Garden Notes: Protecting the environment

Destruction of trees and vegetation is at an all-time high.


Last Monday’s spectacular harvest moon and the autumnal equinox have ushered in a new season to garden in. Photons diminish daily, nighttime temperatures drop, heavy dew falls most mornings, while daytimes can be surprisingly hot in infrared-rich sunlight. Earth’s northern hemisphere is turning its back to the sun as we transit the annual solar orbit.

World: “There’s no way we can shut everything down in order to lower emissions, slow climate change, and protect the environment.”

Mother Nature: “Here’s a virus. Practice.”

The meme is a lead-in to Island development, unrestricted growth, the carbon cycle, and water.

Where do folks think water comes from? It is not supplied by the “underground river flowing from the White Mountains,” nor manufactured at some bottling plant. The “plant” that makes it is the global carbon cycle:

Destruction of trees and vegetation releases CO2 to our atmosphere. Judging by the amounts of woody slash being delivered to Keene’s and Goodales, the Island’s vegetation is being stripped at a galloping, unsustainable rate. (Island water consumption parallels it.)

With punishing drought currently afflicting large portions of South America ( and projections for one-third of our global landmass to be drought-afflicted by the end of the century, plus rising sea levels, it is madness to continue to clear land and woodland, on the Island or anywhere else, as we do.

And that is without even mentioning habitat and ecosystem disruption, and climate and economic migrants, right here on this Island we call home.

Fall webworms

You may have noticed branches of shrubs and small trees with unattractive browned foliage and webbing encasing it. This is the work of fall webworms, which may be found upon a variety of ornamentals, including lilac, dogwood, witch hazel, and viburnum.

My understanding of these infestations is that they are innocuous. The damaged foliage has largely finished its photosynthesizing labor on behalf of the plant. Although it looks bad, you do not have to do anything about the nests. (Maybe poke a hole in the webbing to make it easier for birds to harvest the caterpillars inside.) Next year the afflicted branch will look like the plant’s other branches.

That annoying pollen

As one pollen storm, the spring one, is finally concluded, another commences. These pollen events seem to last longer and longer, while gardening activities often stir up — ah-choo! — last year’s old pollen.

Wind pollinated ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and the many warm season grasses, such as little bluestem and switchgrass, are blooming now and releasing pollen. One might worry that the runny nose, itchy throat, and slight cough had something to do with Covid19? Nah — just pollen, most likely. It is unfair to blame the insect pollinated asters and goldenrod for pollen stress. (It took the pandemic however, to teach me that masks are helpful with it.)

Asian jumping worms

Several worried queries about Asian jumping worms have led to attempts to learn more. Like many other problems of eco-systems, this likely began almost imperceptibly.

Actions such as construction-related earth moving, and trucking plants and root balls transcontinentally, probably brought Asian jumping worm species (Amynthas agrestis, Amynthas tokioensis, and Metaphire hilgendorfi) here long before anyone actually noticed.

When we as gardeners have been encouraged in the belief that “earthworms = soil benefit,” to receive contrary information, that earthworms are an invasive problem, is upsetting. Moreover, many will be surprised to learn that almost all the earthworms we find in North American soils are non-native invaders!

It turns out that the problem with Asian jumping worms is their over-efficient consumption of the dead-leaf woodland debris and litter. They simply eat up what many native plants require to germinate, increase, grow, and succeed, causing the depauperation and impoverishment of forests and woodland ecologies, and their wildlife populations.

Aside from fumigating soil or making wholesale applications of something unthinkably toxic — clearly not an option — it does not appear at this time that there is a way around this situation.

However, I have observed disturbances in mulched areas of gardens with jumping worm populations, apparently made by crows running their beaks through the mulch scavenging for a protein snack. Given time and an otherwise not too badly unbalanced ecosystem, some population of some creature will emerge to relish Asian jumping worms, with gusto.

Boxwood issues

Boxwood is an indispensable addition to landscape and garden. It is practically non-negotiable to have to abandon its use due to disease. However, boxwood issues are appearing, due in part, I suspect, to recent heavy rains.

With their fine, hair-like root systems, boxwoods generally like locations with good drainage. When we have monsoon-like rains of multiple inches, they may sit in a puddle and suffer. Particularly vulnerable are Buxus sempervirens and the dwarf boxwoods, Suffruticosa.

Inspect plants for stem damage from mowers/trimmers, and interiors for buildup of debris; remove debris if present. Apply composted manure to root zones, keeping it away from trunks. Avoid the stress of shearing. Instead, pluck to improve airflow into interiors. Spray with a fungicide such as OMRI listed at Monterey Complete Disease Control.

Cutting dahlias

It seems counter-intuitive, but to induce plants to produce the most flowers, cut dahlias long with side buds, a couple of nodes down from bloom. This encourages a stockier plant, while the side shoots will then lengthen and produce many more buds.

All-America Selections

Thank you for the colorful 2021 AAS National Winner ‘Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor’ seeds. I grew plants in the ground and in a strawberry jar (pictured) by my back door. Similar to the full-size zinnia AAS ‘Zowie Yellow Flame,’ but in the petite, mounding Profusion range, the cheery plants have held up well all season, despite slugs.

Polly Hill Arboretum: Fall plant sale is open daily (excluding Wednesdays) 9:30 am to 4 pm.

MV Agricultural Society: Fall Harvest Festival is Oct. 16.