A red and white parrot tulip.
Garden Chores for May
In This Issue
Hello Fellow Gardeners,
Is it spring yet? I’m not sure - after bravely surviving the chilliest April in Vancouver on record! To everyone’s horror, it dipped down to minus 1.2°C on the morning of April 16. Combined with ice-cold wintry gales, recurring hail and copious amounts of rain, gardening has been rather difficult. Gardeners weren’t happy and neither were many plants. It’s quite sad really, as they had just put on their tender new spring growth and were raring to ‘grow’ – so to speak. There are many sorry looking plants still and alas, some didn’t make it through.
May’s sunshine and warmth is certainly welcome especially since it’s planting time – woo-hoo! My tomatoes await and I look forward to their delicious fruit. They actually taste like tomatoes – unlike the ones from the grocery store that pale in comparison. Anyone who’s grown their own can attest to that, I suppose that’s why they are a popular crop for most gardeners.
It’s such a relief when all my ‘babies’ I grew from seed finally get planted in the garden. There are always some that complain. I never get 100% success. Slugs, snails, cutworms are partly to blame, so are our two cats that dig them up and crazy weather doesn’t help either. Whatever the cause, it’s the survivors that make this year’s garden unique, and adds to the drama that all gardeners deal no matter where you live. Good luck with your garden and hope you have a super easy and successful gardening season.
May PLANT COMBO
This delightful floriferous combination provides blossoms for at least a month and is suitable for moist soils in partial sun. The delicate yellow drooping flowers belong to fawn lilies (Erythronium) flowers. They are a nice contrast to the purple and blue lungwort (Pulmonaria) blossoms and the deep fuchsia coloured winter heath (Erica carnea). Located under a large tulip tree (Liriodendron), these plants enjoy full sun in early spring but as the progresses they will enjoy the shade from the overhead trees during the summer.
A late frost in April took its toll on this heather. I know it looks sad and many people would toss it, there is some life in it still. There's still some pink flowers, few and far between as they are. That hint o' green is the remaining foliage. Since it's May, the danger of frost has hopefully past. I say 'hopefully' because it's not supposed to go below freezing in Vancouver in April - but it did! This heather needs some tidying up and hopefully it will regain it's dignity. Dead stems are cut off and any dead bits are too. Once the surgery has been performed, the plant needs some TLC. Mix in some compost, SeaSoil or composted manure to the soil then top it off with 3 inches of an organic mulch. Hopefully this heather will bounce back, but I have at least given it a chance.
New & Timely articles
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Plant Sales Galore!
Now is the time for garden clubs, charities, organizations and even homeowners for plant sales and garden events. Brian Minter's published the many events in the Vancouver Sun. To view the article click on Plant Sales.
Burnaby in Blooms Events
Please join the fun during each Saturday in May from 10am - 4pm to celebrate spring in the numerous parks in Burnaby. There's workshops galore including planting up containers, which includes plants, soil and planters as well as instruction and a demonstration by Amanda on May 7th at 10 to noon. For more info click on Growing in Containers. Pick up some tips and techniques on organic vegetable gardening on May 21, 2:00 to 4:00 pm, just click on Grow Your Own Food Naturally! for more details. For more about the festival and the many more wonderful workshops click on Burnaby in Blooms.
May Garden Stars
Preparing for Heat
No one was prepared for the heat dome that turned Vancouver into an oppressive mass of molten lava last year. A slight exaggeration perhaps, but only slight. This year I must up my game with the mulching. It’s inadequate in many spots throughout the garden – tsk, tsk. Although I need lots, I prefer to purchase the bags of chipped wood as they are inexpensive, aren’t too heavy, and because they are in bags, I can plonk them down around the garden then open them up in situ.
