Spring erupts on Martha’s Vineyard

"Love it or loathe it, blue creeping bugle (Ajuga reptans) causes many lawn aficionados to see red. The flowers are visited by pollinators and figure in many children's bouquets. Dig it out where [it is] unwanted." — Photo by Susan Safford

Does this really happen annually? The “green magic” is so dramatic this year, explosive and all at once. The Island has erupted into color. Spring is boiling up out of the ground. Leaves unfold before our eyes!

The Mother’s Day weekend rainfall of about one and a half inches could not have been more welcome— although the timing may not be ideal for fruit tree pollination — for at every garden I put spade into, soils seemed dry even though mulched. Promptly, our mushroom log produced an oyster mushroom.

Red lily leaf beetles have emerged. They seem to prefer oriental and Turk’s cap lilies, but check asiatics too. Crushing them as found is the most direct way for the non-squeamish to deal with these beautiful though destructive insects; then look on the underside of the leaves for egg masses and scrape them off. If this is too abhorrent, try a neem oil spray: 2 tablespoons 70 percent neem oil to one gallon of water with a drop of spreader-sticker or liquid dish detergent.

With seedlings and in vegetable gardens, mid-spring is a phase where an inch or so of rain or water per week can make the difference between languishing plants that do not thrive, and those whose quick growth makes them tender and succulent. I dislike playing with hoses, and have yet to achieve a drip system in my own vegetable garden so I prefer sky delivery. Hold off on planting out heat lovers such as eggplant, peppers, and basil, unless your spot is very protected. They are easily set back by low temps.

Fill and put out your feeders because hummingbirds are here and will appear as soon as the feeders do: one cup white sugar to four cups of water, no dyes or honey.

In the garden

Garden work of all descriptions is ongoing:

~ Cut back spring blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, as soon as flowers have gone over, or before June 21. Look out for nesting birds.

~ Clean up winter damage from snowload-caused splitting.

~ Pinch perennials for bushier growth that is more self-supporting and blooms later.

~ Side-dress crowns of perennials, for a boost before the push to flower.

~ Weed patrol. Watch for desirable self-sowers.

~ Bunny patrol: spray, cage plants, or try dried blood.

~ Dig out dandelions, ajuga, and other perennial lawn weeds.

~ Mark and divide daffodils and other spring bulbs.

~ Attend to window boxes and containers.

~ Make succession sowings: lettuce, spinach, radish, and arugula, etc.

Planting a tree

Mother’s Day has come and gone, leaving in many households a gift plant, shrub, or tree. Learn as much as possible about the requirements of your gift plant, and try to match it to a suitable location, as in “right plant, right place.” Check pot tags for mature size and plant away from walls and foundations to plan for it, even if the plant is presently of a small size.

You know how it is: there are two sides to every pancake. The old adage is of planting the five-cent plant in the five-dollar hole. Another green-school of thought maintains that enriching the planting hole creates such inviting conditions that roots never want to leave. (Consider how trees in the woods have no one digging them nice five-dollar holes.)

The result is roots that circle within the planting hole, failing to anchor themselves in the surrounding soil, and causing an unsteady plant that rocks in the wind. This same school instead advocates digging squarish holes, since the corners trap the roots and guide them into the surrounding soil.

Excavate the planting hole, just to the depth of the root ball, but make it plenty wide. Measure the hole depth to correspond to the measure of the root ball: lay a stick or batten across the hole and place the butt end of the shovel handle into the hole and mark where it crosses the batten. Take the measurement of the root ball the same way. The plant’s root flare wants to be visible and at the same depth it was grown at. Planting too deeply is the other common cause of tree failure, along with circling roots.

Unwrap the burlap and remove the wire cage, if present, or gently ease the plant out of its nursery pot. Loosen the roots from the mass of soil and settle the root ball in the hole. Further loosen the roots and spread them as well as possible.

Cleanly trim any that are damaged. Back-fill using the topsoil first; settling the soil with a gallon or two of water may be done at the halfway point.

Continue backfilling with the soil that came from the hole, gently tamping, until level with the surrounding ground. Use the remaining soil to construct a moat around the edge of the planting hole to hold water and prevent run-off during future watering. In exposed settings, temporary staking may be needed until the tree’s own roots have begun to take hold. Dwarf fruit trees may need permanent staking.

Water the plant every day for the first week; every week for the first month, and then once a month. Mulch in fall. Devices such as irrigator bags — fill-able leaky reservoirs that slowly release water into the planting hole — may be a good investment for that special tree.


The Community Solar Greenhouse is selling hanging baskets, heirloom tomato varieties, eggplants, peppers, and much more at the greenhouse, New York Ave., Oak Bluffs, 9:30 am to 2 pm through May 31.


Homegrown meets Sunday, May 19, at the Agricultural Hall, 4–6 pm. We’ll be swapping plants and extra seedlings.