Random thoughts for May from The Whistling Gardener

So many plants are coming into bloom that it will make your head spin. The weeds and the bugs are also building up populations and there is pruning to do and fertilizing to complete.
Steve Smith gives tips for what needs doing in the garden during the busy month of May. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery website.

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

May is such a busy month that it is always hard for me to focus on any single subject. So many plants are coming into bloom that it will make your head spin. The weeds and the bugs are also building up populations and there is pruning to do and fertilizing to complete. So here are some scattered thoughts that I hope will be helpful.

This little cool and wet spell we are experiencing (which is not uncommon for the month of May) is a good reminder for us to get rapidly growing perennials staked before they get completely out of control. Link Stakes and Grow Through Rings are the tools of choice for me but good old bamboo works well too. Get it done now.

Roses are prime for contracting black spot when it is damp like this and mildew and rust aren’t far behind. Fungicides work best as preventatives so get something on your beauties BEFORE you see any diseases. And while you are spraying be sure and hit the hollyhocks and snap dragons which both always get rust sooner or later.

Lilacs are just about finished blooming so this is the time to prune them if you think they are too tall for the spot they are growing in. You should also prune out any dead twigs that succumbed to lilac blight this spring. Actually, all spring blooming shrubs like rhodies and azaleas and heather should all be pruned this month.

Bugs and slugs are going to be large this year. Tent caterpillars have already laid their first generation and there will be more to follow. I have been picking beetles off of my coreopsis for two weeks now and just yesterday I spotted the first batch of spittle bugs on some lavender. Aphids of course seem to always be with us in the northwest so go get your weapon of choice and take some action. Same goes for slugs and snails. A stitch in time saves nine as my grandma used to say.

It is warm enough now to effectively kill dandelions and clover and other broadleaf weeds in our lawns. I do not recommend Weed and Feed simply because it does a half-assed job of weeding and feeding. Feed with a slow release organic lawn food and only apply an herbicide when you can target the weed. It is senseless to broadcast weed killer over an entire lawn plus it’s not good for the environment. (Whew, kind of got on my soap box on that one.)

For those of you that simply can’t wait a few more weeks for the soil to get warmer to plant your tomatoes, peppers and cukes I highly recommend using something called a Tomato Greenhouse. We sold hundreds of them last year and I am assuming they worked since no one toilet papered the nursery. The Tomato Greenhouse is nothing more than a red-tinted perforated tube of plastic that slides over a tomato cage and helps retain heat. You can use it when starting any warm season veggie but be sure to take it off once the plants start blooming so the bees can pollinate. Row Cover is also a neat product that protects crops from bugs and can be left on all season. These products can make us all more successful.

Finally, make a trip to the garden center several times this month and next and see what is new and improved and different that you simply can’t live without. It is time to turn your yard into a garden. Carpe diem.

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


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