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Published: Monday, April 29, 2013, 3:50 p.m.

What to do in the garden in May

I think it is safe to say that spring has sprung. I am now mowing my lawn twice a week (but only because I like to keep it very short), watering my containers several times a week (these are pots with permanent plantings that tend to shed the rain), the frogs are making a ruckus every evening and the robins are at it every morning around 5 a.m. or earlier. Why on earth do robins have to start chirping so damn early in the morning anyway? Yes, spring is in full swing and it's time to get serious in the garden. Here are my key points for this month.

Late winter and early spring blooming plants: 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. Left undone you will end up with scraggly and overgrown specimens that after a few years you will want to rip out and replace. It is also smart to fertilize after pruning to support the new growth.

Roses: This is a critical month to apply a fungicide and insecticide to prevent the spread of black spot, rust and mildew or the attack of aphids. Yes, I hate to admit it but even "disease resistant" roses can benefit from these products. 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. Don't forget to feed them, too. I am a big fan of EB Stone Rose and Flower food because it is all organic and it already has all the goodies including alfalfa blended into the mix. Finally, after feeding I like to spread some mulch over the surface one inch think. A good quality compost will be rich in chicken manure and earthworm castings and will hold in the moisture, keep the weeds down and suppress the spread of black spot. By the end of this month you should be seeing the fruits of your labor in the form of some lovely rose flowers.

Lawns: Lately, what with our cool and wet March and April weather, May is becoming a prime month to overhaul lawns. I am amazed at how much gardeners struggle with lawns. It doesn't need to be that complicated. Come take a look at mine and you will be surprised at how healthy it looks with nothing more than a few applications of an organic lawn food, some lime, an occasional spot spraying for clover, regular mowings and some additional water in the summer. Lawns don't need to be and in fact should not be a repository for toxic chemicals. When cared for responsibly they can be an environmental asset.

Annuals, perennials, veggies and fruits, shrubs and trees: Suffice it to say that May is the 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.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at 425-334-2002 or online at

Story tags » Gardening

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