To protect any suffering plants, I must be brave & venture forth into the garden. Last year, the thought of going outside was against my survival instincts. I’ve decided to do recon missions this year. My tactical gear will be sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat, long sleeves shirts and long pants. I am a redhead after all. I’ll need that protection to set up some shade with tarps, umbrellas, tablecloths, sheets, cardboard – whatever to protect any melting flora. Zip ties work well to attach shade cloths to bamboo stakes, dollar store trellises etc.
And yes, I shall be watering the garden: the trees, shrubs, perennials, bedding plants – everything as much as I am allowed due to the water restrictions. Since we can only water our lawns one day a week in Metro Vancouver, every little drop counts! Long deep soaks for an entire hour is a practical solution. I’m crossing my blades of grass here. As long as the crown of the grass plants (where the roots and stems join) don’t die – the lawn should make it through until fall.
A lack of rain is par in the Pacific Northwest during the summer, as it is in many places around the world. Drought gardening is not just a trend, it is becoming an essential gardening tool. To learn more about drought click on Drought Gardening for some ideas.
It's All About the Veg
I’ve been growing veggies for many years, and I’ve learned more from my failures than getting any bumper. Here are some basic info and some tips that I hope will help you out.
Plan: Make a map of where to plant each crop beforehand.
Exposure: Locate your garden so it receives at least 6 hours of direct sun per day.
Kitchen convenience: If possible, locate the vegetable patch close to the kitchen.
Where’s the tap? Dragging hoses is no fun, so locate the veggie patch close to a faucet.
Improve the Soil: Avoid hungry, weak plants that entice bugs and diseases by giving them the nutrients they need to be healthy, productive, full of vitamins and tasty. Mix in a couple of inches of compost, SeaSoil, composted manure and other organic soil amendments yearly.
Size of Beds: Four-foot-wide beds make it easy to reach in from all sides. The length of the bed depends on available space but remember you do have to walk around it.
Larger Beds: For gardens larger than 6 feet in width, install a 2-foot-wide path for easy access and to help define and organize the different crops.
Garden Paths: Use coarse cedar wood chips so it doesn't rot. Line the paths first with landscape fabric then add a couple of inches of mulch on top.
Locating Plants: Place tall plants and vining veggies, such as trellised grown cucumbers, on the north side. This prevents the taller plants from shading their smaller neighbours.
Rotate Crops: Avoid growing the same crop in the same soil 2 years or more in a row. A map and photos of last year's garden are handy to have, especially when it comes to rotating the crops. To learn more about crop rotation click here.
Companion planting: Mixing different crops together is an effective use of space, it improves plant health, deters insects and improves soil. To learn more about this proven technique, click on ……..
To learn more about veggie gardening click on.....
Tom, Tom Tomatoes
I'm mad about tomatoes! I've been growing them for years from seed to harvest. I've had some royal disasters so I know what not to do - and what works. Here are few links that you might be interesting in.
Prepare the soil by removing all weeds and debris. Mix in a 2 or more inches of compost, SeaSoil, well-rotted steer or sheep manure. Wait a week for the soil to settle before planting. Water the veggie plants while they are in their pots and the garden a day before planting, especially if the soil is dry. Check your design by placing the potted plants where you are planning to plant them and adjust as necessary.
Bedding Plants Tips
Petunias, nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, sweet peas, wax begonias and impatiens are a few of the most common bedding plants, which are also referred to as annuals. They only live for one season but during that time they’ve got a lot of living to do from germinating from seeds, producing leaves, stems, flowers and finally their seeds. Once their seeds ripen, they have completed their life cycle so they die. Therefore, keep deadheading annuals to prolong their lives and for continuous blossoms.
Save on bedding plants: Annuals aren’t as popular as they used to be because they are becoming more expensive. Here’s a few tips to save some coin, but still have a nice display.
Cell packs not pots: You can buy 6 in a cell pack for less than one plant in a 4 inch pot.
Opt for ones in bud: Select annuals that are just coming into bud and avoid ones that are in full flower or have finished flowering. You want them to be in their prime in your garden, not in the store.
