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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Breaking Ground

by Janet B. Carson April 30, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
In May, warm soil and frequent rain get tomatoes and peppers off to a great start. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


MAY

Spring is finally here, or maybe it is summer already. April was a month of ups and downs, winter to summer and back again — so who knows what is in store.

Pollen is everywhere (a bit later this year than last) with yellow covering everything in sight. Hopefully, that will be moving away soon, but if your allergies can handle it, May is a month for gardening.

Nurseries and garden centers are bursting at the seams with annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs, vegetable and herb plants and much, much more.

◼️ We have seen a bit of winter damage on everything from rosemary plants to gardenias. It is interesting that some plants seem to have taken a bigger hit than they did last year, but it was a different type of winter damage. Last year we had bitter cold that lasted longer than normal. This year, the weather was so mild so late, that many plants were still actively growing (and even blooming) when the hard freeze and low temperatures hit, so the plants were not dormant and protected.

◼️ As your plants start leafing out and growing, assess them, and do some corrective pruning. By now you should be seeing signs on life on all living plants. Give all of your plants extra care this summer — they have had to live through two bad seasons in a row.

◼️ You can now safely move your houseplants outdoors for the summer months, freeing up your house. Even if your plants are the type that can take full sun, gradually expose them to sunlight and make sure to monitor their water needs.

◼️ May is the perfect time to plant warm-season vegetables and continue harvesting cool-season crops. As temperatures rise, some of our cool-season vegetables could begin to bolt, or go to seed, signaling the end of their season. As you harvest one crop, plant another. There is plenty of time to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumbers and much more. Plant what your family likes, and make sure you give them room to mature.

◼️ I have heard a lot about tick problems this year already, whether in town or in the country. Protect yourself when you are out doing yard work, and monitor your pets as well. Mowing and cleaning up brush piles can reduce some of the hazard, but if you choose to use insecticides, read and follow the label directions and use extreme care around edible crops.

◼️ It is time to pull the pansies and winter annuals to make way for summer color.

◼️ Annual flowers and tropical blooming plants — which are annuals for us — can give your garden loads of color all summer and into fall with proper care. While they are the workhorses of our gardens, giving us the most color for the longest period, you don't want to plant only seasonal color or you will have to redo your whole garden at least twice a year. Use seasonal color where it can make the biggest impact — near entryways and on patios and decks where you hang out. Most annuals and tropicals will give you the best color with regular fertilization and watering.

◼️ Lawns are greening up and winter weeds are dying. Once your lawn is totally green, fertilize it for the year. Keep it mowed regularly. The thicker the turf, the fewer problems you will have with weeds.

THE KINDEST CUTS

While we do still have a few spring-blooming shrubs in flower, if you have plants that have finished blooming that need to be pruned, the time to do so is now — as soon after flowering as possible.

The sooner after flowering you prune the better, but make sure it is done before mid-June. This gives the plant time to recover before hot weather hits, and pruning now allows the plant to rebound, leaving time to set flower buds in late summer to early fall for next spring's flowers.

While timing is important, so is how you prune. Thin out cane-growing plants like forsythia, bridal wreath spirea, and flowering quince and selectively thin branches on shrubs with a main trunk — like azaleas, camellias and lilacs.

Shearing plants into round "meatballs" causes all the blooms and new growth to be on the edge of the plants.

What height do you want the plants to be when they finish growing this season? If you prune to the expected height, you aren't leaving any room for new growth, so compensate.

Fertilize after pruning. Typically, one application of fertilizer per year on trees and shrubs is all that is needed.

Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.


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