May 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for May
  Now is the time to prepare gardens for summertime heat

May 5, 2005
GAIL DENTLER
Victoria County Master Gardener intern


It seems to me that the Victoria area has really become fascinated with gardening. Everywhere you go there are gorgeous gardens bursting with colorful blooms. The garden tour has just ended, and on behalf of the Victoria County Master Gardeners, thank you for attending and supporting the event. Let us hear from you at vcmga@vicad.com with comments or questions from the tour. We will do our best to respond. And with that said, the question that arises is: "Now what?"

There is so much still to do in our gardens as we approach summer. May is the month that we tend to all the withering blooms and prepare the garden for the summer heat - as well as vacation time. When surveying the garden of the spring growth, you need to see what has yellowed, bloomed or become brown terminal growth. Let the foliage of spring-flowering bulbs mature and yellow before removing. If you are collecting seeds from irises, this is the time to leave the pods in their place until they turn yellow-green in July or August. Pinch back any terminal growth or old blooms on newly planted annual and perennial plants. This will result in shorter, more compact and well-branched plants with more flowers.

Other flowering plants that might have terminal growth are roses. Now is the time to prune old blooms off, and remove any dead or weak wood on the plant. Also, if you have climbers this is a great time to tie up any new growth onto the arbor or trellis. This helps to train the climbing rose and actually helps with the growth of the plant. Fertilization of the roses needs to be done every four to six weeks with small amounts of a balanced fertilizer. This will help add nutrients to the growth of the rose.

Lantana is another plant that is native to our Victoria gardens and will need a trimming. Look for any dead wood or old blooms. Pruning it helps maintain a neat appearance and helps in the life of the flowers for many months.

Our vegetable gardens or fruit gardens also need some care. Pick all ripe or nearly ripe fruit and vegetables. If going on vacation, arrange for a friend to pull and use produce. Vegetables left unpicked will cease to bear.

For those of us who like to dig in the dirt, we can still plant some seeds and plants. In shady areas we can plant caladium tubers, impatiens, coleus, begonias and pentas. You can also sow directly in the garden sunflower seeds, zinnias, morning glories, cosmos, periwinkles and gourds. Summer flowering bulbs can be planted in May. Cannas, dahlias and achimenes are just a few suggestions.

May is also a time that we start thinking about our vacations, so what does this mean for our gardens? The first thing is to check for insects and diseases. Destroy badly infested plants. Select a chemical, organic control or use insecticidal soap on those spider mites. Remember to use chemicals as a last resort - and read all labels thoroughly, following all instructions for best results. During the summer, soil moisture becomes extremely important and essential for good plant production.

One way to help insure soil moisture is through mulching. A good mulch will retain valuable moisture needed for plant growth, and improve overall gardening success. Mulches are usually applied 2 to 6 inches deep, depending on the material used. Keep in mind a courser material will have a deeper mulch. For example, a 2-inch layer of cottonseed hulls will have about the same mulching effect as 6 inches of oat straw or 4 inches of coastal Bermuda hay.

Our lawns are starting to be mowed, and if leaving on vacation make sure that chinch bugs aren't attacking your St. Augustine lawn. Chinch bugs are usually a hot, dry weather pest, so if it doesn't rain for a while, expect to see some. Chinch bugs are also very small, just slightly smaller than a grain of rice, with black bodies and white wings that have a triangular black area on them. Immature chinch bugs are striped orange and white. Chinch bugs are hard to see as they scamper very fast in the grass. They can best be seen by opening the grass area to observe them near the soil line or placing a can, cut on both sides, tightly against the soil and filling it with water to bring chinch bugs into view. Control treatments are necessary if chinch bug levels reach about 20 per square foot. You certainly do not want them to have a party in your lawn while you are gone.

If you haven't fertilized your grass this year yet, it's not too late. In fact, it is better late than too early. It is best to follow a soil test of which information can be obtained at the Texas Cooperative Extension office. Otherwise, the best advice is to use a slow release fertilizer such as 21-7-14 at no more than 5 pounds per 1000 square feet.

As summer begins, there are so many "miracle products" advertised on the market. Be aware that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That is an opportunity for you to save money. Spend your hard earned money on proven practices.

Many homeowners like to topdress their yards with topsoil this time of the year. Unless you are filling low spots or holes in your yard, topdressing with topsoil is not a recommended practice. Topdressing with a thin layer of compost, however, is a good practice that can be used to add nutrients.

Maintenance of your equipment is also a must for May. Sharpen the blades on the lawn mowers. Make sure all tools and equipment have been cleaned and in good working order after maintaining the garden.

Good equipment is a life saver on the bodies. The harder and better they work, the less we have to.

So make note of these gardening tips insuring that after recent April showers, your flowers will bloom in May.

Enjoy time in your garden this month with pleasant temperatures before the inevitable oncoming summer heat. To address summer conditions, look for future articles in this column on shade gardening, sun-loving plants, and planning and caring for a weekend landscape with low maintenance.

Stay tuned each Thursday for these subjects and more. After all, to those who love gardening, it is a pleasure - and should not be made a chore.