The English Lady's May Tips Including Composting!

May 8, 2018
Maureen Hasley-Jones

Allan Camp

The darling buds of May” is such an apt phrase for one of the most enchanting months, bloom on bulbs and trees and the fresh foliage on trees winking in the sun.  

By now, you have probably removed most of the winter debris, pruned broken branches and re-edged borders. Do not however, apply that spring layer of composted manure as the soil needs to warm up to 60 degrees for the soil organisms to accept the bacteria of the manure in order to produce nutrients for the roots of the plants.  When shopping for garden supplies, pick up a soil thermometer to check soil temperature and I am sure the right temperature will be reached in about two to three weeks. 

I am seeing our old nemesis, weeds springing up everywhere.  Pull them up by hand and try to get weeds complete with roots.  I say by hand, as using a tool breaks up the weeds, the result being hundreds more weeds from the broken pieces.  Follow on the weeding with the organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics; this product will keep weeds away for quite a few weeks.   

When the soil warms to sixty degrees apply composted manure around daffodils and other spring bulbs so that soil organisms will produce nutrients to feed the bulbs for next year’s bloom. Also do not cut down the Daffodil foliage as the nutrition from the foliage goes into the bulb for bloom next spring. 

COMPOST – Some of you may have begun to make compost during winter.  However, if that was not the case you may begin now to build or buy a compost bin to produce nutrition for the garden.  I recommend a formula that is roughly 25% high nitrogen material such as early grass clippings, vegetable waste, earth worms whose castings are full of minerals, manure (which can be fresh manure from the farm to use in the compost bin) or composted manure in bags from the garden center.  Added to this mixture should be 30% lower nitrogen such as late grass clippings, weeds, coffee or tea grounds and 45% woody materials such as leaves and pruning from trees and shrubs. 
In order to keep the compost material on the boil, as I would say, your pile should be no more than three to four feet high, any higher, it will be too wet or too dry.  If the microorganisms in the compost are doing their job, the temperature will be 130 to 155 degrees and the contents will become compost in about five weeks.  If you adhere to these rules your compost will be a great addition to the decomposed manure and mulch for the soil.  The ratio is one part compost to three parts decomposed manure spread on the soil.  

The manure that you add to your garden beds and vegetable garden must be decomposed at least 4 to 6 months from the farm or in bags from the garden.  
Fresh manure may be added to the compost but NOT ON beds and vegetable garden as fresh manure will burn your plants.  

Composted manure is applied to all maintained areas of the garden now, then again in July and before putting the garden to bed in October. Now in May following the manure application apply a light layer of fine bark mulch.  The manure and mulch will begin to build the humus component.    

I wrote about the carbon component in my April tips but wanted to emphasize its importance by stating it again. 
All living things including us are all carbon-based creatures. Humus brings carbon from the air into the soil.
Humus acts like a sponge and holds 90% of its weight in water. Because of its negative charge, plant nutrients stick to humus bringing nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and other important elements to the plant, preventing these nutrients from washing away, acting like nature’s slow release fertilizer.
Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plants to root in this environment with better access to nutrients, water and oxygen. Humus also helps to filter toxic chemicals from soil, much like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water.

I recommend that you go on line to Scientific Herbicide to check out the dangers of Round up. This is the most dangerous herbicide not only because of Glyphosate, which has been on the list as a chelating agent that causes cancer but also because of the inert ingredients. I ask that you are not swayed by the word ‘inert’ as the ingredients are anything but inert and those ingredients combined with Glyphosate are deadly to human cells. 

BEES – Bees pollinate over 70% of the Worlds food and are being exterminated by the bee-killing neonicotinoid insectides manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta and used by Monsanto to coat their genetically engineered seeds, which are causing the deaths of bees.
NEWS FLASH – good news – the European Union has banned insecticides to protect both wild and commercial honeybees that are vital to crop pollination. 
This victory belongs to millions of people in every E.U. country who pressured decision makers to heed the warnings of scientists that these insecticides are causing the massive die-offs of bees.   
We need to do the same in the U.S. !
Neonicotinoids now join the list of more than 80 pesticides that are banned in the E.U. but are allowed in the U.S. 
The United States needs to listen up: Bees can’t live with neonics and we can’t live without bees! Please sign any petition to see to ban bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides in the U.S.!

Forsythia is in bloom, lovely fresh yellow blossoms.  If the bloom on your shrub is not as prolific as in previous years, prune out the old sparse wood after bloom ends.  

A favorite native tree the Serviceberry tree, with its creamy panicle blooms, followed by small green leaves and within weeks, red fruit, and a delicious menu for our feathered friends. Before the birds eat all the fruit, pick some to make
a delicious jelly for your morning toast.  

