Tidewater Gardening - May 2008

Happy Mother's Day


K. Marc Teffeau

   This spring seemed to have progressed slower than normal with daytime temperatures running below average. Hopefully things will have caught up by May. The one nice aspect of the cooler temperatures is that the blossoms seemed to remain longer on the early flowering trees and shrubs in the landscape. The bulb displays also flowered for an extended period of time.
    Since the threat of frost has passed, now is the time to get busy in the home landscape. There are lots of gardening activities in May to keep us busy.
    In the flower border, dig and divide Dusty Miller and replant the more vigorous outside portions of the clump. You can now set out the marigolds, petunias, ageratums, salvia and other annual flowers in the flower beds. Be sure that these plants get as much sun as possible to encourage prolific flowering. If you have shady areas in the landscape, impatiens is the best annual for use in the semi-shady landscape, while begonias, coleus, ageratums and vinca will do well in light shade.
    Where you have shade trees in the yard that cast a heavy shade, forget about grass and try Periwinkle, English ivy and Liriope as ground covers instead. Usually the best approach in a shady area, rather than trying to do a massive rearranging of the landscape, is to work with your existing site.
    Don’t forget moss for your shady area. Most of the time we think of moss as something to get rid of in the landscape, but there are shady to very shady areas, especially where it’s moist, that moss will thrive and be an excellent groundcover.
    May is when we are busy setting out annual flower and vegetable transplants. Your tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants become less stressed when they are set out on a cloudy, calm day. Unfortunately, gardeners may need to transplant when they have the time, regardless of the weather. Strong sun and wind are hard on new transplants, so set out plants is the late afternoon when the wind dies down and the plants have overnight to acclimate. Provide shade and wind protection with berry baskets, small crates or screens. Mulching helps since it lowers the rate at which water evaporates from the soil and controls the soil temperature.
    Don’t forget the summer flowering bulbs like dahlias, tuberous begonias, lilies, cannas and gladiolus. An excellent addition to any home garden, glads can be planted in the flower bed as irregular groups among other flowers. They are attractive when grown among perennials such as peonies and daylilies. However, glads are often more effective and easier to care for if they have their own exclusive area in the garden.
    The most popular use for glads is in flower arrangements. When grown for cutting, glads may be planted in rows in the vegetable garden or a corner of the flower border. Large quantities are easier to weed and care for in rows.
    Glads may be planted any time from early May until mid June. Plant the corms in well-drained soil, protected from wind. By spacing your planting one to two weeks apart you can have a continuous bloom, or, as an alternative, choose early, mid-season and late varieties.
    The days from planting to bloom may vary from 60 to 120 depending on variety. Garden catalogs and information on the bags of corms usually give the number of days to bloom. For easiest bloom, plant early flowering varieties in early May. Also, don’t forget to set up the wire or string support system to support them as they grow. For best bloom, water thoroughly once a week after the spike begins to show above the soil.
    What to do with that potted amaryllis bulb that you forced to flower inside? As soon as the danger of frost has passed, it can be placed outdoors for the summer. The potted bulb should be placed in a shaded location and fertilized with 1 teaspoon of 5-10-10.
    Bring it back indoors before frost, and let the soil dry completely so the bulb will go into dormancy. After leaving it in a cool, dark place for eight weeks, bring it back into the light and begin watering again. In another eight weeks, your amaryllis should bloom again.
    Early flowering deciduous shrubs such as forsythias, weigela and spirea should be pruned back when they have finished blooming. Cut back a third of the oldest canes to ground level, then cut back one third of the remaining branches to one-third of their height.
    Remove the wilting seed heads from rhododendrons and azaleas so that the plant’s energy can go to foliage growth and next year’s flowers, rather than seeds. Pines and other conifers can be kept to a compact size by pinching off the new growth ‘candles’ at this time.
    In the lawn area, I do not recommend fertilizing turf in May. I know that there are commercial programs which encourage this, but all you end up doing is getting faster grass growth and more mowing. The best time to fertilize cool-season turf in our area is in mid to late fall.
    It is very important, however, to mow your turf correctly. Make sure that the mower blade is sharp, as a dull blade will tear rather than leave a clean cut. This ragged grass blade edge gives the turf a brown appearance and opens up opportunities for disease to infect the grass blade.
    Make sure you mow your lawn at the correct height. For tall fescue lawns the mowing height should be a minimum of 2 inches, but preferably higher. There is a tendency among homeowners to ‘scalp’ their lawns. This damages the grass plant and stresses it by taking off too much of the grass blade at one time. It also opens up the lawn to a crabgrass invasion.
    Want to keep crabgrass out of your lawn? Mow high instead of putting down a herbicide. Crabgrass seed needs light to germinate. By shading the soil surface with tall grass blades, the germination percentage of crabgrass seeds will go way down.
    If you are growing herbs and gourds in the vegetable garden, save the mesh bags that oranges come in and use them this summer as drying bags for your herbs. You can also use old pantyhose to enclose individual veggies like melons, corn, cabbage, cucumbers and small pumpkins to protect them from birds and insects. Tie the pantyhose off at both ends of the veggie to keep insects out. The pantyhose will stretch with growth of the vegetable and dry off quickly after rain.
    In May, of course, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Have you been wondering what to get your mom or grandmother for Mother’s Day? Well, it could be that she would enjoy receiving a tree or shrub for the landscape around her home. Trees and shrubs make excellent gifts and provide lasting memories. There could be a special flowering plant that she has always wanted but hesitated to buy.
    Plants make unique gifts because as they grow their value in the landscape appreciates. Now is an excellent time of year to be planting ornamental trees and shrubs. The selection is better than ever.
    Nurseries and garden centers have a bigger selection of varieties and sizes of plants than they have ever had. But, as summer approaches, their selection will decrease and so will the chances of survival because the longer you delay planting, the harder it is on the plant.
    By the way, don’t just say, “Happy Mother’s Day - here’s your azalea.” Make it a real Mother’s Day and offer to plant it for her!
    Happy Gardening!!!