May is the month when almost everyone catches the planting bug. Almost anything can be planted in May. If we have normal spring weather it should be warm enough for tomatoes and other warm weather vegetables and flowers to thrive.

IMPROVING PLANTING SOIL

Adding bark dust, compost, peat moss, or other organic amendments will improve any soil. For flower beds and vegetable gardens, one to 3 inches or more can be placed on top and then tilled or spaded in. When planting trees, spade amendment into an area three to six times the diameter of the root ball. This encourages roots to grow into surrounding soil. If you are planting several shrubs or trees in an area, mix amendment into the entire area before planting.

APPLY SLUG BAIT AROUND FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES

Slugs and snails are plentiful in our moist climate and can quickly devour newly planted flowers and vegetables. They hide in the soil during the daytime and feed at night. Apply slug bait around perennials and when planting new annuals and vegetables. Baits containing metaldehyde are the cheapest. Baits which contain iron phosphate are safe to use around pets and wildlife. Bait which is not eaten by slugs and snails will degrade and become part of the soil. Deadline is another very effective product for snail and slug control.

NATURAL SHRUB PRUNING

Our natural pruning technique fits the natural, informal style of Pacific Northwest landscaping. Most of us like our plants to have a natural look, rather than making them into formal balls, boxes and cones.

Shearing is not the best way to prune

The typical untrained home gardener and landscape maintenance technician has one approach to pruning – clipping. Power trimmers or hedge shears are used to shape or reduce the size of shrubs. Using the shearing technique, the tips of many branches are removed quickly, which apparently saves time and expense. However, there are several drawbacks to this practice.

1. The outer layer of the shrub has many stubs which are only covered when new growth occurs.

2. Tip pruning in this way causes branches to develop several shoots where there was only one before (3 to 7 is typical).

3. After 3 or more shearings, shrubs are artificially thick with 20 to 30 times as many branches as normal.

4. All plants begin to look the same – either round balls or square boxes. Several plants growing close together become a hedge.

5. Shrubs are typically sheared the same amount over their whole surface. Because growth is faster on the top of the shrub, soon the lower branches are shaded and lose their leaves, resulting is a “chicken leg” effect.

6. Over-pruning stimulates shrubs to grow faster, which requires more frequent pruning.

Why Natural Shrub Pruning is Better

Natural shrub pruning preserves the natural shape and density of plants. Each shrub has its own natural growth shape. Why make all shrubs look alike? With natural shrub pruning, branches are pruned one at a time with hand pruners and loppers (with long handles – for larger branches). Pruning begins when shrubs are small, before they have outgrown their planting area and block windows or walkways. This may only require shortening one or two branches the first time.

1. Branches are cut inside or below the leaf surface where other smaller branches hide the stubs.

2. Instead of pruning branch tips, they are cut back to a side branch or removed entirely, keeping the same density of plant growth.

3. Lower branches are shortened less (or not at all) than upper branches, which keeps the shrub full and leafy clear to the ground.

4. Because many fewer branches are cut (especially after several prunings) the difference in pruning time becomes negligible.

5. The natural shape of the shrub is retained because branches are deliberately cut at different lengths.

I can provide this pruning service for you or teach you how to do it yourself in one session in your own landscape.

EASY CARE LANDSCAPING

There are a number of ways to reduce the amount of time and expense used in maintaining a landscape. However, sometimes it requires some investment of time and/or money to renovate a landscape in order to reduce the amount of maintenance. I have a leaflet which I can email that has a number of ideas and suggestions on how to reduce landscape maintenance time. Just send me an email if you would like a copy. Call or email if you would like some individual help in making your landscape more enjoyable with less effort. There is no charge for a short consultation.

FLOWERS IN CONTAINERS

Flowering baskets and tubs are becoming increasingly popular for decks, porches, and patios. I prefer larger containers such as minimum 10 inch hanging baskets and 12 inch pots and tubs. They do not dry out as quickly as smaller containers. Make sure planting containers have large holes for drainage.

The best potting soils allow water to move into the soil quickly and have peat moss or other materials which hold moisture. I like to add water holding crystals such as “Soil Moist” to help retain extra moisture. Most nurseries and garden stores have a special section of potted flowers especially selected for containers. Many have trailing or spreading growth. Non-flowering plants with colorful leaves are often mixed in. A single upright plant is often added to the center of large tubs and pots to give some height.

If containers are going to be placed under overhangs or other shady areas, choose shade tolerant varieties. Fuchsia, impatiens, begonia, coleus, pansy, viola, lamium, browallia, lobelia, nierembergia, and variegated ivies grow well in the shade.

For sunny areas, some of the most popular flowers include diascia, petunia, ivy geranium, lobelia, pansy, bacopa, calibrachoa (million bells), alyssum, trailing snapdragon, trailing verbena, lotus, and sweet potato vine. Some good upright plants are salvia, dracaena spikes, snapdragon, and ornamental grasses.

Some of the best plants for single variety containers are ivy geraniums, impatiens, hanging basket begonias, fuchsias, bacopa, calibrachoa (million bells), and trailing petunias.

Most of my tubs are mixed plantings. I like to plant at least 2 or 3 plants of each kind per container. I place like plants across from each other or at equal intervals around the container. I place plants so that their soil balls are almost touching each other to get a more immediate effect.

My favorite fertilizer for containers is “Osmocote” or similar coated, time release fertilizers. I mix fertilizer into the top inch or two of soil. Organic fertilizers are also slow release. You may need to make a second application in mid-summer. If you use liquid fertilizer, apply some every week.