What to do in the garden in May & June

by cathym on May 14, 2021

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

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 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.

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

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 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:

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


What to do in the garden in November & December

by cathym on November 2, 2020

It seems that gardening is never finished, but would we want it to be any different? 

Protect carrots and other root crops, such as parsnips. with straw to keep the ground around them from freezing. After mowing your lawn for the last time, have blades cleaned and sharpened now for a head start on spring. Drain and store garden hoses and turn off outside water spigots. If you haven’t cleaned your garden tools, do it now. Don’t forget to disinfect and sharpen your tools as well. Sharpened pruners, hoes and shovels make work much easier next spring.

Finish any necessary garden cleanup you still haven’t completed. Be sure to remove and discard any plant material that was diseased. Leave up perennial seed heads up to become nature’s bird feeders. Leave hollow stemmed plants to act as winter homes for overwintering insects.

You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes so hurry up as time is awastin’.

If you’ve moved or planted any trees, shrubs, or perennials they will need adequate moisture. Water deeply anytime there is less than one inch of rain per week, until the soil reaches 40 degrees F.

Protect plants from winter and critter damage. Continue watering until the earth freezes. Once the soil is frozen put protective mulch over tender perennials and shrubs. Discarded pine boughs or mulched leaves make good mulches. Use burlap or shrub coats to protect susceptible shrubs from winter wind and deer damage. If you have critter problems now is the time to erect fencing and other barriers. The trunks of young trees can be wrapped with trunk wraps or chicken wire to protect them from the nibbling of mice and rabbits and rubbing by deer. Be sure the protection goes high enough so critters don’t sit on top of the snow to browse. Plan to keep off frozen grass to prevent soil compaction and poor drainage.

Erect teepees to protect foundation plants from breakage when snow and ice slip off the roof.

Keep removing weeds (burdock for example…yikes!) as long as you can see them…otherwise they will have a head start next spring!

To reduce the amount of water that broad-leafed evergreens like rhododendrons lose during the winter, you can spray the foliage with a wax-forming antidesiccant or erect barriers against the wind to prevent “windburn,” a form of desiccation.

Got outdoor fish? Use netting to prevent leaves from falling in and depleting oxygen.

Do you have grafted roses? If you didn’t mulch over the graft union get out there and do it now!

Roses can bloom well into November, but make sure to mulch above the union of grafted plants. Photo by Jane Milliman

Mound five to six inches of soil around the bases of roses to protect them from a freeze-thaw cycle which is harmful. Use soil from another part of the garden so you don’t damage the roots of your roses by digging near them.

Check stored firewood for insect infestations. Remember not to use or move firewood from out of your area to help prevent the spread of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and Spotted Lanternfly.

Have a broom ready to knock snow off plants before it freezes and causes damage.

Houseplants need a winter rest, too. Reduce the fertilization of most indoor plants from late October to mid-March. An exception might be plants under grow lights.

Keep your houseplants on the dry side to discourage fungus gnat larvae from devouring the roots. Watering from the bottom helps. Watch for insects or disease and take appropriate action before they spread.

Water house plants with tepid water. How would you like a cold bath?

Move most houseplants away from very cold windows to avoid damage. Begonias seem to like cool windows, though.

Continue to add kitchen plant scraps to the compost bin. 

Be sure to remove foil or other wrapping from around the pots of plants you may receive as gifts so proper drainage can occur.

Plant amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs now. Paperwhites can go into your compost after blooming. Amaryllis flowers can be cut off after blooming is complete. Keep the plants in light and watered so the leaves can refurbish the bulb. Keep leaves growing until the leaves die down on their own. They will begin regrowth when they are ready to bloom again.

Select poinsettias with green leaves and colorful bracts. Keep in bright light away from pets, children, drafts, and direct heat. 

Start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus (or Easter or Thanksgiving). Make a cutting with four or five joints. Let dry for about three days. Insert the basal end into a pot of dampened vermiculite. Place in a brightly lit area. Rooting should occur in three to four weeks.

When selecting a live Christmas tree, check the needles. You should be able to bend them. If they snap the tree is too dry. Try lifting the tree a few inches and bringing it down on the stump. Some inside needles may fall but outer needles should not drop off. Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk to prevent the formation of a seal which prevents the tree from taking up water, and immediately place it in water. If you plan to have a live tree for the holidays, dig the hole for the tree now before the ground freezes. It’s best to only keep the potted tree inside for one week then plant it outside.

Feed the birds sunflower and black nyjer seeds. Be sure to keep feeders clean and dry to promote bird health rather than bird disease.

Use hairspray on seed heads and dried flowers in wreaths or other displays.

Give gardening hints to family and friends so they buy you gardening gifts (or buy them for both friends and yourself). Ideas: books, clippers, butterfly kits, mason bee homes, terrariums, orchids, perhaps beekeeping equipment.

Purchase gifts at local nurseries and garden-related not-for-profits like the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Give others as well as yourself memberships in the Botanical Gardens, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces, or Reinstein Woods.

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County


What to do in the garden in September & October

by cathym on September 11, 2020

Hips on Rosa rugosa

Continue to deadhead some perennials and annuals to keep them blooming, others to avoid self-sowing. You may want to leave seedheads for the birds on plants like echinacea. 

Stop deadheading most roses. This will allow them to start transitioning to winter. Rosehips are an added bonus with some kinds of roses.

Keep container plants watered and fertilized.

