May Garden Chores

The viburnums had a banner year. The lilacs are blooming their heads off. The rhododendrons are exploding. Roses are screaming look at me. Clematis are outdoing themselves as they climb up mailboxes. This is a spring for the books. And, after a winter of rain, snow, and power outages, this spring was earned. Nobody needs an excuse to get in the garden this year, but in case you missed spring’s memo, here are May’s garden chores. First chore: Get outside and enjoy the show.  

Pruning rhododendrons right after blooming produces better blooms for next season.

  1. Prune Spring Blooming Shrubs

Immediately after blooming, if they need shaping or resizing, prune your azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs and other spring-blooming shrubs. The best time is when blooms are discolored, shriveled and hanging on the shrub. Spring-blooming shrubs bloom on old wood (wood produced this season), so the sooner you prune, the better display of blooms you'll have next year. The longer you wait, especially if you wait until late summer or fall, you'll have less or no blooms.

Shape up shrubs or hedges that are outgrowing their spots, but don't remove the stems of spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils or tulips until they turn yellow. Resist the urge to pull them up and you'll have better flower production next year.

For tips on pruning, click here.

When planting, step back and look around. What forms the backdrop for your plants? In this picture a viburnum has the perfect backdrop of the mountains behind it. “Borrowed landscaping” should always factor in whether it is a mountainscape, church steeple, neighbor’s lacebark elm or farmer’s field, use it to your advantage.

2. Plant

May is a good planting month. Since the garden is gaining full momentum, it's easier to see the gaps. Now you can match colors, fill in holes, add repetition, get rid of the onesie-look, be aggressive on what needs to go and keep the goal of unity in the landscape. For more information on designing landscapes, read here.

Before you buy, ask yourself:

  • What is my sunlight/shade exposure? Determine the exact amount of sunlight hours during different times of the day. Do you have morning sun, afternoon shade? Is it direct or dappled? Full sun, western exposure? Study your landscape and know your situation. This piece is critical to the success of your plantings.

  • What are the soil conditions? Dry, moist, always wet?

  • Does the plant fit into the allocated space when it is mature?

  • At maturity, will it create the necessary shade or too much shade?

  • How does it blend/contrast with all of the garden?

  • Does it compete with established focal points?

  • Does it need to be evergreen or deciduous? Spring, summer or fall flowering? Tree, shrub or perennial?

  • What plants would combine (contrast in color, texture, height, etc.) with these?

These questions help determine the right plant for the right spot. For some great plant combinations, click here. 

Note: Masses and sweeps of color is more appealing to the eye than the onesie look. Our tendency is to buy one of everything we love, but massing color helps tie the garden together. Resist buying in ones and buy in 3s and 5s, and create sweeps of color through your landscape. (FYI: It doesn't have to be fields of color, a grouping of 3 is fine.)

3. Weed

Start now with the weeding. You'll have a better chance of getting ahead of them. Weeding prior to putting down more mulch is best because the mulch won't kill the weeds already showing. Knowing your weeds is the first step to combating then. Below are two reliable sites for weed identification..

4. Mulch

Phlox sublata makes a beautiful groundcover that blooms in the spring. Spreads 18" wide, and reseeds. Divide and propagate every 3-5 years.

If you haven't already, then get to the mulching. 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 ground cover and reduce the need for mulch. A few groundcovers are listed below, but visit the store to see the Toe Ticklers, Jeepers Creepers and Stepables for more. And click here for the blog on groundcovers..

  • Ajuga (sun to partial shade

  • Bergenia (dry shade)

  • Brunnera (shade)

  • Campanula 'Blue Waterfall' (part shade)

  • Creeping Jenny (sun to partial shade)

  • Epimedium (shade to partial sun)

  • Japanese Forest Grass (full shade)

  • Hellebores (dry shade)

  • Hostas (shade, some sun)

  • Ice plant (sun)

  • Sedums (sun)

  • Stella d'oro (sun)

  • Veronica 'Georgia Blue' (sun)

  • Veronica 'Aztec Gold' (sun)

5. Plant Annuals & warm Season Vegetables

Don’t discount the annuals in your garden. They fill in gaps, bloom all season, and last well into the fall. For blooming annuals used Miracle Grow Bloom Boosters every 7-10 days for maximum bloom.

The annual frost date of Mother's Day is almost here (a week from today, don't forget Mom). 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, helping out when the perennial plantings are between bloom. 

Vegetables you can plant now are: Cantaloupe, cucumbers, okra, pumpkin, watermelon, and squash.

6. Fertilize

Poison ivy is having a good spring, too. Be sure to wash thoroughly (Including tools and gloves) after spending time in the garden.

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. 

7. poison Ivy and Ticks

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 hour while working in the garden.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

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