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May brings gardening into full swing

Pink, white and yellow snapdragon flowers are in bloom
Waiting until the soil is warm — around 60° — to plant summer favorites pays off. A simple soil thermometer is a useful tool to have in the spring garden. (Photo: C. Watts)

With the roller coaster temperatures of April behind us, I am embracing May. Did I ever tell you how much I love the month of May? May is the month when the soil is finally warm enough to plant the summer vegetables and flowers, when roses bloom, and the gardens are alive! When I dig in the garden in May, my fingers are no longer chilled by the earth. Speaking of, did you know planting tomatoes, peppers, and basil too early will reduce root formation and stunt the growth of the plant? Waiting until the soil is warm (60 degrees) to plant these summer favorites is not always easy. Still, a gardener’s patience will pay off with a bountiful harvest later in the season. A simple soil thermometer is a useful tool to have in the spring garden.

As the garden transitions from spring to early summer, enjoy the soft palette of colors the new growth adds to the landscape. The tender new growth of the spring is not yet “hardened off,” so it is too early to clip for rooting. To propagate plants by cuttings, wait until June when the new growth is pliable enough to bend without snapping in two.

Do not let May slip by without tending to the weeds. While the spring weeds are fading, the summer weeds are sprouting and taking hold. Do not delay in weeding, and once done, mulch the area with an appropriate-style mulch for the site. I use straw in the vegetable garden, but compost, grass clippings, or shredded leaves work well, too. In the landscape, I use pine tags due to the number of loblolly pines in my landscape. Shredded hardwood mulch and bark mulch or shredded leaves work well, too. For those who prefer dyed mulch, remember to look for the MSC certified label on that package. Made from shredded wood pallets, this label certifies the contents are free of chemicals or toxic substances.

I really dislike weeding, so I tend to space my bedding plants and vegetables, so they touch at maturity — this method helps reduce weeds by shading the soil surface. Keeping plants healthy by reducing weed competition and providing nutrients via slow-release products will ensure success all season long.

I grow over 1,000 daffodils in my garden, and once they have bloomed, I patiently wait for the green foliage to fully turn yellow before removing it. This foliage is refueling the bulb with energy for next spring’s display, so please do not braid it, mulch over it, or cut it off. Allowing the leaves to go through this important phase is an investment in the future. Did you know spring-flowering bulb roots start growing in the autumn? To keep the spring-blooming bulbs large and plentiful, take time next fall to carefully work into the soil bulb fertilizer per the label instructions.

While I enjoy the old German bearded iris from my mother-in-law’s garden, I also enjoy the newer remontant cultivars out on the market. Remontant German Bearded Iris bloom in the spring, and then bloom just as lovely again in the late fall. For the best rebloom, keep the iris rhizomes free of weeds and watered regularly during the summer months. A little extra care provides big rewards in October and November when the fresh iris stalks emerge sporting another season of flowers. At your local garden center, a remontant German Bearded Iris will be noted on the plant label as a “rebloomer.”

As the new gardening season really kicks in, take time to monitor the garden and landscape as often as possible to catch small issues before they become large ones. Following the practice of Integrated Pest Management, it is important to identify the insect or disease so the appropriate management options can be practiced. Keep in mind an organic product does not mean it is safe, nor are all non-organic products poisonous — read the product label to learn and then follow the instructions. The label is the law.

Finally, do your best to select Virginia native plants for your borders and landscape. The more we garden with native plants, the better our ecosystem becomes. Virginia is extremely fortunate to have regional Virginia Native Plant Guides.

Regional guides can be downloaded for free from:

Another great resource is the Flora of Virginia. The app is found at the link below, along with modules to get the most out of the app:

I hope you enjoy the warmth and joy of May as much as I do! In May, it is easy to close this newsletter with my sign-off “Happy Gardening!”

- Peggy, Director of Park Operations and Horticulture at Maymont