Jan’s online garden hints

May Tips

-As you wander through the garden, stop to snip off any fading flowers of spring bulbs. Refrain from braiding or bundling the yellowing foliage; allow the leaves to die down naturally before you remove them. If the bulbs are crowded, divide them anytime when the foliage is limp but still attached. Use golf tees to mark any spots now where you’d like to plant spring bulbs in the fall.

-When shopping for bedding plants, look for small, non-blooming plants with healthy foliage. If only blooming plants are available, shear off the flowers as soon as you get the plants home. Several hours before planting, water pots thoroughly so the plants will slip out easily. Untangle any circling roots before planting. If the roots form a solid mat, “butterfly” the root ball by slicing half way through from bottom to top. Then pull the two sections apart, like a butterfly spreading its wings.

-After the last frost, set out warm-loving annuals such as begonias and vinca. If you bring home plants straight from a greenhouse, place them in a protected spot for a week or two before planting them in the garden.

-Protect new transplants from cutworms by surrounding each plant with a cardboard collar or a bottomless paper cup.

-Renew an established perennial bed by pulling out crowded volunteer plants and dividing overgrown clumps. Invite a new gardener over to share both the work and the bounty.

-Refrain from moving houseplants and other tropical plants outdoors until you’re assured that the overnight temperatures won’t dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Give the plants a sheltered spot while they gradually adjust to wind and brighter light. Dump excess water from plant saucers after a rain.

-Before planting in new terra cotta pots, soak them in water for several hours. Disinfect old pots by scrubbing them in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water.

-When filling outdoor pots with soil, cover the drainage holes with scraps of weed-block fabric or coffee filters to keep out pests. Fill containers with a 4-to-1 mix of potting soil and compost to help keep the plants healthy and the soil moist. Mix pelleted fish fertilizer or other slow-release fertilizer into the soil before planting. Simplify watering chores by grouping plants in large containers that hold more soil, rather than putting individual plants in small pots.

-Instead of replanting grass where it won’t thrive in the dry shade under a tree, plant shade-tolerant groundcovers such as yellow archangel (Lamiastrum ‘Herman’s Pride’), lungwort (Pulmonaria), bigroot geranium (G. macrorrhizum), or barrenwort (Epimedium). Plant shade-loving flowers such as begonias, caladiums and impatiens in containers, then sink pots into the ground and hang baskets from the tree’s branches for summer-long color.

-Stop cats from digging in a freshly-seeded garden bed by laying a piece of welded wire fence fabric over the soil.

-Spread mulch around lily plants and clematis vines to keep their roots cool.

-Plant lemon verbena or spearmint in a container on the patio or deck to keep fresh leaves close at hand to flavor summer cold drinks.

-Install grow-through plant supports for peonies or wrap twine a couple of times around each bush now to keep peonies from flopping when they bloom. Also stake dahlias.

-To keep tall varieties of asters and sedums from flopping later in the season, cut back the plants by half. Use the same trick if your Russian sage grows too big for the space you’ve allowed.

-Thin garden phlox to four to six shoots per plant to improve air circulation and thwart foliage disease.

-Soak seeds of morning glory, moon vine, cardinal climber and cypress vine overnight before planting.

-Plant summer bulbs. In a sunny spot, place gladiolus corms pointed end up, 5 or 6 inches deep. Space the corms 8 to 12 inches apart. Cut canna rhizomes into sections with two or three buds (“eyes”) in each piece and plant the rhizomes 2 to 3 inches deep. Space most kinds 18 to 24 inches apart, and dwarf varieties about a foot apart. In the shade, plant calla lilies in rich, moist soil 3 inches deep, 8 to 12 inches apart. Cover caladium tubers with an inch of soil, spacing plants 12 to 18 inches apart.

-To hurry the opening of peony blossoms, select stems that have fat flower buds, pinch off side buds, and immerse the cut stems in a bucket of warm water.

-Don’t bother spraying blooming dandelions, which would still produce enormous numbers of seeds before they die. Instead, dig the plants, pick off and destroy the flowers, and compost the rest.

-Dig young plants of yellow nutsedge (nutgrass) before they produce their stubborn, nut-like tubers.

-Wait until the weather is warm and settled before planting cold-sensitive plants such as caladium and lantana.

-In the water garden, elevate hardy water lilies on bricks so the top of each pot is 4 to 6 inches below the water’s surface. Postpone placing tropical water plants in the pool until the water’s temperature rises to 70 degrees.

Vegetables, fruits and herbs:

-Just in case the weather turns out to be unfavorable for fruit-set this summer, include an early variety of tomato such as Early Girl and a small-type pepper like Gypsy in addition to your usual beefsteak-type tomatoes and bell peppers.

-After all danger of frost, plant seeds of borage and summer savory, and set out basil plants in the herb garden.

-Continue harvesting rhubarb by pulling, not cutting, the stalks. Pull out any flower stalks as soon as they appear.

-To catch asparagus tips in their prime, harvest spears every day or two. Snap off the spears by hand where they break naturally.

-Plant warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and beans. Get bean and corn seeds off to a fast start by soaking the seeds for an hour or two in warm water before planting. Also plant a second crop of lettuce for summer salads, choosing heat-tolerant varieties. (My favorites are the summer-crisp, or Batavian lettuces, which are as easy to grow as leaf lettuce and as crisp as Iceberg but much more flavorful.)

-To aid corn pollination, plant sweet corn in blocks rather than long single rows.

-When you plant cucumbers and melons, cover the row with a lightweight floating cover to thwart cucumber beetles. Make a note to remove the cover after the plants begin blooming.

-Thin beets, carrots and lettuce seedlings.

-If you can’t keep up with the harvest of leaf lettuce, shear some of the plants back to a height of 2 or 3 inches to encourage them to produce new leaves rather than go to seed.

-To make the most of space, plant “pretty” vegetables such as pepper, eggplant, leaf lettuce and Swiss chard in flower borders.

-Encourage young gardeners by giving kids a small plot of their own to plant fragrant herbs and vegetables they like to eat.

-Remove flower buds from newly-planted strawberries.

-Check apple trees every two weeks for water sprouts and twist them off. (Water sprouts are less likely to grow back if you don’t have to use pruners to remove them.)

 

Trees and shrubs:

-After forsythia blooms fade, head back any straggly branches. Postpone annual renewal pruning (removal of about a third of the oldest, thickest stems) until winter.

-When Vanhoutte spirea is in bud, check pines for the worm-like larvae of sawflies, which can quickly defoliate a small tree. Collect the pests by shaking any infested branch over a bucket of hot soapy water.

-If a weed tree sprouts so close to the trunk of a prized specimen that you can’t dig it out or spray it, cut the top off the unwanted sapling. Invert a large tin can over the remaining stub, leaving the can in place for several months

-If necessary to prune evergreens, do it now when new growth will quickly cover your cuts. To prune pines, pinch each shoot–called a “candle”–in half. Prune junipers back any amount, as long as you leave at least a little green showing on each branch.

-Remove any drooped, blackened lilac shoots by cutting several inches below signs of disease.

-Replenish bark-chip mulch around trees and shrubs to maintain a depth of four inches.

-Watch for web “tents” made by eastern tent caterpillars. Use a stick or broom in the evening to remove any you find, then burn or bury them.