Spray hazards, blight fight face Vineyard gardeners


Indiscriminate spraying

This is what I saw a couple of days ago. In a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses a tree-service company was spraying the woods. Not specimen trees, or special plantings even, but the general area of the property, mixed oak/scrub oak woodland. Perhaps it was an elixir of super-organic-forest-nourishing vitamins? Probably not.

I know who the owners are and I am certain they take seriously the responsibilities of homeowners and citizens. Yet, they were having a licensed tree professional apply, to an extensive swathe of habitat, a product that controls something. Had the owners requested this spraying? Why?

Had the tree service suggested it? Was it based on evidence documenting the necessity of spraying? Or was the tree service milking fear of pests, such as ticks or winter moth caterpillars (see below), to apply, for profit, potentially lethal materials to the habitat at large?

What about all the other, non-target insects and caterpillars supported by oaks? Nesting birds need these protein sources for their young. Oaks support 534 species of Lepidoptera, according to Prof. Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware Dept. of Entomology.

Pre-emptive spraying bears resemblance to, and is as dubious a proposition as, pre-emptive war.

Buy local, fight blight

University of Massachusetts Extension has circulated a message about Late Blight of tomatoes and potatoes, so damaging in the 2009 season. It is recommending that gardeners looking to purchase plants buy locally grown ones. A number of Island growers have tomato plants in a wide range of varieties. In 2009 tomato transplants sold in big-box outlets throughout the Northeast were nearly all infected with Phytophthora infestans, the fungus-like contagious organism that causes Late Blight, a cause of the disaster.

The recent UMass Extension Landscape Message includes the following on Pests/Problems: “High winds stripped many emerging leaves from trees over the past few days. Winter moth caterpillars are feeding, but overall the infestation is spotty…. Hemlock wooly adelgid egg masses are noticeable. Treatment for black turpentine beetle should be wrapping up. The gelatinous orange galls of cedar-apple rust are becoming visible on eastern red cedar. Slugs and snails are abundant. We have had a good infection period for dogwood anthracnose and apple scab with the prolonged damp weather.”

In the garden

Forsythia and narcissi are mostly passé, except for N. poeticus. Forsythia can be pruned right now without sacrificing next year’s flowers. Renew overgrown bushes by removing up to one-third of the canes down to ground. Continue this plan for two more spring seasons and behold: better blooming, vigorous, and graceful forsythias.

Removing the enlarging seed capsule of narcissi left by successful pollination redirects energy into the bulbs; allow foliage to remain undisturbed for photosynthesis. Lift and divide crowded clumps (planting depth: three times the bulb size). Feed the rest with bulb food, liquid feeds, and/or an application of compost. Mail-order bulb suppliers have tightened inventory significantly in the last decade; place orders for desired spring blooming bulbs now, to avoid disappointment come fall.

Gift plants

I hope there were many lovely Mother’s Day gift plants given, received, and planted. A relatively recent range of products containing mycorrhizae is sold to assist establishment of annuals, perennials, or trees and shrubs. These may be added to planting soil, sprinkled at time of planting, or watered in. More info is available at fungi.com.

When planting trees and shrubs, find the root flare, where the trunk and soil meet, and plant no deeper. As a general rule, you need to dig a hole that is wide — not deep — so the roots may be spread out in the hole. Construct a soil dam around the planting hole to create a well that holds water. Use mulch if available. Water the plant every day for the first week, every week for the next month. Thereafter, keep an eye on the plant and do not allow it dry out.

Lilac time

Lilacs appear to be flourishing and covered with bloom this year. In the Oleaceae, the same family as olives, forsythia, and jasmine, Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac is a plant originating in areas of the Balkans in predominantly limestone soils. Much hybridizing with Asian species of lilacs has occurred, but these too are found in predominantly limestone areas. Give Vineyard lilacs fertile soil that’s approximately neutral, sun, and good drainage.

The bushes benefit from being deadheaded after bloom, sparing the energies required to set and develop seed; this is also the correct time to prune them for thinning and/or shaping. Mulch with compost or leaf mold and renovate by thinning non-productive trunks from time to time.

Lilac desire (thwarted)

I bought a small, three-gallon lilac I very much wanted, ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy,’ described as “pinkish lilac buds opening to double florets of very pale lavender tint on white; one of the finest lilacs in commerce, excellent in every way,” (“Lilacs” by Fiala and Vrugtmann, Timber Press). I brought it home from the nursery, but before I could plant it, my husband somehow backed over it, leaving it pretty much toast. Unable to even look at the poor broken thing, I dragged it out to the back of the house, pot and all, where it spent the next couple of winters.

At some point I noticed it has leafed-out, miraculously; it ended up planted, after all. Another accident befalls it, two more years pass, until now, spring 2011, when it has a nice amount of flower buds. More bated breath as I await their opening. The day arrives. The flowers are, tah-dah, purple with white picotee edges! ‘Sensation,’ a novelty, my least favorite lilac (apologies to all the ‘Sensation’ lovers out there.)

There are three interesting programs at Polly Hill Arboretum next week: check at pollyhillarboretum.org call 508-693-9426.