May 2011 gardening calendar
This is a once-a-month column provided to Wilson County News reader online.
It is hot and dry. Hotter and drier than we would expect for late April and May. Many communities in the area are in the midst of drought restrictions. Water is the key to keeping lawns green and plants producing in this kind of weather. Use it efficiently.
If you have Bermuda, zoysia or buffalo grass, you have the advantage that the lawn grass can go dormant and then quickly green up again when the rains start. St. Augustine grass does not have that capability. Unless it is in very deep soil, it requires rain or irrigation every week to stay green and water every two weeks if it is going to avoid damage.
Roses will have a second flush of growth and bloom period if you can keep them irrigated. Modern hybrid roses require water once per week. The old fashioned and tough modern roses like ‘Knockout,’ ‘Katy Road,’ ‘Belinda’s Dream,’ ‘Mrs. Dudley Cross,’ mutabilis and ‘Martha Gonzales’ will survive without irrigation but bloom best with a deep watering every two weeks.
Tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The first ones to ripen usually have blossom end rot. The ailment is expressed by a hard black area on the bottom of the fruit. It is caused by a shortage of calcium. That shortage is due to a break in the moisture stream. Water is the key.
The black area is not a problem except for aesthetics, and in most situations, it occurs on a small amount of the total fruit. Adding calcium or epsom salts may help on sandy soils but even there, water is the main cause.
Harvest the cool weather crops that remain. Lettuce, Brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, and rutabagas all turn bitter in the heat and may be attacked by insects and diseases. You can still plant peppers, southern peas and okra. Tomatoes planted now may do all right if they are large plants. It is also not unheard of to carry a late planted tomato through to the fall. The issue becomes keeping the spider mites under control.
My onion tops have fallen over indicating they are also ready to be harvested. I store my bulbs on a picnic table in the shade. Let the tops brown on the onion and then they can be removed. Use any onions with a seed stalk first, they do store as long as the onions without seed stalks.
You may want to quit feeding the birds now. It reduces the chance that rodents will become dependent on the feeders. Consider planting sunflowers. They are attractive and love full sun and the heat. After the bloom period, the lesser goldfinches, cardinals, house finches and buntings will pull the seeds from the flower heads. It is fun to watch them.
Hummingbirds are nesting and are quite territorial so the numbers that visit your sugar water feeder will be fewer than in the spring or late summer. Sometime in the summer the young of the year will show up.
For hot weather color consider zinnias, vincas, moss roses, purslane, lantanas, esperanza, fire bush, poinciana and duranta for the sun. In the shade, coleus, caladiums and begonias are good choices.
To maximize bougainvillea bloom, do not over water. Let the soil dry out between watering. It does not hurt if they wilt between irrigations. Hibiscus are tolerant of heat and full sun but they do need to be watered before they wilt.
Drip irrigation is the best option for flower beds, shrub borders and vegetable gardens but leaky hoses work nearly as well. They are inexpensive and drip out the water right at the soil. The key to efficient use of a leaky hose is to limit the water pressure. In most situations a quarter turn of the faucet is adequate.
Calvin R. Finch, PhD, is a SAWS Director and Horticulturist.