Few of us are untouched by the flowering displays of May. There they sit for everyone to enjoy. Too bad it all lasts for only a little while. With nature taking the lead, many of us want to get into the act. But it isn’t just a matter of flowers. It’s the lawn, the vegetable garden, and opportunities for designing with trees and shrubs. Here are some reminders and ideas for the time left in May.
VEGETABLES: Best planted now in the second half of May are seeds of beans (all kinds), cucumber, pumpkin, squash and watermelon. Transplants of the following can be set in the ground: tomato, eggplant, melon, pepper and sweet potato. But, don’t just rely on transplants. Seeds of these particular vegetables can be planted in late May and are available in more varieties than those sold as transplants. Transplants will give you an earlier harvest, but not necessarily a larger one.
Seed the majority of your tomato varieties from the middle to the end of May. Research has shown that home-grown tomato plants started from seed eventually catch up in yield with tomato plants started from young plants (transplants). While the transplants may give you an edge on bragging rights about your early crop, seed-started crops can provide more variety of flavor. So, do check out the seed packet selections for tomatoes. Choosing varieties that mature at different times will provide ripe tomatoes over a longer period.
Make second plantings of sweet corn when the plants of the previous planting have developed four leaves. If you missed planting them earlier, you can plant seeds of beets, lettuce, potatoes (called pieces), radish and spinach
Lastly, do get yourself a vegetable gardening book . There are many good paper-back books on vegetable gardening available in most all building supply stores which have expanded their gardening supplies this time of year. Vegetable gardening is not a hit-or-miss undertaking. Unless you are already experienced with growing vegetables, a good guide book is essential.
“Vegetable Gardening for Dummies” (2nd ed.) available at bookstores and many hardware stores is just superb with detailed vegetable gardening information and detailed, helpful diagrams and lists of varieties available… much more so than the standard color vegetable guide books. I recommend your getting a copy. It is just great!!
ANNUALS AND PERENNIALS: All can be planted now either as seed or as young transplants. At the outset, mainly keep them well watered (but not overly so) to promote rapid root growth. Add fertilizer to one of the early waterings. Water and fertilize established perennials.
LAWNS: Before applying fertilizer, it’s good practice every 3 to 5 years to aerate the lawn. Fall is the better time for this, but spring is OK. On heavily compacted or clay soil, once a year is recommended. Rent a core aerator. Easy to use, this walk-behind machine pulls 1 to 2 inch plugs of soil from the ground every 3 to 4 inches all across the lawn and throws out the plugs on to the ground were they will later crumble away.
The lawn is not damaged and if it is watered (but not saturated) the night beforehand, the holes can be deeper. These aerifiers won’t penetrate hard, dry soils. Aeration increases the soil’s air content and improves absorption of water and fertilizer. For good coverage, go over the lawn in two different directions, then add fertilizer right afterwards.
Do not use equipment that simply punches holes in the ground. This merely compacts the punched soil into the surrounding area. Don’t use golf or football cleats or other comparable shoes.
Again, remember that early spring fertilizing (March/April) should be avoided because it is a time not well coordinated with the normal growth needs of the grass plants, and can increase the chances of summer diseases. Mid-May (Mother’s day weekend) is OK for the first fertilizer application if you intend to water the lawn all summer. It is better to apply a slow-release fertilizer that would provide nutrients throughout the summer, and also because this type needs less moisture and seldom burns the turf.
Mid May is time for the second application of crabgrass herbicide to control late-germinating seeds as well as warm season annual weed seeds.
TREES AND SHRUBS: All kinds can be planted. In fact, spring (not fall) is the best time to plant birch, dogwood, fruit trees, magnolia and tulip tree (Liriodendron). Prune all spring-flowering (that is, March through June) shrubs and trees after they have finished blooming. Don’t prune others that will flower in July through the Fall. These are pruned in February to March.
There are many books and manuals to which I might send you for deeper insights into these subjects. In a past article, I listed several excellent guides, many of which focused specifically on Illinois…but are applicable to most of the Midwest as well. Click here to see the article featuring the selection of Gardening Guides
These last two weeks in May can be really busy…but it’s fun, isn’t it?!
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Balbach