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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


May 2013 To-Do List: Mid-Atlantic

Susan Wells

Winter can be rough on trees, shrubs, and perennials. Though days are warming, nights are still cold, as is the soil. Some plants may be slower to leaf out than others. Don’t be hasty to cut down or remove a plant that looks dead. Give it a couple of extra weeks to green up. Branches that bend are likely still alive. Branches that crack when bent and are brown or tan inside are dead and can be pruned off.

Zinnias continue to bloom in June. Annuals

When soil has warmed up and the danger of frost has passed, sow the tender annuals — marigold, nasturtium, salvia, zinnia.

Soak nasturtium and morning glory seeds overnight, then sow.

When buying flower seedlings in 6-packs, look for younger, fresher, greener plants – not necessarily those with the most flowers.


Thoroughly weed flower beds, apply an organic, balanced plant food or compost, and spread a 2-to-3-inch layer of mulch.

Divide and transplant hostas.

If the season is dry, give irises a deep soaking to improve flower quality. If borers were a problem last year, cut off any punctured leaves.

Feed hardy bulbs such as hyacinths, tulips, narcissus, etc. while still in growth. Cut off faded flowers for tidiness, but don’t remove foliage until it dies down naturally.

When all the buds on the iris stem have flowered and the flowers are dead, clip the stem just above the first leaf. Removing dead flowers allows the plant’s energy to rejuvenate the plant rather than make seed. Fertilize now with next year’s blooms in mind.

Water groundcovers deeply as needed. Weed and fertilize pachysandra, creeping Jenny and ajuga. Thin out or take cuttings now to extend coverage elsewhere.

Prepare new beds by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, and then spread mulch on top.


Edge beds of direct-sown veggies with radishes. They emerge quickly and insects will attack the radish foliage, leaving other seedlings in the bed alone.

If you started your tomatoes indoors, begin hardening them off. On warm days, set seedlings in a shaded, sheltered position for one hour, gradually increasing outdoor time and sun exposure over the weeks. Put them in the ground when all danger of frost is past.

Direct sow beans at mid-month and continue sowing short rows every two weeks. Wait until the end of the month to sow summer and winter squash, cucumbers, melons.

Until mid-month continue planting lettuce, onions, spinach, beets, chard, carrots, parsnips, radishes, turnips, shallots, chives and parsley.

Wait until Memorial Day weekend to direct-sow cucumbers and summer and winter squash. They rarely benefit from an early start.

Mulch vegetables with baled or chopped straw, partially rotted leaves, or other organic materials.

Keep potatoes well mulched since they do not grow deeper in the soil than they are planted, and the new potatoes start forming on the stem node nearest the seed potato, extending upward toward the soil surface.


For continued bloom, fertilize roses with an organic, slow-release fertilizer according to package directions. Water them with an alfalfa meal and water mixture to give them an even bigger boost through the summer.

Apply a liquid or slow release granular fertilizer to spring blooming shrubs after the flowering is complete.

Established azaleas generally do not require additional fertilizer. Test soil for nutrient levels and pH. If the soil is low in nutrients, lightly scatter only a few tablespoons of an acid-forming, granular, slow-release fertilizer on soil under the shrub.


Water lawns deeply to promote deep roots and develop drought tolerance. The best time to water lawns is early morning. The goal is to apply 1- 3/4 inches of water per week if the weather is dry. Check your irrigation system for clogged heads and repair or replace, as necessary.

After the first mowing, apply fertilizer. Include pre-emergent for crabgrass, if necessary. Crabgrass seed generally germinates after the soil temperature has reached 50 degrees, and requires about 5 consecutive days of 50 degree soil temperature. Mow frequently, but keep the grass at 3-4 inches for healthy growth. Let clippings lie where they fall to return nutrients to the soil.


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