Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.
Recycle your newspaper into the garden. Spread several layers of newspapers between your rows of plants. Cover with shredded leaves, herbicide-free grass clippings, or other organic mulch. The layer of newspaper provides an added barrier to the weeds. And, as it breaks down over the summer, it adds organic matter to the soil below.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
The garden centers are filled with beautiful flowers waiting for a home in your garden. Memorial Day is a traditional planting day for gardeners across the country. Unfortunately, the calendar is not always our best guideline, so let the air and soil temperatures be your planting guide.
Northern gardeners may want to wait until late May or early June when the soil and air are warm to plant tender annuals such as impatiens and coleus. I like to use ReeMay, Harvest Guard or other floating row covers to protect tender plants from cool temperatures. These materials allow air, light and water through, but capture the heat around the plants. Use them to get an earlier start or speed up plant growth early in the season.
Southern gardeners should consider replacing their spring annuals with more heat tolerant African daisies, ageratum, cockscomb, pentas, annual vinca, petunia, portulcaca and zinnia. Add a few begonias, coleus and impatiens to shady locations.
Once your bulbs finish blooming, leave the leaves in place. Interplant a few annuals to hide the declining leaves. I like to mix my bulbs with perennials. As the bulb foliage declines, the perennials fill in and cover the leaves. It looks good and is less work for me. Remove foliage once it yellows or dries.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
The planting season is gaining momentum. Plant seeds of brussel sprouts, snap beans, late cabbage and sweet corn directly in the garden. Remember to mark and label the rows, so it will be easier to distinguish the vegetables from the weeds.
Northern gardeners can start harvesting lettuce when the outer leaves are about 6 inches long. Wait until late May or early June to plant warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash and melons. These plants need warm soil and air temperatures to grow and flourish. Cover plantings with ReeMay, Harvest Guard or other season extending fabrics. The coverings provide frost protection and added warmth to reduce the time from planting to harvest.
Southern gardeners can harvest broccoli when the flower buds are tight and green. Once the buds open and the yellow flowers appear, the flavor starts to decline. Pick your spring planting of peas often to keep the plants producing. Plant bean, cucumber, okra and southern pea seeds directly in the garden. Continue planting transplants of tomatoes, peppers, melons and sweet potato.
Do not use Home Orchard sprays or other pesticides containing insecticides on flowering fruit trees. The insecticides can prevent fruit formation and also kill the bees needed for pollination and fruit production. Make sure you need an insecticide before spraying. Then read and follow all label direction carefully and wait until petal fall before applying insecticides.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Prune spring flowering shrubs such as lilac and forsythia after they finish blooming to control their size and still have blooms next spring. Remove a few of the older stems to ground level. Reduce the height by one third or less if needed. Make cuts where a branch adjoins another branch or above a healthy bud.
Start monitoring your landscape for pests. Early detection means easier, usually more successful control. Check trees for the webby masses (tents) of Eastern Tent Caterpillar. Knock the insect filled tents to the ground and smash the caterpillars inside. Or treat the tent and surrounding two feet of leaves with Dipel or Thuricide. This product kills true caterpillars but is safe for people, pets and wildlife.
Check pines for colonies of European sawflies. These green and black worm-like insects feed in colonies. They eat the needles off the pines one branch at a time. Prune out the infested branch and dispose of the insects. Or put on the leather gloves and smash the insects in place. Insecticides labeled for use on evergreens and sawflies can also be used to manage this pest. Be sure to read and follow all label directions carefully before purchasing and using any product.
Lawns and Groundcovers
Mowing, watering and fertilization are the three factors in keeping your lawn healthy. Grow cool season grasses like bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches tall. Warm season grasses like bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass and zoysia should be grown at 1 to 2 inches tall, while St. Augustine should be a bit higher, 2 to 3 inches, for best results. Mow high and often enough, so you remove only 1/3 of the total length of the leaf blade. These short clippings will quickly break down, adding moisture, nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
Northern gardeners can start the holiday fertilization program in late May. A light fertilization of a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer, such as Milorganite, will provide the nutrients needed, while reducing the risk of burn. The majority of fertilization should occur in fall. Mark your calendar now, Labor Day and Halloween, are the next times to fertilize the lawn.
Tips for Indoor Plants
Wait - don't move that ficus outdoors just yet. Decide if you want to put your houseplants through the stress of adjusting from indoors to outdoors and back inside for winter. The change in the environment can be hard on many tropical plants. Plus, the free-loading pests that move inside for winter can create a lot of work for you.
Harden off any houseplants moving outdoors for the summer. Stop fertilizing and allow the plants to go a bit drier between watering. Start with the plants in a shady location and gradually increase the amount of sunlight the plants receive each day. Cover or move tender plants indoors during cold snaps. Once outdoors, find a good location out of wind and the hot afternoon sun. I keep many of my tropical houseplants in a partially shaded spot for the summer. This makes the transition between indoors and outdoors a bit easier. My hibiscus, mandeveilla and other patio plants go out in a sunny location where I can enjoy their blooming beauty. The transition back indoors is a bit more difficult, but the plants survive the winter to spend another summer outdoors.
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