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Growing your own berries

Fresh baking-powder biscuits still warm from having been taken out of the oven several minutes ago, loaded with fresh mashed, sweetened strawberries that were just picked, with cold milk poured over the berries and biscuits. Strawberry shortcake, a gift from the gods is all that I can say.

Last month I mentioned that there are three main type of strawberries, June-bearing, day-neutral and everbearing. For most gardeners, June-bearing plants are the preferred plant to grow. But what you should do is take the time and research each type. Need help — just contact us at the Penn State Extension office, 570-726-0022, ext. 3826.

If you choose to raise your own berries there are several things to consider. Drainage is important, try raising the height of the ground with additional soil, compost and even good aged manure, which in our area is readily available. Plan on purchasing several bales of straw to mulch your plants, to reduce weed competition and to help maintain soil moisture. The straw is also a protection against frost. The root system for strawberries is found close to the surface, making it necessary to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Now comes the hard part,; you must be strong, but ruthless. Remember, no pain, no gain. For the June-bearing plants, remove the flowers the first year. No berries the first year will allow the plants to become established. The plant will send out runners, often called daughters. These daughters must be removed from the mother plant. This also forces the mother plant to summon all her energy to be used for her own growth. If you have room, replant the runners for additional plants. Strawberry plants do age and become less productive, but with the daughters you can have a steady supply of new plants.


This time of year I like to remind everyone to be careful when purchasing plants online. The catalogs you receive tempt you with beautiful pictures and low prices. There is a website you can check, and on that site you can see what other growers think. Go to www.davesgarden.com, click on Products & Sources and click on The Garden Watchdog. You can learn a lot about gardening companies. Let the phrase “Buyers Beware” guide you during your quest for plants.


As many of you have read, Pennsylvania was the unlucky state to have the spotted lanternfly discovered in the eastern part of the state. I’m sorry to report that even with all the efforts to prevent further spread of this destructive pest, the Virginia Cooperative Extension has reported the pest has been discovered in that state. Delaware has also reported the same news.

There is one important thing you can do in the fight against this pest. During your outdoor activities, pay close attention to the non-native, invasive Tree of Heaven. This tree is a favorite of the spotted lanternfly. If you see this pest or even have a suspicion, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at bedbug@pa.gov or 1-866-253-7189. You can also contact your local Penn State Extension office.


Remember last year when you bought several packets of seeds and put them in a safe place so you could plant them when the time came? The problem is you forgot where that safe place was. While you were looking for something totally unrelated to gardening, lo and behold, you found that safe place.

You most certainly do not want to throw the seeds out, as they weren’t cheap. But how can you tell if they are any good? Easy as pie, not pie crust, but pie. Take a damp, not soggy, paper towel and place 10 seeds on one end of the towel. Cover the seeds with the other end and place in a plastic bag. Put the seeds in a warm spot; on top of the refrigerator is ideal. Wait about seven days before opening up the plastic bag. By now, if the seeds are good, you should have germination. Count the seeds that germinated. If all 10 grew, you have 100 percent germination and the packet is good. If eight grew, you have 80 percent germination, not as good. You get the picture.


For experienced gardeners the discovery of insects or other creatures in the soil, under leaves or rotted trees is nothing new. For the novice, seeing strange and unusual creepy crawling critters is another story. For either the experienced gardener or novice, it would be nice to know what role they play in the environment.

Armadillilium vulgare is one of these very interesting creatures. They are commonly known as “rollie pollies” or pill bugs. These less-than-an-inch-in-size creatures are not insects, but actually crustaceans. They are grey in color with a hard outer shell that resembles an armadillo. When they are disturbed, they roll up into a round pill shape. Welcome them to your garden and compost piles. These unassuming crustaceans are a very important workforce in their ability to remove many contaminants from the soil.

What do wild cherry, magnolia, tulip tree, birch, mountain ash and willow have in common? How about the flowers of the wild cherry, lilac, milkweed and Joe-Pye? The caterpillar of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on the leaves, and the adults obtain nectar from the flowers. The yellow and black butterfly can be seen throughout the summer months, visiting nectar sources of the above-mentioned plants, plus many other flowers.


Our annual plant sale offers native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Details and order forms are available at https://extension.psu.edu/2018-plant-sale-underway. Mark your calendar and plan on heading out to the Clinton County Fairgrounds on May 19 from 9 a.m. to noon for Penn State Clinton County Master Gardener plant sale. While you are there, ask to see the pollinator garden. Hope to see you there. Bring your questions.

Questions? Concerns? Contact me at qbs5000@ag.psu.edu.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!


Quentin Stocum is a former Clinton County Master Gardener coordinator.