mowing-the-lawnWhen to mow the grass? If you’re me, the answer is always, “tomorrow.”  If you’re my neighbor, the answer is always, “Sunday at 8 a.m.”  For the most part, I mow the grass when it is convenient for me or, as of late, whenever it stops raining long enough to get outside and do it. However, it got me to thinking; When is the best time to mow that is actually the most convenient (and healthy) for my lawn?

In terms of time of day, the consensus is that mowing should be done in the late afternoon/early evening, and I’m not just making that up to say, “I told you so” to my neighbor. Early mowing is bad for a number of reasons: For starters, usually the ground is wet in the morning. You should always try to avoid mowing a wet lawn as it will result in uneven mowing, clumping of wet grass on your lawn, and is bad for your mowing deck. It also speeds up evaporation — when you mow, you are exposing more of the ground to the elements by removing the thicker foliage from the grass that shades the newer shoots and root system.  This exposure results in a loss of moisture, which can negatively affect your grass as moisture helps in the rejuvenating process. Grass usually needs 1-2 days to recover from the shock of mowing and moisture is key to getting that process started. Mowing early in the morning means you are exposing that grass to a full day of heat and sun, which is not good for a recovering plant. Remember, anytime you negatively affect the ability for your grass to grow, you are giving weeds an opportunity to do so. Mowing in the late afternoon when the grass is dry gives your lawn a solid 12 hours or so to recover when the sun is down and the evaporation of ground moisture isn’t an issue.Lawn-Mowing

The other thing that you want to take into consideration is the length of your grass. Most people make the mistake of keeping their lawn clipped way too short. Generally speaking, the optimal length of your grass should be kept at 2 ½  to 3 ½ inches. Again, this is primarily a moisture issue. You want to keep the grass longer to create shade on the ground to retain moisture — it drastically reduces the need for watering. It also helps to prevent weed growth by keeping the lawn long enough to shade them out.

Remember, you never want to cut more than a 1/3 of the length of your lawn at any given time. This rule is true for most any plant and applies to pruning as well. Cutting off too much growth reduces the plants ability to photosynthesize because you are removing its food factory — the foliage. It also deposits much more thatch as you mow, essentially mulching your lawn. If you have let your lawn get too long cut off a third and then go back in a few days and cut it back further. I know it seems like more work, but in the long run, your lawn will thank you.

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Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

I am lucky enough to live in an area where blueberries thrive. They prefer soils with a lower ph, similar to Mountain Laurel, that we find in a lot of the hill towns here in the region. If you’ve tried to plant blueberries and have struggled, checking your soil would be the first place to look. (Read our article on testing your soil HERE.)

bird eating blueberryWe are nearing that time of year when fresh, ripe blueberries will be upon us. Last year I took my blueberries for granted and did nothing to protect them. One day I had almost ripe blueberries, the next all of them were gone. GONE!  All of those bowls of corn flakes I had planned to top with blueberries — lost forever. All of the pies and parfaits that were going to dot my summer — a dream unrealized. The speed at which the birds got my blueberries was shocking to me. It seemed to happen over night, and if a flock of birds is in the right place at the right time, that’s really all the time it takes. Well, it’s not going to happen this year. Here are some tactics you can use to protect your berry bushes from the birds:

String up something shiny
Birds tend to shy away from flashy moving objects. Use this to your advantage and tie foil tape, pie pans, or old CD’s to the branches of your bushes to scare off the birds.

PROS: This is a cheap, safe way to protect your bushes.
CONS: I don’t spend every spare minute in my garden trying to make it look beautiful just to go out and tie an old Milli Vanilli CD to flap in the wind and be the first and only thing people notice. This method is less than discreet and is fairly unattractive, so if your plants are highly visible, it might not be the best option.

Use netting
By tossing protective netting over your plants, you can prevent birds from getting any access to them, saving all those berries for yourself. An old mosquito net works great for this — anything that will still let sunlight through should do the trick.

netting on blueberry bushesPROS: This is probably the best method for saving the most fruit from birds.
CONS: Birds’ tiny feet can get tangled in the netting or they can get caught under the net if they come in underneath of it. Both will most likely result in a very injured or very dead bird.

Plant enough for everyone
At my last house, I had so many wild blueberry bushes growing in the field that even if the birds ate until they were too fat to fly and I picked until my fingers bled, there would still have been some left over.
PROS: Everyone is happy.
CONS: In less productive years, you might not get the harvest you want.

Set up birdfeeders
If you don’t want me raiding your refrigerator, put a pizza in the hallway on the way to the kitchen. That’s the idea here — if you keep feeders around your fruit, the birds will go for the bird seed instead of the berries.

