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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: What to do in the garden in May

Many plants attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Many plants attract butterflies and other pollinators. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / Vectortone

It’s May! Birds are singing, tulips are blooming — and weeds are growing — so it’s time to get outside and kick into high gear. We start the month yanking out those weeds, roots and all, and end it planting crops and spreading mulch. But there’s so much to do in between. Here’s a tip or chore for each day of the month.

1. Incorporate generous helpings of compost into beds and borders before planting.

2. Fertilize cabbage, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.

3. Start planting perennials.

4. Repot overgrown houseplants into the next-size pot (2 inches larger).

5. Aerate the lawn; dethatch only if necessary.

6. Pull weeds as you see them, or the chore may become unmanageable.

7. Begin succession planting gladiolus: Corms pointy end up in full sun, 4 to 6 inches apart. Repeat weekly until mid-June.

8. Plant roses: Create a mound of soil at the bottom of planting hole and spread roots over it, then backfill.

9. Sow seeds for summer-blooming perennials and biennials directly into the garden.

10. Clean and store bird feeders for next winter.

11. Resist the temptation to buy cell-pack annuals already in bloom. Younger plants will be stronger.

12. Happy Mother’s Day! As long as nighttime temperatures aren’t below 55 degrees, it’s safe to plant annuals.

13. Handle pests naturally by applying pyrethrins, Bt, insecticidal soap or neem oil.

14. Encircle a soaker hose over roots of newly planted trees. Water deeply now and regularly during their first year.

15. Plant corn now and you’ll be enjoying it at your August cookouts.

16. Harvest third-year (or older) asparagus when stalks are 6 to 8 inches long. Leave younger ones in the ground.

17. Give beds and borders a crisp edge — you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes!

18. Inspect undersides of hollyhock leaves for the orange pustules of rust fungus. Remove and discard affected foliage.

19. Prune gray tips from junipers.

20. “Harden off” vegetable seedlings: Place outdoors in shade for incrementally longer periods each day for a week before planting into the garden.

21. Prune spring-blooming shrubs as soon as their flowers fade.

22. Plant herb seedlings outdoors and water (they never need fertilizer).

23. Shear an inch off dianthus and creeping phlox when they’re 6 inches tall; don’t worry — they’ll grow fuller.

24. If the lilacs are blooming, it’s time to plant dahlias.

25. Mulch beds and borders to suppress weeds, retain moisture and nourish soil. Never create “volcanoes” around trees or mulch deeper than 3 inches.

26. Plant tomatoes, peppers, melons and other summer crops into the garden; water and apply mulch.

27. Happy Memorial Day! It’s time to fertilize the lawn: Apply 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

28. Gradually move houseplants outdoors, but never African violets; they’re homebodies.

29. Fertilize faded bulb plants but don’t remove foliage until it has died.

30. Use colorful annuals, like zinnias, to fill garden gaps left behind by early spring bloomers.

31. Plant tomatoes, peppers, melons and other summer crops into the garden; water and apply mulch.

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