Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn...

The Byrds had it right (though to be fair they did adopt and rearrange the words from Ecclesiastes 3:1):

“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep…”

And the song goes on….

I had pondered an entry on “the August garden,” usually a time of repose when plants seem suspended in time, weighted down by sultry days, the air thick with humidity and the sounds of the cicadas. But, as I wrote in my journal, we’ve had “August heat in June and since” and, despite my long absence and the unrelenting early spring – late July drought, my garden in August is offering quite a show.

Until now.

I have noticed that since my return 3 particular plants (one in the sun garden, two in the shade garden) have not been performing well. I did lose my lovely white Gaura (Whirling Butterfly) in my absence, and next to it Carpathian Harebells (Campanula carpatica Blue Clips) finally died yesterday (it, too, required additional care during its first year of transplant, and the heat and parched conditions in my absence clearly took their toll, as did the fact that I dropped a bag of mulch onto it in early July, effectively splitting Campanula in half). But the rest: spectacular! The dahlias launched into overdrive the other day, probably to compensate for Rudbeckia’s waning display. I am quite pleased, as are my neighbors!

In the rear shade garden, two of my prized hostas—Lemon Drop and June Plantain (about which I wrote in “On Metamorphosis”)—looked to be suffering a bit, and I quickly diagnosed their woes: drought. The enormous maple tree acts as an umbrella to both, and dry conditions are further exacerbated by the canopy provided by Nandina and the Oakleaf Hydrangea in the case of the Lemon Drop hosta, and the Oakleaf in the case of June Plantain. In the height of summer, both do receive a few hours of mid to late morning sun—and both can tolerate it—but not without moisture.

Careful watering only marginally improved Lemon Drop’s situation (its leaves were baked a crispy brown), and noticeably June Plantain’s. But then by late last week June Plantain sported one yellow leaf after another, and I discovered yesterday that she was succumbing to the always fatal Sclerotium rolfsii, a soil-based fungus that is, according to the many horticultural sources I’ve consulted, impossible to eradicate but able to be managed if caught early.

If the previous week was a week of coincidences, then this is the week of infection and rot: eggs and salmonella, Viet’s computer and an internal rot (not a virus), and now, a few of my prized hostas and Sclerotium rolfsii.

The bad news is that Sclerotium rolfsii, as mentioned, cannot be eradicated. Not even harsh winters of prolonged below-zero temperatures can kill the Sclerota, small white then, as they mature, brown-red protective spheres the size of mustard seeds that have allowed this fungus to survive since before the dinosaurs ruled the earth. Hostas, peonies, ajuga, Aquilegia (columbine), Campanula, day lilies, foxgloves, wood ferns, and 192 other plants both sun and shade tolerant succumb to the disease.

There isn’t much good news. One can plant hostas such that the crown (the area where the leaf petioles emerge from the root base) rests above the soil, in hopes of minimizing petiole contact with the soil (this is an effective method, though nearly an impossible condition to ensure as rain almost inevitably splatters the Sclerota onto the plant, which actually is the chief method of fungal spread). One can spray a 10% bleach solution on infected areas, which will not kill the fungus but will slow its advance and thus may save whatever remains of your prized specimens. Fungicides such as flutolanil (marketed as Contrast), and products containing PCNB, including Terraclor, Defend, Pennstar, and (all formal names are registered trademarks) have proven effective, but care must be taken with these as phytotoxic reactions (from yellowing to death) may occur. One can remove all of the soil from the infected area (be sure to dig down at least 8 inches), and replace it with uninfected dirt.

The good news, in the end, may reside in the fact that, despite the loss, the mourning, the frustration, and the unsightly bare spots in the garden, one can look beyond. For everything there is a season: a time to plant, a time to die, and a time to plan for the future.

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