Abby’s Yard in May
May yards in the Pacific Northwest are spectacular with the beauty of rhododendrons, azaleas and trees blooming everywhere. Unfortunately it is not a month to sit back and enjoy the brilliant splash of colors. There is much to be done to ensure a bountiful garden and beautiful yard all summer. Nothing is really off-limits this month. Ready, set, grow!
The to-do list for May includes cleaning landscape beds, planting summer flowers and vegetables, replacing damaged plants, fertilizing, pest control and weeding. It is also time to harvest early vegetable crops.
Landscape beds need to be cleaned of leaves and other winter mulch to allow for new plant growth, now that all danger of frost has passed. This material should all go on your compost pile or in the bin. It is important to trim back ferns and grasses before the new growth begins. I hate it when I forget a fern and have to painstakingly trim the old brown fronds out without damaging the tender new growth. Grasses are even harder! This is also a good time to dig and pot (or replant) offshoots from plants like lilacs and newly seeded barberries. I always find a number of baby evergreen and maple trees in the beds that I pot up to replant or give to friends.
Containers and Baskets:
If you have not already cleaned up container plants and hanging baskets, early May is a great time to freshen them up. I decided to add some larger containers to combine the ridicules number of small mismatched pots on my deck. Four half barrels from Costco will be the focal point of my deck spaces this year. The contents of smaller pots were dumped in a wheelbarrow and torn apart. The individual perennials were trimmed back and re-combined with new plant material and bulbs in the barrels, each with a tall center plant, lower plants and hanging plants.
I am also replanting a third of my 30 hanging baskets with new liners and new potting soil. They will be housed in the greenhouse until June 1st to allow regrowth of the perennials and protection for the tender annuals like fuchsias and geraniums. This is an expensive and time consuming process, but needs to be done every couple of years to keep your basket plants healthy.
Bulbs and Perennials:
It`s hard to beat the summer color that dahlias, gladiolus, tuberous begonias, lilies and cannas can provide in the summer. All of these and other summer flowering bulbs can be planted this month. Insert stakes for dahlias and other bulbs at planting time to avoid spearing tubers by staking after growth has started. Insert stakes for other flop-prone perennials when plants are 6 inches high. Candidates include peony, summer garden phlox, or Shasta daisies. Plants will hide stakes as they grow.
Now is the time to plant out the delphiniums, phlox, daylilies, carnations and other summer flowering perennials. Candytuft, basket of gold, primroses and coral bells can be selected and planted anytime this spring. Candytuft is one of my favorite plants for rock walls. It is extremely hardy and comes back year after year.
Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils put on quite a show, but once they’re done it’s important to remove their spent flowers to help preserve energy for next year’s bloom. Simply cut each finished flower stalk at the base. Don’t be tempted to cut down the foliage, however. The plant will naturally die back over the coming months and will slowly reclaim the nutrients in the foliage to store in the underground bulb. Once the foliage is withered and brown, you can rake it away and add to your compost.
May is also the time of year to begin deadheading rhododendrons, which bloom in spring. Once the petals have gone brown, grasp each flower cluster at the base and bend sideways to snap off the dead bloom. This preserves the plants’ energy, since they won’t waste nutrients making seeds, and also helps prevent diseases, which can linger in old flower petals.
May is the time to harvest cherry-red rhubarb stems to make delicious pies, desserts and crumbles. Rhubarb is at its most tender right now, and since the plant often goes dormant in summer’s heat, this is the perfect time to pick. Don’t cut the stems, since that can cause rot to enter the crown of the plant. Instead, grasp each stalk at the base and pull with a gentle twisting motion.
You should have already planted your cool weather vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. Potatoes will start sprouting soon and need to be covered with soil as they grow. Garlic needs to be fertilized.
May is the month to set out starts of heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, eggplant, corn and beans. Tuck herbs into the garden as soil warms. Plant dill and fennel in vegetable gardens and flower borders for an airy texture. The blooms attract beneficial insects which can keep harmful insects in check. Allow plants to set seed and you’ll be rewarded with volunteers next year.
When direct sowing annuals or vegetables, you can work fertilizer into planting beds. Otherwise, wait until after plants are up and have been growing two weeks, then scratch fertilizer lightly into soil.
There still is plenty of time to fertilize all the trees and shrubs. Use a ‘Rhododendron or Evergreen’ type of plant food to feed evergreens like rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, Viburnum junipers, etc. Use a ‘Rose or All-purpose Garden’ fertilizer to feed roses, perennials, deciduous shrubs and trees, and annuals. Be sure to water-in the fertilizer thoroughly after it is applied.
Reduce transplant shock by watering your newly planted roses and clematis with a transplant fertilizer. Vitamin B-1 is usually a key ingredient in these fertilizers. This vitamin activates plant disease resistance and causes plants to release rooting hormones, which results in strong root growth.
Mowing season is here. Never remove more than one-third the length of grass blades at any cutting. With mulching mowers, feel free to let clippings remain on the lawn. They’ll return nutrients to soil as they decay. The exception is when grass is especially long or wet. Rake these clippings and toss them onto the compost pile.
This is a great month to eliminate lawn weeds, control moss, thatch (if needed), aerate, feed and over-seed the lawn. Actually, few lawns will need all this care so only do the steps that are necessary to get your lawn in tip-top shape.
Keep after weeds while they’re small, especially while it is raining regularly. They’re easier to pull and if you get them before they go to seed, you won’t have as many weeds to pull next year. Vinegar kills young seedlings, but is ineffective on older growth. Vinegar damages any plant surface it touches, so use with caution on windy days.
I have declared war on dandelions this year, as they seem to be taking over parts of my lawn. I have always tried to be organic, digging them with my trusty hori hori tool, but this year I was overwhelmed and admittedly turned to chemical warfare. I found a type of weed killer with a spray nozzle that was battery operated! It sprayed easily without cramping my hand.
Ever wonder why dandelions are so hard to eliminate? Watch this You Tube video of a time-lapse dandelion flower to seed head /dandelion clock, filmed continuously over a period of one month. According to Wikibooks, there are usually 54 to 172 seeds produced per head, but a single plant can produce more than 2,000 seeds a year. It has been estimated that more than 97,000,000 seeds/hectare could be produced every year by a dense stand of dandelions! No wonder I am losing this battle!!
Slugs are the bain of many gardeners existence; the sneaky little gastropods slither in at night, eating off the leaves and fruit of many plants. We started noticing baby slugs on our spinach in the greenhouse right away. To combat them without harmful chemicals, we decided to try beer. Strange as it sounds, slugs are extremely attracted beer, even the low-quality stuff.
Several small saucers from plant pots were place between the raised beds and filled with beer. We dug down a little so they were even with the gravel floor. The next morning, they were filled with dead slug babies. Yahoo!
If you are going after the big guys, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out. Then refill and start over.