May: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Rhododendron in bloom. Photo by A. Laine.

Ahh, May. The lovely month. The month for mothers, proms, college graduations and the first great beach weekend—Memorial Day. It is generally not too hot and rarely too cool. The month of balmy days that lead to enchanting evenings on the veranda (deck, patio, veranda—whatever). Enjoy the evening.  There’s gardening to be done on the morrow.

Lawn Care
Warm season grass people: It is your turn. If you didn’t fertilize the lawn in April, get to it. A good slow release fertilizer that meets the requirements notated in your SOIL TEST results is in order. Also, sharpen those mower blades.

Cool season grass folks: Just mow it, but not less than 3 inches high. “Do not,” he repeated, “fertilize cool season grasses until Fall.”

Fertilizing
Speaking of fertilizing; long season vegetable crops like tomatoes, beans and squash (among others) will benefit from a side dressing six to eight weeks after germination. (What?! You didn’t start your own from seed? You bought plants at a Big Box? Give them a week or two in the ground and then side dress.)

While you have the bag open throw some fertilizer at your summer annuals and perennials, too.

Azaleas and rhododendrons and camellias and other ericaceous (acid-loving) plants will benefit from a shot of acid fertilizer about now.

Planting
May is the second-best time in the veggie garden. (Everybody knows harvest is the best time.) It is time to plant beans (snap, pole, bush limas, etc.), cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, southern peas, peppers—sweet and hot, pumpkins, squash, watermelon and, for you non-competitive types, tomatoes.

Gladioli bulbs may be planted now as may begonias, geraniums and other annuals that you didn’t plant in late April.

Pruning
Spring flowering shrubs (e.g. azaleas, camellias, etc.) may be pruned as soon as the blooms fade.  Azaleas may be pruned until July 4th without cutting off next year’s buds.

Overgrown hedges can still be pruned.

Keep pinching back garden mums until mid-July.

Hand prune azalea and camellia leaf galls. They are generally not harmful to the plant, but are unattractive.

I realize your grandmother always cut back the daffodils and iris and other spring bulbs as soon as the flowers faded. I urge you to resist the temptation to carry on that tradition. The bulbs need that foliage to make the sugars that will provide the energy to bloom again next year. Wait until the foliage itself yellows before whacking it off and relegating it to the compost heap. The bulbs thank you.

Spraying

  • Always, always ONLY spray when necessary and READ & FOLLOW label directions.
  • Monitor rhododendron species including azaleas for borers. Spray if necessary.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers which you probably will not see.
  • Scout for and spray as necessary for bag worms. They are on the move this month.
  • May is a good time to begin to try to eliminate poison ivy/oak (Rhus radicans) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Best wishes.
  • Begin spraying squash vines for borers.
  • Monitor the blueberry plants for borers. Spray as necessary.
  • Continue the never-ending spray programs for roses, fruit trees and bunch grapes.
  • Other insect pests active now include azalea lace bugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus and tea scales, spider mites (especially on coniferous evergreens), the ubiquitous aphids and the bane of my gardening existence—white flies.
  • If (or more likely when) your tomatoes show signs of blight, begin a fungicide regimen.

Other Things To Do in May That Could Quite Possibly Include the Garden

  • Dance around a May pole.
  • Celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
  • Mulch stuff.
  • Put out a flag on Memorial Day and thank a veteran.

Learn With Us, week of April 28

Straw Bale Gardening
Sunday, April 28⋅3:00 – 4:00pm
Durham County Library – South Regional Library
4505 S Alston Ave, Durham, NC 27713, USA
Growing a successful vegetable garden is challenging enough if you have terrific soil in which to plant, but with poor soils it can be virtually impossible. Straw Bale Gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is productive and much less labor intensive.

Classes are free. Registration at the SRL is required. Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on “Events” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up. You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.
Pollinators 
Saturday, May 4⋅10:00 – 11:00am
For Garden’s Sake
9197 NC-751, Durham, NC 27713, USA

This POLLINATORS talk will offer information, advice and suggestions about the plants and critters that benefit our flower and vegetable gardens and our yards. Also reviewed will be some of the common pests and the diseases that can be prevented by propagating proper pollinator practices. (Say THAT three times quickly.)
Free/Registration required
To register, email ann@fgsnursery.com or call 919-484-9759

Give Bees a Chance

by Mark Powers and Karen Lauterbach, Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Last summer we noted with concern the rapid proliferation of roadside signs advertising spraying to rid yards of mosquitoes and ticks.

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Photo by Mark Powers

We have kept honey bees for several years and shuddered to think of the risks these chemical ‘treatments’ would pose to our hard working bees. Last week, we saw the signs nearby, with one across the street from our hives.

Honey bees face multiple challenges in 2019, the worst being the parasitic varroa mites that invaded North America in 1987. These mites attach to honey bee larvae and adults, drain them of vital fluids, and infect them with destructive viruses. We test and treat for mites on a regular basis to control this blight and keep our hives alive. We don’t need another insult to our honey bees, especially one that is man-made.

