Monthly Garden Calendar for Northern Tier United States

Organic Gardening Month-to-Month Almanac

By Debby Flowers

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MAY

May is my favorite time of year. Spring flowers such as lilacs, daffodils, and peonies are exquisite, delighting the eye and the nose. These lovely blooms put smiles on many faces, and brighten our homes when brought indoors to enjoy. There is much for us to do this month, and since we've been waiting all winter, it is a pleasure to get outside.

Fertilize Your Lawn. Wait until you've mowed your lawn a time or two to fertilize. Organic fertilizers are becoming more available these days. Corn gluten meal is a 10% nitrogen product that has the added benefit of being a natural pre-emergence herbicide.

Perennial Pleasures. I like to divide most of my perennial flowers in the spring. As soon as the new growth is a couple of inches high, dig the clump and pull or cut it apart. Be sure to amend the planting hole with plenty of compost when replanting. Do not divide or transplant peonies at this time.

Special Delivery. It's fun to get plants by mail order, but sometimes they come at the worst time; like just after a spring snowfall, or before you've dug that new bed. Just pot them up in some of the nursery pots that seem to accumulate and multiply out in the tool shed.

Baby Food. Seedlings do not need a great deal of fertilizer. Weak compost tea, or 1/4 strength diluted fish emulsion is enough.

Plant Preparation. Give pumpkins, winter squash, melons and cucumbers a head start by planting them indoors about three weeks before planting out time. I use peat pots, as their roots do not like a lot of handling. They may not be in a warm enough place if it seems to be taking them too long to germinate (more that a week).

Toughen Up. Seedlings that you've grown yourself or purchased should be hardened off, which means gradually introducing them to outdoor conditions. If you have a cold frame, your seedlings can go outside early this month, but if not, about two weeks before your planting out date, start taking your little plants outside for "field trips". At first only an hour or so is enough, but gradually lengthen the time that they are out.

Sow Smart. Sow spring vegetables such as lettuce and spinach at intervals of one or two weeks for a nice continuous harvest.

Keep Compost in Check. Has your compost pile thawed out yet? A good way to turn your pile is to make a new pile next to the old one. Hopefully you'll have some good finished compost in there. I like to screen my compost. A compost screen is easy to built using scraps of lumber and 1/2 inch hardware cloth (available at the hardware store). Mine fits snuggly on the top of my wheelbarrow.

Please Your Peonies. Put support in now while they are still small. Peony rings can be purchased, but I use cut down tomato cages—they are too flimsy for tomatoes anyway. Use wire cutters to shorten them. Cut open the circles and bend them out into a C shape. Two or three can go around a peony.

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