Celebrate May in the Garden

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Valthemia bracteata

May is the month for you if you make a note when your favorite plant starts to bloom. May is the month for you if you count the number of hummingbirds at the feeder everyday. May is the month for you if youíve been waiting for the soil to warm enough to plant melons and peppers and winter squash.

A friend gave me a blue Hokkaido squash last fall and I saved the seeds. Iíve been waiting patiently to plant them. Itís one of the best tasting, beautiful squash you can grow. Iím looking forward to harvesting my own this fall. They store for quite a while, taste great and look stunning in a Halloween display along side orange pumpkins. I can hardly wait.

Plants are growing like crazy this month preparing to reproduce at their given time. The birds, bees and even those pesky tree squirrels are finding lots of food and nectar to feed their young. We know the dry months of summer are coming and are preparing by modifying irrigation systems to conserve water and mulching all bare soil. I think we deserve to set a little time aside between gardening tasks to enjoy the wonder of nature and our own gardens.

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Honey bee collecting pollen

Hereís a task that requires no work at all but the benefits are huge. Set aside a small area of your yard, say 10% or so, and leave it uncultivated. Let it grow wild and see what native plants and wildlife show up. This would be a good spot to plant milkweed and let it self sow for the Monarch butterfly.

Donít push yourself and bite off more than you can do in the garden at a time. Landscaping doesnít have to be done all at once. Maybe choose a new tree or a couple low water use shrubs to plant and care for this summer. Choose something that looks good year round to provide interest. Or take one corner this year and another corner next year to redo or install. This wonít break your water budget or your back.

Food gardening is hard work. Maybe this year grow just those edibles that taste so delicious freshly picked from the garden. Edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, chard and arugula are ornamental, donít take up too much room and are easy to grow. I was disappointed with the way my tomatoes tasted last year. They were OK but no where near as tasty as the dry-farmed Early Girls at the Farmerís Market. This year Iím only going to grow cherry tomatoes. One of lifeís simple pleasures is picking and eating your own fruit as you work in the garden. Beside my favorite Sungold Iím going to try growing local heirlooms like Chadwickís Cherries, and Camp Joy.

Donít get me started on the weeds this year. With those early fall rains everything you donít want in the yard is going nuts. I have actually been gaining ground on controlling many of the annual weeds around my house. The soil is soft and the smaller root system is more likely to let go so as I walk around I pick a few or as many as donít seem like work. Each plant can produce so many hundreds of seeds that I think of it as free exercise.

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Azalea blooms

When the last flowers of your rhododendron, azalea, camellia, weigela and spirea have finished itís time to prune them. If you prune just before the plant blooms you risk removing that yearís flowers. If you prune several month after flowering your risk removing the flower buds forming for next year. Basically itís best to prune a bit each year to shape and thin the plant. The rules apply to most plants. Prune to the next whorl or set of leaves. Thereís no need other than looks to deadhead old flowers.

It was great to get a bit more rain last week. Plants appreciate the moisture especially during spring. Come summer everything slows down to survive and thatís a part of our unique climate here, too.