Garden Detective: May chores
Usually, May is the time to enjoy the flowers that April's showers begot. But this year, we'll likely be playing catch-up with all the chores we didn't get to last month, which, truth be told, felt a lot like winter. Even though it was slow to the party, spring has finally arrived. Here are some chores that will finally get you out into the long-anticipated sunshine!
1. It's safe to plant dahlia tubers in the ground as soon as lilacs on your block are blooming.
2. Time to plant roses: Mound soil at the bottom of planting hole and spread roots over it before backfilling.
3. To encourage repeat blooms, deadhead pansies and sweet peas as flowers fade.
4. Till compost into new planting beds, and add a couple of handfuls of the black gold to individual planting holes to boost nutrition and drainage.
5. If juniper tips are discolored, trim them off.
6. When potato plants reach 8 inches tall, mound soil up the lowest leaves; plants will produce more from the buried stems.
7. Set soaker hoses in a spiral around newly planted trees, extending as far as the canopy above, to direct water to roots.
8. Give lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach a shot of slow-release fertilizer, then apply mulch.
9. Aerate the lawn.
10. Sow seeds of summer-blooming perennials and biennials directly into the garden.
11. Plant gladiolus corms, pointy end up, 4 to 6 inches apart, in full sun. Repeat weekly until mid-June to ensure a succession of blooms.
12. Happy Mother's Day! It's safe to plant annuals as long as nighttime temperatures aren't dipping below 55 degrees.
13. Check the undersides of hollyhock leaves for orange pustules -- telltale signs of rust fungus. Remove affected leaves.
14. Avoid synthetic chemicals: Deal with pests by applying pyrethrins, Bt, insecticidal soap or neem oil.
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. Wait until after rainfall to pull weeds (or pre-soak the area with a hose) for easier removal.
17. Plant seedlings of herbs such as thyme, sage, parsley and basil outdoors in a sunny spot. No need to fertilize herbs. Ever.
18. Start hardening off vegetable seedlings by increasing their outdoor exposure, in the shade, by an hour a day for a week. Keep watering.
19. For bushier plants, shear an inch off Dianthus and creeping phlox when they're 6 inches tall.
20. Divide early spring-blooming perennials such as primroses after the flowers completely fade.
21. After hardening off, fertilize and place houseplants outdoors and they'll thrive all summer. Keep African violets indoors.
22. When shopping for annuals, don't buy plants that are in bloom. I know it's tempting, but be strong.
23. Prune spring-flowering shrubs immediately after they finish blooming.
24. When shopping for vegetable seedlings, seek out short and stocky plants. Don't worry, they'll grow.
25. 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.
26. Plant vegetable plants outdoors. Install stakes and other supports now to avoid disturbing roots later.
27. Happy Memorial Day! It's time to fertilize the lawn. Use one pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
28. You can continue to prune evergreens until late summer (but not later, or tender new growth may get zapped by frost).
29. Remove tulip foliage only after it withers. Fertilize bulbs now to boost next year's blooms.
30. Apply mulch to beds and borders, but keep it away from tree trunks and plant stems.
31. Got weeds? Carpet weed and sheep sorrel mean soil is acidic. Clover points to a nitrogen deficiency; oxalis, drought; plantain, compacted soil. Test soil and treat accordingly.