Landscaping with Trees and Other May Gardening Tips For The North East

From May to Memorial Day, May is a month for planting. By the end of this month, most crops, even tender tomatoes and peppers, can be planted, except in the very coldest parts of Vermont and northern New York and New England.

If you are new to gardening, it’s best to follow the instructions on the seed packages or in gardening guides carefully. The general rule of thumb is to plant each seed about two times deeper than its width or diameter.

Plant root crops (carrots, beets, parsnips, onions), Cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), lettuce, spinach, and herbs early in the month. Wait until Memorial Day or later to set out transplants and plant the rest of your vegetables and annuals.

Have hot caps or plastic tarps ready in case of late frost. Arbor Day falls on the first Friday of the month, but you don’t really need a reason to plant a few trees in your yard. Just be sure to select varieties that do well in your locale.

First, dig the hole. Do this prior to unwrapping or uncovering the roots to prevent them from drying out. For balled, burlapped, and container plants, dig the hole twice as wide as the container or root ball and no deeper than the tree was grown at the nursery.

To prepare a good planting soil for backfill around the roots, remove any large clumps that will not break apart into a loose, friable soil. It’s best not to amend the backfill soil too heavily. Choose the plant to fit the site rather than amend the site for the plant.

Add a source of phosphorus for root growth, such as rock phosphate or superphosphate. If using bone meal, be aware that it will attract skunks and rodents.

For container plants, carefully remove the container before planting. For balled and burlapped plants, place the root ball in the hole before unwrapping. The top of the root ball should be level with the soil surface. Refill the hole, gently tamping the soil around the plant. Water thoroughly, then mulch with two or three inches of straw, bark chips, or other organic matter.

To attract birds to your property, landscape with trees that meet one or more of the basic needs of birds – food, cover, or nesting site. Crabapples, especially small-fruited varieties, offer both protection and nesting spots. The fruit is a favorite winter food for birds.

Several species of evergreens also provide good cover year-round and food (from the cones) in winter. The whitish fruits of the red-stemmed dogwood have been found to attract more than 100 species of song and game birds. The latter is a medium-sized shrub that is often used in mass plantings. For other ideas, ask the experts at your local nursery.

Early May is a good time to fertilize lawns and reseed bare patches. To determine how much fertilizer and lime to apply, have your soil tested.

Buy a fertilizer that’s specifically mixed for use on lawns. These generally have a higher ratio of nitrogen than other types of garden fertilizers.

To reseed bare spots, choose a grass seed mix suitable for northern climates, one containing Kentucky bluegrass, red fescue, and perennial ryegrass, for example. Don’t be taken in by those ads for zoysia grass that promise a thick, lush lawn. Zoysia and other warm-season grasses just don’t grow well here.

Other activities for May: take a hike to enjoy the spring wildflowers, prune lilacs and crabapples after bloom; design a rock garden.

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