May garden chores: What to do in your garden now to enjoy it more later

This is the time of year we are just itching to get out and garden. Who wants to be stuck inside??!! You want to have a beautiful garden to spend the summer relaxing in, but have no idea where to start or prioritize. Like many folks in the region, time is usually the factor that you are most lacking. The key is to not be overwhelmed and to break your garden task list down to several small items.

Here is a quick overview of several tasks that take just 15-30 minutes each and can be done right before or after work, leaving you with a weekend free to kick back and enjoy your hard work. Or you can take advantage of your energy and enthusiasm on weekends by tackling a few big projects like adding a water garden, creating bed border edging, terraces, or paths.

Garden Clean-Up

Just as a few minutes of quick picking-up indoors makes a room feel instantly better, just ten minutes or so of garden clean-up every night this upcoming week will make a big difference.

Start by grabbing any fallen sticks, twigs, and limbs. Bundle them up for kindling or for street-side recycling pick-up. Grab a trash bag and toss in any garbage blown onto your lawn as well.

Cut back spent tulip and daffodil blooms. Leave the foliage so that the bulbs can feed and create more energy to come back next year or even multiply for you. If the leaves really bother you, tidy them up by braiding them or twisting them up with a rubber band or twist-ties.

Weed. Alright this is not the most fun of chores, but if broken down into 15-minute segments should be a bit more manageable. If a weed patch is totally out of control, consider using an herbicide such as Round-Up. Just be careful to read the instructions fully and to not apply any to your garden plants.

Deadhead (i.e. pinch or snip off) spent blooms on your annuals and perennials to encourage re-flowering. Prune back forsythia, spirea, lilacs, azaleas, and other early spring blooming shrubs. Finally, pinch back mums, salvias, and other late season bloomers to encourage bushy, not leggy, growth.

Garden Maintenance

Feed your shrubs and perennial plantings with slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote.  Fertilize azaleas and rhododendrons, if needed with Holly-tone.

Check for disease and insect damage. Hose off aphids, white flies, or spider mites on your roses or other perennials. Look out for black spot on your roses and remove and discard any affected leaves in the trash, never put them back into your garden or in your compost. Apply a fungicide to your roses every two weeks during the growing season.

Water newly planted additions to your garden. It is better to water once-a-week deeply than to water a little every day. Of course, if we have adequate rain fall you can skip this chore. Check hanging pots and containers daily for water needs.

Be vigilant for mosquito breeding spots — this means any standing water from a bottle-cap to blocked gutters — and clean them out immediately. Ask your surrounding neighbors to do the same.

Provide supports for fast-growing, tall perennials such as delphiniums, peonies, and lilies. Tie-up clematis and other fast-growing climbing vines to trellises, fencing, or wire.

Garden Planting

Pot up warm season annuals such as petunias and coleus in containers and hanging baskets to add color around your porch, deck, and entryways.

Direct sow annual seeds to fill in bare spots in your garden. Good choices are sweet alyssum, cosmos, and forget-me-not.

Divide crowded perennials and share them with friends. Hold a neighborhood plant exchange to trade for others’ extra perennials to expand your garden variety.

Give your summer garden a tropical look by planting dahlias, elephant ears, and cannas. Then move your houseplants outdoors for a summer vacation on your porch.

Start a vegetable plot. Now is the time to sow squash, pumpkin, and melon seeds.

You can also plant seedlings (or direct-sow) sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

IMG_0586.JPGGarden enjoyment

Set up a sitting area in a cool, shady spot with a comfortable chair, side table, cushions, and reading materials. Add citronella candles to ward off mosquitoes and light in the early evening.

Cut some flowers to enjoy inside and make a small arrangement for every room in your home. Don’t forget to make a few arrangements for your outside rooms and sitting areas as well.

Take some time to smell the roses and observe your hard work. Start a garden journal and note what worked and what didn’t this year. Start dreaming big for next year..

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.