Please note: What I write in this space are lessons learned through trial and error, research, and from other gardeners and professionals. I garden in zone 9, but share garden experiences that I believe are relevant to most zones within a reasonable time frame and planting conditions.
May | For drip lines or soaker hoses used last season, test the lines and heads for leaks and clogs. Replace and unclog necessary parts. Check water equipment (sprinklers, drip heads, values, etc.) now, and periodically through fall. One day of water loss can kill. For unidentifiable bugs or disease, take a small branch sample in a “sealed” plastic bag to your local nursery. If herbicide or pesticide is recommended, ask for an organic product that is safe for humans, pets, and the environment.
In the vegetable garden: If you haven’t planted your veggies yet, there’s still time. Before doing anything, though, draw out a vegetable plan. If you’re not sure how much space each vegetable requires, take your plot or raised bed measurements and a list of vegetables to a nursery or Master Gardeners’ office for assistance. Lay out your drip line and run a test. When the water system is working to your satisfaction, put bean trellises and tomato cages in place, and then plant.
Thin seedlings. Toss out the weak ones so the strong seedlings have room to develop good roots and strong stocks. Sow lettuce, carrots, spinach, radishes, beans, peppers corn, melons, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, squashes, and gourds. Start crops of potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pumpkins, and asparagus.
Cut off strawberry runners for more fruit and less plant.
Protect tomato seedlings from cutworms by covering the stems with aluminum foil. Remove the foil once the stock has matured and the threat of cutworms has passed. For earwig problems, tightly roll up a damp newspaper. They’ll crawl inside during the night. In the morning, toss the newspaper into the incinerator, or secure it in a plastic bag and then put into the garbage can, or feed them to the chickens. For snails and slugs, place a cheap pie pan on the soil and fill with beer. The smell lures them into a tub where they drown.
In the landscape: There’s still time, before the temperature rises, to fertilize shrubs, vines, and lawns. Spray or hand-pull weeds while the soil is moist, before they get too large and out of control. Cut out any diseased areas, dead wood, and crossing branches on shrubs and trees.
Prune Lilac, forsythia, and honeysuckle shrubs as soon as they finish blooming.
Stake large buds that tend to flop over at maturity and tall flowers, now, before they become too difficult to handle. This will also help prevent damaging roots with stakes which is hard to avoid when the flowers are mature. Plants that require staking include peony buds, hollyhocks, delphiniums, larkspurs, foxgloves, and gladioluses.
Deadhead: 1) rhododendron (also known as azaleas) blooms so the plant’s energy will go toward producing next year’s flower buds; 2) faded roses. This will encourage a second bloom period for early summer. Be sure to fertilize your rose bushes. Watch out for aphids. Avoid mildew and blackspot on roses (and snapdragons) by treating them before an outbreak occurs.
Ants, Syrphid fillies (resemble bees or wasps), or sticky leaves are most likely a symptom of aphids. Ants farm aphids in the cold seasons, and then relocate them on host plants for the sweet substance aphids produce. Controlling ants will help eliminate aphids. Syrphid flies are the good guys—their larva devours aphids. If you must treat your plants with pesticides do it in the evening after the bees have left the scene.
At the nursery: Rhododendron buds are in bloom, so now is the time to choose a variety you’ll love. Before choosing any plant or tree, read the label. Things to consider are sun/shade requirements, climate (is it suitable for your zone?), water and soil preferences. Look for maturity size. Choose a plant that won’t overpower the space and create more pruning at maturity than you care to do in the future. Determine if it’s an evergreen. Do you mind raking fall leaves or looking at naked plants during winter months? Make a wise choice and you’ll save money, time, and work.
For color spots in the beds, pots, and window boxes consider petunias, impatiens, zinnias, vincas, begonias, cosmos, marigolds, aster, lobella. Also in bloom are flowering perennials and vines. Consider Santa Barbara daisies for an abundance of continuous bloom spring through fall. This perennial doesn’t require deadheading. Santa Barbara daisies look best if planted in part shade. Before you make a final decision, read the label. After planting, pinch off flowers. This allows nutrients to go to the roots and not the flowers, establishing a strong system and a healthier plant.
Take houseplants outdoors for a dusting off with a gentle spray with the water hose.
Treat yourself to a home garden tour for inspiration. Take your camera and notepad. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre