Martha’s Vineyard gardeners tidy up, fill empty spaces


Garden Tidying

July’s hot and sunny days come at plants and gardens like an unstoppable force. Despite several recent lovely nighttime rains, take extra care to maintain moisture in containers and beds. One or two episodes of wilting can permanently compromise both the plant and display quality even when not proving fatal. If, despite eternal vigilance, such an event occurs, immediately give water, remove or trim back all flower stems showing color, and provide some form of temporary shading.

When soil in a container or an area of flowerbed dries out, it may shrink in from the sides, becoming almost water repellant and very difficult to re-hydrate. A tiny drop of dish detergent added to water improves wetting ability for getting the quick soak.

More and more, daylilies (Hemerocallis) are becoming, the premier July perennials of Island gardens, and justifiably so since they come in a wide spread of bloom-times, colors and heights, giving much and demanding little in return. A layer of mulch helps in keeping down weeds, but as we all know, colonies of tawny day lilies may be seen all over the Vineyard in wayside places that are entirely on their own.

Day lilies tend to slough off outer leaves, the oldest ones, as the ‘fans’ continue to expand and send up more leaves from the center. These outer leaves become yellow and unsightly around the plants’ bases but generally come off easily with a slightly twisting tug. Tidying them and yesterday’s hanging faded blossoms does wonders for the over-all appearance of daylily beds.

Continue with deadheading and deadleafing perennials. The earliest phlox, now blooming, are always a welcome sight and scent. It is not uncommon for one stem of phlox to yellow and die among an otherwise healthy looking clump. Not sure if this is caused by pests or pathogens or if it’s purely physical, such as an injury down near the crown. Either way, simply clip it off and discard. Stress on plants, regularly provided by July’s hot, dry weather with high humidity is a precursor of powdery mildews. Keep soils moist and apply compost teas, fungicides, or anti-desiccants to the foliage. Mulching is good, if it does not promote earwig populations.

Seedlings of garden biennials and short-lived perennials, such as lychnis, digitalis, columbine, lunaria, and ‘gloriosa daisy’ rudbeckias, are establishing themselves where they have germinated. If these are the wrong places, it is a good time to re-distribute them to better ones, while they are still small.

Vegetable garden

That “real estate becoming available” that I mentioned in the last column, where the garlic was planted, has already received cabbages, beet, and lettuce seedlings, a row of bush beans, and acorn squash seedlings, after first being layered with the contents of one compost tumbler and some Pro-Gro. Using the broadfork, I incorporated all that into the soil just before it rained.

More real estate becomes available when the onions and shallots are harvested, approximately 120-square feet. The timing is always a bit dicey, but usually there is enough time to plant carrots and turnips that are harvestable by late fall. Salad greens and further sowings of green beans for the freezer give me a sense of plenty.

Continue with weekly applications of Bt on Brassicas and other sprays to control bacterial and insect problems. Oriental beetles are active at night; it is not too difficult to catch and squish them when temperatures are cool. A small sparrow is giving me potato beetle larvae control. The larvae are few and quite visible; in the early morning the little bird flits from plant to plant and delicately picks them off.

Fruit trees

This seems to be an apt era to think more about home fruit production. I feel I am repeating myself when I urge gardeners who may feel intimidated to start with raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Success is largely dependent upon doing a good job in defending the fruit from the local catbirds.

Tree fruits are more of a long-term commitment, so they would seem to be beyond the scope of renters. Many mail order fruit tree suppliers, however, offer “patio” varieties suitable for container culture; and the yield time for dwarf fruit trees is short, relative to standard fruit trees, and the root systems are small. These could conceivably be moved to a new house if necessary.

Check in with your fruit trees in July to clear the ground beneath them of dropped fruits or foliage. Young trees especially cannot carry all the fruit they set, but all fruit trees benefit from a thinning of fruit. Do this manually if the fruit has not done so itself during the ‘June drop.’ The fruit that remains will be higher quality.

Peach leaf curl has been prevalent this year. This disfiguring foliar blight is fungus-caused and once it is apparent, it is too late to treat this season. By early summer many of the afflicted leaves will have shriveled and dropped. Clean this up as well as you can and supply water and fertilizer to plants to support them in putting out new leaves. Prune out disfigured twigs.

At the end of the season, after most of the leaves have dropped, spray the tree(s) with fungicide. Or do it in spring, about the time the buds begin to swell. Get more information about peach leaf curl from UMass at

Some light pruning at this point can help channel fruit trees’ energies in the right direction. Trimming maintains the shape of the tree and allows more sunlight to strike the fruit. Cut back new shoots to three leaves from their base. Cut back shoots stemming from existing fruit spurs or side-shoots to one leaf.


Homegrown garden visits Sunday, July 17, from 4 to 6 pm.