More impact with less: Instead of planting them in a line, plant in groups or in alternate rows for a wide band of colour. Keep it simple: Use only 3 colours in one garden bed. For a harmonious design, use two or three opposite colours ex: red & yellow. For elegance, use a monochromatic colour scheme with different shades of the same colour ex: violet, mauve, deep blue, navy blue. Add Add white, silver, or grey to highlight, unite, calm and to separate colours that clash.
Read plant labels: Select the right plant for the location: height, width, sun or shade preference.
'Chelsea Chop' for Perennials
Perennial plants that tend to get leggy and fall over with the added weight of their blossoms benefit from being pinched back in late May. The results are compact growth and more flowers. Just pinch or cut off an inch from the top of each stem right above a leaf and soon two stems will replace the one.
Have you heard about the ‘Chelsea Chop’? It’s so named because the timing coincides with the Chelsea Flower Show. It promotes bushy plants and prolongs flowering. With Method 1 stems are sheared by a half to one-third to create shorter, more compact plants with delayed flowering. To extend flowering use Method 2. Cut back only half of the stems; the other half remains uncut. Pinch or cut back asters, veronicas, autumn joy sedums, campanulas, yarrow, bellflower, coneflowers, penstemon, sneezeweed, goldenrod and shasta daisies. Don’t do the chop if plants are suffering from drought.
Lawn Care For May
Bad, Naughty Lawns
If your lawn is causing you more trouble than its worth, consider converting it into a garden, a meadow, plant clover, install a patio, a pond, or plant groundcovers . For more click on Lawn Alternatives.
May Garden Chores
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Plant: Finish planting everything this month after the risk of frost is over which is usually mid-May in most of the country. To learn how to plant click on Planting Know-How.
Hardening-off: Before putting plants that have been grown inside the house outside, they must become acclimatized. This prevents damaged leaves and dropped buds. On day one, place them outside for an hour in a shaded, protected location. Prolong the time and expose them to more weather each day until they can stay out all day and night.
Take Cuttings: Take softwood cuttings from your favourite shrubs and trees now and throughout the summer. Softwood cuttings are made from the new growth at the end of the stem. To learn more click here.
Rhubarb: Pull off rhubarb stems as they develop, don’t cut them off. Feed with a generous layer of compost mixed in to the soil.
Potatoes: Plant seed potatoes in trenches and as they grow, bury the stems. This increases yields and prevents green spuds. For more about growing spuds click here.
Strawberries: For newly planted strawbs, remove runners to help plants root quickly and to increase fruit production. Once fruits form, allow the runners to make new plants.
Roses: Remove all dead and weak canes. Fertilize by mixing in a few inches of compost, or use an organic plant food. Don't forget to add mulch. For more on roses click on the following links: Roses - Types of Roses - Easy Roses - Climbing Roses - Pruning Roses - Rose Insects & Diseases - Portland's Rose Test Garden
Stake: Stake tall plants and ones with top heavy blooms as they grow: delphiniums, phlox, cone flowers (Echinacea sp.), peonies etc. To prevent eye injury, place tennis balls on the tips of all stakes. A more gentle, but effective method, is to situate tall and leggy plants amid bushy plants to help keep them upright.
Vines: Tie new shoots of clematis, wisteria, honeysuckle, climbing roses and other vines as they grow so they don’t ensnare neighbouring plants.
Spring bulbs: Don't remove the leaves when they are green as they provide the bulb with food for next year. Fertilize bulbs after flowering, with a high nitrogen fertilizer (first number highest). Don’t forget to remove spent flowers from tulips and other spring flowering bulbs as you don’t want their energy to go towards next year's flowers, not seeds. You can dig up bulbs while they are still green, keep the bulbs attached. Replant in pots or elsewhere, water and allow the leaves to die-back naturally.
Deadhead Shrubs: Pinch of dead flowers from shrubs including lilacs & rhododendrons to prevent seed production and to tidy up plants.
