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What to do in the garden in May & June

May and June Garden tasks make way for summer beauty and delicious edibles in the garden.

MULCHING TREES & SHRUBS
According to the International Society of Arboriculture, mulching, when done correctly, is one of the most beneficial practices a homeowner can do for the health of trees. However, there is a right and a wrong way to mulch.

Go organic. Organic mulches such as wood chips, shredded leaves, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, or compost are the best choices. These materials decompose over time, improving soil quality. 

Mulch out, not up. Mulch no deeper than two to four inches. Mulch less if the soil is poorly drained or if you are using a finely textured mulch. Avoid “mulch volcanoes,” which occur when mulch is extended up the trunk, giving the appearance of a volcano cone. Deep mulching like this may suppress the weeds, but it is extremely harmful to the plant.

Back away from the trunk. Keep all mulch away from the trunk of the tree, allowing the root flare to show just above ground level.

Mulch to the drip line if possible. Mulch out as far as possible, preferably to the outermost edge of the tree’s canopy of newly planted trees. It’s especially important to keep grass (and mowers) away from the trunks of young trees. 

Your goal with mulch is to always keep the trunk dry and the roots moist. You will protect your landscape investment, and the trees will love you for it! 

WEED CONTROL
Weed control is a challenge for all home gardeners. Knowing what kinds of weeds, you have in your garden is helpful for their management.  Annuals, like crabgrass, and perennials, like dandelions, do not spread. The whole weed, including roots, can be physically removed. Spreading perennials are the hardest garden weeds to control. They spread by creeping stems or underground roots. Bishop’s weed and quack grass, for example, are notoriously hard to get rid of and can be invasive.

The best weed control practice is to stay ahead of the growth. Weed early in the season when weeds just begin to show and before they flower. Physically remove the whole weed, roots included. It is easiest to weed when the soil is moist. For spreading perennials, remove as much of the plant as possible. Attempts to completely remove their root system is a big challenge. A chemical approach for spreading perennials may be considered. If a gardener chooses to use an herbicide, it is important to follow directions on the label. Herbicides do not know the difference between a weed or prized plant!  Actively growing perennial weeds are easier to kill. Please remember to use herbicides judiciously and follow the product label.

Staying ahead of your weeds, early physical removal of weeds, and mulching are good weed control practices. If you prevent weeds from going to seed, you will need to weed less often. Then you can spend your time enjoying your beautiful, weed-free gardens.

PERENNIALS
Spring is the best time to consider adding perennials to your garden. Spring’s cooler temperatures, dependable rainfall, and gentle sunlight ensure perennials get a great start. You can purchase perennials as potted plants and/or as bare roots from local garden centers and online sources. Planting for each is slightly different and is highlighted below.

Bare-root forms. Bare root plants are dormant—essentially roots with some top growth. They don’t look like much but are a great option if you are on a budget, since they are less expensive to buy and/or have shipped. They are normally packaged in sawdust or wood shavings, so the roots stay moist. When you receive them, make sure to place the roots in a pail of water for one to two hours to hydrate them. After being hydrated they are ready for planting in a garden. Dig a hole wider than the root mass. Make a mound of soil in the center of the bottom of the hole to support the roots; spread the roots around that mound so the crown is at the same level as the top of the soil. Backfill with soil and water well.

Potted forms. Potted perennials can be found in different size containers. Smaller sizes will be less expensive. To plant in a garden bed, first dig a hole the same depth as the container, but at least twice as wide as it is deep. Next, loosen the soil in the hole to make it easier for the roots to spread. Grab the plant by the crown, not by the foliage tips, and gently take it out of the container. Loosen the roots with your fingers. The plant should be at the same level as the surface of the soil. Backfill and water well.

There are a few exceptions to placing the plant crown at soil level. Peonies should be planted just an inch or two below the surface, hostas can go a few inches below the surface, and bearded iris rhizomes should sit on the soil’s surface. 

For the most floriferous peonies—and plenty for cutting—make sure not to plant the fleshy roots too deep

VEGETABLES
May is a good time to prepare your garden soil for planting. It’s good practice to test your soil pH every three years. Soil pH test measures the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Most vegetables grow best in soils with a pH range of 6.2 -6.8. Check with your local Cooperative Extension about getting a soil pH test. Dairy One Cooperative, in Ithaca, offers nutrient analysis soil testing for garden and lawn, including pH, for a fee. Visit dairyone.com/ or call your local Extension for guidance.

Before you start planting, feed your soil by adding compost to the garden bed. This will add to the soil nutrients, soil structure and help to retain soil moisture. Make sure you rotate your crops year to year to help reduce disease and insect issues.

Do your homework before you set out to plant seeds and transplants. Consider the last frost date in spring. Make sure to follow directions on the plant labels. Cool-seasoned crops can be sown from several weeks to a couple of months before the last frost date. Vegetable planting guides can aid a gardener in the proper timing to plant cool and warm season vegetables. Check out Cornell’s Garden Based Learning website: https://gardening.cals.cornell.edu/

—Polly Angerosa, Rosanne Loparco, and Holly Wise, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County Master Gardener volunteers.

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