May Stepping Stones

Week One and Two

Turf

The first of May is a good time to start warm season turf prep. The warm season turf grasses should be up and growing. Look it over and decide if re-seeding is necessary. To seed or re-seed warm season turf areas, follow the same guidelines as for cool season turf grasses. Warm season grasses best suited are buffalo grass and Bermuda grass. Both these grass genera have many different varieties that produce desirable turf. Two of the newest and highly rated buffalo grass varieties are Turffalo®, and Legacy®. Warm season turf areas can be seeded, sprigged, plugged or sodded, depending on the variety. If you are faced with maximizing use of available water, lay sod. Someone else has already used the water to grow the turf sod to this size.

Buffalo grass is a slow and irregular germinating grass. That is, it germinates sporadically over a longer period of time than other turf grasses, in fact, up to 3 years. When seeding buffalo grass, tamp down the seeds, mimicking the action of buffalos stampeding across the plains. In creating a wildscape area, add 1/3 mixture of blue grama grass. For a wilder scape, add sideoats and black grama, little blue stem and low-growing native wildflowers. A wildscape, and wilder scape landscape will fill in faster than just buffalo grass, as the seeds of the other plants germinate quicker.

Appropriate Plants

Non-cold hardy annuals such as the begonias, impatiens, petunias, pelargoniums can be purchased. It is usually safe to plant them now. Plant the summer bulbs and tubers of cannas, caladiums, colocasias, alocasias, and any other non-cold hardy perennial bulbs you might fancy. Diversity is good!

Spring Vegetables

  • Plant warm season vegetables after the average date of the last frost (ADLF), which was April 20th.
  • Plant a final spring sowing of heat tolerant lettuce.
  • Plant 1 – 4 weeks after ADLF your beans, pumpkin, and squash.
  • Plant cucumbers, cantaloupe, and mustard greens, 1 to 6 weeks after ADLF.
  • Plant tomatoes 1 – 8 weeks after ADLF.
  • Eggplant, okra, and peppers should be planted 2 – 6 weeks after ADLF.

Maintenance

Clean up any areas of the garden that’s been neglected for a number of years. Some years we are overwhelmed with life’s activities and can’t attend to every nook and cranny of our landscape. Take a step back, glass of ice tea in hand, and decide what will be tackled next. Then do it.

Extra -- Horticultural Therapy

Mother’s Day is on the agenda. Offer to clean out her flower beds, amend the soil, do some plantings, and top it off with mulch. A completed flower bed makes a rare, but welcome gift. Include the gift of a summer’s maintenance. Drop by weekly to observe its growth and weed. As with most great gifts, the giver may receive more in the giving than the receiver. This flower bed gift can be given to anyone, including an institution, such as the Veteran’s Hospital, Women’s Shelter, nursing home, school or church. Volunteering to tend to the entire landscape isn't necessary, maybe just a small bed, or even container. Start small; work your way through the landscape through the years if time permits.

Volunteer work doesn’t always have to be hospital visits to the patients, rather, visits to where the patients might go for inner healing, the garden. There are many acts of horticultural therapy we as gardeners can give. Each person can contribute individually. We don’t all have to organize full-blown programs. Perhaps the small, individual acts will coalesce into something larger, but it doesn’t have to. The world is improved one small act at a time, by one person at a time.

Be a Plant Explorer

Baseball isn’t the only activity that has double headers. Do a botanic double header and visit the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Dallas Arboretum. It’s as American as baseball, apple pie and gardening. For a triple-header, add the Texas Discovery Garden, Texas’ first certified organic public garden, located at Fair Park in Dallas.

Another garden to visit is the Native Plant Garden at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary southeast of McKinney, Texas.

More in tune with our ecological community are the Comanche National Grasslands near La Junta, Colorado, where mixed and shortgrass prairie areas can be viewed. Penstemons, calylophus, evening primrose and prickly pear cactus burst into bloom in May and June. Close by near Boise City, Oklahoma; drop by the Black Mesa State Park for similar flora. On the way from Amarillo, drive through the Rita Blanca National Grasslands. Be sure to stop and look closely at what’s blooming and how plant communities are arranged in a naturalistic setting. You might pick up a tip for a future bed design. Don't forget GardenFest at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens.

Weeks Three and Four

Amend the Soil

If on an organic program, apply alfalfa meal, pellets, worm castings or cottonseed meal to turf and rose beds. Traditional turf grasses and roses are heavy feeders. Give the landscape a boost going into the hot summer months by spraying with liquid humate, liquid seaweed/kelp and/or mineral blend, horticultural molasses, compost tea or aerobically activated compost tea.

Add organic matter to your vegetable beds, they are heavy feeders as well. Insure that any compost or organic amendment is free from residues of persistent synthetic herbicides (see Maintenance, Composting, Killer Compost).