PROS: You’ll attract birds to your garden and protect the berries at the same time.
CONS: Even if I eat the pizza, I will still probably hit the fridge to grab a Coke to wash it down. Likewise, the birds will still eat some of your berries and all of that pizza, I mean, birdseed can get expensive.

fake snakeUse fake owls, snakes, or scarecrows of other predators
This method is fairly old school and self-explanatory. If you go this route, it is important to move the dummy around, otherwise the birds will get wise.

PROS: After your berries are done you will have a fake snake around to scare your loved ones with.
CONS: You probably aren’t going to fake out all of the birds and will still suffer some loss.

Use a combination of techniques and vigilance for the most success in keeping the birds off of your berry bushes. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a little!

GreenhouseFitpatrick2Last Friday at the Garden was a big deal for us.  In 2012 the Fitzpatrick Family Trust gave the Berkshire Botanical Garden and amazing, incredible, awesome and very generous gift – money to refurbish and reopen the greenhouse located on the property.  Formerly the Rice Greenhouse, it was in some pretty serious disrepair and for the most part – unusable as a four season greenhouse.  Through their generosity, the Fitzpatrick Family changed all of that and we spent the majority of 2012 getting the greenhouse in tip-top shape.  Friday marked the grand re-opening and we were fortunate enough to have the Fitzpatricks on hand to take care of the official ribbon cutting.  Also on hand were the members of the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Fence Club, those who donate $1000 or more to the garden each year.  It was a great opportunity for everyone to see just how we use some of the donations that we receive – they really make a HUGE difference!  We cannot thank our donors, both big and small, enough.  If you are interested in donating to the Garden, click HERE.  From the bottom of our hears – THANK YOU.

If you’re visiting the Garden, make sure to stop by the Fitzpatrick Greenhouse and check it out.  Currently, Rob Gennari of Glendale Botanicals has displayed a fascinating collection of succulent and tropical plants in the Greenhouse as our 2013 Guest Gardener.  It isn’t to be missed!

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Another summer month, another amazing evening of our Cocktails in Great Gardens series.  June’s event was held at the home of Susan Rothschild and Don Freeman in Richmond, MA and it was phenomenal.  This garden was a testament to what can me accomplished when gardening on a slope.  Terraced gardens were connected with well executed stone pathways that all seemed to lead down to the picture perfect, small pond and water garden.  Accented with a pitched pergola, covered in pink roses and clematis (in peak bloom, no less) guests gravitated to the spot.  Just a up the hill, towards the house, another garden tucked into the woodland’s edge gave a completely different feel from the garden below and presented a breathtaking view of the not-so-distant hills.    A big BBG thank you to Susan and Don for sharing their home with us and inspiring the home gardener in us all!

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Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

slug6Slugs. Slimy, boneless, legless, and, for the most part, disgusting. Slugs are a type of gastropod mollusk — they are basically a snail without a shell and, like snails, love damp, shaded areas. You know what else likes damp, shaded areas? Hostas! I’ll give you one guess as to who is defoliating and chewing those big holes in your hosta leaves (see example of one plant being terrorized below).

As we all know, this year has been soggy and although we might not like it, your garden slugs are loving life. If you have a slug problem and don’t do anything to get it under control, they can really wreak havoc on not just your hostas, but on the rest of your garden as well. Slugs also like lettuces, strawberries, corn, beans, your flower garden — you name it.

Fortunately, fighting slugs can be done with a number of non-toxic means. Chances are, you aren’t going to completely eradicate slugs, but you can win the war.

Search and Destroy
hostas being terrorized by slugsSlugs eat mostly at night so if you are using this method, get your flashlight and head out after dark. There are a couple of ways that you can do this. Bring a pail of saltwater with you and physically pick off the slugs you see on your plants, tossing them into the salt water to drown. If touching their slimy, cold, grey, freaky bodies grosses you out, mix one part ammonia to six parts water. Put it in a spray bottle, aim, and shoot. The solution will kill them in seconds. If you are going to hunt them, make it easier on yourself by setting out melon rinds or old vegetables and fruits. It will act as bait, luring the slugs out in greater numbers and into one location.

