Spring is in full swing! It’s definitely time to get out in the garden if you haven’t already and really get going on some serious playing in the dirt. All but the tenderest of plants can be put in the ground now (still wait a few weeks on those tomatoes and cucumbers), as long as they have been properly hardened off. A late frost can take out weeks of hard work in just a few hours!
May is the month for mulching! Prepare your beds for a top dressing of mulch or compost by cutting a nice new edge, pulling any weeds that are starting to pop up, and doing a final clean-up trim on any shrubs and perennials. A nice new layer of mulch will not only make your gardens look nicer, it will help keep soil at a moderate temperature, help hold moisture in, and slow down the growth of weeds. Don’t mulch too deeply right around the base of plants, though. They need to be able to breathe. A 3″ layer of mulch is good for shrub beds, but don’t go any deeper than 1″ around the base of them. Pulling as many weeds as possible now will also help eliminate a bigger problem later in the summer.
A nice sharp, flat shovel makes for quick work on edging beds, or you can use a step-edger. A quick cut along the edge of the bed will help discourage grass from growing into your garden beds and mulch from spilling over into the lawn, and will make the general appearance of the gardens much neater. Your lawn should be fertilized now, and over-seeded if necessary while it is still cool, as this helps keep moisture closer to the surface, and will speed germination of seed. A well-established lawn will be much easier to maintain through the summer months.
Transplanting should be done on cloudy days, to protect delicate roots. Don’t dig and transplant anything if it is blooming, since this will add extra stress to the plant. The earlier potted plants are planted in the ground, though, the better, since they will have the entire summer to grow good, healthy, strong roots.
Annuals can be planted outside after the middle of the month. If there is a danger of frost, covering plants with a sheet or paper grocery bags will protect them from most damage. Windowboxes and planters should be brought inside if possible, for extra protection. Cold-crop veggies can be put outside as well; broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and lettuces and spinach can handle all but the coldest nights, and a little light protection will go a long way towards keeping they beautiful.
Large-flowered perennials, especially peonies, should be staked this month, before they get too large. Staking or putting supportive rings around your plants not only will keep them upright when it rains, it will encourage them to grow taller and straighter, strengthening their stems and making a much nicer garden display. Deadhead as soon as flowers have gone by on perennials, annuals, and bulbs to encourage re-blooming on those that do, and food storage on those that do not.
As a final note, spring is also when all the bugs and insects come out. There are many insects that can cause severe damage to your plants, but many others that are beneficial, or will even eat some of the destructive pests. Before treating your plants, if you don’t know what an insect is, bring it into a garden center for identification. It may be a helpful creature, rather than a problem!