May To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

“It’s May! It’s May, the merry month of May.” But this is North Carolina, not Camelot and the rain doesn’t just fall overnight, but rather over the weekend…all the weekends, 14 out of 17 so far in 2023.
Surely it will be different in May. Maybe all the kids who have been stuck in school all week while the sun shines, anticipating all their myriad weekend outdoor activities will actually get to do them this month. Their parents certainly hope so.
The Accidental Cottage Garden (ACG) is really waking up. Besides the Siberian wall flower (Cheiranthus allioni) mentioned last month she now sports Bath’s pink dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Bath’s Pink) in profusion, English daisies (Bellis perennis) and a couple of bearded iris cultivars (Iris germanica). The peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) have come and gone, but the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) has been blooming for three weeks.
The 200k + wildflower seeds that were sewn in March have nearly all germinated. (You know I went out and counted them.) There will be a veritable meadow in a cigar box when they start blooming. Also, at least half of the 100 sunflower seeds have survived the ravages of squirrels, field mice and birds. This year promises to be another exciting season in the garden waiting to see what will bloom next.

There is a plethora of things to do in and around the garden this month. Here’s a guide to keep you from being overwhelmed.

LAWN CARE: As April was mostly Mayish it turned out to be good advice last month when I indicated that you could fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda and zoysia) last month. If you missed that, May is not too late.
This month you can now feed centipede its once a year chemical meal.
You can also fertilize cool season grasses (fescue, bluegrass & perennial rye) now, but be judicious with the quantity and use a balanced (10-10-10 or equivalent) product.
Mow cool season grasses at 3”- 4” and warm season grasses at 1 ½”- 2”.

FERTILIZING: Crops that produce over a long period of time (think tomatoes, squash, beans, etc.) will reward you with higher yields if you feed them about now (or next week).
Summer blooming flowers, but not wildflowers, would also be pleased with a bit of extra sustenance this month. Wildflowers prefer to fend for themselves. They aren’t called “wild” for nothing.
Non-native rhododendrons and azaleas can be treated to a meal of acid producing fertilizer provided your FREE SOIL TEST indicated a high pH (>6).

PLANTING: Oh, boy!! It’s May. We can plant from dawn ‘til dusk (if someone will come by and help us get back up at the end of the day and/or make a PT appointment for us).
Beans such as green, snap, pole, bush, lima/butter (no DNA difference, y’all), melons, like cantaloupe, watermelon, honey dew, etc., cucumbers, corn, southern peas, squash of all sorts, pumpkins, eggplant, okra (toward the end of the month), all of the myriad varieties of peppers and, of course, tomatoes can all be planted with abandon.
Gladioli bulbs, begonias, geraniums and anything else you didn’t optimistically plant last month when it was 85 degrees outside and you were sure summer had arrived can be stuck in the ground now.

PRUNING: Spring flowering shrubs (forsythia, camellias, azaleas, etc.) can be safely pruned after the blooms fade. It is generally safe to prune azaleas up to the Fourth of July without jeopardizing next year’s flower production.
Properly sized at planting Encore azaleas should require very little in the way of pruning. However, if a stray branch or two should insult your sense of aesthetics, you should prune the offenders in the spring immediately after the spring bloom period.
Pinch back garden mums until mid-July for fall floral displays.
Hand prune leaf galls from azaleas and camellias. They ain’t purty, but neither are they particularly harmful.
Let’s talk about spring bulbs for a minute. I know what your grandmother did and her grandmother and lord knows how many grandmothers before that, but please do not cut the foliage off as soon as the flowers fade. I know you have heard of photosynthesis (You’re smart enough to be reading this.), so here’s the deal. The leaves produce sugar via photosynthesis (The editor won’t let me explain all that process in this post. Read the book.) and send it down to the bulb where it is stored in starch form to be used next spring to make pretty flowers again. Cut off the foliage prematurely and sacrifice the health of the bulbs. Eventually, no blooms. Are we good here?

SPRAYING: AN UNPAID PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: When thinking about spraying for most insects, check the suspect plants to see if there really are insects and if the damage is enough to affect the health (or aesthetic) of the plant. If not, hold off with the pesticide treatment. Preventative treatment should be left to those producing commercially.
That said, spray the following species for borers (which you most likely will not see even if you look): azaleas, blueberries (Remember somebody’s gonna eat ‘em eventually.), iris and start spraying squash continuing until mid-June.
Scout coniferous evergreens for bag worms and spider mites. Bag worms should be out of the bag, so to speak, for a couple of weeks this month which makes them infinitely more vulnerable to chemical control.
Other six and eight legged critters on the loose beginning this month include azalea lace bugs (who have only been inactive when the leaf surface temperature was under about 40 degrees F), boxwood leaf miners (They will appear as fly-like adults this month and like bag worms are easier to treat than when they are mining. You can see their little lamps inside the leaf, but you can’t get to them.), euonymus and tea scales on euonymus (Where’d you think?) and camellias (where tea comes from—C. sinensis), spider mites especially on coniferous evergreens, and aphids on any plant ever catalogued by a horticulturist anywhere, and finally, white flies.
Monitor tomatoes for early and /or late blight. Spray an appropriate fungicide (early for early and later for late—surprisingly enough).

It’s May Y’all. Do we really need an excuse to be outside? Seriously? Just grab a beverage and sit on the deck, porch, patio, front lawn it matters not and watch stuff grow. It’s growing that fast right now. Enjoy May. Next month it’ll be too something (hot, humid, buggy, whatever) for some folks.
Happy Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day! (Thank a vet.)

Hi, it’s your friendly Editor here with a link to more details about Photosynthesis! It’s not a book but it’ll get you started.

Free Soil Tests: it’s that time of year. Here’s how to test your soil.