Holly Wise

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 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.


Almanac: November-December 2018

by cathym on November 25, 2018

What To Do in the Garden in November & December

Multiflora rose

The deciduous trees have lost their leaves, gardens are being put to bed, and winter is not far behind.

Adding a few inches of shredded leaves or compost to your garden beds before the ground freezes will aid in your garden’s health providing better soil structure and more nutrients. Incorporate the organic matter into the vegetable garden now or wait until spring to work it into the beds.

Reduce the possibility of pest problems this winter by raking fallen leaves away from the foundation of the house, making it less desirable for mice to take up residence there or find their way inside your home through small openings.

Now that the outdoor garden chores are done, keep garden tools at peak performance. Clean, oil, repair broken handles and sharpen blades. After sharpening or removing rust be sure to wipe tools with mineral oil to keep it at bay.

There’s nothing like bringing in the outdoors for the holidays. Now’s the time to gather grape vine, pine cones, wild rose hips, seedpods, twigs, winterberries, dried flower heads, and more. You can use them au naturel or spray paint seedpods, flower heads, pine cones, etc., to add color and glitz to your arrangements and wreaths.

Black chokeberry (Aronia

Some annuals are happy overwintering in pots. Great choices are geraniums, gerbera daisies and Coleus, to name a few. Place in a sunny window or under artificial lighting and water when dry. You may need to pinch back growth if they get leggy and do remove any yellowing leaves. Fertilize lightly with a liquid fertilizer once a month. The flowering plants will brighten up your winter with colorful blooms.

Enjoy using fresh culinary herbs (such as basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc.) in your cooking during the holiday and winter season. Transplant from the outside into 4- to 6- inch pots or purchase from a garden center. Place on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights.

Add blooming fragrance to a home and/or office this winter with paperwhites. You can find them in local garden centers or purchase them through catalogs. They look nice nestled among decorative stones in a shallow container. Place bulbs with their points facing up and make sure to keep them watered. Plant in early November to have blooms 6 weeks later.

Cutting pine, fir and spruce boughs to decorate your home for the holidays adds fragrance and color to mantels and centerpieces. Keep in mind that not all evergreens are created equal. Consider using white pine, Fraser fir, cedar, or juniper, to name a few. Remember that cut boughs mean running sap that can damage clothes and furniture, so be aware. Homes that burn wood or have fireplaces will tend to dry fresh greens more quickly, so keep them away from heat sources.

In New York State, Christmas trees are divided into two main groups: the short-needled spruces and firs and the long-needled pines. The ideal Christmas tree has good needle-holding ability, attractive color, a full or bushy appearance, a conical symmetrical shape, a pleasing fragrance, and branches sturdy enough to hold ornaments and gifts. Make sure to purchase a fresh tree and keep it watered. Spruces tend to drop their needles readily when they eventually dry out, while firs and pines often hold onto their needles.

Poinsettias add color and freshness to your holiday décor. Unfortunately, these plants have gotten a bad rap about being poisonous if eaten. The truth is they are nontoxic and will only cause an upset stomach if eaten but it is still a good idea to keep them away from chewing pets and toddlers. If you have cats that love to chew your plants, then you may want to skip the poinsettias altogether.

Wow your holiday guests with simple but elegant table displays. Fill sparkling glass containers one-third of the way with water, float fresh cranberries, and add sprigs of winter berries, wild rose hips, pine, spruce, boxwood, juniper or any evergreen available. Consider larger, lower containers to add a large burning candle to the center.

Spruce up your holiday banquet table by adding depth and natural decor. Use rocks with a flat surface, small slabs of cut wood, or anything you can use on top or under your table covering to add depth. Add a variety of evergreen sprigs, berries, seed pods, and dried flower heads to give your buffet an alfresco air. Use elevated sections to hold hot or cold dishes, add string of twinkle lights intertwined and voila!

Consider adding warmth and freshness indoors with a terrarium of succulents. Using a large glass Container, layer the bottom with colorful stones for a drainage area, add a nice layer of soil and then a variety of succulents now readily available at your local stores and garden centers.

It’s best not to add a lid as succulents tend to enjoy it a bit drier—think more desert-like, where they depend on moisture from the soil, not the air. Add interest by robbing your fairy garden stash of gnomes and other tiny garden figures.

—Holly Wise, horticulturalist, and Linda Wimmer, Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County


May is here; air and soil temperatures are warming back up after bouts of winter-like freezing weather in April. Gardeners will enjoy spending time tending to their landscapes. Below I have highlighted some gardening /landscape tasks for May and June.

As gardeners, we should be aware that the tick population is on the rise. We should take steps to reduce tick bites and the spread of Lyme disease. Cornell Cooperative Extension has created brochures and fact sheets to help you, your children, and pets to minimizing interactions with these pests while outdoors. Find the brochure titled Ticks, Create a Tick Safe Zone at cceonondaga.org/environment/invasive-nuisance-species/terrestrial-animals/ticks. One can reduce tick populations in the landscape by creating buffers, fencing off ornamental and vegetable beds, detaining rodents, and mulching. Take action now to help safeguard your gardening and outdoor experiences this season.


Mowing your lawn, make sure mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Lawn Care

Cornell University Department of Horticulture Turfgrass has booklets and video that can be downloaded to help guide lawn care. The site address is hort.cornell.edu/turf.

Now is a good time to repair the bare lawn spots from winter’s wear and tear. Select grass seed from the kind you already have growing. Consider the location; sun and shade grass varieties are available. Make sure to water what you have seeded. Irrigate in the morning hours.

Does your lawn need fertilizing? Did you test your soil to see how much phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizer your lawn needs? Lawns should have a pH in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Check with your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Office to see if these tests are offered. If your lawn falls below or above these soil pH ranges, add either lime or sulfur to bring the pH to the proper range. Follow the instructions given from the pH test.

The ideal time to fertilize grass is when it is actively growing, usually the end of May to beginning of June or around Labor Day in September.

Make sure your mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Tree & Shrubs

Spring flowering deciduous shrubs produce blooms on last season’s growth. These shrubs should be pruned after the flower blooms are spent. Pruning by pinching off or cutting will help boast next year’s flower production and adds to the shaping of the shrub. Lilacs, spireas, rhododendrons and azaleas are a few of these shrubs that benefit from pruning in the spring.

Needled evergreens such as yews, hemlocks, pines and arborvitaes can be trimmed and shaped in May. Just snip off the tips of soft new growth which will help promote compact bushy growth.

Flowers and Vegetables

Leave the foliage of spring flowering bulbs growing until it turns yellow; nutrients are going back into the bulbs. In early June, dig up tulip bulbs. Clean off the soil and make sure the bulbs are dry before placing them in storage (cool, dry and a dark location) until fall planting. Other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus can be moved to a new location after they have bloomed and the foliage has past.

Cool season annuals and vegetables seeds can be sown directly in the ground or transplanted in the soil or in containers.  Make sure to harden off transplants before transplanting. It is better to transplant on a cloudy day.

Many folks plant their dahlias, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants over Memorial Day Weekend or early June. These are considered tender annual flowers and vegetables. Usually by those dates we are safe from a frost here in Central and Western NY. Be cautious. They may need to be covered if a frost is predicted later than those planting dates.

May and June is a good time to plant perennial plants. Be sure to follow the plant labels for placement in your garden.

A good guide for growing vegetables in the home garden can be found at Cornell Garden Based website at blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/vegetables/. You can also rate the vegetables that they grow by participating in Cornell’s Citizen Science Vegetable Varieties program. For more information on rating the vegetables that you grow check out the website at vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu.

— Holly Wise, Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County Consumer Horticulture Resource Educator