Turf

Mulch-mow turf as needed, rather than by a set schedule, possibly every 4-5 days. Cut off no more than 1/3 the blade length. The proper mowing height for turf type tall fescue and bluegrass is 3 – 4 ½ inches, cutting off only about 1-1 1/3rd inches. Fescue does better in our hot climate when kept at a higher height, by shading and promoting deeper root growth. Proper mowing height for Bermuda grass is 1 ½ - 2 ¼ inches, cutting off ½ - ¾ inch. Mow hybrid Bermuda grass in the lower range, common Bermuda grass in the upper height.

If you’ve already cut your Buffalo grass turf once, that’s it for May. Head out to the mall or ballgame instead.

Appropriate Plants

My usual last spring and summer planting date is May 15th. From May 15th on, we could be propelled directly into summer with a heat wave of 90º to 95º+ temperatures and a long-term period of little rainfall. New plants from small containers (2” size) have a very limited, undeveloped root ball. For greatest plant survival, at least a two week period is needed for the roots to begin development in the soil to be able to survive the gardener’s harshest season – summer. By June 1st, even the nighttime temperatures offer little respite for the plants to recoup from the day’s trials. If the soil has not been prepared properly for drainage and organic matter and beds mulched, they might still wither. To withstand the searing sun, unrelenting wind, high heat and low humidity, be sure plants have every advantage you can give them to be able to not just survive, but thrive.

It should be safe to set tender perennials, tropicals and non-cold hardy annuals outside in containers for the growing season, without undue worry. Many people have success with prepared soil mixes purchased at home improvement centers and nurseries. Plants thrive better with good drainage. Success can also be achieved by making container soil mixes yourself. For my own use, I do not use “sterile soil less mixes” and have not since 1996. I combine 1/3 good vegetable garden soil (well amended for a period of years), with 1/3 compost and 1/3 coarse sand, gravel or lava sand. Depending on individual plant material, you may decide to include inorganic amendments for better water and nutrient retention and drainage. In pots devoted to drought tolerant plants, I increase the inorganic amendment and decrease the soil and compost. Drainage is a more critical factor than organic matter for xeric plants.

We usually harden off plants to acclimatize them to colder temperatures after buying them from warmer greenhouses. The last two May's of 2011 and 2012, it was necessary to harden them off to the hotter temperatures, sun and wind conditions. Adjust your practices to new weather conditions.

Summer Vegetables

Plant warm season vegetables of okra, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn squash and beans, if not already done.

Mulch

Add mulch to container plantings with either organic or inorganic materials, depending on the plants chosen. Generally, high feed and water users benefit from organic mulches and xeric container plants benefit more from inorganic mulches.

Maintenance

Prune and/or deadhead any spring flowering shrubs after it’s bloomed, if necessary. In a low maintenance landscape, have a reason for pruning or just enjoy the natural shape of the shrub.

Remove the stems of spring bulbs that have already flowered. Continue to wait for the leaves to yellow and wither before removing.

Extras

  • Plant amaryllis bulbs that you’ve gotten for last winter’s holiday season outside. Either plant in a sunny location directly in the soil or bury the pot as well. Keep them well fed and watered during the growing season.
  • Also plant paperwhites, hyacinths or other forced bulbs outside. Many of these are cold hardy for our climate, and may re-bloom next year, depending on the variety.
  • If you are thinking of planting fall blooming bulbs, April or May is the time to order them for best selection. Fall blooming bulbs haven’t caught on like spring bloomers, but if you’re a bulb enthusiast, order early for the best selection. Fall blooming bulbs include fall blooming crocus’, Crocus speciosus, C. pulchellus, C. medius, C. cartwrightianus, C. goulimyi, and the saffron crocus C. sativus, are some species to consider. Other fall blooming bulbs are the colchicums, specifically Colchicum autumnale, Lycoris squamigera, the surprise lily, and Zehyranthes (rain lilies). Pay attention to whether the varieties choosen are cold hardy.
  • Enjoy a Memorial Day picnic with friends and family, you deserve to relax. Take time to smell the roses and notice the beauty of the landscape you’ve contributed to.

Keep it Up

  • Water as needed, paying attention to rainfall and ET rates.
  • Replenish mulch as needed.
  • Add plant debris to the compost pile and turn it every two weeks. Moisten it if necessary.
  • Weed, weed, weed. Weeds that have not seeded out and weeds without invasive rhizomes can be tossed in the compost bin.
  • Check roses often and other susceptible plants for aphids and spray them off with a jet of water. Watch your vegetables closely for insects and manage any problems starting with the least harmful technique (IPM).
  • Keep up the garden journal entries.

Angie Hanna

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