Hard work is done; May begins maintenance
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
May 02, 2012 | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
May is the month when all the work and planning of the past eleven months comes to fruition and everything looks its best. Now comes the hard part of keeping it that way.

Some plants are late in coming through the ground and it’s easy to take a hoe to an area where you have hostas, bleedinghearts and others and kill them before they come up. Some of the tiny bulbs can also be killed by a little shoveling in the wrong place. That is why markers are so important. Also many gardeners have a detailed diagram of their flower beds so this doesn’t happen. As you plant new perennial, it’s easy to place a marker beside them.

It’s time to sow some tender annuals such as amaranth, petunia and any of the other plants which would be harmed by a late frost. You can also sow gourd seeds by the latter part of May. When you sow the seeds, put at least ten to a hill. Sow where you want them to grow because they don’t transplant well. They have to have good support for the vines. A wire fence is great or a strong trellis but remember that each plant will grow very long vines so just a few will cover a long fence. When the little plants get up to a few inches, thin them out to about two to a hill.

When you bring those little flats of annuals home, keep them moist till planting time. Before planting, always dip the whole flat in a bucket of water for a minute to saturate each little plant. Dig a hole for each plant, fill with water and place some Osmacote in the hole and place the plant in the hole. Fill the hole with dry dirt and water no more. You read that right. If there is no moisture on the top of the soil, the sun won’t bake or steam the tender little plant. It’s always best to plant those little annuals on a cool cloudy day.

Once the annuals get up to a few inches, remove the central bud at the top of the plant to make stocky growth. Almost all annuals benefit from this pinching out of the tops. The exceptions are poppies, asters and necotianas.

Remember that you can always fill any gaps in the perennial flower beds with annuals. The less soil that is exposed, the fewer weeds will show up.

In early May, you can start planting gladiolus. Plant them 6 inches apart or plant them12 inches apart and then plant the next planting between the 12 inches. After the first planting in May, plant every two weeks up until July 10th, giving you blooms all summer. Plant glads 4 to 6 inches deep and spade the soil deeply because they have long roots. Glads need fertilizer just as any other perennial in your flower beds. Recently, a friend and I were discussing glads and I told her about the perennial glads. They are very bright clolors and pretty gaudy but I love them. After you plant them, they take care of themselves. Some of them may need a small stake.

Nearly all tall flowers benefit by staking, especially tall garden phlox, larkspur, hollyhocks, foxgloves, dahlias and glads. Hopefully, you have a large stock of stakes and some raffia or coarse green cord to tie the plants with. There are all kinds of stakes. You can buy bamboo ones from the garden center or you can go to a planing mill and get scraps in all sizes. I have also painted the wooden stakes to hide them a bit in the beds. I have also used twigs from a tree for the short plants. Just use your imagination.

Do you need to prune your conifers? If so, prune off the “candles”, those little green tips of the limbs that stand upright like candles. Cutting off limbs won’t make the plant bushier but trimming the candles will.

Now, as to annuals. Staking them is also important if you want your beds to look good. You might use an old coat hanger, straightened and cut in two pieces as stakes for small annuals such as larkspurs.

Some annuals that will be bushier if the tops are pinched out are ageratums, snapdragons, marigolds, annual phlox, alyssum and petunias.

I have had a few calls from readers who missed the column about putting Epsom Salts on tomatoes so here ‘tis. About every two weeks or so, all summer, add one or two tablespoons of Epsom Salts to tomato plants to keep them bearing longer. When you start to see yellowing leaves at the bottom of your tomato plants, it means they are leaching out magnesium which the Epsom Salts will replentish. The garden centers carry large boxes of it. I have also put some around some of my perennials such as phlox. It really does keep down insects to plant marigolds around tomato plants. Also it helps them to place a few inches of straw all over the area of the tomato plants.

Please feel free to call with questions or suggestions to 270-522-3632. Thanks so much to those readers who have told me they loved reading about Ma. My next column will be devoted in part to stories of Ma.
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