Gardening for Berks County

Where the Gardeners Gather – Gardening tips and advice with avid Gardener Elda Anne Robinson…

A Summer Rain in the Garden…

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It’s mid-summer July and in  my studio, I hear the pitter-patter of the summer rain and as I look out the window the sun is playing peek-a-boo among the rain clouds.  Everything is so green, the humming-bird at the feeder was caught by surprise as well.  The adventurous side of me draws me out to discover the beauty of the passing shower.  It is so nice to feel the cool rain as it falls upon my skin, these are the kind of rain storms that come and pass but bring such wonderful relief from the humidity.  When my children were young it was so fun to play in the rain.  If the opportunity arises pause and feel and enjoy the experience. It’s sure to bring a smile to you.

More rainstorms are forecast for later this week, beware if you hear thunder get inside, thunder can be very dangerous.  A warm summer rain comes with no thunder.

The forecast is for a “La Nina” weather pattern.   So far it has been true to form.  Along with all the rain come conditions that can cause some problems that are usually experienced in Spring.  Such as powdery mildew, and black spot just to name a few.  What causes powdery mildew?  It can be caused by overcrowded planting, which inhibit good air circulation especially during humid weather. Sunlight and daylight are aids, because they help the ground and plants to dry.   Constant water, rain that doesn’t have the opportunity to dry will also become an open invitation.  Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that we can control with treatment.  What to look for, any plant part that has a silvery – gray or off-white soft looking spot on your plants tissue leaf, stem or even bud.  Powdery mildew is a fungal spore that can spread in humid air conditions.


Bee Balm: Monarda

Prevention, purchase disease resistant varieties, but that doesn’t always ensure your plantings are safe if the conditions aren’t right.  So, here’s what you can do.

Give your plantings plenty of space, light and soil that drains properly.  Which should the same feeling as a squeezed moist sponge.  Pick off any infected leaves, stems and flowers.  Place them in the trash.   Don’t place those infected plant plants in the composting bin.

Treatment can be either homemade or store-bought.  Homemade is done with 1 tablespoon of baking soda in a gallon container – spray your plants thoroughly.  When using a fungicide – please be sure to “Read and Follow the written direction. Fungicides can be as easy as copper soap fungicide, neem oil.


rose leaf with black spot

Black spot is also a fungal disease that attacks roses. It can be identified by the black dots on the leaves of your rose bushes that eventually turn yellow and fall off.  Pick off the leaves off the plant along with the leaves on the ground and again dispose of.  Don’t add to your compost pile.  IMG_0635If not  treated this fungal disease can cause cankers on the rose stems.  Cankers can be pruned out and discarded, that’s a subject for another day.

Use a  Fungicide soap or sulfur spray on your entire plant and again every 7 to 10 days.  Prune to increase air circulation.  Few other things to keep in mind, water in the morning, chose a sunny location with 6 hours of full sun.  Unless other wise stated.  Here is neem oil product – it can be purchased in various forms, be sure to Read and Follow All Directions prior to use.  With a little bit of work your garden can be everything you want it to be.  Until later, El



Upcoming Events

Whether you're a farmer, a gardener, or any other kind of human, you'll find something for you here.

Whether you’re a farmer, a gardener, or any other kind of human, you’ll find something for you here.

When: July 22, 2017, 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Bring nature home to your garden with the expert knowledge of Doug Tallamy, nationally-recognized author of Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, at Penn State’s Summer Garden Experience on Saturday, July 22.

When: July 25, 2017, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
When: July 27, 2017, 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM

See firsthand the newest annual and perennial flowers offered in the spring to garden center and landscape clients! Flower Trial Field Day features product vignettes of prominent industry leaders Ball Horticulture, Dummen Orange, and Proven Winners

For further information:

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Hello again, here we are entering some of the last grey days of Winter.  The sun was peeking out for felt like a moment or two…but has returned to shades of grey.  The air is quiet except for far away sound of a lone rooster. Who knew that they could crow whenever besides at the break of dawn.  Did you know roosters and crowing is depended upon their breed and their individual personalities as well as warning that predators are nearby and proclaiming their territory.

As I continue my walk about within the  garden, my only company grey squirrels that scurry around foraging for acorns that are hidden under the last of the fallen leaves or under the cover of matted mulch.

