Gardening on Martha’s Vineyard: looking forward to 2012

Muffin-like male and female skimmias add winter interest to gardens, males with showy panicles of red buds, and females with bright red drupes. Plant in shade to partial-shade to prevent winter sun damage of foliage. — Photo by Susan Safford

On the evening of 1/2/12 the moon will be right over Jupiter immediately after sunset, an astronomical New Year’s greeting, if skies are clear.

The calendar does not always arrange a New Year column for Garden Notes. Last year I offered these New Year maxims, longtime companions of mine. This calendar year yields another year-end opportunity; the precepts continue to resonate; and they are applicable to community situations, so I reiterate:

“No one will ever get out of this world alive. Resolve therefore to maintain a reasonable sense of values.

Take care of yourself. Good health is everyone’s major source of wealth. Without it, happiness is almost impossible.

Resolve to be cheerful and helpful. People will repay you in kind.

Avoid angry, abrasive persons. They are generally vengeful.

Avoid zealots. They are generally humorless.

Resolve to listen more and talk less. No one ever learns anything by talking.

Be chary of giving advice. The wise don’t need it and fools won’t heed it.

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.

Do not equate money with success. There are many successful moneymakers who are miserable failures as human beings. What counts most about success is how a person achieves it.”

Happy New Year!

Sitting down to write the final Garden Notes of 2011, should I be looking back or looking ahead? Summing-up is a process done very well by some; I seem to be more of a looking-forward type.

It is fantasist behavior — mere appearances — but at the moment it seems that wintry weather could not be a reality in 2012. Even if we were to have the mildest of winters, the realists know there will be a weather event that places the burden of extremes upon garden plants.

While the days remain pleasant, so too is the garden work that may be done. Best use of energies? In my opinion it is laying mulch. Mulching is like a buying an insurance policy for your plants and garden, buffering them against unknown risks. While it is laborious, even back-aching work, it can be done bit by bit until truly freezing weather is here, when mulch piles freeze and become a solid mass.

As I mentioned here recently, applying anti-desiccants (also known as anti-transpirants) is another valuable gardening effort for this time of year. There is a tricky part. The products need to be applied during spells where temperatures are above 40°F for the following 24 hours. Furthermore, there is a curing process attendant upon the application where the product is set by UV light; so it needs to be timed while there are several hours of daylight.

Once treated with anti-desiccants, trees and shrubs should better withstand the vagaries of Atlantic-climate weather, where extremes of weather conditions can be visited upon plants within a very short time frame. However, the protective coating does eventually weather away and usually needs replacing later on in winter. If you applied anti–desiccant in early to mid-November, look to replace again in January.

Other spraying includes — but of course! — deer repellants. Vineyard oaks are apparently at the low part of the wax and wane mast cycle, the fluctuation of seed production by forest trees. Therefore deer, whose diets include large amounts of acorns in a good mast year, look to other food sources, including ornamental plantings in our gardens. Erecting protective, temporary fencing, though labor-intensive, is perhaps more effective and even better than relying on the effectiveness of sprays, and is also best done before prolonged freezing, while poles or supports can be driven into the ground. Fasten netting with plastic cable ties or even clothespins.

Speaking of spraying, winter moth does not appear to be abundant this year and may have largely played itself out on the Island, although it continues to be a problem, a big one, elsewhere in Massachusetts. It is to be hoped that our entomologists studying this and associated “outbreak moths,” the fall and spring cankerworm moths, will have a better handle on their cycles. Knowing when the moths’ outbreaks are predicted would allow for more pinpoint-effective spraying and control.

Gardens and gardening

The holidays caught up with us long before winter did, and I have many items of garden work remaining on the list. For instance, how can you clean and put away the tools when they are still in use?

Fastigiate shrubs, the tall thin types such as Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil,’ Buxus ‘Graham Blandy,’ arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis, formerly Thuja orientalis) and Hicks yew, can be trussed up with garden twine in a giant blanket stitch, to prevent splitting under ice or snow loads. While this does not protect against sunscald, it is simpler and less expensive than wrapping in burlap.

We are all aware that there has been a massive upswing of interest in gardens and gardening. In other words, get your orders for seeds and plants in ASAP: there is great competition for the supplies and no one wants to be disappointed having once consumed time with catalogue analyzing and ordering.

Now is the time to seriously consider expanding the source of fruit in the garden. Berry bushes, orchard fruits, and nut trees, all contribute to the sense of fulfilling a property’s potential.

Cold hardy annuals, such as arugula, leeks, sweet peas, and pansies, and cuttings are some of the propagating projects to get going, early on. Make sure that all the necessary supplies are on hand so that even if winter weather does arrive you can stay indoors and be productive.