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Just For You

Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


May 2013 To-Do List: Middle South

Susan Wells

May is a delight in this region. Wildflowers are every where, the vegetable garden is full of potential and not yet full of weeds and bugs. It is the month when all things seem possible. And they are! Just read on to see how to stay ahead of the madness that the summer months often bring. Remember that mulch is your best friend in both flower and vegetable beds.


As the weather heats up, replace your pansies with a succession of hot weather annuals such as zinnias, geraniums, marigolds, celosia and portulaca. Try some of the new “Wave” petunias, some of which grow to 18 inches and are covered with vibrant blooms.

Keep deadheading to extend blooms.

The garden centers are full of beautiful bedding plants begging to be set out. Go for it, but be sure to read the instructions. If you don’t have full sun, be sure to find plants that will tolerate shade and vice versa. Putting plants where they will be unhappy is a waste of time and money.

Also note your new plants’ water needs and abide by them. Put plants with similar water needs together in the garden for more efficient watering. Mulch to conserve water and keep weeds at bay.


Stake up tall plants and tie up vines. Dig weeds out of your perennial beds and mulch around flowers and shrubs.

Plant dahlia tubers at the end of the month. Set out rooted cuttings. Plant gladioli.

As your azaleas wind down, the other lovely spring flowering shrubs take over. Look for blooms this month on deutzia, mock orange, pittosporum, spirea, sweet shrub and weigela.

Prune spring flowering shrubs, if they need it, immediately after they flower. Trim shoots away from the base of crepe myrtle. Feed roses to get a second bloom. Separate irises after they bloom.

southernfoodwaysalliance via Wikimedia Commons

southernfoodwaysalliance via Wikimedia Commons



Make sure the young vegetable plants in your garden get at an average of one inch of water per week. If rain doesn’t provide, you’ll have to water.

Now that your squash, cucumber, beans, okra and corn seedlings are up (and anything else you planted last month), make sure to keep a good layer of mulch between rows for weed control. As temperatures heat up, mulch also keeps the soil from heating up and drying out. It’s a good idea to mulch around squash and melon plants with a couple of sheets of newspaper covered with straw. This will keep the fruits from touching the soil and rotting.

Keep clipping off the lower branches of your tomato plants to keep any leaves from touching the ground. This will help keep soil-borne diseases off the plants. It also helps the plant concentrate its energy on the blossoms and fruit, not on all that foliage. Newspaper and hay around tomato plants keeps soil from splashing on the plant.

This month you’ll be harvesting asparagus. Remember that when the shoots start to thin, stop cutting them and let them grow their ferny foliage and nourish the roots for next year. Established roots will give you about six weeks of harvest before the shoots begin to thin. If this is your first year of harvest, only cut the shoots for a couple of weeks before letting them grow up.

You’ll also be harvesting the last of your arugula, spinach and turnip, mustard and collard greens, as well as lettuces. You can extend the harvest a few weeks using shade cloth. Shade cloth or row cover can also keep some of the bugs that love those greens at bay. Pinch out the top shoots of turnips, mustard and collards to keep them from bolting (growing long shoots and flowering).

If you started early, your broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are maturing. If bugs are a problem, use Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) to control cabbage looper caterpillars. Row cover works well on these, too.

If you’ve planted potatoes, keep hilling them up as the plants grow taller. You can use soil or moist mulch (rotted hay, compost, etc.) to cover the bottoms of the plants. This gives the plant room to grow the tubers. Make sure all surfaces of the tubers are covered. Sunshine will turn them green which makes them toxic. You’ll be harvesting early-crop potatoes in June.

Remember that if you didn’t plant your garden in April, you can still do it in May. In fact, some hot weather crops such as okra and eggplant prefer soil temperatures above 70 degrees for their seeds to sprout.


It’s not too late to start summer grasses such as hybrid Bermuda, Centipede and Zoyosia.

Keep up scheduled maintenance, especially mowing. Mow often and leave the grass a bit long, 3-4 inches. Let clippings stay where they fall to return nutrients to the soil. Get a mulching kit for your mower and never rake again! Don’t allow sod laid in the past year to dry out. Water one inch per week if it doesn’t rain.

If you have low spots in the lawn, fill with a mixture of half sand/half topsoil, leaving just the tips of the grass exposed. The grass will grow up through the new soil and the rut will be gone.

Control fire ants by scattering bait around your lawn. Then 48-hours later, spray insecticide on any hills you can see.


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