April showers have brought May flowers and for tardy gardeners, it’s time to get growing before the summer inferno. But before rushing to the nearest garden center, it’s important to spend some time planning and preparing.
Fayette County Extension Coordinator, ANR Agent, Kim Toal recommends a soil test as an important first step in knowing the nutritional condition of the soil prior to planting and adds that incorporating organic matter such as properly aged, composted materials, can help open up the hard clay found in Fayette County and allow for better water drainage.
Toal also stresses the importance of site selection, which includes evaluating sun or shade, water drainage, and space available to accommodate the maximum height and width of what you want to plant. “It is extremely important to make sure you have selected the right plant for the right place,” she said.
“May is a great time to plant your vegetable and herb garden because soil temperatures and ambient temperatures are correct for summer crops,” Toal said. Good bets are tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, corn and snap beans. Watch for pests, mulch and water as needed.
Herbs are ideal for raised beds or containers filled with well-drained soil that receive at least six hours of direct sunlight. Easy-to-grow herbs with similar requirements include basil, oregano, sage and chives. Another good contender is mint, but it should be container grown to prevent spreading.
Once established, many perennials can withstand periods of drought (within reason) because plant roots have moved deeper into the soil profile where water may be available. Toal’s recommendations include Lenten rose for shade to partial shade, coral bells and cardinal flower for partial sun and gayfeather for full sun.
For planting the wide variety of annuals available in May, Toal said it’s important to look at the mature size of the plant to allow proper spacing, to mulch beds and to make sure they get enough water. Popular choices include cockscomb, blanket flower, dusty miller and impatiens.
The ideal time to plant ornamental shrubs is fall. Those planted in May need to be properly mulched and receive adequate moisture to reduce plant stress as much as possible. Popular shrubs for our area include Encore Azalea, nandina, loropetalum, hydrangea and tea olive.
To provide color through the summer, May is a great time to plant containers for patios and porches. For shady areas good choices include ferns, begonias, creeping Jenny, hosta and coleus. For plants that can tolerate full sun, try verbena, petunias, geraniums and million bells.