Here in my town of Old Lyme, the Magnolias, Cherries and Eastern Redbud are vying with one another to show their finery, which are followed by the graceful Dogwoods.  Following the recent rains many of these trees are blooming at the same time or within a few weeks of one another. Their bloom will soon be over but we can look forward to rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurel into June. 

The Carlesii viburnum (also known as Korean Spice) is showing pink buds, opening to white flowers; their fragrance fills the air outside my patio door. 

Covering the barn wall and scrambling up to the barn roof is my climbing hydrangea – bright green leaves emerging with hundreds of buds indicating that this beautiful climber will be laden with blossoms in summer. 
Tulips, creeping phlox, forget-me-nots, primroses and candytuft are bringing much needed color to borders and rock gardens. 

PRUNING ROSES - You can still prune your roses into mid May.  Remove the old mulch from around the base of the roses and in two weeks apply decomposed manure about six inches from the trunk of the plant. Then a week later reapply a layer of the brown natural mulch on top of the composted manure. As well as building the humus component, these layers keep the roots cool, keep weeds at bay and help retain moisture. Do not mulch right up against the base of any plants as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the plants. 

MULCH - With regard to different mulches – only use the natural brown mulch of natural non-colored wood; do not use the colored mulches, which contain chemicals, and no rubber mulch. 

** Note -A special word of caution on Cocoa Mulch. This product is highly toxic to dogs and cats.  This product is manufactured by Hershey and sold in many large garden centers.  It is made from the residue of chocolate products and others ingredients and contains a lethal ingredient that has resulted in the reported deaths of a number of cats and dogs that are attracted by the chocolate odor. It contains Theobromine, which is a Xanthine compound similar to the effects of caffeine and theophyliline.  The symptoms are seizures and death within hours.   

Beware of fungi that look like weird mushrooms in your mulch; this is a sign of Artillery fungus and can stick and invade the walls of your home and cause problems.  If you notice this fungus, you will need to remove all the mulch and get it off your property. 

Apply lime and composted manure around the lilacs, they like sweeter alkaline soil, thus the lime. By this time you may have already applied lime to the grass, which also enjoys sweeter soil and organic grub control to kill the Japanese beetle larvae and offer less food for moles. 

If you are making an organic vegetable garden this year, a garden measuring 16 x 24 can feed a family of four for a year, but keep the size within your needs and capability.  Don’t work the soil if it is too wet or too dry.  
Double digging is the best way to go; it takes time and effort but its well worth it – dig down about one foot and remove the top soil, put to one side, then dig down and loosen the next six inches of soil and add about three inches of composted manure then put back the top soil and add another three to four inches of manure.  
Do not rototill, as this will destroy soil structure. The gently loosened, aerated fertile soil will give excellent yield of fruits and vegetables in the garden. 
I prefer 6 x 4ft beds rather than rows; beds produce a larger yield of crops. In addition beds make for ease of weeding and harvesting by having narrow compacted soil or grass paths (having removed lawn from the area) in-between the beds. 

The vegetable garden should be situated on the south or southwest side of the property for maximum sun exposure. 
Make sure you remove as many weeds as possible, by hand before you even begin digging.  
You need a water source close by as vegetables require lots of water, particularly annual fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, which are hydroponics which means they are (mostly water). 
Rotate crops, by that I mean, do not plant the same vegetables in the same place as the previous year.  With this method you are breaking up and thus preventing any soil born diseases.    

In the loosened soil, plant the vegetables plants so that they are touching, this forms a natural canopy, shading out weeds and helps retain moisture. 
I prefer to mulch the vegetable garden with composted manure, manure, as mulch, does not cap. Capping is when mulch forms a crust, which does not allow water or air to penetrate to the roots of the plants.

Fence in the vegetable garden with a tall fence to keep animals out. At the base of the fence install eight inches of fine mesh chicken wire above ground and eight inches below ground to keep out the digging and burrowing animals. 
For more information on vegetable gardens check the website and in the search box enter ‘vegetable gardens’; this will show three articles I wrote on the care of vegetable gardening through the season. 

Repel INSECTS naturally -  insects do not like fragrant plants therefore I suggest that you plant marigolds, nasturtium, lavender, nepeta and honeysuckle, roses and other fragrant plants that you enjoy. 
Encourage lacewings, which feed on aphids by planting marigolds and sunflowers,

Attract ground beetles by laying a log or a rock on the earth, under which the beetles can hide. These useful insects are nocturnal and eat slug and snail eggs, cabbage maggots, cutworms and even climb trees to feed on armyworms and tent caterpillars.  
Aphid tip: squish a few in your hand; dead aphids release a chemical that causes other aphids to drop off the plants. 
Another ants and aphids tip – if you drink mint tea, any leftover sprinkle on the bugs, as they do not like the odor of mint.  
Or spray a mixture of white vinegar and water on ants.
Around the foundation of my home I scatter orange and lemon peels, which keep insects out of the house.
A word of caution on mint – plant mint only in containers, mint is tremendously invasive and can take over your garden.

GRASS is becoming a vibrant shade of green. When mowing keep the blades of grass at about three inches; the taller blades attracts sunlight, to promote a healthier lawn. The taller blades also shade out weeds and help to retain moisture in the grass.   

After mowing, leave grass clippings on the lawn, the clippings are a natural source of nitrogen. If you have clover in the grass, clover is an added benefit as clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, additional nutrients for plant growth.

After flowering is over, prune flowering shrubs by 25% - do this task immediately before new buds set for next year. 

On a rainy day go shopping for any garden supplies that may be needed, then   when the weather is dry you can be outdoors doing what you love and not indoors shopping.  Buy good hoses, cheap ones will bend and crack.  

Peonies need plenty of water to produce flower buds.  I have a thirty-foot long stand of Peonies in my field. The Peonies have been in the ground for over forty years and are a sight to behold when in bloom.  I give them lots of loving care with a light dressing of aged manure, in April.  In a few weeks I will pinch off the side buds while they are still small, leaving the terminal flower bud on each stalk, which will develop into a large main bloom.

 Hydrangeas are a wetland plant and require plenty of water to bloom. Also put plenty of manure and mulch around the base. If you have blue Hydrangeas and want a deeper color of blue, add some peat around the base of the plant also.  

PRUNING HYDRANGEAS - If you need to prune a Hydrangea, which has become too large then prune it immediately after flowering, in September by about 1/3 of the old wood and prune out the weakest shoots. DO NOT DELAY, as Hydrangeas begin to develop bloom buds for next year by mid September.  If you wait to prune you will not have bloom for next year. 

My maternal grandmother’s favorite bloom, the Lily of the Valley soon will bloom tucked under the boxwood hedge on the north east side of the farmhouse near the front door. I love the delicate white flowers and fresh unique fragrance.  

When the lilacs have finished blooming, pinch off the withered flower clusters, do the same on the mountain laurel in late June and rhododendrons to ensure good blossoms next year. 

In mid May apply composted manure, a light application of peat and fine bark mulch around the evergreens; rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these plants are shallow rooted and the mulch will keep the roots protected, warm and moist. 

Some annual seeds that may be planted outside in mid May are: 
Calendula, Coreopsis, Marigold, Nasturtium, Nicotiana and Zinnia.  

If you purchase annuals, on Mother’s Day weekend hopefully you will come down to the shore to THE DUCK RIVER GARDEN CLUB PLANT SALE on Halls Road in Old Lyme, on Friday May 11th from 12noon –to 7 and on Saturday from 9 to 1 pm. Then place them in a sheltered spot on the south side of your home and plant them no earlier than Memorial weekend. 

Tuberous-rooted begonias, caladiums, cannas and elephant ears can be moved from porch or cold frame to a part shade area as the weather becomes warmer and there is no sign of frost in the forecast.   

If you staked trees, when they were planted last year, cut the stakes off at ground level do not pull them out of the roots as you could damage the root system.

When planting annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees, shrubs or evergreen keep them watered but not drowned.   

Houseplants can be moved outdoors for their summer sojourn at the end of May.  However, do not put your African violets outdoors as they will burn, move them to a porch that is covered and shaded, or keep them indoors in a window that does not receive direct rays from the sun.

Wait until the soil warms up at the end of May to set out Dahlia tubers.  

Roses are not the troublesome creatures you have been led to believe.  I like David Austin roses; these shrub roses are repeat bloomers with lovely fragrances.  Roses need at least four hours of sun per day, good air circulation, and excellent drainage.  During their growing period from the beginning of June to mid August; add more composted manure each month; it may be applied over the mulch.  Stop adding the manure in August so that the roses can go into a slow dormancy. 
Roses like the same growing conditions as Clematis and look great together, with feet in the shade and head in the sun. Before you top up the soil around the roses, add water and check if the soil drains, roses need good drainage.  Deep watering is recommended at least once a week. 

Plenty of stuff to keep you hopping folks and remember to keep your eye out for any pest trouble and when you spot it get on the ball immediately to avoid further problems.   Discard carefully all herbicides and pesticides; these poisons have the same effect as second hand smoke.  
Your garden offers an anchor for peace and quiet enjoyment.  Enjoy the warmth, the gentle breeze, the earth’s fragrance and bloom and please drink water to hydrate, stretch before you garden and breathe deeply.