In May the To-Do List Starts Growing

I have to believe that some of you, maybe one or two, have developed a quasi- plan for this season's planting(s). This would not come as a great surprise since eighty-seven percent of Americans participate in some form of gardening. A new survey from Taunton Press reports that thirty-three percent of both men and women choose gardening as their favorite leisure activity, and more than half do it for the joy it brings.

Another bit of news is that Ohio State U. is waging a war against what the Ohio Ag. Dept. labels the number one pest, the white pine weevil. This is news because this is a very serious pest herein the east, too. It is the C-shaped larvae that eats the pith of the terminal leader of pines, Norway spruce and Douglas firs. There is probably evidence now in the form of a wilted or shepherd's crook shaped central leader on your trees. Cut it out completely, and reset a new leader.

Another bit of news: is teaming up with Gardening 123 to launch a Lawn and Garden Almanac. It should be easy to find and may become most useful.

Did you ever stop to think about how present day weeds are maybe the most successful, opportunistic and adaptive plants of our time. Old time organic farmers have long said that you can tell a lot about the soils by what weeds are present and how well or poorly the desired crop is growing. What farmers have always known by observation, science has finally confirmed. The top pests in alphabetical order are bindweed, chickweed, crabgrass, dandelion, dock, fall panicum, foxtail, horse nettle, lamb's quarters, mustards, plantain, sorrel, smartweed and spurge.

They all seem to thrive on excesses or shortages of oxygen, humus, minerals, light, moisture, fertility, and acidity/alkalinity. This tells us some very interesting things. The following soil conditions and descriptions may be helpful if you're plagued by some of the above-mentioned weeds.

Six of the weeds listed seek out and colonize compacted soils, wet or dry. Three others find and dominate areas that are wet from frequent watering, poor drainage, shade, or excess moisture.

The remaining four weeds are dandelion, lambs quarters, plantain and spurge. These guys are survivors. Dandelions survive because calcium content in soil is too low, because turf is too thin to shade it out and compete successfully, and, because organic matter is not decomposing. Lamb's quarters enjoy a rich, fertile, high humus soil. Plantain and spurge indicates the soil is very low in fertility and likely prone to drought. If you can identify the weeds you have, you can likely change the conditions that are favoring them.

You know slug season is coming in a few short weeks. Slugs are soft bodied, sensitive to salt, ammonia, vinegar and attracted to fleshy green foliage and beer. (It's the yeast.) Recall last years trouble spots? There are a lot of ways to cope with them and there isn't nearly enough space to devote to this single subject. I list for your explorations: crushed or ground egg and nut shells, diatomaceous earth, and horse chestnut-hulls, all used as sharp barriers that the slimy mollusks can't cross. Bare copper is supposed to shock them.

Next, we look at, you're not going to believe this, caffeine. Recent research studies report 2% caffeine solutions do in large percentages of snails and slugs in certain growing situations.

Finally, I must mention the old tried and true methods of trapping slugs: an old board laid on the soil, orange and grapefruit rinds, beer traps, and chemical traps. Remember slugs are nocturnal. You will not see them during the day unless you look under the board and the grapefruit rinds; then scrape them off with a putty knife into a bucket of salty or soapy water.

May is a good time to begin aerating your pond and dosing it with barley straw if it's been plagued with algae in seasons past.

Bear in mind that spring blooming perennials like irises and daylilies are best divided in early fall, while later bloomers like sedums and coneflowers are best divided in spring.

Multi-purpose fruit tree sprays can be applied after petal-fall.

As soon as new growth is clearly evident on trees and shrubs, remove any winter killed branches. Cut back to live green wood.

Prune spring flowering shrubs (forsythia and quince) as soon as flowers fall off.

Prune and renovate hedges now. Remove 1/2 of last years growth. Remember the top should be narrower than the bottom to allow the entire hedge to get maximum sunlight.

Memorial Day is the preferred time to apply slow-release fertilizer to lawns not fertilized in the fall. If the summer is droughty, don't fertilize again until Thanksgiving.

Remove spent flowers from spring flowering bulbs before seed pods form. Do not remove foliage.

Finally, to complete this partial to-do list for May, remove spent flowers from spring flowering bulbs before seed pods form. Do not remove foliage. Don't forget to remove rhubarb seed stalks, too.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on May 7, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.