New England

April, 2010
Regional Report

Divide Overcrowded Perennials

Now, just as new growth is emerging, is a good time to divide many perennials in our region. Divide plants that have become overcrowded. You'll know it's time when the center of the clump starts to die out or when flowers become fewer or smaller. You can also divide plants as a way of propagating new plants. I now have a eighty foot long row of 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies that all came from three plants purchased twenty years ago! Some perennials, such as asters, chrysanthemums and bee balm, need frequent division (every 1-3 years) to keep them in bounds and growing vigorously. Many others can go 4-6 years or longer before needing renewal. And some, like peonies, balloon flower, baptisia and gas plant, resent disturbance and are best left alone.

Keep Seedlings Strong

Every few days, run your hands gently across the tops of your tomato, pepper and other seedlings growing indoors. This will help them develop sturdy stems that will hold up well when they are out in the open garden.

Watch Out for the Lily Leaf Beetle

Keep an eye out for the bright red lily leaf beetles as they emerge from the soil at the base of your sprouting lilies. These voracious pests, which have become a real problem for lily growers in New England in the last few years, overwinter as adult beetles. If you give your lilies a quick check every day as the lilies are coming up, you can easily catch the slow-moving adults. I just squash them with my bare hands, but you can knock them into a can of soapy water if you're squeamish. If you're diligent now and dispatch the adults before they have a chance to mate and lay eggs, you can really reduce damage from the slug-like larvae later on. If you find any clusters of orange eggs on the undersides of the lily leaves, scrape these off as well.

Set Out Leek Seedlings

Start hardening off your leek seedlings now so they are ready to go out in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Leeks are hardier and less prone to bolting in response to cool temperatures than onions, so hardened-off seedlings can get an early start. Plant leeks in a trench that you fill in as they grow so they'll develop a nice long blanched stem. If your soil drainage isn't great, forgo the trench and hill up soil around the developing leeks instead.

Start Squash Seedlings

For a jump on the season, start seeds of summer and winter squash in peat pots 2-3 weeks before your last frost date. As soon as you set seedlings out, cover them with floating row covers to keep out cucumber beetles and squash vine borer moths. Keep the row covers on until flowers form. Then you'll need to remove the covers so bees can get to the flowers to pollinate them.

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