There are safe, effective ways to control mosquitoes, such as removing any standing water from your property.  North Carolina State University’s Dr. Michael Waldvogel, an Extension specialist in Entomology and Plant Pathology, points out some of the risks of chemical treatments. Pyrethroid pesticides, he explains, do not selectively eliminate mosquitoes and ticks. They kill all insects, including beneficial species like ladybugs, butterflies, and honey bees. Pesticides may knock down mosquitoes for short periods of time. For some application methods this is measured in hours. Mosquitoes don’t respect property lines, and ticks may return on the hides of passing deer and squirrels soon after a yard is sprayed. The $40 a month for spraying can buy little.

Honey bees forage for their nutrition as far away as three miles during daylight hours while plants are blooming. Spraying during these hours is most hazardous to pollinators. If bees forage on toxin-coated plants, they may not make it home. If they do, they could share chemicals with their hive mates.

An online resource, DriftWatch, aims to inform pesticide sprayers about locations of beehives across North Carolina. Homeowners can view the locations of hives near them, and all beekeepers should be sure to register their hives.

As the weather warms, signs advertising spraying for mosquitoes and ticks will sprout like dandelions. But think before you act. If you use practical and nontoxic pest management strategies, you can avoid sprays that indiscriminately kill the insects in your yard and introduce toxins into your environment. Many of our bugs are helpful.

Give bees a chance.

 

Sources & Further Reading

An article by Dr. Michael Waldvogel describing safe, effective ways to control mosquitoes: https://entomology.ces.ncsu.edu/mosquito-control-around-homes-and-in-communities/

Drift Watch: https://nc.driftwatch.org/map

 

Learn With Us, week of April 21

Straw Bale Gardening
Sunday, April 28⋅3:00 – 4:00pm
Durham County Library – South Regional Library
4505 S Alston Ave, Durham, NC 27713, USA
Growing a successful vegetable garden is challenging enough if you have terrific soil in which to plant, but with poor soils it can be virtually impossible. Straw Bale Gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is productive and much less labor intensive.

Classes are free. Registration at the SRL is required. Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on “Events” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up. You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: How I Got a Cupboard For My Gardening Tools and Supplies

by Wendy Diaz EMGV

We all know that we can help the environment by reducing, reusing and recycling all the stuff we need, use and buy. Last year our family upgraded to a larger screen TV that rendered our large oak entertainment center obsolete (Photo 1). I tried to donate it as a piece of furniture to reuse stores, however, they would not take it. A local consignment shop told me to just throw it away. Now I can’t throw things in a landfill if I feel they could be of use to somebody and when I couldn’t find a stranger to take it, it became clear that it was up to me to reuse and find another purpose for this well-made but outdated piece of furniture.

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Photo 1 Before: Empty old oak entertainment center. Photo by Wendy Diaz, June 10, 2018

After a quick search on the Internet, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one with this idea. There were abundant images of repurposed entertainment centers mostly transformed into wine racks or portable liquor bars and children’s play kitchens (think sink instead of TV). Nevertheless, there were a few enterprising gardeners who repurposed this large piece of dated furniture into a tool storage unit for their garage or back porch. And that is how our oak entertainment center became one garden cupboard (Photo 2) and a TV stand.

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Photo 2 After: Repainted and retrofitted into a garden cupboard. Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018

The top third of the entertainment center was a detachable unit and my husband attached rollers to the base and that became our new TV stand. The remainder two-thirds of the unit became my garden cupboard for tools and supplies. My husband was skeptical at first because he didn’t want to take up valuable real estate in the garage next to his work bench but after I discarded a damaged bookcase where we kept various tools and fuel etc. he became a believer and now stores these items in a more organized and easily retrievable fashion (Photo 3).

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Photo 3. Interior of garden cupboard with hooks for tools and storage for garden supplies.  Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018

My repurposing supplies included paint brushes, one gallon of discarded green paint from a recent kitchen renovation, left over wallpaper from an old bathroom remodel, a few hooks and a $3 piece of board (purchased from the Scrap Exchange in Durham). The board was used to block the large open back in the former TV section of the entertainment center. I left some former electrical chord holes in the back for ventilation and I repainted and reused most of the shelves. After two weeks of painting whenever I was free for a couple of hours (total of about 8 hours), I was able to store most of my garden items (with the exception of my long-handled tools) as well flower pots and the spreader on the wide top which freed up more floor space in the garage. The shelves were covered with burlap coffee bean bags to prevent scratching of the paint and I even have a small shelf for repotting small pots (Photo 4).

Now everything has a place and I have almost a place for everything! It also feels pretty good that I am helping nature, if just but a little, by not taking the old furniture to the dump.

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Photo 4 Potting shelf in garden cupboard. Photo by Wendy Diaz, December 7, 2018