Booby Traps
This technique is a lot less hands-on. One of the tried and true methods of slug control is the beer trap. Take a pie plate or similar shallow dish and set it in a hole deep enough that the opening of the container is level with the soil surface.  Fill the dish up to about 80% full of beer. The slugs love the yeast and barley in the beer and, unable to resist, will go into the liquid and drown, unable to get out. Check the beer level day to day and add more as needed. Another good trap is to take an old jar (any old mayonnaise or peanut butter jar will do) and put in a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal. The jar keeps the cornmeal dry and the slugs will think it is a delicious treat. The corn meal will expand in their stomachs and kill them. You know what they say, “A moment on the lips…”

sand and copper around plantsThe Blockade
Creating a perimeter of unfavorable conditions around the slug infested plants is another effective method. Copper strips are one solution as the static electricity reacts with the slime the slug produces for locomotion, basically electrocuting them. If you’re looking for something less costly, sand works, too, as the tiny sharp edges of sand particles rip open the slugs’ bellies as they pass over the grains. Slugs also prefer alkalinity, so using things like coffee grinds and pine needles around your plants will help keep the slugs off.

Warning
If you are using the beer trap method consider this — do you have pets? If so, you might want to put up some type of cover around the trap so that your pets can’t get to it but the slugs can. I put out a beer trap with a generous pour a couple of years ago and my dog found it way before the slugs. It wasn’t long before he was drunk texting his ex, eating old take-out from the fridge, and passed out on the couch watching QVC. I learned my lesson.

 

glechoma_hederacea

Glechoma hederacea

Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

How can I recognize weeds in my garden?
If you’re anything like me, you are really behind in your gardening this year. The rain has been unforgiving in its persistence and has set me back weeks in terms of what I would normally like to have done at this point. When we are lucky enough to get a few hours of sunshine, I find myself having to make tough decisions; Do I mow? Do I prune? Do I work on one of the two-dozen projects I’ve started but not had time to finish?

Chenopodium

Chenopodium

Last night (post cloud burst) I decided to do some much needed weeding. Let me tell you, no matter how many times I tackle this chore in the garden, I have to take a step back from time to time and contemplate what is a weed and what isn’t. There are some things like Glechoma hederacea (above left), Chenopodium album (at right), Rumex acetosella (my personal nemesis, below left), and Eleusine indica (at bottom) that I can spot a mile a way. Like anything else, spotting weeds gets easier the more you practice. I rip some stuff out by the handful without a second thought or remorse because I have been fighting those battles for a long time.

But weeds are tricky. Every now and then something new pops up that I don’t recognize and I have to ask myself a series of questions before I play God and pluck it from the garden forever. Here are some tips to help you decide what is and what is not a weed.

Look around
Do you see similar looking plants around it?  A lot of times your perennials will self-seed and spread. If you have like species around it, maybe its not a weed—or—maybe you have a lot of the same weed.

rumex

Rumex

Tug on it – My grandma used this rule to identify weeds, “if it’s hard to get out, it probably shouldn’t be there.”  A lot of “weeds” have taproots deep in the ground and are hard to pull out, breaking off at the base.  Conversely, a lot of your perennials have shallow root systems and can be uprooted fairly easily.  This is not a universal rule, but hey—you try arguing with my grandma.

Do you want it there?
This is the most important thing to consider. A weed is any plant that is growing where it shouldn’t be. My Black-Eyed Susan spreads like crazy in my garden. I pull it up as if it were a weed because if I let it have its way, it would take over.  I’m constantly pulling or moving perennials that have become unruly and you shouldn’t be afraid to either – even if it isn’t what you would normally classify as a weed.

 

eleusine indica

Eleusine indica

Look it up
A good weed book is a great thing to have. Get one with a lot of pictures that show plants in both their infancy and maturity. For annual weeds, it helps to pull them up before they have a chance to seed so being able to recognize them when they are young is very beneficial. Personally, I like Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal, and Joseph DiTomaso.

Do you like it?
What one person may consider a weed another person may not. If you like it, then it is not a weed, no matter what the books tell you. You know what they say, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” It is your garden — grow what appeals to you.

Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.
squash leaf with powdery mildewThis week we got a question from someone who can’t seem to keep powdery mildew out of their vegetable garden, particularly on their squash and cucumbers. When you think of garden pains, this is certainly one of the most common, and it doesn’t just impact veggies — in my garden I always seem to have a problem with it in regards to phlox and bee balm.

Thankfully, there are steps that you can take to tackle mildew. You should start by trying to avoid the problem altogether by taking preventative measures. If you are planting in the same spot as last year, remove all of the dead plant material instead of tilling it under the soil. Next, when purchasing your seeds or seedlings, try to pick a cultivar that is known to be resistant to disease and avoid planting in the shade.

Once you have seedlings in the ground, it is recommended that you mulch — mildew is a spore that comes from the soil, and mulch can often suppress its spread. You’ll also want to be careful as to how you water. Try not to splash the leaves; water at the base of the plant (as with drip irrigation), not from above, and avoid over-watering.