Compost: Activate your compost if you haven’t already done so. First turn any existing compost, add water if dry, add a green layer (veggie scraps etc.) then a brown layer (torn newspapers or dry leaves), then add more water unless the pile is already soggy. Not composting yet? Compost issues? Learn more here.
Groundcovers: Deadhead groundcovers once they have finished flowering to tidy up the plants and to promote more flowering (aubretia, gold alyssum (Alyssum saxatile) perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) etc. Instead of de-flowering each stem one-by-one, just grab the plant by the ends and give them a hair cut. Click on Groundcovers for more.
Getting Buggy with it
Pesticides: Instead of using pesticides, allow beneficial insects to get rid of the plant eating ones. Only use pesticides if there is an infestation and the plant is losing the battle. Why? Because pesticides, including soap and water, kills lady bugs and other beneficial insects.
Bug Barriers: These are a good idea as they are effective and don’t introduce toxins into the garden. Place a floating row cover over broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy crops immediately after planting to protect them from cabbage butterfly, leaf miner, carrot rust fly and other insect pests.
Nocturnal Bugs: If you don't know what's eating your plants, go out at night with a flashlight as many are nocturnal. Handpick caterpillars and slugs if you're not squeamish, and place them in a cup of salty water as you go.
Bug Traps: Place pheromone traps in apple trees to decrease codling moth populations.
Slugs & Snails: There's many ways to control these ravenous mollusks. To learn how click here.
Caterpillar infestation? Control with an organic option Bacillus thuringiensis. It only kills caterpillars, so avoid spraying near butterfly gardens.
For more organic pest controls click here.
Seeds to Sow in May
It’s a tad too late to sow tomato seeds, however there’s still time sow peas, sunflowers, California poppies, beans (all types), nasturtiums, carrots, lettuce and other annuals and veggies. it's also time to sow seeds for fall harvesting such as Brussel sprouts and asparagus. Read the back of seed packets for when to sow, how deep and suitable conditions. For a complete list click on seeds to sow in May click on West Coast Seeds. For more on sowing seeds select Growing Seeds Indoors and Growing Seeds Outdoors
Clematis: Don't cut them back if they have flower buds. If they don't yet, you can cut them back. For more information on when to prune clematis click on Pruning Clematis
Pollinators: Helping bees and other pollinating insects by planting more flowers is a given, but there are other non-traditional options including Queen Anne’s lace, buttercups. clover, dandelions and other weeds. Don’t harvest all of your carrots, radishes, beets, onions and other root crops – allow them to flower. Herbs are another valuable source especially borage, lavender, rosemary, salvia and thyme. To learn more click on Helping Pollinators.
What to Prune in May
The best time to prune plants is just after they have finished blossoming. It’s a good rule of thumb. Keep an eye out for bird nests as they are busy raising their chicks. Hummingbirds generally live near hummingbird feeders. Their nests are so small they are difficult to spot so be attentive to where they disappear to after they feed.
Avoid taking too much off at once; no more than ¼ of overall growth. Water and feed plants afterwards. Use a high nitrogen fertilizer such as kelp or fish fertilizer and/or spread compost at the base of the plant. For more on How to Prune click here. To make pruning easier click on Pruning Tools. If you need help in knowing what to prune in your garden and how to do it, register for an appointment by clicking here.
Houseplants & Tropicals: Repot geraniums, bougainvilleas and other overwintered annuals, houseplants, and tropicals into a larger container if their roots have filled their pots. Use a planter mix and add a slow-release fertilizer or purchase soil with it already included. Don't forget to harden them off before you place them outside for their summer vacation. Here's more Tender Plant Care
New planters: Use pots with drainage holes and don’t cover them with rocks as it impedes drainage. Use potting soil, add a drainage trays under pots to collect water run-off.
