Tags Posts tagged with "garden"


And even your flowers know it.

Keep windowbox containers growing well with grooming, feeding and cutting back. This robust example is at CB Stark in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Susan Safford

Labor Day weekend nears; a seasonal turning point approaches. Whether or not it penetrates the conscious mind, everything senses it at the cellular level, including plant life, animal life, and higher vertebrates. It marks the imminence of autumn.

Daylight is now rapidly diminishing (emphasis on d-i-m), while the sun’s arc across the sky is noticeably lower and more southerly. The first day of the fair, two weeks ago, sunrise was at 6 a.m. and sunset occurred at 7:41 p.m.Today those figures are 6:15 a.m. and 7:18 p.m.

Chickens are molting, pets are shedding, vegetables, ornamental annuals, and perennials are ripening their seed or fruit. “Time’s a-wasting away,” and winter will be here before we know it: exercise forethought and try not to put anything off.

Architectural perennial

Echinops (globe thistle, in the Asteraceae) has long mesmerized me, going back to the late 1950s, when it featured in some of the flower arrangements at the fair with the most flair and charm, which were often the work of Alice Matthewson or Ted Meinelt. It is the quintessential flower arrangers’ plant.

My friend’s mother had a large clump of echinops beside her Edgartown barn that grew seemingly effortlessly, year after year. Bold and blue, they were a paragon of rustic style, backed by the simple, white-painted shingle wall, and were probably the form of E. bannaticus, ‘Taplow Blue,’ that was the most available cultivar at the time.

I now know that echinops are indeed trouble-free, almost effortless perennials that shine from July to summer’s end, growing perfectly in well-drained, sunny Island perennial gardens and mixed borders. Deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, echinops’ popularity is increasing, as I found it impossible to acquire more plants after July this year — all my sources seemed to have sold out.

A mature ‘Taplow Blue’ may top out at just below six feet, and will need staking unless grown lean and hungry. The ones I grow are a generally smaller, shorter-growing echinops, E. ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue,’ (about 36 inches high), prized for good reblooming qualities. A friend gave the plant to me some time ago; I have managed to increase it to five repeats in my sunny bed.

Transplanting mature plants is usually discouraged, as, similar to oriental poppies, echinops grows a deep taproot that is easily injured. Propagating is done by waiting until plants are strong enough to produce offsets, and then carefully separating them from the parent plant and replanting. A few echinops come true from seed, such as E. ritro ssp. ruthenicus ‘Platinum Blue.’

  1. bannaticus ‘Blue Glow’ is a recommended introduction, with globes of intense blue (and a reputation for self-sowing). There are about 120 species of ornamental thistle, according to the American Horticultural Society’s “Encyclopedia of Perennials,” not all of them blue, either. E. sphaerocephalus may grow to above six feet, and sports globes of ghostly white. These are most easily acquired from seed, and add architecture to gardens.

Echinops attract large numbers of insect pollinators; seeing them combing over the flowers will gladden your heart. Flowers harvested for drying keep their blue color if they are dried in a warm, dry place; best results may come from harvesting before flowers open.

Dead-leaf echinops to keep plants looking tidy, but leave foliage intact over winter; cut back in early spring. Grow in well-drained soil for best results. Goldfinches and other seed eaters pick over flower heads if they are left to stand.

In case you were wondering …

The August 27 edition of UMass’s Vegetable Notes contains the following information about temperature and ripening of fruits such as tomatoes:

“Steve Reiners, Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Team leader and

horticulture professor writes, ‘Light conditions have very little to do with ripening,

but when temperatures exceed 85° to 90℉, the ripening process slows significantly

or even stops. At these temperatures, lycopene and carotene, pigments responsible

for giving the fruit their typical orange to red appearance, cannot be produced. As a

result, the fruit can stay in a mature green phase for quite some time.’” 

Cover cropping

The same edition of Vegetable Notes contains information about cover cropping: “Cover crops planted in the fall, preferably before Sept. 15th, are an excellent way to capture and store nutrients for your crops in the following spring … here are some general guidelines for fall-planted cover crops and their spring contributions of plant-available nitrogen (PAN) per acre:

Legume cover crops provide up to 100 lb PAN/a. To maximize PAN contribution from legumes, kill the cover crop at bud stage in the spring.

“Cereal cover crops immobilize up to 50 lb PAN/a. To minimize PAN immobilization from cereals, kill the cover crop during the early stem-elongation (jointing) growth stage.

“Legume/cereal cover crop mixtures provide a wide range of PAN contributions, depending on legume content. When cover crop dry matter is 75 percent from cereals and 25 percent from legumes, PAN is usually near zero.”

In the garden

Supplement chickens’ diet with a higher-percentage protein feed, such as chick starter, or black sunflower seed, as molting proceeds. Egg production tapers off during molt, unless lights on timers are employed. Many growers use them, but others, such as Joel Salatin, claim that the individual hen has a finite number of eggs to lay — you can get them quicker and burn her out, or you can pace them, and eat a nutritionally superior egg when you do get it.

Keep containers growing well with grooming, feeding, and deadheading or cutting back. The nutrients in typical “container mix” are gauged to last a season — about four months — and then may leach out through watering. Supplement with soluble seaweed fertilizer and/or slow-release granules. Seasonal accents such as ornamental peppers, mums, and asters, or small evergreens, can freshen the look.

Dahlias, the September garden mainstay, appreciate extra water and feed now.



Pomegranate, amaryllis, and geraniums brighten an indoor garden, while awaiting spring. — Photo by Susan Safford

Abigail-HigginsAbigail Higgins has been writing Garden Notes since 2002, and she has kept a kitchen garden for about 50 years. A resident of West Tisbury, she is an officer of the M.V. Agricultural Society.