The days will begin to get longer little by little as we near the Spring Equinox, which is March 20th – seven Mondays away, here in the Northern Hemisphere.  So far Mother Nature has been quite kind this winter in Berks county.  I can remember having snow as late as Easter here, so we could still see snow.

As I continue my stroll, I spy things that still need to be done for a clean spring garden bed.

  1. Clean up any fallen debris from trees overhead, leaves, branches and acorns.
  2. Trim the well dried flower heads that were left for birds and winter interest.
  3. Clean up any dead perennial plantings that need tiding up.
  4. Fluff up dried matted down mulch.

Why?  Fluffing the mulch allows air and water to circulate to reach down to plants roots and bulbs for spring. Fallen leaves can build up and actually build a barrier blocking water from your plants roots.  Along with promoting various bacteria or fungus, which inhibit your ability to have a problem free garden.   This why it is always a good idea to take a few minutes to wonder about your garden and yard to keep up on its progress.  A little work here and there help with ensuring a healthy growing environment.  Spring will be soon enough, then the real work will begin.

Until later, El



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Spring Fades to Summer….


There is so much to catch up on in the garden, morning birds make their way to the feeders in anticipation,  as the sweet soft cooing of the morning dove fills the air as I sip my morning Joe.   This spring has been one for the books, the cool weather crops have had a nice extended season.    The El Nino effect is predicted to end in early summer.  Summer officially begins June 20th when the Summer Solstice greets us at 7:02 am here in the Northern hemisphere with the sharing of the longest daylight day. Then that same evening we will be treated by what the Algonquin tribe called “The Full Strawberry Moon.  In Europe it’s called the Rose Moon.

Now would be the time to plant those summer vegetable crops if you haven’t already, before it gets too hot.  Plant where your plantings will receive at least 6 hours of full sun – very important for the plant is water as well.   You can also tuck veggies in among your flowers.  The pollinators will be happy & so will your garden.  If you find yourself roaming through the garden searching for flowering plants, you’re not alone.  Butterflies have been fluttering about the garden as if to say hello.  Front stoop and patio containers can still be done: 1 thriller (tall back plant); 2 filler (plant that will bush); 3 spiller (plantings that cascade). Keep in mind the plants you choose are a fit for the location – Right plant-Right place.



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Eastern Pristine Swallowtail

Most people enjoy the scent of fresh herbs. Plant some herbs so that when you pass by you brush them and their scent will fill your senses.  Herbs can be used in so many ways other than cooking.  Try to use some for cocktail beverages – sweet basil, English lavender flowers, and rosemary. Then there is elderflower and not to be forgotten mint, there are a wide variety of mints to choose from.  Word of caution – mint is a very aggressive growing plant.  I grow my in a container, I learned the hard way.

Summer food faire always seems to include Mexican food.  Whether it’s salsa for chips, no taco is complete without cilantro.   These are herbs to have on hand in the garden.  Cilantro, marjoram, oregano, thyme and parsley can be dried to be used in winter.  Herbs are so wonderful their uses are limited only to what you decide.   It has be noted that when thyme is used in a dish that is frozen the flavor is “more pronounced”.   Herbs that you use most offend can be staggered planted as well.

Last but not least be sure to enjoy your garden, it could be your favorite place to relax…    Until later,  El

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Spring Brings It’s Colorful Presence


Spring is here!  Validation of this fact can be seen all through Berks County and beyond with the blooming of crocus, glory of the snow, daffodils and the soon to follow tulips.

Now would be the time to consider what direction you would like your garden or patio to go.  Butterfly and Hummingbird gardens are so colorful while providing a wonderful habitat for pollinators.   You may also consider a vegetable garden, vegetables can be grown in pots as well in the ground, raised beds or beside your flowers.  The area in which you have can be your “oyster”.

Examples of different ways to grow vegetables, which can be as varied as you want them to be. Pollinators will find their way to your garden with a little encouragement.  Plant a few nectar plants for the travel tired butterflies.  Here in North America there are well over 700 different species of butterflies with more then 10 common Pennsylvania butterflies.   Nectar plantings are needed for the adult butterfly just as milkweed is needed for the adult  Monarch butterfly to lay it’s eggs.  When the eggs (larva) are ready to hatch, a very hungry caterpillar will emerge.   Milkweed is what the hungry Monarch caterpillar will eat until it’s ready to form the chrysalis (pupa) where the caterpillar goes through metamorphosis. When that stage of development is complete a butterfly will emerge and rest upon a leaf.   Unfold its wings to allow blood flow to enable the wings to flap and dry.  After a period of time the newly hatched butterfly will fly, hopefully within your garden.  That’s a reason to have nectar type of plantings, also hummingbirds enjoy nectar plants.

