May Garden Maintenance for the Southeast

Posted by on May 2, 2017

May brings the end of pine pollen and the unofficial start of summer with the long Memorial Day weekend. Let the prime gardening season begin. Here’s what you can do in the Southeast garden this month.

Admire blooming trees and shrubs. May is bloom time for southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). These flowers give so much, and we need to do so little for them in return. I like to pluck a magnolia bloom and float it in a bowl of water near where I read or enjoy the garden at the end of the day. It lasts but a day, but what a day it is. The Endless Summer hydrangea is the first hydrangea to bloom on old and new growth, with the ability to rebloom all summer long. I planted my Endless Summer in 2005. To encourage reblooming, cut the blooms for drying or to put in vases for a fresh arrangement. This will also encourage the plant to set new buds.Prune rhododendrons and azaleas right after flowering.

Enjoy abundant rose blooms. Roses are in full swing right now. Let your roses flesh out; prune less in May so they grow taller. This is usually good advice for the first couple of cuttings. Then you can prune at will, remembering to cut the next five leaflets at an angle.Roses are heavy feeders — in terms of both food and water. Fertilize once a month and give each rose about 5 gallons of water each week (or about 1 inch per week). Water in the morning, at the base of the plant to help discourage black spot.
Cherish blooming iris. Oh, the irises are blooming their little heads off. After they bloom, cut the flower stalks to tidy up the plant. Recently I cut some for a friend. She took a whiff and realized, for the first time, that bearded irises have a lovely scent — making them enjoyable indoors too.Cut the flower stalks of daffodils. Try to ignore the leaves as the plants naturally die back.
Plant annuals. With frosts behind us, you can plant annuals with abandonment. Visit public gardens to see the variety available for planting in our area. The JC Raulston Arboretum is an All-American Selection (AAS) display garden, exhibiting the most recent selection winners.Direct sow zinnia seed at intervals to have cut flowers through frost.
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Plant tender summer bulbs. It’s now safe to transplant the amaryllis you grew during the winter. It will not likely bloom again this year but should do so next year.Now that the soil has warmed (make sure it’s at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit), plant caladium bulbs or caladiums potted and already in leaf. They like it warm and can be damaged by cool weather, not just a frost. They are also big feeders, so you’ll need to water and fertilize them consistently during the growing season.Actually, any tender summer bulb, such as cannas, dahlias, ginger lilies and tuberoses, can be planted now.
Grow edibles. With the last frost of the season behind us, it’s now time to plant tomatoes, basil, peppers, cucumbers, and other tender annuals.
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Plant an herb garden. If not for you, then for your garden friends. Black Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae love parsley and fennel. Let those green worms eat it all.May in my garden is peak lavender bloom time. Each May I’m reminded of why I grow lavender; it can look ratty many months of the year. After it flowers, cut back and shape it.
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Discover different wisteria. May is not the ideal time for planting perennials, but they are widely available. If you plan to plant, be prepared to pamper them well. Perennials require extra watering to help them get established.Seeing Chinese wisteria in the wild brings a feeling of wonder. Yes, the color and flowers cascading down from the trees are beautiful, but they aren’t supposed to be there. Think twice about planting one.Instead, consider the rich purple flowers of American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ ); it blooms a little later the Chinese species.
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Add a container garden. Every home area has room for container gardens. Find some fabulous pots and fill them with whatever you fancy. Know the amount of sun you get and when.It matters when you select your plants. Containers tend to dry out faster, so container gardens need to be watered more often. This water tends to cause nutrients to leach out, so plants will benefit from an application of a quick-release fertilizer.
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Top-dress your garden beds with mulch. Keep your gardens cool, less thirsty and reduce the amount of weeds. I can write volumes on the benefits of mulch. I believe in the power of mulch.For my roses, I use mini nuggets, but for my perennial gardens, I used composted leaf mulch. Picking up a load of mulch reminds me how important it is to make sure yard waste is separated from trash. Yard waste not only is good stuff once it is composted,  but the conservation practice is in everone’s best interest.

Fertilize sustainably. To encourage flowering, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus.Fertilizer’s three main ingredients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or NPK.

  • 10-10-10 means there is an equal proportion N, P and K.
  • Hydrangeas like a low N and a high P; thus a combination of 10-40-10 would be ideal.

My general rule of thumb to remember what the numbers mean is to start with the first number and apply from the top of the plant to the bottom. As such, N is for the green, P is for the bloom and K is for the root or up and down and all around.

To refresh your understanding of pH, it refers to the acidity of the soil and is measured by the number of hydrogen ions present in the soil. It’s a logarithmic scale based on the power of 10. As such, a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than pH of 7. Thus, even a little change in pH can make a big difference.

  • A pH of 7 is neutral.
  • A pH lower than than 7 is acidic.
  • A ph higher than 7 is alkaline.

Most plants like a pH between 6.5 and 7. Hydrangeas like it more acidic than most plants.

Helen Yoest




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