Congratulations to Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe on publishing their extensive observations and close up photographs of their top 100 New England native plants. I’ve studied with them dozens of times while earning a certificate in native plant horticulture and design at the New England Wildflower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA and I think of them as native plant rock stars.
Mark is Botanic Garden Director, and Dan propagator and stock bed grower at Garden in the Woods.
A note from a friendly frittilary butterfly: stepping in your garden or working on your lawn when the soil is wet damages your plants’ ability to thrive. (Image 2017 Carol Lundeen. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)
#1. CAUTION: WET SOIL – DO NOT ENTER YOUR GARDEN – OR WORK ON YOUR LAWN!
Our recent rains have left our soils saturated, and if you step into your shrub and garden beds now you’ll be causing mostly invisible but meaningful damage that makes it harder for your plants to thrive.
Compacting your soil: plant roots depend on the spaces between soil particles to hold water and oxygen. When you step on wet soil, you compact these spaces and your plants suffer.
One cup of soil may hold as many bacteria as there are people on Earth, never mind the fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms – most of which are beneficial to you most of the time. Together, these tiny beings are a living system called the Soil Food Web, and it’s best to not to step on them when the soil is wet.
To test if your soil is dry enough, take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil crumbles easily when you open your hand, it is ready to be walked on or tilled. If it does not crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a few more days and test again before digging.
#2. GET YOUR SOIL TESTED – BEFORE YOU PLANT!
Before planting is a good time to get a Routine Soil Analysis from the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab to check pH and fertility. This economical soil test will provide recommendations for liming and fertilizing as needed, as well as indicating the lead level in the soil.
#3. START YOUR COOL-SEASON VEGETABLES – ONCE THE SOIL DRAINS!
Nowis a good time to sow seeds of cool season crops such as peas, lettuce, chard, kale, arugula, spinach, carrot, radish, beet and turnips.
Plant the seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Sow your spinach, beets, radish, carrots and lettuce thickly in rows and thin later to the desired spacing (read the label) and to allow them to develop properly. Root crops such as carrots, beets, and radishes should be thinned to a 2-inch spacing to allow the roots to develop properly. They can be thinned as soon as they reach small edible size.
#4. EAGER TO JUMP START YOUR LAWN?
Your doctor wouldn’t give you a treatment without first making a diagnosis, right? Same goes with your lawn. Why treat your lawn for grubs or other turf insects if you don’t first discover what’s causing a problem? Grub populations are easy to evaluate, as are other sub-surface and surface insects. Once you diagnose properly, you can treat with a reasonable solution rather than automatically throwing money and chemicals at the situation.
Start weaning your lawn off the expensive, stepped conventional petrochemical-based fertilizers by switching to a slow release, low-nitrogen organic fertilizer like Roots Fresh Start. Apply once in early spring after the soil has begun to warm up and apply again in early fall. The water-insoluble nutrients will be recycled and released by your friendly soil microbes slowly over the entire growing season as they’re needed by your turf, rather than getting flushed (along with your money) away with rain and any irrigation.
Doing a lawn renovation this year? Wait until September for best results and return on your investment.
#5. MONITOR FOR WINTER MOTH CATERPILLARS
Winter moth caterpillars cause damage to many different deciduous plants such as oaks, maples, cherries, ash, crabapples, apples and blueberries. their eggs typically hatch early-mid April, and the young larvae quickly start feeding on flower buds, leaf buds and young developing leaves.
Winter moth egg hatch has not yet been observed for this growing season as of 4/5/17 in Massachusetts. Scouts are still reporting that winter moth eggs are orange in color and have not yet turned the blue color that indicates hatch is imminent. Eggs can be sprayed with dormant oil before they hatch, but the eggs can hide under pieces of bark and be hard to reach with spray.
Once the caterpillars hatch, they’re eager to eat their host plants. Dormant oil will no longer work, but there’s a fairly safe treatment that simply takes their appetite away. It’s a kind of bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki. In some forms it’s approved for use on organic farms. Always read and follow the label.
(BONUS #6.) CELEBRATE ARBOR DAY BY PLANTING A TREE ON APRIL 28
Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. The best tree selection may be a native tree that is well suited to thrive in your yard with your existing soil, sun, water, and other cultural conditions. Have your soil tested before investing in your new tree or shrub.
AS ALWAYS,PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR NEED A HAND!
Hairy bitter-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.
Hairy bitter-cress is very pretty up close, but is it a weed? If you could ask your MA soil if it’s a weed, the soil would say, “Yes, it’s a weed.” If you ask the whole ecosystem of your MA yard, the system would agree that it’s a weed.
This is hairy bitter-cress, a native to Asia, that as an exotic invasive plant has an unfair advantage over our native plants, blooming and casting its seed well before most of our natives have even formed flower buds. So, is it a weed to you? If so, better destroy those pretty flowers before they turn to seeds. If you need more info about how, please let me know!r-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.
Carol removes a stump after clearing a tangle of exotic invasive plants on the sloped perimeter of a client’s lawn in Sharon, MA.
Trees and shrubs, vines and weeds getting the best of the perimeter of your yard? Reclaim it! That’s what I did for a client in Sharon, MA, They were getting ready to sell their house, and I wanted to leverage their back yard with an expansive view to a trio of established but hidden ash trees on the edge of the property. So I cut down a few small trees and hacked out their roots, removed lots of exotic invasive plants like multi flora rose, Asian bittersweet and garlic mustard…though the knot weed is still a work in progress.
Carol didn’t let this stump stump her. Her reciprocating saw and pry bar and patience did the trick. She did this to open the view to the large trees in the background. It’s hard to see, but behind the iris is a native Viburnum shrub that had been hidden by overgrowth.