The Block Island Times

We may not like it, but the wet weather is good for your garden

By Fred Nelson | Jul 27, 2013
Photo by: Fred Nelson An example of the aggressive “climbing hydrangea” that can damage the properties it clings to.

There is seldom a summer that passes that we do not experience some hot, humid weather. However, if the pattern that has transpired this summer continues we’ll have a summer to remember for a few years. This type of weather certainly isn’t conducive to challenging activities in the garden. And, if this were not bad enough, the alternative that we have experienced this summer has been wet, rainy, foggy weather that again is not conducive to gardening activities.

Because of that, I have not been over-enthused to get my vegetable garden to full capacity. I think that we shall depend on the foundation of main crops, including tomatoes, summer and zucchini squash, lettuce, pole beans, onions and beets. To complement the vegetables, it appears that our blueberries have set an extra heavy crop this year when compared to previous years. This might be a result from pruning, fertilizing and watering during dry spells during the previous growing season. Further, the honeybees must have been active during bloom.

Question: In spite of meticulous fencing and netting of my blueberry patch, an occasional bird always finds a way to get into the area. Of course, once in there they have no sense of how to get out, so I have to go and open the door and shoo it out. In the first place, how do they get into the supposedly completely fenced-netted enclosure?

In spite of the weather, it has contributed to an environment that is very conducive to optimum growing conditions for all of our plants. Has anyone taken notice of the amount and beauty of the plantings among just about all of the commercial properties in town? Between the permanent plantings, particularly hydrangeas, roses and some perennials, are the attractive containers and window boxes. The window boxes in particular require a good deal of attention such as deadheading, watering and perhaps an occasional feeding. Another factor that contributes to an appealing downtown area is that apparently most of the businesses keep the street swept clean. Many times, when driving through town in the early morning, there are one or more sweepers at work before cars start to fill the roadway. Nice job!

While roses are quite attractive, especially this year, a bit more attention to pruning would help to maintain and even improve their appearance for future years. The roses that bloom just once during the year can be easily cared for if all of the blooming canes are severely cut back as far as possible and as soon as the roses are past bloom. This will open up the plant and result in new canes growing out for next year. This keeps the rose plant somewhat confined and yet future blossoming will be enhanced. The addition of some complete garden fertilizer will complete the maintenance schedule. Everblooming roses should also be occasionally pruned. Again, cutting older blooming canes back from time to time will “encourage” new more vigorous canes to develop. This prevents the rose bush from becoming just a pile of canes.

As I’ve noted from time to time, I like to challenge growing different plants. One that I had often admired back in Connecticut was the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris). It grows very well in shade, so a few years ago I purchased one and planted it in a shady area on the west stone wall of our property. Well, while the plant looks attractive in its early growing phase with its glossy green leaves and white flowers in mid-June, I gradually found that it had multiple trees and wall in which to prosper. And prosper it did! It grew up, over and into some shadblows and a pin oak so thick and invasive that last fall I decided that I should take it out before it encompassed the oak and surrounding environment.

We have enough invasive vines to contend with including multiflora rose, grapes, bittersweet, roundleaf greenbriar, black swallow-wort, Virginia creeper, poison ivy and honeysuckle. The climbing hydrangea clings to most any surface, stones, shrubs and trees by “rootlike holdfasts” all along the stems. This plant had such attachment to the oak tree that I needed a hatchet to chop off sections of the vine from the trunk. Had I not removed this plant it would have completely covered the oak as it is capable of growing up to 75 feet.

“It takes a while to grasp that not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden isn’t a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing.”

—Eleanor Perenyi

Green Thoughts (1981)

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