A butterfly buffet will be an open invitation for fellow pollinators to come and visit.  So why Spring is still in the early stage of the season you can begin to plan your garden.  Keep in mind “Right plant Right place”.  Until later, El

For more information regarding butterflies:  (great site for children)

The Xerces Society at :   also Penn State Extension at:  These are great places to begin your information gathering regarding pollinators.  Vegetable garden photos are of Penn State Master Gardeners of Berks County..located at Berks county Agricultural Center 1238 Welfare Road, Leesport, PA 19533-9709


Spring 2016 – Cumru

































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Fall is the Season!

Berks fall color 2015

Berks fall color 2015

Fall is here with all its majestic colors we have come to associate with the fall season. There are a few other perks that come with fall. The ability to forge among apple orchards for the perfect apple for apple baking recipes. Let’s not forget the fresh pressed apple cider, which waits for you & yours to sip with added cinnamon and mull spices…yum one can almost smell the wonderful aroma that lingers. Pumpkins fill the fields waiting for anxious hands to pick them for jack lanterns, decorations, scrumptious pies, cookies and soups.

Pick your favorite apple.

Pick your favorite apple.

Weaver's Orchard apples

Weaver’s Orchard apples

Here in Berks County we have Weaver’s Orchard where you can pick your own apples. Weaver’s Orchard hosts a large variety of apples for your distinct taste. Your selection for fall pumpkins, gourds, and mums is only limited to your creative design.  Can’t decide? Enjoy a cup of cider or coffee with apple donuts while you shop among the fresh cool weather vegetables broccoli and cauliflower just to name a few. Weaver’s also presses their own apple cider on site. You can usually watch in the morning. It is amazing – sure to thrill just about everyone!    082


Beyond the mentioned wonderful things, fall is also the time to plan your garden for spring. Yes, fall. Why, because you can still purchase perennial plants for next year’s opening spring. Bulbs of just about every color can be planted daffodils, crocus and tulips. As long as the soil and ground haven’t frozen hard yet. Which reminds me, when planting those new items be sure to plant them deep enough so as the ground does begin to freeze they don’t get pushed up and freeze & die. Deciduous trees can be transplanted when their leaves have dropped from their branches. Trees will be beginning their dormant time.


Roses enjoy the cooler temperatures. To ensure roses good health, now would be the time to clean up any fallen leaves. Roses are also prone to black spot, rust and powdery mildew. Simply by applying a horticultural oil to roses and other plants in the garden can tackle that problem. (In a gallon container add 2 tablespoon baking soda, 2tablespoon of horticultural oil).  Horticultural oil aids in preventing fungal spores, pesky garden insects eggs from overwintering as well on dormant branches by smothering them. Did you know this is one type of garden intervention is called IPM – Integrated Pest Management. Other types of IPM are natural biological ways to control garden pests such as lacewing to control aphids and predatory nematodes that attack below the soil slow moving soft bodied insects. These Beneficial’s can be ordered in garden catalogs / on line. ( Then again there is cultural soil controls, which is something that can be implemented in fall clean up with plant debris. By fluffing mulch while aerating your soil. Which helps to ensure healthy plants, along with timely plant fertilization and irrigation.         069     078

Now you have done your part to ensure a healthy blooming spring season. I know I can’t think of anything better to dream about during the middle of those long gray winter days. (As with all things read your directions prior to using – some plants may not fare well with horticultural oils.) These are just a few ways to maximize pest control while minimizing pest damage to your environment.

Enjoy the fall season your favorite way…

until later, El.                                            086

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M/G vegetable demo garden.. Earth boxes growing peppers , eggplant and tomatoes. 2015

It’s mid-summer and early morning. The sun is spreading across the lawn.  The long  shadows, combined with the still, dewy grass just made fall seem a little closer. That’s ok, it helps with preparing the soil for those wonderful fall vegetables, while the soil is still warm. What typically gets planted for fall harvesting? Cold weather vegetables, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, chives, kale, peas, lettuce just to name a few. At this point you could purchase seed, sprout seeds or use purchased transplants.

