May Check List 2014 from the Whistling Gardener

The Whistling Gardener shares his May check list. If April showers bring May flowers then it ought to be a pretty colorful month. With above normal rainfall the season has been a slog. The last week of April was truly glorious.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.


If April showers bring May flowers then it ought to be a pretty colorful month. With 30-50% above normal rainfall the season has been a slog up until now. The last week of April was truly glorious but May is when the real work begins so read on.

LAWNS—lawns seem to take care of themselves in early spring but once we hit May we need to pay attention. Moss, weeds and moles can all destroy what was once a lovely sea of emerald green.

I gave up years ago trying to maintain a golf course quality turf but by simply mowing on a regular basis and proper height, spot spraying a few weeds, controlling moss in the spring and applying a good quality organic fertilizer a gardener can have a nice looking lawn and this is the month to take care of those activities.

It doesn’t need to be complicated and once you get the lawn into shape it is a lot easier to maintain it that way. Come in a get a copy of the Whistler’s “Lawn Care by the Month” and before you know it you will be the envy of the neighborhood.

PRUNING—there is rarely a month when there isn’t something to prune and May is no exception. Spring flowering shrubs like Forsythia, Pieris, Winter Heather and early rhodies and azaleas should be pruned back now to control and shape the new growth. Candy tuft, Aubretia, creeping phlox and just about anything that will finish blooming this month needs to be cut back and groomed when the flowers fade.

This small task will reap huge dividends by keeping your plants compact and tidy and covered with new blooms next season.

For trees that produce lots of water sprouts (what many of us call suckers) we can save ourselves a ton of work this coming winter by removing those suckers now while they are still small. By applying a product called Sucker Stopper you can also prevent those sprouts from re-growing the rest of the season.

Summer blooming shrubs like roses and Pee Gee hydrangeas should also be cut back hard now (actually March and April would have been better but now is okay too).

ROSES—this is a critical month to control pests. If you use a “natural” product you will need to apply it weekly while a synthetic product can often last 4-6 weeks. Come into the nursery and we will show you the options.

Feed roses now with something like EB Stone Rose and Flower food because it is all organic and it already has all the goodies including alfalfa blended into the mix. By the end of this month you should be seeing the fruits of your labor in the form of some lovely rose flowers.

PLANTING--suffice it to say that May is the consummate month to plant just about everything. May is also the time to feed everything. Don’t skip the fertilizer and compost. They are cheap plant insurance and will guarantee you success in the long run. And a good layer of compost is the absolute best deterrent to weeds.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY—as always we have a great lineup of classes this month but one that looks especially interesting to me is Carnivorous Bog Gardening on May 24th at 10am. Learn all about these very unusual plants that can be grown in the ground or even in a container. They will make a great conversation piece at your next garden party.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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