March 2020       Volume 10, No. 3
Dear Friends,

Photo by Lee Gadway
Spring is here at last!  While we are hunkering down and waiting out the Coronavirus pandemic, be sure to get outdoors to look for a few signs of spring. This can certainly be in your own backyard or at one of our many nearby nature preserves. Check in advance about any possible public closings.

We want you to know that here at PBOG we are working remotely on our laptops or home computers whenever possible. A successful staff meeting was held via the Go-To-Meeting platform. Small groups of two to three are choosing to work at the business office or shop on spring start-up tasks and are taking precautions to clean common surfaces and tools. We wash our hands frequently as directed. We're all healthy, have not travelled by air recently, and are eager to get back out in the garden. Some of us took advantage of the mild winter with dormant pruning work on fruit trees during February and early March.

With snowflakes in the air one morning this week, the threat of winter weather is not completely over. It makes good sense to pace garden work accordingly while we wait for warmer temperatures. For example, I raked off one woodland perennial bed that I did not clean up in the fall and have left leaves in place on other more exposed areas to protect my budding hellebores and spring bulbs that have tender tips emerging. Mother Nature often takes her time!

At this point, we plan to start our spring rounds the first week of April and will keep you posted as state authorities release any new information about the pandemic.

Gleanings from a Woodland Walk

I visited the Flat Rock Sanctuary of Massachusetts Audubon recently, located in a woodsy corner of Fitchburg. The trail led up a hill loaded with large granite boulders among scrambling masses of mountain laurel glistening in the sun. This inviting path eventually evened out and was lined with a carpet of pine needles as I ascended to 951 feet, where large flat rocks called "balds" emerged. Naturalized stands of lowbush blueberry, silvery reindeer moss, small birch trees and low native grasses wound among the balds. 

The bright green haircap mosses carpeting the edges of these stands and many of the boulders caught my eye. I remembered that mosses photosynthesize strongly in winter when the leaves are off the overstory trees above (a mix of beech, maple, oak with the occasional white pine). Mosses have no real root system and attach to rocks or soil via rhizoids. They are especially plump now after winter snow melt and drenching rain in the cool weather.

Another sign of spring were the swelling buds on beech and maple trees, along with the drumming of woodpeckers on hollow trees deeper in the woods. What a pleasant interlude!

Tick Reminder

As always, after any time outdoors, check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks! These pests are active in the landscape whenever temperatures are above 32 degrees, especially at edges of woods and cultivated areas where leaves, sticks and debris tends to collect. We recommend a personal essential oil spray of cedar for a repellent.

Remember that now is the time to sign up for our Tick and Mosquito monthly spray program that will begin in early April and run through November. See this PBOG website link for details  or contact Reese Crotteau ( ) for more information.

Upcoming Holiday of Sorts -
National Dandelion Day on April 5

Celebrate the lowly dandelion! Remember that its functional taproot pulls up minerals deep from the soil below. The leaves are collected as a spring tonic and lightly steamed or sauteed  like other greens. Dandelions are rich in Vitamins A, B, C and D, just what we need after winter. Native Americans and herbalists use the plant for medicinal purposes.  

As for the flowers, consider celebrating your Botticelli-style lawn with these bright yellow blooms that accompany low blue ajuga or veronica in early spring. Remember, you can always mow them low before the flowers set seed and blow everywhere, although you'd probably ruin a child's day with that action!

Now is the Time to Renovate Your Forsythia (and Why)

When  Forsythia gets overgrown, it's really overgrown! We like to renovate  Forsythia before it comes into bloom. It's very easy to see parallel stems and pick the best ones to cut all the way to the ground. Crossing branches and deadwood are readily spotted, too. This thinning action helps keep your plant looking natural yet under control. Do this work before leaf-out around May 1 if possible, or else during dormant pruning season after leaf drop in November.

We follow the same procedure with other large arching flowering shrubs such as tall Deutzia, Physocarpus (Ninebark), Spiraea, and Kolkwitzia (Beautybush). Don't forget to keep some pruned branches to force indoors for your spring decor! Just put them in water in a cool place like a basement or garage for a few weeks until you see signs of color. Then bring them out to enjoy in the house.


Plant Pick: Haircap Moss and Rock Cap Moss

Important note: Do not collect wild moss, as this degrades natural habitats. Instead, we encourage you to try the easy propagation methods below for two common spreading moss varieties.

Dicranum scoparium
Dicranum scoparium , Rock Cap Moss, is readily visible in the woods, quite literally capping the tops and sides of rocks or logs and stumps. You might also find it colonizing thin, infertile and somewhat dry soil. This moss has a vivid emerald green color during winter and spring. It's a natural spreader, too. You can encourage this moss to spread if you have it already growing on a rock outcropping by use of an electric leaf blower on low speed to remove leaves and other detritus. Then sprinkle little bits of the moss on the exposed rock to encourage colonization. Any weeds or small weed trees can be hand removed.

Polytrichum commune
Polytrichum commune,  Haircap Moss, grows around the world in acidic soils in either full sun or light shade. Individual stems resemble small conifers when examined closely. This gently spreading moss is appealing and easy, as its shallow rhizoids help knit individual clumps together and block out most weeds. Blades of grass can be the most frequent invader that may be best removed using tweezers! Or hand weed following rain when the moss has dried out a bit. If you disturb too much of the moss when weeding, simply scatter pieces of it into nearby areas that you want to colonize, as it will quickly fill in gaps.

Introducing Rick Burnett, our New Field Manager

Rick Burnett
This month we welcome Rick Burnett to our managerial staff. He joined our crew last fall and worked alongside us as we did fall plantings, transplantings, and finished the garden year. This winter he went out on the dormant pruning route with Kyle or Reese.

Rick will be in charge of interacting with our field staff, scheduling visits, and planning garden tasks together with you. His background in people management and computer applications is a boon to our operation! I will be introducing Rick to many sites where he hasn't already worked, and we'll be meeting many of you in the coming weeks.

Please contact Rick at <> or phone 978-302-5990. 

Priscilla's Garden To-Do Calendar for March
  • Rake off beds gradually while temperatures go back and forth, keeping some winter protection in place for a few more weeks
  • Rake off lawns and step carefully to avoid leaving footprints in overly moist soil
  • Prune out any damaged branches on shrubs or small trees from winter ice and snow
  • Continue dormant pruning of fruit trees and any deciduous tree or shrub
  • Sweep decks, walkways and driveways of winter sand, stick and leaf residue
  • Remove driveway markers and shrub protectors at foundations once the threat of snow is gone
  • Clean out winter greens from containers and windowboxes, but hold off on filling with spring annuals until the threat of evening frost subsides the first week of April
  • Keep garlic clips on shrubs as deer are still actively browsing woody plants until late April
  • Cut back any perennials, ferns or grasses left standing for winter interest, even if still green, as increasing sunlight levels will fade them soon
  • Cut back butterfly bush, smoke tree, caryopteris, beautyberry and similar "cutback" shrubs to encourage new growth that will bloom this season
  • Large perennial grasses with hollow centers at the base can be divided or root pruned now
  • Sow indoor seeds of cool season crops like kale, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and parsley
  • Pea seeds can be sown outdoors now, using legume inoculant for best germination
  • Order seeds for early outdoor sowing in April such as carrots, radishes, beets, and spinach
  • Sharpen and repair garden tools (if not done previously)
  • Look for signs of spring daily!


Don't forget about returning your Maintenance and Plant Health Care Contracts before April 1 to receive discounts! To initiate these contracts, please contact Kim < > for assistance.

We look forward to seeing you very soon, and please stay safe and well in the meantime,

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew

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