This week Paul sent out a very timely newsletter that included 7 things we can all do to Prepare the Garden for May. Paul is quoted after this (and I interject a few comments in italics).
"It's May, so keep your eyes open; enjoy the garden but watch out for possible problems. Think prevention this spring; ask questions--NOW--about the problems you had last year before they possibly return. If you're planting something new--and you should--ask about the plant you selected and how to care for it. Things happen fast in your garden, some good and some not so good. Stay on top of things, enjoy the ride, and don't be scared to ask for help. Remember NO gardening question is DUMB! (We LOVE gardening questions at Skillin's!)
#1 This week, I want you to get out the peony cages and get them in place to prevent possible damage, as the flowers develop they will be large and heavy. A good rain and wind could destroy all your hard work and shorten your enjoyment. If you're purchasing your first peony plants, invest in the inexpensive wire hoops to help hold up the flowers; it will be money well spent. When the peonies finish flowering, move the cages to the delphiniums and when the delphiniums are finished, use them on your fall mums or asters. (Yes, the cages can be used on multiple plants through out the season. They ARE inexpensive and we have plenty here at Skillin's!)
Always plant peonies shallow, because they will not flower if you do not. Dig in the soil near the stem of the plant with your finger. You should be able to feel the crown of the plant in the ground at a depth of one knuckle of your finger--anything deeper means no flower. Next, if your flower buds form and turn black and dry up there are two possibilities for this problem. If just the buds dry up, you need the common ant in your garden to eat the soft waxy film that grows on the bud to protect it against the dry wind and sun. As the ants eat the waxy film, the bud expands and grows larger--eventually flowering. To get ants on the flower bud, take a tablespoon of grape jelly, cover the buds with it, and then dump the rest on the ground around the plant. The smell of the grape jelly will draw them to your plant; they will clean the buds for you and flowers will form. Keep all insecticides away from the plant during this process so as not to hurt the ants. If the bud and the first leaf turn black, you have a disease that has hit the plant. Use a good fungicide like copper or Serenade Organic Fungicide as soon as you notice the buds forming on the plant.
#2 Sunday, I started to notices small tents of webbing in the trees, a sure sign that the tent caterpillars are arriving now. If you are able to break the netting with your garden hose water pressure or a long pole, the caterpillars will have nowhere to hide during wet weather and will all die when they get wet and cold. If that does not work, use the new natural insecticide called Spinosad from Fertilome or Captain Jack from Bonide. It will do the trick and will quickly kill them without hurting beneficial insects or the birds; it's also great for all caterpillar insects--even in the vegetable garden. Again. It's all natural and a disease of caterpillar type insects like the old B.T. product--but much more effective, especially on the larger and more mature caterpillars.
#3 Daylilies and hostas are beginning to grow now, and this is a great time to dig them up and divide the large clumps into smaller clumps. If you do it now, it will not affect the flower production of the plant for the summer months, and the new clumps will double their size by the end of the summer. Be sure to plant them at the same depth they were before you dug them and condition the soil with compost or animal manure before planting them in their new home. When you divide perennials or move plants around the garden in the spring, use a new fertilizer called "Thrive." I have been talking about this product with Mycorrhizae in it for the past couple of years. Your root system will double in size in just a month, transplant shock will be little to none and the new roots the plant develops will be incredible, helping your plants quickly get established before the heat of summer arrives. This is new technology at its best, and you will have more flowers on young plants when it's used at the time of planting because of the faster growing root system. (We offer Thrive at Skillin's--great product!) The "Tones" like Plant Tone or Flower Tone by Espoma also contain some beneficial bacteria that enhances root growth.
#4 If you have ornamental grasses it is now time to cut them back to 12 inches from the ground. By removing the old dead growth from last season now, you will encourage the new foliage to develop faster and the new growth will look much nicer with the old growth removed. If the clump of ornamental grass has grown large, this is also the best time of the year to dig it up and divide it into smaller clumps. Dig up the entire clump and get as many roots as possible, shake off as much soil as possible so you can see the roots and then split the clump with a garden spade or hatchet. What you want is a clump about 4 to 6 inches in diameter; the splitting is best done when the clump is laid on its side so you can divide easily with lots of roots. Condition the soil with compost and manure before planting and keep the new plans moist until you start to see the new grass develop. (I agree with the compost thought but also just like in #3, this is a great opportunity to use Thrive, or one of the Tones!)
#5 Hydrangeas can be pruned at this time if the plant has begun to make new growth. (I only prune the dead growth from the blue hydrangea). If your plant grew tall and fell over last summer, you can cut back the individual stems back by as much as 1/3 to 1/2, as long as there are new buds below the cut you will be making. I always leave 3 to 4 sets of buds on each stem to insure flowers for the summer months. All dead stems should be removed and the plant should also be fertilized with Plant-Tone fertilizer for a wonderful 3 to 4 month slow feeding. Your blue hydrangea should also be fertilized with Holly Tone that will improve the color of the flowers and keep them nice and blue during the summer. For pink hydrangeas, be sure to add limestone, wood ash or Fast-Acting Lime to keep the color pink or the acidity in the soil will change the plant color to blue. Add 3 inches of mulch around the plant to hold moisture during summer heat.
#6 Broadleaf weeds are in their glory right now--and no matter how well-kept your lawn the dandelions (these are the king of lawn weeds) will pop up. If you're using a combination fertilizer and broadleaf weed killer, be sure the grass is wet before applying it to the lawn so the product can stick to the foliage and do a better job. Also, be sure that your lawn sprinkler is off and no rain is predicted for at least 24 hours after you apply the product to give the week killer time to move into the plant and destroy it. If you just planted grass seed, this cannot be done until the fall or the weed killer will hurt the new sprouting grass plants. Liquid broadleaf weed killers like Weed Beater Ultra from Bonide can also be applied at this time, but be careful when applying near ground covers. Only apply when the weather is calm and--like the powder type-- when there will be no rain for 24 plus hours. Tough weeds like violets, creeping Charlie and ajuga will need a second application of Weed Beater Ultra in 7 days to destroy these strong weeds completely. (I am bigger advocate of the Weed Beater Ultra than the traditional Weed and Feed products).
Check out Early May Garden Talks for even more gardening tips for this time of year!
Thanks very much Paul Parent!
May 5, 2012