New England

May, 2010
Regional Report

Watch Out For Late Frosts

Keep your eye on the weather forecasts for the next few weeks. Mother Nature always seems to have a few late frosts up her sleeve to surprise us after we've set out our tender plants. Stockpile old sheets, row cover fabric, old beach towels (heck, I've even been known to rob our beds in a pinch- who needs both a top and bottom sheet?) and keep them handy to throw over vulnerable plants if a dip in temperatures is predicted.

Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs After Bloom

Prune spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, serviceberry, mockorange and the spring blooming spireas immediately after they finish flowering. This way they'll have plenty of time to set flower buds to provide next spring's show. Cutting out some of the oldest wood to the ground every few years will help keep these shrubs from becoming leggy and overgrown.

Harvest Your Rhubarb

Begin picking the stalks from your established rhubarb plants as soon as the leaves completely unfold and are flat. They will be the most tender at this point. Harvest the stalks by carefully pulling and twisting to break them off at ground level or cut them off just above ground level. Discard the leaves- they are poisonous- and eat only the stalks. (But go ahead and throw the leaves on your compost pile; the harmful compounds in them will break down as they compost.) When you see the stalks getting thinner, it's time to stop picking and let the plant replenish itself. If flower stalks form, cut them out so the plant doesn't expend its energy on forming seeds.

Plant Veggies to Share

When you're putting in your vegetable garden this spring, consider planting a little more than you think your family will use and donating the extra to a local food bank or food pantry. Be sure to check with the food bank before arriving with armloads of fresh produce to make sure they can handle your delivery. Better yet, ask now if there are specific vegetables that are easiest for them to use or most in demand, and plan your garden accordingly.

Watch Out for Cutworms

Cutworms are fat, gray or dull brown, 1-2 inch long caterpillars that come out at night and chew though the tender stems of newly set out seedlings. Protect young plants from their depredations with cutworm collars. Wrap the stems at transplanting time with 4 or 5 layers of newspaper strips 2 inches high and extending into the soil or make 2-inch high barriers out of stiff cardboard, old milk cartons or tin cans pushed firmly into the soil.

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