to stay dormant until warm weather signals that it’s safe for tender young sprouts and flowers to emerge.

These plants stay asleep until they’ve experienced a certain number of hours of cool temperatures, the amount varying …

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