2008-05-08 / News

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Blossoms fall off the plum trees like a winter snowstorm as the apple trees come into bloom. Apricot blossoms have already fallen, the pears are laden with white blossoms, the peaches pink with flowers. The rhododendrons have dropped their first splash of purple and are leafing out.

This is the time of year when fruit trees and shrubs come into their own and light up the garden with great fronds of color. Their aromas and colors are alive with the constant buzz of insects that tells us that winter has finally gone and summer is on the way. Soon gardeners will be struggling to keep up with the growth as lawns, vegetables, and flowers seem to shoot up almost overnight.

For a gardener, it's time to get everything planted, to make sure that garden beds are fertilized, mulched, and otherwise attended to. It's time to stake oriental lilies, and put holders in place for daisies, gladioli and other tall plants. It's time to harvest asparagus, sorrel and other fresh greens, to sow lettuce, spinach, beets, parsnips, carrots and a myriad of other vegetables. In a few weeks we'll enjoy the fruits of our labors, but for now we can enjoy the work of getting our hands dirty and getting plants and seeds into the ground.


We haven't seen a frost for two weeks, so you can probably plant your hardy vegetables out. Put the plants where you want them to grow. If you have to dig them up and move them again in a few weeks you'll delay the time when they are ready. Nighttime temperatures are only in the mid forties, so don't expect any great growth rates yet. All you will be doing now is establishing root systems so that your plants will grow when temperatures warm up.

Pick asparagus, fiddleheads, and early lettuce if you sowed it. Remember to start another row of lettuce and spinach so that you can keep cropping it. Sow another row of peas, too. They'll come before it gets too hot if you are snappy about planting a second crop. (Get the pun?) If your potatoes are up check the plants as often as possible for signs of potato beetle. As soon as you see signs (holes in leaves, egg sacs under leaves), spray with BT to control leaf-eating insects.

Flower Gardens

Look for gaps in your perennial beds and fill them with annuals until you decide what you want to put there. Make sure you mark the areas that do not have daffodils and tulips so that you can fill in the gaps in September or October. Do not cut daffodil foliage, leave it for at least six weeks to allow bulbs to store energy for next year's blooms. Similarly, don't cut tulips or other bulbs yet.

Fruit Trees

Spray fruit trees with dormant oil as soon as the blossoms have dropped. This is an organic control for insects. If you use regular orchard spray, spray early in the morning so that you don't catch honey bees. They're not usually up and about until they warm up a little.


If you need to prune rhododendrons do it now right after blossom drop. This will give the plant time to grow new flower buds for next season. Side dress shrubs with compost to help provide nutrients for this year's growing cycle.

In the Greenhouse

Harvest early lettuce, greens and strawberries before the slugs get to them. Sow a second planting of lettuce and greens to get another crop before it's time to plant squash and melons. Right now the peas are two feet tall and the artichokes almost three feet with tiny buds visible. Orange and lemon trees are in bloom and the figs have leafed out. By the time the trees are ready to go outside they should have tiny oranges, limes and lemons on show.


If you haven't done so, cut the lawn ASAP. Fertilize and remove all dandelion heads or you'll have twice as many next year. You'll never be able to get rid of all the dandelions- the seeds blow in from your neighbors or from down the street- but you can keep after plants growing in your lawn.

If you have everything done, you can now sit in your favorite garden chair and enjoy a glass of your favorite beverage. That's one of the best rewards of working in your garden.

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