Berkshire Garden Journal: May a top month for gardeners


Is there a more exciting month for gardeners than May? Not only have air temperatures become more enjoyable for outdoor work -- not hot and not cold -- but, just as important, soils are warming and that means plant growth is accelerating.

Flowers and leaves on trees and shrubs are bursting forth from their scaly buds. Forsythia, early azaleas, magnolias, and ornamental cherries are now in bloom with early flowering rhododendrons, flowering quince, shadbush, redbud, crabapples, and fragrant viburnums soon to follow. Not to be outdone, spring flowering bulbs peak this month, too.

Nature lovers are also enthralled by May. This is the best time to take a hike as woodland wildflowers put on their fleeting floral display before being shaded by the forest canopy. Among the wildflowers in bloom now are bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, hepatica, Virginia bluebells, red trillium, and large flower trillium.

Life does not get any better than it does this month.

Time to take on these early May activities:

♦ Start seeds of melons, cucumbers, and summer and winter squash indoors now. To reduce transplant shock, sow seeds in individual peat pots, one or two seeds per pot. The peat pot grown seedlings will be ready for setting out in the garden in late May or early June. Otherwise, directly sow seeds of these crops in the garden at the end of this month.

♦ Plant roses in a site where they'll receive full sun. For an interesting combination, plant a climbing rose, and then next to it, plant a clematis vine. The rose canes will provide a framework upon which the clematis vine can twine while you sip your wine. A key to successful growth of clematis is to plant it so the crown is 3 to 4 inches below ground.

♦ Spread a quarter-inch layer of screened compost over lawn areas where grass growth has been poor. Rake the compost so that it settles in between the grass plants. There are many reasons for poor growth of grass, but low levels of soil organic matter and soil compaction are two common causes. A thin layer of compost spread over lawns periodically through the year helps alleviate these problems, especially if lawns are aerated prior to application. Early spring and early fall are the best times for aerating.

♦ Be sure to tuck your pants inside socks and/or boots when working outdoors. OK, not the entire pants, just the pant legs. That's because ticks crawl upward, and this is a peak time for tick activity. Also, apply tick repellents containing DEET when working in woodsy places or in tall grasses.

♦ Plant a new perennial garden. However, it's always wise to create a planting plan first. I speak from experience; without a decent plan the end result may look like the garden from hell. Woefully lacking any design skills, I now rely on plans I find in books on perennial gardens or in popular gardening magazines such as Garden Gate and Fine Gardening. As a friend of mine once said, "Being original is admitting defeat."

It's called Hakonechloa. No, it's not a bronchial disease, but it may be contagious. Its full name is Hakonechloa macra "Aureola"

Once you get this plant, every one of your friends will want it too. The common name is golden hakone grass. Yes, it's an ornamental grass. It's a low growing grass, about a foot high, with golden-green foliage.

What I like best about golden hakone grass is its cascading growth habit. I can envision planting the grass in several tiers to simulate a golden-green waterfall.

Another unusual trait of this grass is its preference for growing in shade; there are very few grasses that can tolerate shade. Hakone grass will look great in a shade garden mingled with hostas, especially variegated leaf hostas.


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