Garden Notes: Ideas for spring

Consider magnolia when planning your landscape.


Woodpecker, mourning dove, and pinkletinks dominate the early morning stillness. Then the ‘thrumm’ of internal combustion engines and truck tires begins to compete, and the day begins.

Island spring, despite being almost nonexistent by mainland standards, is a very special season; really subtle, the calm before the storm, the last chance to feel solitude ahead of frantic summertime and traffic.

Sandwiched between the skyglow of New Bedford and the growing light-spill of North Tisbury’s business zone, my location is losing its nighttime sky. Please make sure your electrician is aware of Massachusetts and local regulations before installing outdoor lighting (

We are cheated of an intangible human experience when starry nighttime skies are lost.

For interesting comparison photos and more information, go to The website says: “Lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and in many cases, completely unnecessary. The light and the electricity used to create it are being wasted because it spills into the sky rather than being focused on the objects and areas that people need illuminated.”

All terrestrial life has evolved and is ruled by diurnal and circadian cycles. Effective outdoor lighting reduces light pollution, leading to a better quality of life for all. It may seem harmless but light pollution has consequences that are harmful to all living things.

Magnolia and forsythia say “spring”

Early magnolias around the Island have “popped,” successfully evading frost. Despite magnolias’ ethereal beauty in flower, not many are planted in Island gardens. Is it due to their early bloom — seasonal owners would miss the display? As a pandemic byproduct this may change, since many owners are enjoying their Island places for extended periods of time. A flowering magnolia is certainly one of the most enchanting sights of an April garden.

As a group, magnolias are mostly deer-resistant, with occasional browsing of flower buds occurring in winter. Siting carefully consists of three factors. Avoid spots where cold air pools; avoid planting close to masonry and mortar that leaches lime; and plant in acidic soil rich in organic matter with good moisture holding capacity.

Additionally, plant magnolias where their flowering may be seen from inside. Apply moisture-conserving mulch to the area of the root run until well established. These trees, both small and larger-sized ones, require pruning only while in active growth; otherwise cuts do not heal well.

Magnolias make good trees for the woodland edge, along with dogwood, witch hazel, rhododendron, viburnum, smaller maples, lindera, asimina (pawpaw) and blueberries.

Everyone welcomes forsythia, spring’s cheerful golden messenger — even those who do not normally include the color yellow in their gardens. For forsythia an exception is made.

The sun-loving forsythia becomes large, 8 by 10 feet. Allow enough space for this. Individual plants become congested over time, and may grow warty, fungus-infected canes. They are best pruned in a way that retains their natural arching shape.

Promote this by sawing out about one-third of the oldest canes right down to the crown, after blooming. This enables the plant’s arching habit to develop nicely and promotes young growth with vigor and flower power, without sacrificing the next year’s bloom. Arching growth may tip-root, in which case you acquire another plant, to grow or share.

Alternatively, use forsythia as a hedging plant. Regular trimming produces a fairly dense hedge with spring flowering, summertime noise reduction, and rich autumn foliage color, but with a less demanding trimming schedule than, say, privet hedges. For uniformity, make sure all the plants are of the same cultivar.

Good full-size cultivars in commerce include Lynwood Gold, Karl Sax, Spectabalis, and Arnold Giant. Compact forms, more suitable for foundation plantings or beds, include Sunrise, Arnold Dwarf, and Gold Tide. For embankment, slope, or retaining walls, choose forsythia suspensa.

Earth Day, April 22

Heeding the “Four Laws of Ecology” is more urgent than ever. Many people buying on the Island, I acknowledge, are primarily concerned with return on investment. Please do not destroy the priceless qualities you sought here.

  • All things are inter-connected.
  • Everything goes somewhere.
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • Nature bats last.

Support the web of life. We may hold the deed to the property, but the land and earth belong to all life forms.

Beach cleanup is scheduled for this Saturday, April 17, but trash collection, anywhere, is helpful.

Groundwater and ponds protection: Garden centers and lawn services are encouraged to familiarize themselves with and abide by Massachusetts turf fertilizer regulations, visit

In the garden

Suggestions for first-time vegetable growers: plant what you use and like to eat. Start with easy plants and then extend your know-how. Most garden or raised-bed space is limited: plant no more than you need.

Set supports for tall or climbing plants. I use concrete reinforcement panels attached to rebar, and teepees made from long bamboo. Twiggy brush makes a good support for some plants, such as peas, to grow through.

Chit seed potatoes. Rhubarb plants need dividing? Do it now, and replant with aged manure. Mulch asparagus. Prepare seed beds by cultivating lightly and raking smooth. In the cool portion of spring, cutworms are a problem for seedlings, and cultivation uncovers them. Soil temperature is currently still in the cool range, about 58 degrees F in my garden.

Hardened off radish, beets, peas, onions/leeks, lettuce, spinach, brassicas (cabbage, kale, turnips, arugula, and others) are cold hardy. Beans, squash, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, pepper, and tomato are not. Fleece or other protections are aids that let gardeners push the envelope. Raised beds built to accommodate hoops let gardeners throw on a cover quickly.

Install peony supports; Phlox paniculata, garden phlox, may be lifted and carefully divided. Reseed or repair bare patches in lawns while the weather is still damp and cool.



  1. Thank you for the remarks on dark skies. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask our neighbors, politely and with a smile, to please turn down bright or poorly positioned lights. Often they just don’t realize the problem. Hey, I’ve been clueless many times about what is so obvious to others.

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