Glorious May on the North Coast!
And May IS glorious in Humboldt County! There are hints of summer in the air. Some rain is possible. Plants are putting on new growth at amazing speed. Insect pests and garden diseases thrive also, but prompt action can place you in control. Many plants are in in bloom including rose, dogwood, hydrangea, horse-chestnut, rhododendron, lilac, ceanothus and ice-plant.
The major job is to finish spring planting! But don't forget the weeding and watering...get those little weeds while they still have shallow roots. It seems as if almost overnight they turn into foot tall and wide monsters!
It is too late to set out bare root plants in the area, However, plants in containers and those balled and burlapped can be set out now if there is ample soil moisture.
If you have not already done so, set out ageratum, asters, petunias and marigolds this month. But there is no value in setting out zinnias or planting seed of zinnias before the soil becomes thoroughly warm; later plants invariably catch up with those planted earlier.
Toward the end of May it is time to sow seeds of biennials such as sweet william, pansy, wallflower, hollyhock, foxglove and Canterbury bells. Sowing may be done in boxes, or in moist, open ground.
Star perennial performers for May are oriental poppies, lilies and delphinium. Lovely as these are, their on-stage roles are brief and then they rest. It is wise to use foreground plantings to hide the bare spots left by these resting beauties. Peonies, Aster frikarti and day lilies are especially good for that purpose.
Many perennials can be purchased in full bloom for continuous flowering through summer. The most colorful are pelargonium, but gerbera, pink and Shasta daisies are all in this class. Give geraniums full sun; they bloom better if the soil is not too rich, and watering is kept to a minimum.
Clematis is opening its big, showy flowers on container-grown vines in nurseries now, so it is a good time to make a selection.
Hibiscus should be planted this month. Most of us treat them as annuals since they seem to succumb to the lightest frost. But you can grow them in containers and bring them under cover for winter. Give them a warm, protected spot.
Bulbs to plant this month include gladiolus, dahlia and tuberous begonia. Sprouted dahlias and tuberous begonias are best, insuring an early start for the plants.
Finish setting out bedding plants of warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes. Plant corn in blocks, not in rows, to aid in pollination. When the soil warms up a little, toward the middle of the month, plant pumpkins and squash.
New lawns seeded early this month give a good covering quickly. Temperatures are cool enough so that one or two waterings daily can keep the surface moist. Water by hand with a very fine spray. You can wash out the seedbed trying to water with your finger over the end of the hose! Established lawns should be kept thoroughly watered, with special attention to areas where tree roots compete for moisture.
Cut summer water bills by spreading a mulch this month. It reduces evaporation from the soil, lowers soil temperatures and controls weeds. Use ground bark, leaf mold, steer manure or sawdust, keeping it at least three inches from the base of the plant or root crown to prevent crown rot.
Spray peonies for botrytis. Give them plenty of high phosphorous fertilizer.
This month and June are big months for roses. Do not cut long-stemmed blooms from young plants; allow the bushes a year or two to form strong canes. If you are interested in edging your rose beds with a low-growing perennial, some plants with pretty flowers at rose-blooming time are coral bells, pinks and violas.
Main jobs this month are the control of aphids and blackspot on roses, and some pruning and watering. While overhead watering is relished by broad-leaved evergreens and conifers, avoid wetting foliage of roses and perennials, for this encourages mildew in our climate. A strong stream of water aimed at the underside of conifers will discourage red spider mites.
Rub off water sprouts on fruit and flowering trees and keep a diligent watch for suckers growing from the root stock of grafted plants, such as roses and lilacs.
Remove spent bloom on perennials. On daffodils and other early-flowering bulbs, remove faded flowers but leave the foliage to ripen. On rhododendrons, camellias and lilacs, remove the spent flowers or clusters of flowers. On rhododendrons, be sure you don't damage next year's flower buds growing directly under the flower clusters. Snap off the old flower at the circular scar just above the delicate new buds. Wait to pull out forget-me-nots until they have scattered seed, so you will have plenty of self-sown seedlings for next year.
Stake delphiniums, since their spikes must be held erect for best display. Pinch fuchsia, chrysanthemum, carnation and any annual you wish to make more compact and floriferous.
Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as spirea, weigela, forsythia, mock orange, beauty bush, deutzia, flowering quince and flowering almond.
Primroses appreciate having a little bone meal scratched around them, and some of their old leaves removed to encourage new growth.
Thin peaches, plums and apricots when the fruits are about half inch in diameter. Leave one peach for every six inches of branch, and one apricot or plum for every three inches of branch.
Now that most rhododendrons and other broad-leaved evergreens are out of bloom, take a critical look at their foliage masses and form. Perhaps a feathery, upright-growing clump of bamboo, or the strong silhouette of a pine is needed to relieve the monotony of too many rounded forms. Pinus contorta, the native coast pine, is a good choice. Bamboo is available in pots if you want to plant now. In selecting bamboo, the invasive habits of some types should be considered. The hardiest are the running types, and root control is usually necessary. This is done by placing underground barriers of galvanized sheeting, or concrete poured to a depth of three feet.
Every child deserves to know the thrill of growing a plant from a seed, and of watching it develop to the stage of producing flowers or food. However, since children grow impatient with a long wait, it is wise to start them with plants that give quick and sure results. The more interesting and dramatic the outcome, the better.
Let them have their own patch of ground, and be sure that it is in a good location, with soil well prepared, so results will not be disappointing. Beginners should not have too large a space to maintain; it may overwhelm them as weeds begin to take over. Let each child choose what plants he or she wishes to grow-with some deft guidance on your part.
If vegetables seem in order, radishes are an excellent first choice, for they are planted early while enthusiasm is high, are easy and quick to mature, and is something that can be shared with friends or with parents or grandparents. Any of the child's favorite vegetables is an excellent selection.
Many flowering annuals are very easy to grow, and these are the ones with which to start. But for special fun, here are some with which the entire family will enjoy experimenting.
Gourds: These are completely fascinating. The plant is a vine, rapid-growing and large-leaved, which you can start from seed outdoors after the soil has warmed in the spring. Large yellow or white flowers are followed by fruits which may be small or large, in white, yellow, green or stripes. They come in assorted amusing shapes. They can be dried and used as bird houses or for winter ornament indoors. Try a package of mixed seed for some delightful surprises.
Moonflower: A vine with large white flowers similar to those of the morning glory, but opening at dusk. They unfold slowly as you watch, and this show is so intriguing that it is worth inviting friends in to see. The plant is a perennial in climates with little or no frost and can also be grown as a summer-blooming annual. Start from seed.
Peanuts: If you have a hot spot, these grow in a surprising manner. Blossoms develop on above-ground stems, but then turn downward and bury themselves in the ground where they become nuts! Seed catalogs list them among vegetables.
Pumpkins: Grow your own jack-o'-lantern material. The plants are large, big-leaved vines, similar to those of gourds. Start seed outdoors after the ground is warm. Give them rich soil and lots of space.
Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica): Fun to play with! If you touch one of its ferny leaves with your finger, it will fold up and droop. You can do it over and over. The plant is low-growing with ball-like clusters of airy pink flowers. You can pot some to keep as pets, or to give to visiting children.
Sunflower: Grow your own crop of seeds to feed the birds or yourself. Get the giant type sunflower that grows almost as tall as Jack's beanstalk and produces enormous flowers. There are small varieties available also (I like the Teddy Bear).