The heat goes on


The season has turned, and now the time of ripening is upon us. Symphyotrichum (aster) Wood’s Blue are in bloom in my garden. Aren’t they supposed to be the mainstay of the fall garden?

It seems conditions were ideal at pollination time. Raspberries and blueberries are yielding generously. (Call Susan Murphy in Chilmark for information about “pick-your-own” at Murphy Blueberry Farm.) By all accounts, orchard fruits have set heavily and are far advanced relative to the so-called normal season. Some of the excess may be thinned for better quality among the remaining fruit. Trees shed some naturally and it is good practice to rake up these drops, as a form of sanitation. Dispose of them in a hot compost pile or feed them to chickens.

The recent heat and sunny weather have taken a toll from gardens. Signs of drought stress often appear quite suddenly and unexpectedly, especially on recently planted trees and shrubs; “landscape-size” plants need after-care far longer — years! — than might be supposed. These, and containers, may need watering more than once daily. Raise the blade on the mower to three inches and sharpen it, or better still, just stop mowing until there is rain; these measures may keep lawns from going dormant.

While the UMass landscape message claims an above average year for Japanese beetles, it is oriental beetles, the dun-colored cousins, and Asiatic beetles, the chestnut brown ones, which I see the most. They feed at night; catch them then.

Pullorum testing

Please have the testing paperwork in order if you plan to exhibit poultry in the Agricultural Fair (August 19-22). Call State Animal inspector Alex MacDonald at 617-872-9961 to schedule a free testing appointment at your henhouse for negative pullorum. Testing dates are July 19, 26, and August 2.

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, is in bloom. It is a gorgeous flower, especially as a cut-stem, its attractiveness assisting its spread. It adds an incomparable bolt of vibrant purplish-pink when inserted into arrangements. These are then thrown away when they fade but may contain some viable seed.

For many years, we thought that there were sterile cultivated varieties of purple loosestrife, such as “Morden’s Gleam,” that would solve the problem of invasiveness. But researchers have found that seemingly sterile cultivars will cross-pollinate with other cultivars or with purple loosestrife growing in the wild, and can produce pollen or seed. Garden plantings of purple loosestrife can thus add to the spread of this invasive.

The following information comes from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website. Purple loosestrife was introduced to eastern North America from Europe and Eurasia in several ways. Seeds and plant parts were transported accidentally in the ballast water of sailing ships. Seeds adhered to raw wool and to sheep that were imported by European colonists. Purple loosestrife was also used as a medicinal plant and so was brought by colonists to plant in their gardens in North America. Cultivated varieties were also brought from Europe to enhance American gardens.

The native insects, birds, and mammals that feed and reproduce in wetland cannot use purple loosestrife as they can the native species they are accustomed to, so food webs and reproduction cycles are disrupted. The denseness of stands of loosestrife crowds out other beautiful or rare wetland plants plus the wildlife dependent upon them.

The best time to eradicate purple loosestrife is when it is in bloom because it is easier to locate. The rootstock is very tough and woody: a pickaxe, not a shovel, is the appropriate tool with an established clump. However, small pieces of root are capable of sprouting anew, so eradication is seldom a one-time operation. There are a number of native and non-invasive landscape plants, like salvia or gayfeather that can replace purple loosestrife in the garden.

Riches or surfeit

Daylilies (Hemerocallis), hybridized by the thousands, continue to proliferate in colors, sizes, and growth habits. Is this plethora of hybrids riches or surfeit? For a smitten daylily lover with the right sunny exposure it is impossible to have too many cultivars. For the discerning gardener, however, there are some “awful-awfuls” out there.

In my perennial bed I grow clumps of two yellow hybrid daylily cultivars side by side. One is the ancient “Hyperion,” first introduced in 1924. The other is “Prairie Moonlight,” introduced in relatively modern times, 1965. Both plants are beautiful but are really quite different and characterize the trajectory of hemerocallis hybridizing from the reserved blooms of the various species towards modern, over-the-top confections.

Lemony yellow “Hyperion” is strongly fragrant, with a greenish throat and a somewhat chalice-like profile when viewed from the side that, once learned, is a giveaway to identifying “Hyperion.” Flower stems stand about 40 inches tall, held well above the clumps of grass-like, dark green leaves. Blooms are about three inches across, with fairly narrow tepals: small and airy by today’s standard.

By contrast, “Prairie Moonlight” is bold all around. The flower is enormous, seven inches across and palest yellow to near white. It is chartreuse at the heart, with a white line running down the center of the tepals, some of which exhibit piecrust ruffling. There is fragrance. The effect on the habitat is that of a clump or bush, the flowers held just at the level of the foliage, each scape bristling with buds, each 32-inch stalk twice as stout as that of “Hyperion.”

According to the expression, all comparisons stink. However, as designers and growers we are always evaluating and deciding consciously or subliminally what we like in appearance or taste. I have pointed out some differences between two worthy plants so that you, dear reader, may evaluate for yourself what you like in daylilies.