Garden Detective: May chores

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print

Typically, April showers beget May flowers, but many of my May flowers already have bloomed. So there is no "typically" this year. What is known is that we can expect a bigger pest population and earlier influx of weeds. But chin up, gardeners, the season is under way, and there's work to be done and natural wonders to enjoy.

1. Plant dahlia tubers when lilacs bloom, and set stakes into the ground. Fasten stems when they're 12 inches tall.

2. Incorporate generous amounts of compost into beds to enrich the soil, improve drainage and keep weeds at bay.

3. Set soaker hoses in a spiral around newly planted trees, extending as far as the canopy above, to direct water to roots.

4. Plant roses. Mound soil at the bottom of the planting hole and spread roots over it before burying.

5. Sow seeds of summer-blooming perennials and biennials in the garden.

6. Fertilize lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach planted last month, and apply mulch.

7. Plant gladiolus corms, pointy end up, 4 to 6 inches apart, in full sun. Plant more weekly until mid-June for a succession of blooms.

8. Deadhead pansies and sweet peas to prolong blooming.

9. Aerate the lawn.

10. Mound soil up around white potatoes when stems are 8 inches long.

11. Check the undersides of hollyhock leaves for orange pustules, telltale signs of rust fungus. Remove affected leaves.

12. Trim discolored tips off junipers.

13. Happy Mother's Day!

14. Plant annuals as long as nighttime temperatures are above 55 degrees.

15. Harvest asparagus when stalks are 6 to 8 inches long, but not if plants are in their first or second years; leave those be.

16. Avoid synthetic chemicals: Deal with pests by applying pyrethrins, Bt, insecticidal soap or neem oil.

17. Wait until after it rains to pull weeds or soak the area with a hose first; they'll come up more easily.

18. When shopping for vegetable seedlings, tall isn't better. Seek out short and stocky plants. Don't worry, they'll grow.

19. Plant thyme, sage, parsley and basil seedlings outdoors in a sunny spot. No need to fertilize herbs. Ever.

20. Start hardening off vegetable seedlings by increasing their outdoor exposure, in the shade, by an hour a day for a week. Keep watering.

21. Divide early spring-blooming perennials like primroses after the flowers completely fade.

22. After hardening off, fertilize and place houseplants outdoors and they'll thrive all summer. But keep African violets indoors.

23. For bushier plants, shear an inch off Dianthus and creeping phlox when they're 6 inches tall.

24. Remove tulip foliage only after it withers. Fertilize bulbs now to aid next year's blooms.

25. Mulch beds and borders.

26. Prune spring-flowering shrubs when they finish blooming.

27. When shopping for annuals, don't buy plants that are in bloom. I know it's tempting, but be strong.

28. It's Memorial Day -- time to fertilize the lawn. Use one pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

29. Plant vegetable plants outdoors. Install stakes and other supports now to avoid disturbing roots later. Mulch.

30. Order bulbs now. You'll find great prices and get to claim your favorites before they sell out. Typically, they'll be delivered in autumn.

31. You can continue to prune evergreens until late summer (never later, or tender new growth may get zapped by frost).

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