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THE LAZY BERKSHIRE GARDENER: Week of March 21, 2024

Plants, especially native plants, are genetically disposed to get growing as daylight expands. As trees and shrubs grow, once-sunny spots become shady and understory plantings might stop flowering well or not at all.

Close on the heels of my witch hazel (Hamamelis, “Arnold Promise”) blooming, the cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) has popped its buttery popcorn-like puffs of yellow. My sturdy dogwood shrub has doubled in size in the last two years. Fruits in the summer look like little red cherries, hence the common name. Although not a native plant, I like that it blooms in March. The flowers will hold up even on snowy March mornings (like this week’s). The flowers provide pollen and nectar when pollinating bees, flies, and other insects start to move around. Early blooms in our gardens support these insects and provide more diversity in the garden.

Cornelian cherry blooms on the previous summer’s wood, and I will prune some of the thinner stems out as soon as it stops blooming about two weeks from now. Pruning also spurs new growth. With new stems and the sunshine, I expect next year’s flower show to be even better. Pruning is a continuous learning process. I will start by cutting out the weakest stems from the bottom, especially if they cross other branches or grow toward the center of the plant instead of outward. More light into the center of the shrub will bring more flowers on the remaining stems next year.

A thick patch of iris will need thinning in the fall.

I found other items to add to the to-do list for fall. My iris patch has grown thick. The many fans of leaves will soon exhaust the soil and stop producing flowers. I won’t divide them now but plan to do it in September.

If you discover that red twig dogwood, willow branches, or forsythia have started to form roots while in your vases or outdoor containers, you can pot those up now. Just treat them like young perennials in pots and water regularly. If rooted indoors, acclimate the growing stems to outdoor temperatures slowly like you would seedlings.

Plants, especially native plants, are genetically disposed to get growing as daylight expands. As trees and shrubs grow, once-sunny spots become shady and understory plantings might stop flowering well or not at all. Now is a fine time to move small shrubs or small trees and transplant them. They will have all summer to become established.

Of course, a large shrub will have a corresponding large root ball. Be aware that moving said shrub is not the task for a lazy gardener. You could consider moving the shrub after reducing its branch spread and root ball width as well. Cut back the branches and the root ball by no more than a third. Transplant immediately into the new prepared planting hole and be sure to water well. The shrub is no longer considered “mature” and will need to be treated as a new planting as it grows into its new location.

How is your vegetable garden? My raised beds have a nice green manure crop of winter rye. The “green manure” is an annual grown for the purpose of turning the nitrogen-rich green leaves into the beds and allowing them to decompose for a few weeks before planting. The leaves also add back organic material and nutrients that I removed last summer in the form of vegetables.

I did not plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day (which is someone’s tradition), but I probably could have. Peas germinate in cold soils and do best if sown directly. You could plant yours now as long as your soil “can be worked,” meaning the soil is draining but will still hold together in a loose clump. After the heavy rains so far this year, I plan to sow my peas this weekend and then again in two weeks if nothing has sprouted. Peas can rot in the soil if it is too wet. A little snow won’t hurt them.

Garlic leaves wrap tightly around a single stem and the winter rye has a loose thatch of blades sprouting from short roots near the surface (at red arrow).

Garlic leaves have sprouted through the thick cover of straw that I placed last fall. Some winter rye leaves have appeared also! I was a bit careless as I tossed the winter rye seed across the beds in October. Garlic doesn’t need the cover crop, and I don’t turn the soil once the cloves start growing. Now I must pull those pesky winter rye seedlings out from between the young garlic bulbs. Better to do it now while everything is still small.

The young lupine leaves hold a single drop of water in their centers. The lobed leaves of daisy rosettes surround the young lupine shoot. Many of the daisies can be weeded out, and the lazy gardener will still have plenty to enjoy of these self-sowing annuals.

Check those parts of your flower garden where you let the seed fly. I like to let things go to seed a bit in some areas to achieve a more natural arrangement. Daisies, lupine, coreopsis, goldenrod, poppy, or milkweed could sprout up anywhere in this garden. Now I have lupine leaves emerging from oxeye daisy rosettes. I want to get those separated soon and before the roots become too established. This past weekend, I enjoyed looking at what green I could find and then made my to-do lists.

Crocus flowers put on the best show when planted in groups of twelve or more. They will naturalize (multiply and spread) from year to year. Give them room!

I couldn’t locate my crocus. I know I planted some in the lawn, but I can’t figure out where. Maybe if I had planted them in my perennial beds, I could find them. Crocus, snowdrops, hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips (and more) are sold as bulbs to be planted in October. I will put the reminder in my calendar for October 1 to get more of these March blooms in my gardens. Crocus hold up well in chilly March weather. On warm days, the flowers open wide to reveal the bright yellow-orange stamens and pistil. They will spread over time.

What are these fuzzy sticks?

Here is a mystery plant for you. These fuzzy sticks might be the bane of your gardening life or not. They can be invasive to your garden, but they are native. They make a nice transition shrub border from a cultivated garden to a wilder woodland. The stems sucker up from roots sometimes many feet away from the mother shrub. Know what they are? Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)! Large compound leaves of sumac fill in during summer months but leave behind the central trunks through the winter.


I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up, or daisies to self-sow. I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season. I look for beautiful, low-maintenance plants that 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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