A GROWING CONCERN: That flowers bring a list of gardening chores

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AS WE LEARNED last week my favorite time of year is here and of course (tongue in cheek) it’s May.

I love the way it sounds.

Seriously, in early May there are a lot of gardening chores we all have to do, so let’s not waste another moment on bad puns. Here’s your list of garden chores for May.

1. Plant flowers.

April has certainly provided us with showers, and now that May is upon us, flowers and vegetables should be all around us. The ground is getting warmer (still too cool for tomatoes, peppers, geraniums, impatiens), and the sun is getting longer every day, but best of all, just days away from Mother’s Day, all the plant vendors are filled to capacity with all kinds of trees, bushes, shrubs, vines, perennials, annuals, flower pot baskets, roses and vegetables. The weather is still cool and humid, which is ideal for easing transplant shock. Start planting beautiful flowering materials now so they’ll be perfect for the Memorial Day BBQ, then come back a few weeks later and lay those warmer soil-loving plants like celosia, coleus, marigolds, cannas, geraniums, lantana, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers. and impatient.

2. Insects, slugs and weeds.

Now is the time to jump on all those garden shredders. If you don’t in May, they will take over. Walk through your garden several times a week and try to watch each plant for its presence. The real key to controlling these garden pests is early detection. The earlier you find them, the easier it is to eradicate them as there are far fewer of them. May is the time to purge these harmful enemies before the number and damage they cause explodes.

3. Bulb maintenance.

The real way to get great results from your bulbs next spring is to make sure you take good care of them this spring. Start by cutting the flowers as soon as they are beautiful, then later cut the foliage. The longer you can grow the green leaf, the more rejuvenated the bulb will be. Cultivate and weed the soil around your spring bulbs and also fertilize with lime and bone meal.

4. Dead head.

In fact, it’s not just your spring bulbs that thrive greatly by shedding old, dying blooms, but in fact, every flowering plant does. By removing the old flower, which promotes disease and insects, you also remove the mechanism that reproduces, so the plant immediately concentrates on making more, bigger and better flowers to fulfill its evolutionary will to procreate. Deadhead rhodies, lilacs, azaleas, camellias and all your gorgeous rock garden perennials as soon as they wilt, and do so on all your flowering plants throughout the year.

5. Add organic materials.

There’s still time to get the wonder gardening medicine and put it to use. Any place you are going to plant now (see #1) add organic matter to the soil first. Whether it’s peat moss, leaf mold, rotten or bagged manure or worm castings, your plants, especially in our poor organic soils, will do wonders.

6. Support them.

Your clematis, peas, lilies, delphiniums, beans, dahlias and other tall plants can be greatly enhanced by staking them or placing hoops or trellises around them. Do it now, because later is usually too late.

7. Mums, asters, upright sedum.

This trick to not producing tall, lanky, toppling fall garden mums, asters and sedums is to pinch them twice. Do this now as soon as they measure between 3 and 5 inches. Cut it in half, then start again on June 1 for a short, dense, compact, and prolific mound of fall color.

8. Releaser.

Your fruit trees and your grafted ornamental woody plants produce shoots at ground level and branches. Remove them instantly because they suck! They suck up nutrients, water and aesthetic value. On trees, another labor-saving tip is to rub in new, succulent, fresh suckers every two weeks with a gloved hand before they require laborious pruning work a few weeks later to remove them.

9. Mow.

I want to make this as simple as possible: raise your mower blade to a level of 3.5 to 3.75 inches, and it will improve your lawn so much. But do it until October or else waste this advantage.

10. Baskets and containers.

If everyone hung just one flower basket or put just one flower pot at work, at home or in their apartment, we would instantly become “Flower City USA”. They are gorgeous and colorful, so please – everyone – get at least one.

11. Dahlias.

Dahlias and baskets are two of the big five for year-round outdoor appeal. Find, buy and plant dahlias soon for exceptional and unbeatable fall color. Dahlias are the best!

But better yet, be well!

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Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA”. Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, PO Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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