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Let’s Get Gardening in May

File Photo by Tom Hodgson. Male hummingbird’s throat appears black when viewed from the side.

By Jennifer Fairfield

(Publisher’s note: This is the second part of a two-part column.)
Should you fertilize your lawn in the spring? The answer to that depends on your soil conditions, and the only way to know that is to have it tested. Without knowing what your soil needs, you could be wasting your money on the wrong fertilizer, or you may not need fertilizer at all.

Come in to Garden Mill for a do-it-yourself soil test, or get a more advanced soil testing kit from the MSU Extension, and get an in-depth analysis of your soil’s needs before you spend money on something that may not be helping your lawn. 

If you haven’t started mowing yet, you probably will need to soon (after it dries out a bit – mowing wet lawn can cause all kinds of damage to the grass and soil). Before the first mow, walk through your yard and pick up branches that may have been blown down, rocks that may have been plowed from your driveway, and other debris that may cause damage to your mower.

When you do mow, consider mowing higher than you might usually. MSU extension recommends mowing no lower than 3.5” to maintain a healthy lawn. That may sound high, but there are lots of really good reasons for it. Their “Mow High for Weed and Grub Control” publication explains how mowing higher can help shade out weeds, retain moisture, and promote healthy root systems in your lawn, which can help with grub control.

Other good tips on what to do for your lawn this spring can also be found at the MSU Extension website.

In the veggie garden:

It’s been tough to get going in the vegetable garden this year because of the cold and wet, and while there are some things you can definitely plant now –  such as asparagus, potatoes, onion sets or plants, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, and kale – but tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squashes, and most herbs should wait until after the danger of frost is over.

In southeast Michigan, that generally means at least May 15. For some of these plants, it’s actually better to wait a week or two after that, so that you are sure your plants aren’t going to be shocked by cold soil and cold nighttime temperatures. I have always targeted the weekend of Memorial Day for planting my warm-weather plants. The more scientific measure is soil temperature of at least 60° and nighttime temps above 50°. Not sure what your soil temperature is?

Soil thermometers are simple to use, and we have them at the store. We also carry row covers for those times when Mother Nature decides to throw in one or two late frosts, just to keep us on our toes (just looking at forecast, the nighttime temps are not predicted to be above 50° for the next two weeks.)

Around mid-month, the soil should be warm enough to plant beans, and most herbs. Wait until the end of the month to plant basil, though – it really can’t handle temps below 50°, even for just one or two nights.

For the birds:

If you have been feeding birds all winter and are thinking of stopping for the summer, don’t do it yet (or at all – I feed mine all year long). There are some good reasons for continuing to feed the birds, at least for a little longer. As migrating birds are making their way to their northern breeding grounds, they are using up a lot of energy and can benefit from a little extra easily gotten protein from your feeders.

The other benefit to feeding the birds throughout the spring is that it gives new bird parents another option in addition to insects and worms while feeding freshly hatched baby birds. Those little guys can eat a lot, and parent birds can use up a great deal of energy reserves providing meals for them.

If you haven’t gotten your hummingbird and oriole feeders out yet – don’t wait any longer. Hummers were spotted in Michigan at least a week ago, and orioles traditionally show up in our area around May 1. They will all be hungry after their long flights, and will be happy to visit you, if you put out the welcome mat (or feeder).

If you put away your bird baths for the winter, get them out and fill them up now.

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