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Get gardening: May is a good time to …

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

(Chelsea Update would like to thank Jennifer Fairfield of the Garden Mill for the information in this story.)

May is when gardening season kicks into high gear.

As the soil warms up, it’s time to put down new mulch in your flower beds and on your trees and shrubs. Use a garden fork to fluff old mulch to keep it from compacting – compacted mulch won’t allow water to reach the plant roots – then add new mulch, but not too much.

There is such a thing as too much mulch – like compacted mulch, it keeps the water and air from reaching plant roots. The total depth of mulch needed depends on the type of mulch you are using.  If you are using a fine-textured mulch, such as shredded wood or bark, then 2- to-3 inches is the maximum depth to put on your plants. For coarser wood products such as pine bark nuggets, you can go as deep as 4 inches, but mulches of shredded leaves and grass clippings should be no more than 2 inches deep, as these tend to matt down.

If you have summer blooming perennials that are getting too big for their space or look like they are dying out in the middle, now is the time to divide them.  If you don’t have room for the “new” plants, consider trading with a friend for something they have that you want, or give them away to a new homeowner looking to start their own flower beds.

While you can divide your spring and early summer bloomers now, it is better to wait until early fall to do this, in order to maximize flowering this season.  If they really needed to be divided last fall, and you just ran out of time, go ahead and do it now – don’t wait until the heat of summer.

Prune early-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and quince, once they have finished flowering.  Pruning back up to one-third of the old growth of these plants helps keep them looking good year-after-year.

Once the danger of frost has passed, plant annual flowers for lots of beautiful color all summer long.

I like to put marigolds, nasturtiums, bachelor’s buttons, and sweet alyssum around the outside of my vegetable garden to help attract beneficial insects and lure pest insects away from my veggies.

File photo. Fresh veggies.
File photo. Fresh veggies.

In the veggie garden:
It’s been tough to get going in the vegetable garden this year because of the cold and wet, but now that spring is here, we all feel a little bit behind. So, if you haven’t yet gotten in your cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, do so now before it gets too warm and they suddenly bolt. It’s also time to get onions and potatoes planted.

The growing season for potatoes in Michigan is pretty short, so it’s important to get them in soon.  If you’ve never considered growing potatoes, you should. They are actually quite easy to grow, and there is another really good reason for growing your own – pesticides, or the lack of them.  Pesticides are used on potatoes in greater quantities than any other crop.

Because the Colorado potato beetle has become resistant to most pesticides, farmers have resorted to throwing more and more and harsher and harsher chemicals on their potato crops, hoping to at least minimize the damage done by these pests.

Growing your own organically means you won’t be eating all of those pesticides along with your French fries.  Controlling a small population of beetles is a lot easier than trying to control an infestation on thousands of acres of potatoes. The Garden Mill carries both seed potatoes and onion sets for your garden.

May is also the time to plant almost every other type of garden crop you can think of – carrots, beets, lettuce, and spinach can all be planted early in the month, while warm temperature loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, and rosemary will do better if planted at the end of the month, after all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures are consistently over 60 degrees.

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