The Block Island Times

Winners and losers in the garden this year

By Fred Nelson | Sep 29, 2011
Photo by: Fred Nelson Crapemyrtle

Hurricane Irene certainly did a job on the foliage of many island trees and shrubs, some more than others. The landscape over parts of the island looks more like winter than early fall. This is due to the salt spray that Irene’s southerly wind engulfed the island in all day.

The only remedy to prevent salt damage from storms such as this is to rinse the plants with fresh water before the moisture dries on the plant. Obviously, this is not too practical on shade trees.

Some folks have wondered whether this will have any effect on the plants. I believe that most trees and shrubs have already set viable buds for next year. I would not suggest any type of remedial actions such as trying to induce new growth. Any new growth that might be developed at this late period of time stands a good chance of winterkill as it won’t have time to harden off before winter sets in.

For all practical purposes my vegetable garden is over for the season. There are still some tomatoes to ripen and we’re picking a few pole beans. All that is left are some buttercup squash that I hope will ripen in spite of the devastation that the squash vine borer created. I have yet to control this pest and the suggestion that we should cover developing squash with Remay until after it starts to develop squash doesn’t appeal to me due to the problem of securing the material to the ground with all of the wind that we have. One suggestion from a kindred gardener was to plant a few radish seeds around the base of the squash plant at the same time that you transplant or seed the squash. Sounds simple enough that I think that I might be able to try this myself next year.

I mentioned earlier in the season that my blueberries and blackberries had a poor fruit set, which I attributed to the fact that the weather during bloom was not conducive to honey bee activity. In addition to the lack of berries, I noted that my early Macintosh apple tree also had a very light set. There was no loss here as I don’t spray for the control of any diseases or insects anyway, and we’re lucky to get a handful of apples worth trying to eat.

Invasive weeds have been the topic of discussion since the mile-a-minute weed was found here last year. Several folks have questioned me as to whether some plants are indeed mile-a-minute but so far they have been representatives of others of our well established nuisances. I have written about the Japanese knotweed, Virginia creeper and black swallow-wort. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to invasive plants here.

Some of our pest plants were introduced years ago as ornamental plants. Multiflora rose is one of these. This is most evident in the spring when it seems to fill the landscape with its white blossoms. It probably covers as much of the landscape as our favored shadblow when it is in blossom. The only control that is practical on home landscapes is to cut the vine off as close to the ground as possible, being careful of the sharp thorns. Treating the cut stump surface with a brush killer should prevent resprouting from this source.

If you don’t have to contend with the thorns of the multiflora rose, perhaps you have encountered the thorns of roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia). This vine has alternate, rounded glossy green leaves which grow from green vine stems. Once you handle this critter you will find that the thorns can be intolerable. Greenbrier forms dense matted growth climbing by tendrils attached to the leaf petioles up into and over other plant growth. Control may be achieved by concentrated hand pulling and cutting. It spreads from underground rhizomes that add to the problem of control as they reach out in all directions.

An interesting note that I came across mentioned that when pulling out some of these invasives, it opens up the soil that then offers a fine seed bed for other plants to take up the space. Welcome to the joy of gardening on Block Island.

On a brighter note, the crapemyrtle “Pink Velour” (Lagerstroemia indica) I planted a couple years ago is doing just fine. It has survived two winters with no injury and has had bright pink blossoms both years. Since it blossoms on new growth, it can be pruned during early spring. The foliage is dark purple during the summer months. And – the deer have not touched it to date.

“I am not fond of the idea of my shrubberies being always approachable.”

—Jane Austen, “Persuasion” (1881)

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