March/April 2022 — Volume 12, No. 3
We're Coming Soon! Happy Spring!

Reese has sharpened all our pruners (and other tools), so we’re ready to get back into the garden! We can’t wait to see some real green shoots, spring bulb color, and some subtle native plant interest. It’s all just around the corner. We need a few more warm days and spring rains to soften that frozen ground.
Congratulations, Organic Land Care Program Graduates!
This year we have three staff members who completed a four-day virtual training course in organic land care AND an independent design project incorporating native plants and natural systems. Laura Semple, Jeffrey Stevens, and new employee Douglas Field are the newly Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals. This NOFA program was first held in Winter 2002. Pumpkin Brook has proudly sent all our key employees to the course over the years, to the benefit of all.
Arbor Day is April 25 – Plant a Native Tree This Year
Hawthorn Tree in Bloom
Hawthorn tree in bloom
Hawthorn closeup of red fruits
Closeup of fruits on Hawthorn tree
Our Plant Pick this month is the Hawthorn tree, an ancient plant in the Rose family with all-season interest. Persistent fruit, colorful fall foliage, lightly exfoliating bark, and reddish winter twigs make it an appealing choice. In New England, Crataegus crus-galli, our native hawthorn has large thorns and is commonly called Cockspur. This plant is probably best-sited away from heavily trafficked areas such as a foundation planting or walkway, and in a spot where it can be the starting point for a native plant garden. Since it offers shelter, nesting, and winter food for birds, site it on the outskirts where it is still visible from a window or two. A hawthorn is also a wonderful plant for pollinating insects, with white blossoms in May. This is a small-stature tree, maturing at about 20’ x 20.’

A thornless selection exists - read all about it here:

One traditional use of a hawthorn tree is in hedgerows to enclose animals and exclude their predators. Deer and rabbits will give it a wide berth because of the thorns! A bonus is its drought tolerance. It has also had various medicinal uses over the centuries. 
Hawthorn tree twigs with thorns
Closeup of thorny twigs of a Hawthorn
Be sure to select a specimen for strong disease resistance: The thornless variety, Crateaegus crus-galli var. inermis ‘Crusader,’ will meet this criterion and is reputed to avoid many of the pests and diseases that plague the Rose family.

Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ is a good disease-resistant choice. This plant is native to the Southeast. In any event, avoid planting hawthorn and eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, or Chinese juniper varieties within several miles of each other to avoid the spread of Cedar apple rust.
An Onion Snow – What does this have to do with spring?
Per The Old Farmer’s Almanac, there are many names for the snow that comes unexpectedly, late in winter or early spring, and melts the next day. “Onion snow” was named by the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers. It often arrives just as onion sets are planted in the cool soil of early spring. The snow does not kill the onions, happily!

Such snows actually contain valuable nitrogen, thereby enriching our gardens. You may have also heard the term “poor man’s fertilizer.” (See Neighbors for more on this)
Onions sprouting under a field of snow
Photo credit: Marie Freeman, Appalachian University Photographer
Pruning in Early Spring
Pruned honeysuckle vine wrapped on splayed, wooden stakes.
Time for the annual pruning of Honeysuckle Vine to a framework
Blue hollies, winterberries, inkberries, yews, cutback shrubs…the list goes on. Now is the time! And it’s still not too late for fruit trees. Avoid pruning maples, stewartias, and birches, as these species drip sap readily. Have you ever heard the expression “the sap is rising?” That means those three trees, in particular!
Are you establishing pollinator habitat?
If so, check out this handy guide offered by the Xerces Society. There is a wonderful drawing showing how to create habitat for stem-nesting native bees by cutting perennial stalks to various heights in spring.

New Electric Equipment Rolls Out for Leaf Shredding and Edge Maintenance
Recently, we happened upon an almost-new electric mower/weed whacker combo and decided to purchase it. The mower will be powerful enough to “mow and shred” leaves on a flat lawn surface. These leaves can then be reused on your site as mulch for garden beds, thereby closing the loop right at home! We can also stockpile large piles of shredded leaves on site in the fall for future use in spring.

The weed whacker is ideal for quick spring cleanups of ornamental grasses, meadows, and mass-planted, dormant perennials left standing for pollinators and visual interest over winter. Lighter- weight than gas-powered models, it is also quieter and does not emit polluting fumes!

We’ll continue to use our electric blowers as well during our spring clean-ups.
Electric lawn mower
PBOG crew member using an electric weed wacker
We’re proud of our new electric tools!
John Forti Spreads Inspiration
Recently, I met up with a colleague from my early days of attending garden lectures: John Forti. After spending years developing and tending gardens at Plimouth Patuxet Museums and Strawbery Banke, John has turned to writing. He was asked by Timber Press to create The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Garden Skills for the Modern Age. The book is part essay, part memoir, and part guide to important seasonal markers. It’s illustrated with charming color woodcuts by the artist Mary Azarian of Vermont.

I read about the uses of the herb Angelica, something I had nearly forgotten about, as it’s not that easy to find this plant in a nursery. And John has many ideas for involving the children and young people who may be on the periphery of our lives in the wonderful world of nature.
John Forti
John Forti
Photos: jforti.com
Goodwin Garden at Strawbery Banke Museum
Spring Containers!
Spring Hellebore Container
Spring Hellebore Container
With Easter coming in late April, we’ll have plenty of time to herald the season. Container changeovers will happen as early as we can possibly plant. We know you’re tired of winter greens, but we just need to avoid those freezing nights in the low twenties and teens. Contact Laura Semple for ideas and to get on her list of places to bring spring: <laura@pumpkinbrookorganicgardening.com>
Priscilla’s Garden To-Do List for March into Early April
  • Cut back standing ornamental grasses, perennials, and clean up excess leaves in beds
  • Leave perennials standing until three 50 degree days in a row have passed to allow overwintering pollinators to disperse (NOTE: we’ve had these three days already)
  • Experiment with leaving hollow-stemmed perennial stalks 12”-15” to encourage use by native bees for nesting; a daub of mud on the stem indicates an occupant
  • Shear epimedium and small grasses (even if they still have color) to encourage fresh new growth
  • Prune cutback shrubs such as butterfly bush, smoke tree, and caryopteris
  • Prune subshrubs such as lavender, hyssop, and culinary sage
  • Check all shrubs for winter damage, removing crossing or insignificant branches 
  • Prune out blackened stems of colored-twig dogwoods
  • Prune all hollies to set a new template for May blooming and later berry set
  • Finish pruning fruit trees, raspberries, and blueberries
  • Check overgrown yews - now is the time to prune them hard to be in scale with nearby plantings, again setting a new template
  • Trim off tattered leaves of hellebores to encourage clean new growth to emerge
  • Clean up browned tips of candytuft, dianthus, and heuchera
  • Tread carefully with browned leaves of rhododendrons - it may not be necessary to remove an entire branch, since damaged leaves will fall off naturally with a few hard rains, and the stems will re-leaf on their own in a few months
  • Start seeds indoors of lettuce, broccoli, kale and other cool season crops
  • Plant pea seeds and onion sets outdoors in prepared ground

We are holding staff training during the last week of March. Kim will be contacting all our clients to finalize our April schedule, which we expect to roll out on April 1 if the weather will cooperate! Contact her at <kimberly@pumpkinbrookorganicgardening.com> with your requests this season.

So this is an exceptionally busy time of year. Yet it’s a gratifying one, as new green shoots and buds appear, one by one. Looking forward to seeing you soon in the garden,
– Priscilla & The PBOG Crew
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