May Garden Chores: 1. Don't Forget Mom.

As a mom and an avid gardener, please skip the new coffee maker, the what-is-this-gardening-tool-thing?, and possible gift card. Instead? Read May's chores and then come on over. We all need help in the garden. Weeding and mulching are at the top of the list, so bring your gloves. (Amazing what a good layer of mulch can hide, isn't it?)

1. Plant. (And Go ahead. Buy the impulse plant. You're going to anyway.)

A corner of Japanese maples at the store. Who can walk past all that color and not figure out someplace to put one of these? Impulse hill, here we come.

A corner of Japanese maples at the store. Who can walk past all that color and not figure out someplace to put one of these? Impulse hill, here we come.

The garden center is jammed full with every type of tempting plant, and while top of the list for May is "Do not cave to the impulse buy," who are we kidding? Of course, we're going to do just that.

May is a good planting month. The possibility of frost is (surely) over. It's time to fill in gaps, add some repetition, get rid of the onesies-look, be aggressive on what needs to go (this IS the year), and keep the goal of unity in the landscape. But no gardener worth their weight can walk through a garden center this time of year and not go for the impulse buy. Instead of punishing yourself, create what I call "Impulse Hill" (at my house it's a hill). Maybe for you it's a corner or a slope. Let it be the space for that bear's britches you bought in 2012 and have been moving around ever since. Go ahead. Permission granted. Get the impulse buy. Then, get serious about the real plantings. 

Before you buy, ask yourself:

  • What is my sunlight/shade exposure? (Determine the exact amount of sunlight hours and what time of day. Is it direct or dappled?)
  • What are the soil conditions? Dry, moist, always wet?
  • Does the plant fit into the allocated space without pruning?
  • At maturity, will it create the necessary shade or too much shade?
  • How does it blend/contrast with the all of the garden?
  • Does it compete with established focal points?
  • Do I need evergreen or deciduous? Spring, summer or fall flowering? Tree, shrub or perennial? 

These questions help determine the right plant for the right spot. 

2. Mulch. 

This tree has almost 18" of mulch piled around it year after year, and now the roots have grown up into the mulch and are starting to girdle the tree. It won't live much longer in this condition.

This tree has almost 18" of mulch piled around it year after year, and now the roots have grown up into the mulch and are starting to girdle the tree. It won't live much longer in this condition.

With the planting in full swing, mulching is tops on May's chores. Mulch beds 2-3," and though you've heard it before, let's say it again: avoid the candle in the cupcake look around your trees. You should always be able to see the root flair of a tree. That doesn't mean you can't mulch around it, that means 2" is plenty. Mulch gives a groomed look, and tidies the garden up, but it's purpose is much more than decorative. Read here for the benefits of mulching. Also, consider a living mulch. Many plants make a great groundcover and reduce the need for ground mulch. A few are listed below, but visit the store to see more of what would work in your setting (and look for next week's blog which will be a slideshow of plants just for that purpose).

Japanese forest grass as a living mulch in shade. 

Japanese forest grass as a living mulch in shade. 

  • Sedums (sun)
  • Hellebores (shade)
  • Hostas (shade)
  • Bergenia (dry shade)
  • Bugleweed (sun to partial shade)
  • Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass) (shade)
  • Stella d'oro (sun)
  • Creeping Jenny (sun to partial shade)

3. Weed.

It may not be possible to ever get ahead of weeds, but starting now gives you a good chance. Weeding prior to putting down the mulch gives the best go at it. And, knowing your weeds is the first step to combating them--naming them is knowing thine enemy. Here's 2 of my favorite weed identification online sites. Rutger's has thumbnail pictures to help you id.

4. Plant Annuals and summer vegetables.

A mix of 'Redhead' and 'Sedona' coleus add great annual color through fall. 

A mix of 'Redhead' and 'Sedona' coleus add great annual color through fall. 

The annual frost date of Mother's Day is officially over today, and the forecast looks good. So plant begonias, coleus, marigolds, petunias, and zinnias this month (and so many more), in the landscape or containers. Annuals are great for all season color. You can also plant cantaloupe, cucumbers, okra, pumpkin, watermelon, and squash now.

5. Fertilize.

Fertilize summer blooming plants like crape myrtle, rose-of-sharon and roses this month. Also, fertilize vegetables six weeks after germination. Once the weather starts to really warm up and the watering schedule increases, remember to fertilize annuals every 7-10 days with a bloom booster for better blooms. 

6. Prune.

'Rabatz' rhododendron at its peak. Prune right after blooming.

'Rabatz' rhododendron at its peak. Prune right after blooming.

Prune spring flowering shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons after they bloom. Shape up shrubs or hedges that are outgrowing their spots. Leave the stems of spring blooming bulbs like daffodils until they turn yellow (very yellow) so they'll produce well next year.

7. Be Mindful of ticks and poison ivy.

May is National Lyme's Disease Awareness month, so start doing the tick check when you come in from the garden, and stay alert for poison ivy. Keep a bar of soap next to the hose and stop to wash hands and arms thoroughly every so often while working in the garden.

My kiddo. Aggie, short for Agapanthus, ready for her walk. Yes, I am proud.

My kiddo. Aggie, short for Agapanthus, ready for her walk. Yes, I am proud.

Now, that you know what to do, go help Mom do it, but don't forget that impulse gift. (And maybe one for you, too?) 

Happy Mother's Day to all you hard-working women out there, kids or no kids! We're all mothers to the next generation. 

Written by Cinthia Milner, OSA, Garden Coach, blog writer.

BB Barns serves all of WNC, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.