Garden Notes: Watch for deer on the roads

Divide and replant peonies and irises.


Fall is lawn repair time. Based on trends, it is likely that dry summers and drought figure in our future. Letting the grass attend to itself seems like a viable way to go for those who are comfortable with a laissez-faire style. We mowed the lawn just twice this summer, and only parts of it at that. It is not irrigated, it goes without saying, and grew very slowly, but was one of the greenest ones around.

Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) is a perfectly adapted turfgrass substitute ( It supplies its own fertilizer (nitrogen), remains green with less water, is low-growing, roots more deeply than grass, and supports pollinators. Lightly overseeding bare patches with it throughout the fall produces good results.

Deer activity

A small deer’s corpse lying beside the Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road is a reminder to slow down. Worth warning about are several aspects of deer behavior:

Mating season is upon us; car-deer accidents are likely to increase when bucks chase females. The general dryness has encouraged deers’ boldness when coming in close to feed, even in Edgartown.

Antler rubbing, another component of mating season, is a source of damage to sapling trees and limbs that fit the “Goldilocks” size requirements for it. The animals attempt to hook the newly grown antlers around the tree trunk to rub the velvet off, or to mark their territory.

Bucks may return to the same trees annually for antler rubbing: the telltale flayed bark may be a serious setback in dry conditions like this year’s. Various wraps to protect tree trunks are available, and should be placed now (or even earlier in summer).

Or fabricate your own from wire, burlap, or durable plastic mesh. However, remove wraps when the antler-rubbing window is over, usually by New Year’s, to let the trunk’s bark breathe and prevent insect damage.

Chicks and ticks

Three cute little surprises hatched recently in the henhouse. This is not the traditional, or even the best, time of year for chicks, but here they are. They have chick starter and waterers on the floor in a corner with the mother hen.

The rest of the hens are beginning their molt; now, what they need physically is a rest from egg laying. They need an adjusted feed, in place of egg-layer formula, and the nutrition to grow in their new feathers.

Meanwhile, the shed feathers are themselves a compostable asset, due to their protein, minerals, and amino acids. The litter from the floor of the coop is likewise a garden enhancer.

This small flock does a good job with tick control. Clearly, keeping hens is not everyone’s ideal — there are too many problems — but it is a twofer solution where it works. You get tick control (other insects too), eggs, and maybe even meat, in addition to poultry manure. It is a shame that the Vineyard’s suburbanization more and more precludes this way of Island life.

Something to be aware of if you cannot have chickens where you live: The many wandering flocks of feral Island turkeys perform the same eco-services. I mean this completely seriously; ticks are fair game for them. Feral turkeys may cause some destruction to gardens or domestic landscapes, but so do hens, peafowl, and guineas! I am not always thrilled at where mine decide to scratch or dust-bathe, but we really appreciate having the tickless premises.

Harbingers of autumn

Asters and sedum take starring roles as harbingers of autumn: when gardens begin to assume their fall appearance; and while dryness is enhancing fall color here and there.

Good foliage color is worth taking into account with perennials, not only flowers, and not only trees and shrubs. Some mophead hydrangeas’ leaves color beautifully, as do some peony cultivars, platycodon, hypericum, and a personal favorite, Euphorbia corollata. Check at local garden centers to see whose foliage is coloring.

I admit to annoyance when the taxonomy of plants leads to a name change; some of these have been hard enough to master already! This has been the case with both aster and sedum, which are now mostly Symphyotrichum or Eurybia (and even more genera), and Hylotelephium. However, with the changes in genus names, it is good to have solid sources of information to refer to.

To everyday consumers, it may not matter much, when the flowering plant is in a pot in front of you at the nursery. It does matter, though, if explicitly looking for certain cultivars with distinct qualities and properties, or if plants are not in flower. Why is S. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ preferable to similar S. ‘October Skies’?

Martha’s Vineyard is home to many native asters and the closely related tribe of goldenrods. You may even find volunteer seedlings in your garden that are worthy of cultivating. The links are to aster trials undertaken by the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Mount Cuba Center (, Ratings are based on a consistent set of attributes. Many of the highly rated plants that appear in trials originated as selected wild plants, such as popular Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome.’


Protection of Martha’s Vineyard’s sole-source aquifer becomes increasingly critical. The state of Maine is seriously afflicted with widespread PFAS contamination, making it a national leader in mitigation efforts. The link contains information we all need to become aware of.

In the garden

Take time to breathe in the pleasing scent of invasive sweet autumn clematis, and then cut it to the ground when it is passé. Divide and replant peonies and irises. The common peony complaint is foliage with no bloom. When replanting, in good, well-drained soil, plant eyes exactly two inches (5 cm) deep. Each division should have three to five eyes.

Trim back iris leaves to fans about six inches long; trim roots if needed, and replant in sun, with well-drained (even poor) soil.



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