Evergreens, including conifers, should be planted by mid-September to allow them plenty of time to root. The newly planted broadleaf evergreens will need winter protection from sun and wind. Continue to water all newly planted woody plants. Ten to fifteen gallons of water is needed weekly when rainfall is less than one inch. 

Protect tree trunks from buck rub as soon as possible.

Plan to protect woody plants from browsing by deer, rabbits and rodents. The bark and the buds on the branches are all susceptible.

Bearded irises should have been divided and/or planted last month but if you do so in September, place a stone or brick on top of the rhizome to prevent winter heaving (this tip courtesy of the Southern Tier Iris Society).

Keep water gardens full. Continue to prevent mosquito development. Use mosquito dunks if necessary—these contain a type of natural Bt that kills mosquito larvae.

September is the best time to renovate or install a lawn. Cooler weather and hopefully more moisture allow better germination and growth of the grass seedlings. Mowing the lawn as high as possible results in a healthier lawn with deeper roots more tolerant of drought and denser turf that will prevent germination of some weed seeds. 

Now is a good time to move spring-blooming bulbs if you can locate them. Many will already have roots so don’t let them dry out.

Photograph your garden and make notes of needed changes. I put notes on next year’s calendar so I don’t forget what I wanted to do next April or May.

Now is a good time to plant hardy perennials and woody plants. Keep them watered to encourage rooting.

Narcissus is best planted in September after the soil has cooled a little. Delicate bulbs such as fritillaria and trout lilies should be planted as soon as you get them. Winter aconite tubers and Anemone blanda tubers should be soaked in lukewarm water for several hours before planting. This is very effective for A. blanda, less so for winter aconites, which are best propagated by seed.

Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a good money saver if it has been well cared for. Score the rootball of pot-bound plants with vertical cuts to ensure root growth into the surrounding soil. If rain is insufficient, water weekly. Continue watering until the ground freezes.

Check viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) adults, especially if the shrubs were defoliated by the larvae. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail, if it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Snip off and destroy the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs.  

It is too late to fertilize woody plants, as doing so may encourage tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter.

It is also too late to prune woody plants, except for dead or diseased wood. Be especially mindful not to prune spring-blooming shrubs that have already formed next spring’s flower buds, such as forsythia.

Bring in poinsettias and Christmas cacti to get them adapted to indoor conditions. Start exposing them to long nights (short days) for flower buds to set. After checking for insects, bring in houseplants before nights cool off too much outside and heating systems start operating. 

Consider having windowsill herbs for winter use. You may pot up small ones or take cuttings—basil, sage, rosemary (especially susceptible to drying out in my experience) are some of the possibilities. Chives are a hardy perennial; pot them up and bring them inside in late fall.

If you live in a cold site, you may want to dig tender bulbs such as dahlias, tuberous begonias, and cannas before the frost hits. This winter I am planning to keep canna ‘Stuttgart’ growing on a windowsill. Cannas do not need a rest period.  Gladioli seem to be marginally hardy even in my cold site. One has persisted and bloomed for three years outdoors now, and others survived last winter, but may not bloom this year. I may leave them all in the ground and see what happens!

You should already have harvested garlic.

Keep up with weeding! If you can’t remove all the weeds right away, at least don’t let them go to seed.

Renew the mulch in your veggie garden or consider planting hardy cover crops to improve the soil.

Pick fall raspberries every day, especially if the weather is wet or humid. If raspberries or other soft fruits look moist or misshapen, check for the maggots of the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly. Destroy all the bad fruit. If a lot of fruit has been set, you can then use row cover to keep the fruit flies out, but this will also prevent further pollination. Also look out for the brown marmorated stink bug. 

Keep harvesting veggies and herbs and continue to water if it is dry.

If you garden in a cold site, start watching for frost after October 1 be prepared.  (The average first frost in zones 5 and 6 is in mid-October.) 

Now is a good time to do a soil test and make pH amendments as needed but wait until spring to apply fertilizer.

Continue to water newly planted woodies. You can continue to plant hardy perennials and woody plants such as tall phlox, hostas and lilacs. The shallow-rooted perennials such as Heuchera should have been planted earlier.

This is the best time to move peonies. Normally, they don’t need to be moved or divided unless they are growing in too much shade. It may take a couple of years for them to recover after dividing or moving. Do not plant them too deeply; doing so may cause them not to bloom.

Continue to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Tulips can be planted last. Many spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant, such as alliums, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflake, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, puschkinia, fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage but even when it’s browsed it doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Cut off all the peony foliage down to the ground to remove botrytis spores.

Some perennials can be cut back now for the winter, if the foliage has senesced already.  Leave stalks of natives in place in case beneficial insects use them for overwintering.  Also, do not trim back the stalks of certain plants that overwinter better with the protection of the old stalks. This group includes mums, lavender, culinary sage, Kniphofia and butterfly bush.

Late in the month, look for spring bulbs on sale. Consider forcing some: daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and smaller bulbs like Siberian squill all force well. Tulips can be forced, too, but they require a longer rooting period and stronger light in the foliage-growing stage or they will be leggy and floppy.

Listen to the fall forecasts and be prepared to protect tender plants from an early frost with old sheets, towels, etc., as we frequently get a couple weeks of nice weather afterwards. Otherwise, when frost is predicted, do a quick harvest to get produce indoors.

Mid to late October is the best time to plant garlic. Be sure to rotate garlic; pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. I mulch it with a couple inches of woodchips to give it plenty of time to root but preferably not to sprout.

Remove all the brown asparagus ferns to reduce the number of overwintering asparagus beetles.

Continue weeding, watering and mulching as needed.

— Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners