Planting vegetables and other May gardening tips

By Leonard Perry, UVM horticulturist

and Charlie Nardozzi, garden consultant

It’s vegetable planting time in most of the area. In valleys and warm areas plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, squash and cucumbers at the end of May. Many gardeners like to plant around Memorial Day. In colder areas you may want to wait until early June to plant these heat lovers, as well as watermelon, okra and eggplant. Plant them too early before the air and ground warms up, and they won’t grow, and may even rot.

Flowers are a bit more forgiving than warm-season vegetables if planted out early and the spring is cool. Just have some frost protection ready, just in case. A heavier weight “frost blanket” provides a couple degrees more frost protection than a lighter weight fabric. Young seedlings just sprouting, such as lettuce, beets and carrots, need a consistent supply of water now so they don’t dry out and die. Once germination starts, it can’t be stopped, so if the weather turns warm and dry, water these seeded beds every day.

Tomatoes produce and grow best when staked or caged to keep the plants off the ground. Place these supports when you put transplants into the ground so you don’t disturb the root systems by installing them later. Caged plants can grow freely, but use large cages made from heavy gauge wire to support them. If using tomato cages or wide wire mesh such as fencing material, make sure to hold it up with one or two stakes so the heavy plants won’t topple later.

When gardening, especially around weeds and grassy areas and as plants grow taller, be on the lookout for ticks. The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, can transmit the serious Lyme disease. Although rarely fatal, it can be quite debilitating unless treated early. Tick bites that don’t disappear in a few days, that develop a “bull’s eye” appearance and expand, should be checked out at once by a doctor. While no vaccines prevent this disease, it can be treated with antibiotics during early stages of infection. Wear long pants and sleeves while working around dead leaves, tall grass and brushy vegtation , and check yourself after coming back indoors.

When spreading bark mulch around trees, be sure to remove the old mulch first, and do not spread the mulch against the tree trunk. You should only have a 2- inch thick layer of mulch around the tree so roots can breathe. Mulch piled against the tree trunk (called “volcano” mulching after its appearance) can lead to crown rot and eventual death of your tree. Use the old mulch in compost, or spread on flower and shrub beds. It is already partially broken down and, as it continues to decompose, it will add organic matter to soils.

If you have rabbits, deer or groundhogs, make sure that your plants are safe. If you plant in a discrete area, you can fence it with two-foot high chicken wire for low mammals. Just make sure the wire mesh is either partially buried or anchored to the ground. If rabbits are hungry or persistent, they may chew through chicken wire. For these, you’ll need to install heavier gauge rabbit fencing.

For deer you’ll need taller fencing, perhaps four feet for a small area but up to eight feet for large areas. The lower height often works if a small bed, as they’re afraid of jumping in and getting trapped. There are some very unobtrusive black mesh netting products that you’ll hardly notice. Of course there are many repellents that you can buy or make and spray onto plants.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach ( Distribution of this release is made possible by the University of Vermont, and New England Grows—a conference providing education for industry professionals and support for university outreach efforts in horticulture.

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