May is a great month for gardeners, as the temperatures are still moderate before the extended heat of the summer is upon us. With that said, it’s time to get outside and do something to make your garden its best this year.
April this year provided fairly frequent rains that kept the landscape happy, but if a dry period sets in it might be necessary to irrigate your lawn. Remember to follow your water management district guidelines, which are a maximum of two days a week, with Wednesdays and Saturdays for homes with odd-numbered addresses and Thursdays and Sundays for homes with even addresses. This restriction is in place throughout Daylight Savings Time and is further restricted to one day a week during the winter. There should be no watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and morning applications are best.
Make sure the rain sensor attached to your irrigation system is functioning properly. This will shut down your irrigation if water is present and save you money. Additionally, keep an eye on your plants for signs of drought before watering. Grass blades will begin to fold and silver, and a footprint in the turf will persist if water is needed.
As your grass grows, you will need to mow it but there are some tips to ensure that your grass will thrive. First of all, make sure your mower blades stay sharp and are properly adjusted. Research has shown that dull mower blades can lead to disease and less drought tolerance in turf. Also, mow the grass high, with St. Augustinegrass being cut no less than 3 1/2 inches tall. But don’t wait too long between mowings; each cutting should take off no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade and if you are irrigating and fertilizing your turf, this will be fairly frequent.
April 15 is the date at which you can begin fertilizing your lawn, but you will likely not need another application until mid-summer or September if you used a product containing slow-release nitrogen. A soil test will help determine what is present in your lawn areas and allow you to make informed decisions about its management. Too much fertilizer is often very damaging as it runs off into local waterways and down into the aquifer and even helps create thatch, which is where the dreaded chinch bug loves to live.
Many of your vegetables in the garden are likely reaching their peak time of production in May, but so are the pests that damage them. If you see damaged or rotting leaves or fruit, remove from the garden and discard them. Also, water can spread disease, so work with vegetables with dry hands and keep irrigation off of the fruits and foliage. If you need any issues identified, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
“June Drop,” which is when fruit trees rid themselves of excess fruit they cannot support, often happens in May in citrus and peaches. There is not much to prevent this except to keep the tree properly fertilized, planted in the proper location, and irrigated as necessary. Also, pollination can play a role, so if your tree wasn’t visited by bees and other pollinators, you may see a higher number of fruit drop.
Once the flowers are gone, it is time to prune your azaleas for the year. Make cuts to improve the structure and size of the shrubs and, like most species, frequent hedging will leave you with a less dense plant with very few blooms. Azaleas bloom on older growth so do not prune after July 4 so you get a good display in the fall or spring.
If you are establishing new plants this spring in your landscape, be sure to provide enough water for them to thrive. New plantings require much more water than needed and this includes drought-tolerant species. Water around 2-3 times as needed when the weather is dry for the first few months. After becoming established, the plants can be cared for as their species requires with many not needing much supplemental irrigation or fertilizer.
WHAT TO PLANT IN APRIL
Vegetables: Lima beans, eggplant, okra and sweet potatoes.
Annuals: Calliopsis, celosia, coleus, crossandra, exacum, gaillardia, gazania, hollyhock, impatiens, kalanchoe, marigold, nicotiana, ornamental pepper, pentas, periwinkle, portulaca, salvia, thunbergia, torenia, verbena and zinnia.
Bulbs, tubers or rhizomes: Alstroemeria, Aztec lily, begonia, blood lily, caladium, kaffir lily, walking iris, African lily, spider lily and tiger flower.
Wayne Hobbs is an extension agent in environmental horticulture for Clay County.