Containers with existing plants: Remove an inch or two of soil from the top of the pot and replace with some compost & a slow-release granular fertilizer. Transplant potbound plants into larger containers. Add petunias or other annuals for fast flowers and quick colour. For more on growing in containers click on Container Growing
This month's floral arrangement is simple with only four types of flowers includes Snow Day Surprise pearl bush (Exochorda), 'Multi Blue' clematis, Siberian iris and chive flowers. For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
Plant of the month
Mexican Mock Orange
Common Name: Mexican mock orange, Mexican orange, Mexican orange blossom
Botanical Name: Choisya ternata
Form: compact, rounded
Plant Type: broadleaf evergreen shrub
Mature Size: 4’ to 8’ tall and wide
Origin: southwestern U.S., Mexico
Hardiness Zone: 7b to 10
Foliage: compound, trifoliate, 3 leaflets up to 3”, glossy, green, aromatic
Flowers: showy, fragrant, white, 1 1/4” wide, star-shaped in terminal clusters (corymbs), May, autumn and sporadically through summer, nectar rich
Exposure: full sun to part shade, plant in protected location
Soil: moist, rich, well-drained loam, drought tolerant once established
Uses: hedge specimen, border, foundation, cut flowers, containers (Zones 8 to 9), bee & pollinator gardens
Propagation: softwood cuttings in summer
Pruning: June to encourage more blossoms
Problems: subject to winter injury and wind burn
This beautiful, but tender plant, hails from the southwestern US and Mexico. It’s prized for its starry white flowers that smell and look like orange blossoms. But it’s not just the fragrant flowers that excite gardeners; their deep green, glossy leaves are deliciously aromatic smelling of citrus when they are crushed between fingers.
Flowering is so profuse and held at the ends of the stem often hiding the foliage. Peak flowering occurs in May and again in autumn, however, they also blossom sporadically throughout the summer. The blossoms are steeped in nectar and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
Choiysas are also valued for their versatility. With a pleasing round shape and deep green leaves, they can be used in many applications throughout the garden. They are perfect for foundation plantings (garden beds around the base of the house) and in borders where there’s a mix of trees, shrubs and perennials. Because Mexican mock oranges have gravitas, they make perfect accents that bring attention to benches and other garden areas. They are suitable for planters but only in warmer growing zones of 8 and 9 as they are not known for their hardiness.
Be patient if wind and/or the cold damages their tender leaves. Even if the tops die down due to a bad winter, their roots may still be alive. Instead of throwing them out just cut off the damage parts off when danger of frost has passed. Mix in compost around the outline of its canopy (dripline), and/or give it some fish or kelp fertilizer.
Mexican mock oranges perform best when grown in well drained, humus-rich loam. Mature well-established plants can withstand some drought but not frequently nor prolonged. In hot climates, protect from full afternoon sun as it may burn the tender foliage. A 3-inch mulch layer is essential to keeping choisyas healthy.
There are numerous types of Mexican mock orange: the species and a just a few cultivars. The species, as found in nature, has broader leaves than the cultivar ‘Aztec Pearl’. Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ Its leaves are composed of 3 narrow leaflets. Flowers are often flushed pink then mature to dazzling white. It’s a bigger shrub than its cousin, growing up to 8 feet tall and wide and is less hardy growing in zones 8 to 10. The Royal Horticultural Society honoured the Mexican mock orange with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
Another common cultivar bears the same broad foliage as the species, however instead of a deep green, they are yellow! New foliage has a golden hue, but as they mature they become yellow and sometimes a light green if they receive too much shade. They don't grow as fast as their counterparts and are smaller growing to 5 feet.
THE GARDEN WEBSITE INDEX
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for the tropical Gardener
While working in Florida as horticultural consultant, it became apparent that there was a need for a book on tropical shrubs. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from, so I wrote a reference book to make the selections easier. Ornamental Tropical Shrubs includes pictures in full colour and information about the plants in point form. So if you live in the tropics and subtropics and need a reference book on tropical shrubs, or you just want to have a look-see click here.
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