Garden Notes: Protecting your garden

Even the most diligent gardener can’t stop some of summer’s pitfalls.

Old-fashioned tall nicotiana plant, N. alata, is a deer-resistant self-seeder. —Susan Safford

Meadowsong and the trill of cicadas are the sounds of summer’s turning. Bats at dusk keep places lucky enough still to have them remarkably free of mosquitos. Flowerheads of Queen Anne’s lace decorate tawny meadows and roadsides. Real Island lawns have gone dormant, but rebound with the rainfall of late-summer tropical depressions.

The bumps in the [garden] road

Gardeners have other lives, even in a pandemic, and cannot hover over their gardens protecting them 100 percent of the time. No question that drought and heat-wave conditions favor the appearance of insect and disease problems, as these cycles stress plants heavily. Thirsty deer and rabbits sense it too, and prune without pay.

Viruses are on everyone’s mind these days. They even follow us out into the vegetable garden.

A friend admired the old-fashioned tall nicotiana (N. alata) in a photo I showed her, and asked, was it N. sylvestris? I promised to save her some seed, and then read up a little on the wonderfully fragrant, deer-resistant plants that gleam starilly in gardens at days end.

The dwarfer, modern bedding plant nicotianas were bred down from three-foot-tall N. alata, an annual here, but perennial in milder climates. N. alata and N. sylvestris both self-seed freely. You want to be sure to keep them away from vegetable gardens. They are alternate hosts for tobacco mosaic virus, which afflicts tomatoes, cucumbers, and other plants you prize. TMV is a serious disease of tobacco crops, and was the first virus to be discovered, in 1930; previously, viral pathogens were unknown.


After the June-July flowering, roses capable of rebloom are slowly returning to a second, though more modest, one. Light feeding, a little pruning and cleanup here and there, plus water, are the ingredients.

Unhappily, earwigs and beetles, less evident in June, may now be depended upon to spoil every fresh rose flower. I am not aware of any surefire way to prevent this, other than a gigantic bell jar perhaps, but an early morning beetle hunt does yield victims.

Stressed roses exhibit foliar problems, such as black spots and rust. Gardeners have their favored means of control, although nothing is guaranteed for susceptible plants. I think many of us have a sort of holy grail idea that somehow, somewhere, the day will come when there will be no rose problems; therefore I read with interest an op-ed piece in the May issue of the RHS The Garden by the noted rosarian Charles Quest-Ritson.

In “Is Resistance Really Futile?” about breeding roses for resistance, Quest-Ritson details the decline over years of roses that were initially disease-free, and how strains of mildew and fungi have gradually mutated to overwhelm them. He cites even the Knockout series as showing signs of susceptibility, and uses the analogy of antibiotic use and development as a warning for breeders to drop the quest for disease resistance. “The result … will be further mutations of the microfungi responsible for mildew, rust, and blackspot,” with the result ultimately being a fight “that cannot be won. And we must stop expecting our plants to be disease-free all the time.”

Tomato fruitworm

A caterpillar of the same moth that afflicts ears of corn is called the tomato fruitworm, when it enters tomatoes near the stem and, while causing premature coloring/ripening, ruins their insides. It is susceptible to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).


Zucchini season: A family member is aghast at the appearance of squash vine borer in her squash and melons, and has declared total war on them. On the other hand, it is my colleague Lynne Irons who advises keeping your cars wisely locked during high-output zucchini season! (See a terrific recipe for your zucchini below.)

Insects, blights, heat, and drought will always be with us, the first two looking for opportunities to express themselves, just like every other living thing, and the second two becoming less avoidable on our planet. The tersest prescription for bumps in the garden road is to provide your garden and plants with as much “chicken soup” as you can: proper siting, good soil, compost, adequate water, enough sunlight.

Novel Invasive Insects

An email thread evolved, facilitated by The MV Times office, out of Ginny Jones’ investigation into the Walsh roses of Woods Hole (“Garden Notes: Sunlit pollinator love,” July 23). It led to my being queried about the Island presence of invasive jumping earthworms, which have become established in other parts of the U.S.

The short answer is yes, they are here. The large-size, very active earthworm Amynthas agrestis aggressively cycles through both mulch and forest duff, leaving typical “coffee grounds” castings. Read more about its detrimental presence and ensuing impoverishment of woodland ecosystems here:

The other novel invasive insect is the spotted lantern fly, Lycorma delicatula, an Asian planthopper destructive to many trees, shrubs, and fruits, and first seen in Pennsylvania, where it has become widespread, in 2014 ( For the Island, it is only a matter of time. Nursery supply and plant movement, defunding of USDA inspection services, mainland mulches, the tourist economy — all add to economic harms from entomologic vulnerability.

In the Garden

Beef up bean and tomato towers in advance of tropical disturbances. Set mower blades higher, and keep them sharpened. Stems of Lunaria annua have ripened, and may now be turned into dried “silver dollars” by rubbing off the papery membrane. For best selection, order seed garlic now.

Marinated Zucchini

From “A Portuguese-American Cookbook,” by E. Donald Asselin, M.D.

In case of overwhelming zucchini output, this recipe may help vary the fare. 10 to 12 servings.

4 large sliced zucchini
1 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. parsley
½ tsp. each salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. basil
1 cup wine vinegar

Fry squash in oil, and place in layers with garlic, with parsley, salt, pepper, and basil between the layers. Boil the vinegar and pour over the squash. Marinate 12 hours in an icebox. Will keep two weeks.