Blackberries, white clover, and wild rose

White clover seems to be in full bloom. It isn’t a terribly impressive bloom, but in mass they make a nice showing, and the bees are certainly appreciative.

Blackberries are on the trailing edge of their bloom season here. For most of the year I forget that fields of blackberries count as a superb ornamental. When they are in bloom it can turn an untamed lot into a sea of white.

The local wild roses are just now coming into bloom. I’m not certain which species it is, Rosa multiflora perhaps, or R. canina maybe. I suspect it is R. multiflora. At any rate the simple, single blooms are very pretty when they cover those thorny branches.

Setting Out Spring Annuals

Memorial day is the traditional planting out day in western Pennsylvania.

Earlier this spring I described the process of starting seeds indoors for things like
tomatoes, peppers, and flowering nicotiana. So now that you’ve got your seedlings started, what do you do with them?

The simple answer is take them outside and plant them!

In fact this is what my co-workers and I did last earlier this week when we slipped some
papste tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, some jalapeno peppers, and some unidentified flowers into
the ground in front of our workplace.

The devil is in the details though, and there are some steps that you can take to improve the odds for
those little plants.

The first thing to be aware of is that plants grown indoors are typically exposed to much lower light levels and
far less air movement than they are outside. This means that the leaves are likely going to wind or sunburn fairly easily.

This shouldn’t be a mystery. If we take the average couch potato and rip him from in front of the TV, tossing him into
bright spring sun for 4 or 5 hours, we can be pretty certain that he will sunburn. Plants do the same thing, and for the
same reason. Gradually exposing them to the sunlight for increasing lengths of time will allow the leaves to darken, toughen,
and handle the sun better. Fortunately plants adapt faster than humans. Start them off with a couple hours of early
morning and evening daylight, and in 2-3 days they should be toughened pretty well.

Windburn is pretty much the same thing, and the same approach that hardens the plants to sunburn will work here as well.
The only real difference here is that it isn’t the ultra-violet from the sun doing the damage, it is the wind sucking precious
moisture from the thin leaf surface.

Soil preparation is important. My co-workers and I turned the soil over with a garden fork, dug holes within this, and carefully
set the plants into the soil. We were careful to make sure we broke up large clumbs of dirt near the roots, so as to minimize air pockets.
Last spring I provided tips for a no-till approach to soil preparation. In essence you trade off some time, cardboard or newspaper, and plenty
of mulch in place of turning the soil. It takes longer to prepare the bed, but the soil will be healthier for it, and healthy soil makes
for healthy plants.

Trap the soil down firmly around the plants. Again you are looking to eliminate air pockets, which will dry roots and endanger the young plants.

For tomatoes, don’t be afraid to set the plants down in deeper than they were originally. Any portion of the tomato stem that ends up below
ground will strike roots and create a stronger, healthier plant.

Once the plants are in the soil, water them in well. Coming from a more protected environment, they are going to lose water faster and take
it up slower than they will once they get settled in, so plentiful water in the garden bed is particularly important right now.

Top dress the plants with an inch or so of well aged compost or double ground wood mulch.

Now step back and watch them settle in for the next week or two! Soon the roots will start to explore out into the soil, and it will be time to fertilize.

Remember that sunlight fuels plant growth, and plants usually alternate between root growth and leaf growth. Don’t be surprised if the plants take a week
or two to start really growing. They need to get those roots anchoring into the soil first!

Setting Out Spring Annuals

Field Mustard

Field mustard is the flower that has struck me the most this past week. This plant is Brassica rapa, or possibly B. campestris if you don’t like the idea of mustard and turnips being the same plant. The bright yellow flowers jump out at me every spring, partly because when I was in grade school, 1st or 2nd grade perhaps, I was taught to eat it. The school at that time would bring in a fellow by the name of Mr. Emerick, on loan from the PA Game Commission or somewhere, to take us on a nature walk. I learned to identify witch hazel, field mustard, and probably other plants that I’ve “just always known”.

Dandelions were out in force two weeks ago, though I normally look for the big dandelion bloom around May 5. In early May 1996 we brought my wife home from rehab after a bad car accident, and to this day I recall the dandelions were in full force at the time.

Apples have been blooming off and on, depending on the breed and species, and I see that in the last day or two Elaeagnus shrubs have been flowering. E umbellata? E. multiflora? I confess I can’t tell the two apart right now, but I suspect they are E. multiflora. They have an absolutely wonderful scent.