Ron Kujawski | The Garden Journal: Beware of the over-indulgences of May

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Yay, I say! It's May! Even a chilly and wet week could not dampen my spirits. May has always been my favorite month.

The early morning light, melodic chirping of songbirds, and steady progression of spring flowers easing into bloom summon joy and optimism for a successful gardening year.

There is also a feeling of boundless energy, which, on one hand, is necessary to get on with the myriad of gardening tasks on our checklist this month and, on the other hand, may lead us to excesses.

Examples of the latter might include expansion of gardens beyond our capacity to properly maintain them and the over-purchase of gardening products. Weeds in the vegetable garden at mid-summer, a stack of unopened seed packets and collection of plants still in their original nursery pots have been testimony to my over-indulgences during the month of May.

Another example of how enthusiasm can mislead gardeners this month, and into the next, is in the purchase of herbaceous perennials. When shopping at retail garden centers and nurseries, many of us are more likely to be enticed to buy a plant that is in full flower as opposed to one displaying only a mass of green foliage.

Since the bulk of our plant purchases is typically in May, there is the risk of creating flower gardens where the bulk of bloom is confined to only the spring months, thus leaving a deficit of bloom in summer and fall. The best way to prevent this spring overload of bloom is with rational assessment of what plant additions are needed to create a continuous succession of bloom over the course of the growing season.

Now, put aside rational assessment for the moment and let your unbridled enthusiasm and energy help you to tackle these tasks:

- Get out the camera and take pictures of your gardens and landscapes. Make this a regular routine throughout the growing season. The resulting pictures provide critical data to guide you in making alterations and additions to your gardens.

- Cut some flower stems from trees, shrubs, non-woody plants, and spring flowering bulbs for use in flower arrangements. When snipping, be careful not to destroy the natural form of the plant from which you are sourcing your cut flowers.

- Soak seeds of sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) overnight before sowing. Sow the swollen seeds against a fence, trellis or other support as they will grow to heights of 6 to 8 feet. As the species name, odoratus, implies, sweet pea blossoms are fragrant and make great cut flowers.

- Prune forsythia right after they have completed their bloom. To ensure that mature bushes continue to produce a spectacular floral display such as we witnessed this year, prune back to ground level two or three of the oldest stems from the center of each bush. Do this annually.

- Sharpen mower blades before heading out to mow the south 40. A dull blade not only shreds grass blades, opening up the grass plant to disease, but also decreases the energy efficiency of your mower. When mowing, set the blade at a cutting height of 3 or more inches. The high mowing height encourages grass to develop a deep root system, shades out weeds, and lessens the frequency to mow.

- Monitor plants in the vegetable garden for insect pests. Among the critters now active are flea beetles and cut worms on seedlings of cabbage and related plants, and asparagus beetles on asparagus. Dust susceptible plants with kaolin clay or place row covers over the plants to control flea beetles. To control cutworms, make applications of Bacillus thuringiensis to plants at night when cutworms are active. To get rid of asparagus beetles, hand pick the beetles and drop in soapy water or spray plants with neem oil.

- Continue to check yourself carefully and thoroughly for deer ticks after working in the garden and landscape. The ticks are now in the nymph stage and, being a little smaller than a poppy seed, they are very difficult to see. If you need motivation, bear in mind that deer tick nymphs cause about 80 percent of the cases of Lyme disease in humans.

- Don't forget mom on Mother's Day next Sunday. While gifts are nice, it is your presence that she'll cherish the most.

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