Gardeners are eager to immerse in all spring work, but the forecast calls for extended cold and wintrier than normal spring conditions.

Condolences to the family of Donald Mills Jr. of Hillside Farm. It is sad saying, “rest in peace,” because he was a good guy, gone far too young. Donnie was one of the most modest members of the often colorful Island agricultural community, with such a self-deprecating manner that many Island residents perhaps did not know him. Nonetheless, for those who did, the laconic and humble Donnie always had a pithy or amused observation to make, whether on the struggles of Island farming or the crazy greater world at large.

False starts, cold temps

Crocus ancyrensis, closed against the rain. We have waited so long for you.
Crocus ancyrensis, closed against the rain. We have waited so long for you.

There was solace in pricking out lettuce seedlings indoors while a blizzard thrummed outside, although I’d have rather been working in the garden. Island gardeners are eager to immerse in all spring work with headlong energy, rather than waiting. However, it would be wise to practice restraint since the national weather service’s seasonal forecast calls for extended cold and wintrier than normal spring conditions.

Ahhh, color.
Ahhh, color.

There will be many broken twigs and branches from wind, ice, and snow loads; damage will continue to become apparent as plants come into growth. Pruning and general clean-up is integral to spring garden maintenance and of that, clean-up and pruning the sub-shrub category of blooming plants constitutes a large part. Hydrangeas, Montauk daisies, caryopteris, potentilla, Rosa rugosa, perennial herbs such as lavenders and salvias, and buddleia: these all need tending.

Think twice about pruning them this year and do not berate yourself for putting it off if more freezes or snows threaten.

The above-mentioned are sub-shrubs being neither “woody” nor “herbaceous.” They derive a certain amount of their ability to survive in this hardiness zone from the cold protection afforded by their old wood. Remove the old wood prematurely through seasonal clean-up, and cold shock may cause the loss of swollen buds protected by it. In some cases, the entire plant may die from it. Use your judgment, depending on Island location and exposure of individual sites.

Big to-do list

The recent weather conditions have created for many a backlog of garden tasks. What might have been done in March will now mostly take place in April. In no particular order of importance, here are suggested tasks:

  • Dig and stew dandelions, root and top, from untreated lawns and gardens. The traditional tea is an excellent spring tonic, with kidney and liver cleansing effects; roots lose potency upon flowering.
  • Start tuberous begonias if you have not already done so.
  • Prune Hydrangea paniculata back to lowest pair of strong buds on last season’s growth, likewise H. arborescens (‘Annabelle’s and similar).
  • Clean up winter trash and the remains of last year’s annuals and perennials. Cut back herbaceous perennials and divide.
  • Prune shrub roses.
  • Indoor plants (in photo: amaryllis, pomegranate, and pelargonium): feed every two weeks at half-dilution and spray with insecticidal soap. Repot any needing it with fresh potting mix before moving outside in warm weather.
  • When soil reaches 41°F, cold-hardy vegetables such as broad beans, carrots, lettuce, and peas may be planted, but may need further protection of floating row covers.
  • Prune canes of Rosa rugosa back to a strong bud, or about 12 inches.
  • Top-dress evergreen and deciduous trees with HollyTone, TreeTone, ProGro, or ProHolly.
  • Henbit, spitting cress, and chickweed are up and growing in beds and vegetable gardens. Weed them out while young and before flowering (latter two make good salad greens if harvested from untreated soils).
  • Add organic matter to ornamental and vegetable garden soils, but refrain from digging prematurely, until drying-out has occurred (working sodden soil destroys structure and creates compaction).
  • Cut back ornamental grasses.
  • Apply corn gluten (10-0-0) as a weed/crabgrass pre-emergent.
  •  Last call for spraying with lime sulphur oil mix: fruit and other small trees, shrubs, roses, to control mites, scale, leaf diseases. Ideal conditions for applying occur when air temperatures are above 40° for a 24-hour period, with no rain in the forecast. Do not spray if you see any leaf growth, as this will burn the foliage. (If bought separately, both sprays can be mixed in the same tank; mix at recommended rates.)
  • Spray deer repellant on susceptible plants, such as fruit trees, lilac buds, daylilies, and tulip shoots.
  • Lawn mower maintenance: sharpen blades, change oil and air cleaner, and clean.
  • Shear groundcovers such as ivy, epimedium, ceratostigma, and liriope.

Clematis care

Despite the vagaries of the weather, by now clematis should have been cut back. The method, however, depends upon which category your clematis plants belong in (a complex discussion in its own right and worthy of a separate column). Save pot-tags or record name of cultivars planted; books and the internet supply lots of information on clematis categories if you know the cultivar name.

Group 1: prune right after flowering. Group 2: large flowered hybrids, pruned variously. Group 3: (includes sweet autumn clematis) flower on new wood produced in the current year; prune back severely every year in late winter, when they are completely dormant, to about 12 – 14 inches.

Ag Society news

On Sunday, April 6 at 1 pm, M.V. Agricultural Society presents Jonathan Bates with “Paradise Lot, Growing an Edible Garden Oasis.” Presentation is free and open to the public, and will constitute April’s Homegrown meeting. Along with Eric Toensmeier (and their families), Jonathan Bates has been demonstrating the self-sufficient, permaculture lifestyle on Paradise Lot, formerly a junked-up urban yard in beautiful rust-belt Holyoke. For more information about Jonathan Bates, please go to www.foodforestfarm.com.

On Sunday, April 13 at 12 noon, MVAS presents Lamb-O-Rama, a Palm Sunday noon meal (adults $12, children $7, tickets at the door) that complements the Farm Institute’s April 12 Sheepapalooza, a “celebration of all things sheep,” and the regular Sunday get-together of the Spinners & Weavers.