If you do notice powdery mildew forming on your plants, remove the affected areas immediately. You also might want to try thinning out the plants with selective pruning; often mildew can start forming when there isn’t adequate air flow through the plant. We also recommend a baking soda spray that you can make at home by mixing one gallon of water with one tablespoon of baking soda, two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and one tablespoon of liquid soap (such as hand soap). Use this spray every two weeks.powdery mildew spray

If the problem still persists, it might just be possible that it isn’t powdery mildew at all. There are some insects that can cause powdery mildew-like symptoms — take a close look at your plants and look for any signs that could indicate pests just to make sure.

Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

Sometimes in the garden, we don’t think about plant problems until they are staring us in the face. Often, however, the solution to these problems are things that take a fair bit of foresight — planting the right plant in the right place, soil quality, and in the case of this week’s subject, pruning.lilacs1

I know some people who are so desperate to turn back the clock a few years that they would gladly give up a limb if that’s what it took. When it comes to rejuvenating lilacs, that is exactly what needs to happen. Lilacs are mostly in their prime right now (or just finishing up) and a lot of people notice that their older shrubs are leggy, with few blooms, and want to know why their plants aren’t weighted down with flowers like their neighbors’. The truth is, that for most species of lilac, the best blooms form on branches that are between three and five years old.

That means that you need to get rid of the old stuff. If you have older plants, you will want to plan this out over a three-year period, cutting back the oldest branches, all the way down to the ground, after the plant has flowered in the spring. This will encourage new growth throughout the growing season. Never cut more than 1/3 of the plant back at one time. Pruning all at once won’t leave the plant enough resources to encourage adequate new growth. The next year, cut out another 1/3 of the remaining old growth and repeat again the following year. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the new shoots, thinning as necessary to prevent overcrowding and to maintain the shape of the plant.

Once you’ve gotten your lilac back in shape, you’ll want to continue routine pruning to keep the plant looking young and fresh.

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Today was a great day for both tree lovers and people who like free stuff.   All day long the Garden was open free of charge to celebrate our collection of Amazing Trees.  We kicked it off with a tour of the grounds led by the wonderful Ken Gooch is the Forest Health Program Director for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.  He is also a Mass Certified Arborist AND he also teaches arboriculture here at the Garden.  Let me tell you from personal experience, if you have the chance to take a class with Ken, do it.  We are really lucky to have him here and everyone who attended the tree walk today found out first hand just what a great teacher he is.

After we finished gawking at the trees here, we all carpooled over to the grounds at Tanglewood where we continued the discussion.  It was a really interesting way to learn about the history of some of the trees we have in the area as well as the problems they encounter and what to troubleshoot for to help protect them.  Thanks to everyone who came out today – it was great to see so many people enjoying the Garden and excited about the rich tree culture we have here.  And a very special thanks to Ken Gooch!

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healthy_imaptiens1Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

Impatiens are an annual favorite: easy to grow, shade tolerant, and for the most part, a great bang for your buck. Normally, this time of year you could walk into any garden center and find tables that are filled with what seems like endless flats of their pink, white, red, and purple blooms. So what gives? Why doesn’t anyone seem to be carrying this go-to container plant this year? Nurseries across the area just don’t seem to have them and for good reason. It’s all due to the fungus Plasmopara obducens, better known as Downy Mildew.

Sometime in 2011, Downy Mildew started showing up in the Northeast and by 2012 it was everywhere. It affects the variety walleriana, which, for the most part, is what you have been buying at your local garden center for as far back as you can remember. The disease works something like this: Your leaves start to look yellow or mottled, with some getting a white “downy” growth on the underside of the leaves. The leaves eventually fall off leaving you with leggy stems that result in a total collapse of the plant. It ain’t pretty.downy-mildew

Sound familiar?  Did it happen to you last year?  It’s likely — and if it did, you really should avoid planting them again this year.  Let’s face it — impatiens have been done to death. This is your chance to break free! Use this as an opportunity to plant something new that you haven’t tried before. Begonias, fuchsia, caladiums, coleus, salvia, oxalis — all are great, shade-loving alternatives with nice growth habits and there are so many others out there. Who knows, maybe this time next year you will have forgotten all about impatiens.

If you absolutely have to have them, however, and still want to give it a go, here’s what you should do: If you grew Impatiens last year, plant them in a different location. This disease is not only airborne, but the spores stay in the soil as well. If you planted them in containers, dispose of the dirt (not in your compost pile) and disinfect your container with a bleach/water mixture. If you do notice some of the mildew symptoms, immediately pull up the infected plant (roots and all), put it in a plastic bag, and get rid of it.

 

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