Preparing for the fall planting can begin.  The soil will be much warmer then  in spring. When planting, make sure you allow your plantings to get 4-6 hours of sun.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Prepare your soil –soil is the backbone of your garden. Amend if possible with compost and /or organic matter. Some vegetables are heavy feeders, while some are listed as medium feeds and light feeders. They will require fertilizing. It’s always beneficial to plant crops together by their fertilizing requirements.
  2. Plan your planting area – 4 ft. X 4 ft. – then subdivide in 1 ft. squares. ( see photos M/G demo vegetable garden)


    M/G vegetable demo garden. Row planting with one ft. square spacing 2015

  3. Plant transplants (transplants allow for a long growing period – unless you sprouted your seeding.)
  4. Pack the soil gently but firmly up against the plants to keep out air pockets.
  5. Keep tender roots moist, not drenched.
  6. Lightly mulch to help keep moist and protected.

Be creative. Try planting flowers and herbs among your garden. Lavender and Rosemary are used by many along with nasturtium.  Pictured are various garden growing ideas.

M/G vegetable garden. row with spring planting with new fall season crops 2015.

M/G vegetable garden. row with spring planting with new fall season crops 2015.

Did you know that there is a bean variety that will grow as a shrub?  Yup! See the  photo they look great.


M/G vegetable demo garden. Bush beans planted in one ft square. 2015

M/G vegetable demo garden. Bush beans planted in one ft square. 2015




Take a good look at your plants within your garden. If any damage is present remove those pieces. Weeding can be done, decide if plants need to be moved for more space and which ones would be better in another place. I encourage you to take photos of your gardens. A garden picture can do two things: let you see how nice it looks while allowing you to judge if you like it or changes are needed. Perhaps more color is wanted. Take notes to use to get to know your garden.  Well now you have plenty to do – enjoy!  Until later, El

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Praying Mantis - 2015 Cumru

Praying Mantis – 2015 Cumru

Ever have the kind of day in the garden that makes you step back in amazement? Let me share with you a glimpse into my garden adventure ….


Slope garden in front of tool in progress.

Slope garden in front of tool shed…work in progress.                                                                                                

It began mid-morning while weeding on a rather large slope that I have been trying to create a garden backdrop. Like a painter painting but using plants with warm colors and different textures are my paint brush. Among the plantings, I spy a praying mantis traveling on the mulch. Praying mantis are called “Beneficial – Insects” -aka good garden insects that will help keep your gardens’ pest at bay,  and consume just about any other moving insect. The praying mantis has a humongous appetite that grows larger as they grow. At full size adult mantis will eat crickets, grasshoppers and beetles just to name a few. Praying mantis are named for the way their front legs appear to be clasp together as if praying. But don’t be fooled those clasping front legs are strong and move very quickly to capture its prey. A praying mantis can actually turn its head and look over its shoulder, so far it’s the only insect known to do so. The mother mantis to be looks for a bush, twig or branch to make her Styrofoam looking egg case.

praying mantis egg case found in Spiraea bush

praying mantis egg case found in Spiraea bush


Praying mantis egg case 2015

Praying mantis egg case

This egg case is thick enough to protect the growing eggs over winter. Eggs, hundreds of them, are laid in the egg case. I found one tucked inside a bush that was being trimmed back. If you or your children should find one, don’t bring it into your home. Why? The warmth from inside your home will encourage hatching. The eggs will hatch and you’ll have hundreds of hungry praying mantis hunting in your home after they emerge from the case. Praying mantis, greet the world hungry & ready to hunt, even siblings – they are not picky eaters. While in the garden they are quiet and constantly on the prowl. They use their large eyes to watch and follow a potential meal. They also use their one ear to alert them to any movement. That one good ear is on its underside just in front of the hind legs. So if a praying mantis is spotted in your garden let it be. But do watch it. I still find it rather cool to get a peek at nature’s wonderful beneficial insects. Other beneficial insects for your garden are the green lacewing, assassin bug and lady bugs just to name a few. Also, not to be left out are the soil nematodes who’s only purpose is to feast upon bad soil insects. But that’s a conversation for another day.


Cicada skeleton case from an emerged cicada

Cicada skeleton case from an emerged cicada

While the air is beginning to fill with the sounds of cicadas, crickets and distant sounds, the heat of day is subsiding. It is with joyful anticipation I look forward for the sun to set to watch the flickering lights of the lighting bugs aka fireflies in the evening air. Until later, El