Summer took its toll

Heat, little rain, and fear of frost leave plants in limbo.

Well suited to summer 2015 conditions of heat and drought, the Big Bang series of hybrid coreopsis includes the aptly named 'Full Moon.' — Photo by Susan Safford

Gardeners always face challenges. It is midway through September, and still the Island has received very little rain. Last week’s thunderstorm (2.25 inches in my rain gauge, delivered throughout the day) was very timely. Island trees and shrubs are “suddenly” brown and dead, but have actually been coping with drought stress all season long. Paradoxically, growth of vines and weed species has been spectacular. Look at porcelain berry, bittersweet, poison and English ivy; one would never guess that this has been a parched season.

Not only drought but also frost — depending on where your garden is located, frosts too are now a real possibility. Not so much in my Island location, but still — coastal southern New England is experiencing more climate disruptions than we are used to; being prepared for sudden shifts is a now foregone conclusion.

Outstanding performer

The pictured plant, hybrid coreopsis Big Bang ‘Full Moon,’ is one well suited to summer 2015 conditions of heat and drought. Along with many other coreopsis, it also performs well in soils that are naturally gravelly, dry, or poor.

Bred by Darrell Probst, the Hubbardston plant explorer and breeder, ‘Full Moon’ was the first introduction in the Big Bang series of Probst hybrids, which includes ‘Cosmic Eye,’ ‘Galaxy,’ ‘Mercury Rising,’ and ‘Star Cluster.’

Plant any of these in full-sun beds, rock gardens, or containers to cope colorfully with difficult growing conditions. In some ways these hybrids of Probst’s, with flowers up to three inches across, resemble annual cosmos (C. bipinnatus) and, who knows, with up to eight species used in the hybridization program, maybe there is a little bit of cosmos thrown in there.

However, it is ‘Full Moon’ I praise here. Such a glorious clear yellow, it lights up its location from early summer until frost. Deadheads can actually be pulled off instead of having to be snipped (as is the case with C. ‘Moonbeam, a 1992 Perennial Plant of the Year pale-yellow threadleaf coreopsis). In fertile soil, plants achieve 24 inches, and may require staking.

Thinking ahead

In case they need to be rushed inside, I have started looking at my potted plants vacationing outdoors, with an eye to what should be repotted while it can be done outside, where it is less messy.

It might be nice to have parsley in a pot for the long winter days ahead, in which case provide plants with a deep flowerpot, as parsley forms a taproot. Do you have fresh rosemary and bay leaf for the coming winter? Buy plants at your favorite garden center now.

Matt Mattus of Growing with Plants (, a writer whose blog I really appreciate, cooks, eats, grows, and gardens in the Worcester area, the “icebox of Massachusetts.” His breadth of topic and knowledge far exceed those of the usual hobby gardener, his writing is spontaneous and interesting, and his subjects cover many different aspects of gardening life.

Mattus keeps a collection of fuchsias (take note, those with weak spelling skills: f-u-c-h-s-i-a), plants and color both named in honor of the 16th century German botanist, Leonhart Fuchs.

I was dismayed to learn from one of Mattus’ blog posts ( that as far as he is concerned, fuchsias in hanging baskets are strictly “meh.” Mattus prefers the traditional fuchsia standards and upright forms that may be seen in heritage glasshouse collections all over the British Isles. Notice the proportions of the containers pictured in the link: deeper than wide.

In my repotting project today, guess which plant leaves its longtime porcelain hanging-pot home and transfers to a flowerpot? Fuchsia ‘Shadow Dancer’ has switched places with some variegated ivy; I hope both plants appreciate the change.

In the garden

Tidying and cutdowns: this pretty well sums up the time of year. Deadheading of annuals and perennials prolongs bloom where plants are able to continue pushing out new buds, but the northern dimming of sunlight makes this less and less likely.

Get rid of tattered or insect-ravaged foliage. Those grayed-out heads of echinops, nepeta, or Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) are not only feeding sparrows and goldfinches, they are self-sowing around the garden. Decide which outcome is best for you, and act accordingly.

Mark locations of perennials in need of division, or document photographically, for once cut back they all look disturbingly anonymous. Done in spring with bulbs, it simplifies fall digging and increases your assets of spring color. Peonies that did not bloom may be planted or mulched too deeply. Scrape away soil carefully until eyes are closer to the surface.

Top up mulch. This is your best avenue for plant and soil health, especially while we have heat and little rain. The following recommendation is counter to convention, which puts me at odds with the suppliers of mulch. “Dark mulch” is a form of lookism, and in my opinion is no better, and may be worse, than composted wood chips, especially those composed of smaller hardwood twigs and branches that originated right here on Martha’s Vineyard. “Dark mulch” may be nothing more than ground, dyed, softwood shipping pallets. Choose carefully, and remember that important adage, “Form ever follows function.”

My ‘Brown Turkey’ fig carried a good harvest, but agile, unknown, after-hours visitors gnawed holes, which did not have the appearance of bird pecking, in many fruits. A gardening neighbor recommends sonic devices, such as the T3-R, that repel various species of rodents. We have had continuous losses in the garden, starting with strawberries and carrying on through cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and now figs. Rodents that climb — squirrels — must be at least a part of the problem, but we also have chipmunks residing in stonework.