Pentas are excellent flowers to use in sunny areas. They will last until winter cold arrives again. (Photo: David W. Marshall)
This is a wonderful time of year for adding plants to your garden. To ensure success, the first step is selecting the right plants for the site.
That is where knowledgeable Extension agents, landscape consultants, and garden center personnel can be a tremendous help. But let us talk a little about the following steps that you will need to take once you get the plants home.
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If you select the right plants for the site, you probably will not need any soil amendments. But, you do need to plant properly. This means using a shovel, not post-hole diggers, to dig a hole two to three times as wide as the pot diameter.
However, don’t dig the hole any deeper than the root-ball of the plant. In fact, even if you leave the plant half an inch higher than the surrounding soil, it is better than planting it too deep, which can suffocate some roots and cause damage to the trunk.
Do not worry about fertilizing the plants at planting time. Give them a month or so to start getting established before applying fertilizer. Remember, though, that the plants only have a very limited root system now and were probably being watered daily in the nursery.
Start with water and mulch
So, you will need to water them every other day or so for the first couple of months except when there is ample rain.
This doesn’t mean just turning on a sprinkler system. It means using a hose and water directed right over the root-balls of the plants. That puts the water right where it is needed and will encourage the plants to send roots out into the surrounding soil, provided you dug a wide planting hole.
One other thing that many people forget to do when adding new plants is applying mulch around them. The most common mulch is pine straw, but a two-to-three-inch layer of pine straw does a good job of helping conserve the moisture you’re applying, keeping rainfall from compacting the soil or washing it away, and slowing down the sprouting of weeds around the plants.
A generous diameter of mulch also helps reduce the chance of damage from operators of mowers and string trimmers who may tend to get too close to the plants.
Pruning and mowing season
You may have pruned landscape plants earlier in the spring. But you may find that you need to do some additional pruning now and there is no problem in doing so at this time. Prune as needed to reduce size, increase compactness, or just to generally shape plants as desired.
As we are about to get into the heart of the new mowing season, take time to periodically remove and sharpen mower blades. It is best to have your own sharpener at home so you can do this often. But if you do not, there are equipment and repair shops which can do the sharpening for you.
A dull blade gives a ragged lawn mowing. Do not forget to perform other maintenance service on your mower such as changing the oil and changing the air filter. As you mow, be careful about not mowing too low and putting additional stress on the grass, particularly in areas where the grass may already be under stress, such as in shaded areas or areas of high traffic.
If you do have problem areas, though, this is an excellent time to buy grass plugs or pieces of sod to fill in areas of the lawn.
Fertilizing and fire ants
This spring has been somewhat cool, so if you still have not fertilized the lawn yet, take time to do it now. A good general-purpose fertilizer for our area is 15-0-15 or similar no-phosphorus fertilizer which has half of its nitrogen in a slow-release form.
This same fertilizer can also be used as needed on shrubs, trees, and even in the vegetable garden unless you have had a soil test showing a need for additional phosphorus. Of course, if you choose to use a combination fertilizer/weedkiller on the lawn, don’t use it around your other plants.
Another task you may have delayed because of the cool spring is broadcasting fire ant bait over your landscape. If you broadcast a fire ant bait, you can obtain almost complete prevention of new fire ant mounds in your yard until the fall, when you will need to broadcast it again.
Be sure to follow label directions carefully. The rates applied are very low and you don’t want to needlessly apply more than needed. You will need a small, inexpensive hand spreader, not a lawn fertilizer spreader, to apply the bait.
Zinnia, coleus and pentas
Summer is not far away, so as you plant for color now, it’s best to select plants that will live on through the summer heat. Some smaller, more compact colorful plants for sunny areas are torenia, Sunpatiens, Melampodium, narrow-leaf zinnia, coleus, croton, and pentas.
If you have plenty of room in sunny areas for some larger perennials, firebush, plumbago, and firecracker plant are among good choices. For moderately shaded areas variegated shell ginger, caladiums, and coleus can add a lot of color with their foliage.
Hydrangeas will be flowering soon and are a good shrub choice for areas of your landscape that receive some afternoon shade. Also, the burgundy-leafed, lower-growing loropetalums such as ‘Purple Diamond’ and ‘Crimson Fire’, are colorful shrubs for sunny areas.
Crape myrtle flowering season is just around the corner, too. If you’re selecting new ones to plant, consider the mature height and spread of the plant and make sure you select a variety that won’t outgrow the site. You should not have to prune a crape myrtle to keep it at the desired height.
There are shrub-sized and patio-sized crape myrtles if that is what you need. The garden center personnel should be able to help you find the appropriate variety if you tell them your needs.
Now is a good time to start ornamental grasses and groundcovers. There are those such as Mondo grass and liriope that will do well in the shade, and others such as Dianella, lomandra, muhly grass, and ornamental peanut for the sun.
This is the time to plant citrus, so that they have a long growing season to establish before next winter. Blueberries, figs, and blackberries ripen in late spring to summer and can also be planted now.
Fertilize vegetable plants that you planted in March or April. You can also still plant heat-tolerant vegetables such as okra, eggplant, peppers, Lima beans, southern peas, and sweet potatoes, as well as herbs such as basil, fennel, and rosemary.
David W. Marshall is a landscape consultant with Tallahassee Nurseries and an Extension Agent Emeritus with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.
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