TAKE A TIP FROM THE NESTING ROBINS — May isn’t the month to snooze! Indeed, garden-work we accomplish now will determine the success we’ll have for the rest of the growing season. Need a little guidance? I follow this routine:
Weed, Feed, and Mulch. Get out every weed from the flower beds, apply an organic, balanced plant food, and then spread a 2-to-3-inch layer of mulch. Remember that mulch is our greatest ally for conserving moisture, inhibiting weeds and improving soil quality.
Pruning. If you have let shrubs get out of hand, do a big pruning job now on the already-finished early spring bloomers, like forsythia and quince.
Groundcovers. Water deeply as needed. Weed and fertilize pachysandra, ivy, and vinca minor; once weed-choked, groundcovers are difficult to get right again. Also, thin out or take cuttings now to extend coverage elsewhere.
Hostas. Divide and transplant these jewels of the shade. If you want gold-washed types to brighten a dark spot, I can heartily recommend ‘Paul’s Glory,’ ‘Wide Brim,’ and ‘Frances Williams.’ These three have done wonders for my dimly-lit Woodland Garden.
Iris. If the season is dry, give plantings a deep soaking to improve flower quality. If borers were a problem last year, cut off any punctured leaves well below noticeable points of attack. You might plant, as I have, Pyrethrum as a companion for iris. Not only does pyrethrum provide beautiful, daisy-like flowers for cutting — it repels the iris borer, too.
Roses. Cut out suckers (canes with seven instead of five leaflets) close to the main stem below the soil line. Train canes of climbing roses, like ‘Zephirine Droughin’, above, to grow horizontally; this will force a bevy of new, vertical flowering stems to emerge.
Boxwood. Shear to desired shape (this is a job I hire out). Be sure to save at least some of the trimmings; these, inserted in soil, will form new boxwood plants in about six week’s time.
Hardy Bulbs. Feed while hyacinths, tulips, narcissus, and etc. are still in growth and making embryo flowers for next year. Cut off faded flowers for tidiness, but don’t remove foliage until it dies down naturally.
Winter-Sown Perennials. Plant these out before they get too big for their milk-jug containers.
Seeds To Sow. When soil has warmed up (and don’t be in too big a hurry if you live in the Northeast — frosts often occur here as late as May 17), sow the tender annuals — marigold, nasturtium, salvia, zinnia.
Rhubarb. Stems are ready for picking now; why not dice them up for something sumputious, like my mother’s custardy rhubarb pie? Or, try one of these rhubarb reveries which were submitted by A Garden for the House readers.
Tomatoes and Other Indoor-Started Seedlings. Begin the hardening-off process this month. On warm days, set seedlings in a shaded, sheltered position for one hour. Then gradually increase outdoor time and exposure to sun over a matter of weeks. Follow these tomato tips for an extra extravagant harvest.
Salad Greens. Continue to sow lettuce and spinach at 2-week intervals.
Frost-hardy vegetables. If you haven’t already, sow your frost-hardy vegetables now. These include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, carrots, beets, and onions. If you buy onion and beet seedlings from the garden center, be sure to separate them first.
Frost-tender vegetables. In zone 5-b, wait until Memorial Day weekend to direct-sow beans, cucumbers, summer- and winter-squash. These rarely benefit from an early start.
Radishes. It pays to edge beds of direct-sown veggies with radishes. Radishes emerge very quickly, and thus insects attack the radish foliage, and leave the other seedlings in the bed alone. Try this — it really works.
In the Northeast, it’s wise to wait until Memorial Day weekend to arrange windowboxes and hanging baskets. Be sure to locate these near a hose; they demand water daily (twice daily in periods of high heat). I fertilize mine with every watering.
Window garden subjects are growing fast these spring days and so require plenty of food, water, and fresh air. Watch for signs of trouble after the long indoor winter. Get after any infestation promptly; many plants are somewhat tired now and not in shape to cope with pests. Begin to discard the plants that didn’t perform well for you. Wait until June to bring the “keepers” outdoors.
African violets. If plants are getting long-necked, remove them from their pots, slice off some of the lowest roots and try to return to the same pots, setting plants low enough in the soil to cover the bare necks. Remove suckers for better flowering.
Cyclamen. If the last buds have opened, retire this plant to any cool, out-of-sight place, but water often enough to let the corm mature properly and not die of drought. Once the foliage has completely withered, withhold all water. Here is my complete guide to growing and re-blooming this gorgeous houseplant.
Geraniums. Prune to encourage low, stocky growth, but don’t cut back so hard you remove a lot of flowering wood.
Spider Plant. For more of these, cut off and pot the new little plantlets danging at the ends of pendant stems.
Enjoy the Birds! Birds are at their most active now; take time from your garden chores to observe their nervous, and often humorous, nest-building antics.
If you find my monthly “what-to-do-when” lists helpful, by all means let me know. As always, I love to hear from you.
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