The tall bearded iris is a favorite and many gardeners ask me when to thin them out. The best time is just after they finish blooming. They need thinning every two to five years to keep them blooming at their best. It’s a good idea to leave some of the rhizomes.
Iris can be planted in most any soil, even clay, if a little sand is added. When digging up a new bed, dig deeply and if the soil is heavy clay, you can add some well rotted manure and a little lime along with the sand. Never fertilize or add manure to the top soil. The reason so many people love the iris is that they are so easy to grow. There is an old adage that anywhere corn will grow, iris will thrive. I sometimes think they thrive best on neglect.
The only enemies of irises are the iris borer and root rot. Always rake up all old leaves to prevent these two enemies.
You can also thin out your jonquils (daffodils or narcissi) now if you know where the bulbs are. The old leaves are probably long gone. This most loved plant is the easiest of all bulbs to grow. No hoeing, no weeding and no pruning. If your jonquils seem to have smaller and smaller blooms, then they probably need to be separated and replanted now.
Moles or voles will never eat a jonquil but I have caught squirrels digging mine up and chewing a bit out of the side of the bulb. And to think I feed them!
About this time each year, someone will ask me if they can move peonies now and the answer is a resounding no. If you must move one if you are moving or for some reason, remember that they will go into shock and won’t bloom for several years. The time to move or separate a peony is in mid-October. While on the subject, don’t put mulch on a peony. They may bloom profusely for many, many years if the soil is just right and the drainage and sunlight are also just what they need. My grandmother, my Ma, who loved flowers as I do, had one that was huge and had been in the same spot for many years. Since it was such a great bloomer, she just let it alone. I picked great bouquets each spring.
May is the month when all your hard work for eleven months pays off. But keeping your flower gardens looking their best takes some planning and a little work. Staking keeps them looking neat. It keeps them from falling over during a rain or storm. Any garden center will have bamboo stakes in different heights and green twine for tying or you can make your own. I have used stout sticks which seem to blend in well. Each time you add a new perennial, be sure to stake it while it is small. A good idea is to also label each plant so you won’t wonder what some plant is. Saves some embarrassing moments when you are showing off your garden and just can’t remember the name of a plant. The stakes should also be used for annuals which you use to fill in bare spots. In a few short weeks those bare spots will show up.
It’s time to sow some tender annuals such as petunias, torenia, portulaca and others. The date for planting these tender annuals has always been May 15. It’s not likely to turn too cold for them after that date. Late this month you can plant gourd seeds. They need sun and fairly rich soil with a little rotted manure. Gourds don’t transplant well so sow them where they are to grow. They need support such as a fence. I used my neighbor’s fence, with her permission, but getting those dried tendrils off that fence in the fall is a hard chore. You should plant about ten seeds to a hill. I have always loved to grow all kinds of gourds.
Start planting gladiolus during May and plant every two weeks until the middle of July. That assures you blooms through September. There are hardy glads which many gardeners dislike because of their gaudy colors but I have always liked that splash of color, especially in a dull spot in the garden.
When you plant annuals which come in little peat pots, be sure to soak them, pots and all, in a pan of water before planting. You can gently lift the plants out of the peat pots or plant them in the pot. It’s a good idea to tear off the bottom of the pot at least. Dig the hole for them where you want them, water the hole thoroughly, then slip the little plant in the hole. When you fill the hole with dirt, don’t water again. If you use a pellet fertilizer, put some in each hole before planting. It will last them through the summer. If planting on a sunny day, cover them with a sheet of newspaper for a few days. To get a stocky growth of annuals, remove the central bud at the top of the plant when it’s about six inches tall. Most all annuals can be “pinched off” except asters, nicotianas and poppies. They are best left alone.
Above all, even with all the work, gardening should be a joy. After all, we grow our plants not just for pleasure for others, but to give ourselves pleasure.
The Cadiz Record plans to introduce a new interactive feature in connection with Ronella Stagner’s gardening column soon. In the meantime, questions for her can be emailed to email@example.com.