Garden Notes: Getting ready

There are a million and one things to do in the garden these days.


Grass, buds, twigs: everything with chlorophyll in it is becoming greener. The Passover full moon and gale last weekend were March’s grande finale. April showers will be welcome; three-plus inches March rainfall was okay, but soils in many areas are quite dry.

RIP former Polly Hill Arboretum director Steve Spongberg, highly respected botanist and plantsman, who put the Island’s own public garden into the botanical forefront.

In the garden

There are a bazillion things to do in gardens now — it is hard to decide where and what claims precedence. One thing though: do not fail to water seedlings. The sun strengthens day by day, requiring more frequent watering. Once wilted, seedlings become stressed and “unthrifty.”

If you buy plants from the garden center they have been hardened off already, but homegrown seedlings also need a period of it. Hardening off is not only for temperature, but also for wind and solar acclimatization: too much too soon sets plants back.

Cleanup and weeding is ongoing. Despite the challenges of the recent winter, weeds, such as spitting cress, henbit, dandelion, and draba, are up and starting to bloom.

Likewise, the comfrey patch in my vegetable garden seems to have continued in growth despite winter; it spread considerably. Today I dug out multiple clumps. Comfrey has many uses. Some clumps went into the compost tumblers; I fed others to poultry, which appreciated the greens. Later, it can be turned into a liquid feed that minimizes transplant shock and is used as a soil drench.

The rows of garlic and shallots planted last fall are poking through the straw mulch; chickweed, I notice, is too. Garlic, shallots, and onions are best kept well weeded, disliking competition.

Brisk winds continue to find branches to fell and debris to push into corners. Hydrangea flower heads were pulled off by ice and snow. They are so fluffy that they blow everywhere. Clean old canes from hydrangea crowns.

Prune shrub Cornus and Salix grown for brightly colored twigs and branches; sidedress plants with compost or leaf mold and mulch to promote new growth, which is most the colorful. (Pictured, Cornus alba ‘Baton Rouge’ (Minbat).

Prune back lavenders and santolinas. Set up rain barrels but leave petcocks open until freezing danger is past.

Look at evergreens used as hedging, such as boxwood, yew, and various hollies. Prune overgrowth ASAP as they start into growth, and before birds begin nesting and are setting on eggs.

Miniature daffodils

Sometimes overlooked are the smallest daffodils when gardeners desire dramatic “spring glory.” However, on March 21 I found bumblebees, honey bees, and, possibly, hover flies, all abuzz over early small bulbs in a sunny spot in the lawn.

The so-called Miniature class of Narcissus, four to six inches in height, includes many belonging in several different divisions. Despite their tiny size, not only are most of them sturdy plants for rock gardens and naturalizing in grass, but they also make good subjects for growing in containers and pots for indoors. Many miniatures are among the earliest spring bulbs to bloom.

The miniatures here are Little Gem, Topolino, Midget, N. nanus and N. nanus var. lobularis, and N.pseudonarcissus var. obvallaris, in addition to Tete a Tete (not always included in the Miniature class). The wild, or species, Miniatures are good at self-seeding and form colonies.

Because they are so small, planting in drifts in grass, or next to walkways, steps, or gates, where they will be seen up close, heightens their effectiveness. Rock gardens are a natural siting choice, as narcissus in general dislike over-fertilization and manures.

These little bulbs increase strongly in some locations where I planted them, and in others they have disappeared. Despite daffodils’ known toxicity, I suspect voles or chipmunks, those annoying belowground bulb foragers. Due to their small size the bulbs are accessible and not deeply buried (about two and half inches).

As noted above, the little daffodils can increase strongly and benefit from division every few years. I buck the tide and suggest dividing them “in the green,” similar to snowdrops. It is impossible to know where other bulbs are planted if one waits until fall, the season usually recommended for bulb planting. In my opinion, this is the best way to increase the planting and ensure that the spacing and arrangement works.


Houseplants are leaping into seasonal growth and respond to liquid feeds. The citrus in pots are blooming their heads off, perfuming the confined space. As with eggs and chicks hatching, it is easy but unwise to start counting up how large the harvest of Meyer lemons or mandarins will be. Unfertilized flowers and small fruits will drop; even so, thinning the fruit may be necessary later in the season. I top-dressed them with Pro-Holly and cottonseed meal scratched into the pots’ soil surface.

Tender plants grown for containers, such as pelargoniums, plumbago, ivies, and fuchsias, are becoming rambunctious as well. Pinch for bushiness.

I had to take loppers to a camellia that put unbalanced growth into a jutting side branch. “Be cruel to be kind” is the mantra for such moments! Decide to make difficult shaping cuts now, and then let the plants grow on for the rest of the season.

Starting from seed

The Home Garden Seed Association encourages us to become knowledgeable and confident with growing from seed. Variety and wider choice, economy, and new skills (not to mention pleasant empowerment) are gardeners’ benefits. Seed packets with good cultural info, germination rate, and re-sealable flaps are your best buy. Visit for more gardening articles and information.

VCS beach cleanup, April 17

What makes “high value” real estate high value? Does unspoiled come to mind? We must practice good care of this place! Join Vineyard Conservation Society and Island friends in this year’s beach cleanup. Visit