Garden Notes: Watch for deer on the roads


Fall is lawn repair time. Based on the trends, it is likely that dry summers and drought are in our future. Letting the weed take care of itself seems like a viable path for those who are comfortable with a laissez-faire style. We only mowed the lawn twice this summer, and only partially. It is not irrigated, of course, and grew very slowly, but was one of the greenest around.

Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) is a perfectly suitable turf substitute ( It provides its own fertilizer (nitrogen), stays green with less water, grows low, roots deeper than grass, and supports pollinators. Lightly overseeding bare plots throughout the fall gives good results.

deer activity

The corpse of a small deer lying next to the Vineyard Haven–Edgartown road reminds us to slow down. Several aspects of deer behavior are worth warning:

The mating season is upon us; car-deer accidents are likely to increase when males chase females. The general dryness has encouraged deer to be bold when approaching for food, even in Edgartown.

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

Males may return to the same trees each year to rub antlers: the telltale scraped bark can 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 the summer).

Or make your own from wire, burlap or durable plastic mesh. However, remove the husks when the antlers’ rubbing window is over, usually at New Year’s, to allow the trunk bark to breathe and prevent insect damage.

Chicks and ticks

Three cute little surprises have recently hatched in the chicken coop. It’s not the traditional, or even the best, time of year for chicks, but here they are. They have chick starters and drinkers on the floor in a corner with the mother hen.

The rest of the hens begin their moult; now what they physically need is a rest after laying eggs. They need adjusted feed, in place of layer formula, and nutrition to grow into their new feathers.

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

This little herd is doing a good job with tick control. Of course, keeping chickens isn’t everyone’s ideal — there are too many problems — but it’s a two-way solution where it works. You get tick control (other insects too), eggs, and maybe even some meat, in addition to poultry manure. It is a pity that the suburbanization of the vineyard increasingly prevents this island way of life.

One thing to know if you can’t have chickens where you live: the island’s many roaming flocks of wild turkeys perform the same eco-services. I mean this completely seriously; ticks are fair game for them. Wild turkeys can cause damage to gardens or home landscapes, but so can chickens, peacocks and guinea fowl! I’m not always thrilled about where mine decide to scratch or dust bath, but we really appreciate having the premises tickle-free.

Precursors of autumn

Asters and sedums play the main role of harbingers of autumn: when gardens begin to take on their autumn appearance; and while the drought enhances the fall color here and there.

Good foliage color is worth considering with perennials, not just flowers, and not just trees and shrubs. Some mophead hydrangea leaves color beautifully, as do some cultivars of peony, platycodon, hypericum, and a personal favorite, Euphorbia corollata. Check local garden centers to see whose foliage is coloring.

I admit to being upset when plant taxonomy leads to a name change; some of them have already been difficult enough to master! This has been the case for both aster and sedum, which are now mostly Symphyotrichum or Eurybia (and even more genera), and Hylotelephium. However, with genre name changes, it’s good to have solid sources of information to refer to.

For everyday consumers, it may not matter much, when the flowering plant is in a pot in front of you at the nursery. However, it matters if you are explicitly looking for certain cultivars with distinct qualities and properties, or if the plants are not flowering. Why is S. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ better than the similar S. ‘October Skies’?

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


Protection of Martha’s Vineyard’s unique aquifer is becoming increasingly critical. The state of Maine is severely impacted by widespread PFAS contamination, making it a national leader in mitigation efforts. The link contains information we all need to be aware of.

In the garden

Take the time to breathe in the pleasant scent of the overbearing sweet autumn clematis, then cut it to the ground when it has passed. Divide and replant peonies and irises. The common peony complaint is non-blooming foliage. When replanting, in good, well-drained soil, plant the eyes exactly 5cm deep. Each division should have three to five eyes.

Cut iris leaves to fans about six inches long; cut the roots if necessary, and replant in the sun, in a well-drained soil (even poor).


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