Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Stagger plants in flower garden


As everyone knows, "April showers bring May flowers." I suppose we could amend that adage to include early May showers. Nevertheless, there'll be more than enough May flowers to feed our enthusiasm for flower gardening.

It's that enthusiasm that also prompts gardeners in droves to rush to their favorite garden center to buy more flowering plants this month. And what do we tend to buy? May bloomers, that is, plants that flower in May, not the baggy under garments. That's okay, but we should be giving some thought to the rest of the year. A flower garden with only May bloomers can look like baggy under garments come summer time. So, try to look beyond the plants now in flower and consider also those that will provide June, July, August and September flowers following May showers.

Some long-blooming, sun-loving perennials for summer flowering include pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria), threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), violet sage (Salvia x sylvestris), and Shasta daisy.

The to-do list

Hopefully, there'll be enough of a lull in the parade of showers to allow us to cross these items off the "to-do" list:

• Begin a routine of frequent tours around your gardens and landscapes to inspect plants for pests and diseases. Early attention to problems is the best way to ensure survival of plants.

• Prune out the dead (browned) shoots of junipers. Some of this damage may have been due to winter desiccation but it could also be due to the disease, juniper blight. Make pruning cuts a couple of inches beyond the dead area.

• Make a sowing of bush beans, but don't plant the entire seed packet. Plan to make additional sowings at two to three week intervals. Planting your entire supply of bean seeds at once results in bean overload, typically denoted by comments such as, "Not beans again!"

• Start weeding the vegetable garden and keep after it. Vegetable crops do not tolerate competition from weeds very well. This is especially true of shallow rooted crops such as onions.

• Check houseplants for signs of spider mites. Stippling and faded color on leaves and the appearance of fine webbing at the base of leaves are typical signs. Treat infested plants with insecticidal soap as directed on the product label.

What is soil pH?

While most gardeners appreciate the need to provide supplemental nutrients in the form of fertilizer for healthy growth of plants, the role of soil pH is less understood. Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.

Soil with a pH of 7 is considered neutral, that is, neither acid nor alkaline, whereas a pH of less than 7 indicates acidic conditions and soil with pH over 7 is alkaline.

Soil pH is important because it affects the availability of plant nutrients in soil. In soils too acidic or too alkaline, these nutrients are in forms which plant roots cannot absorb. This, in turn, leads to nutrient deficiencies and poor plant growth.

For lawns, vegetables and most herbaceous plants, a pH between 6 and 7 is ideal. However, there are plants, such as blueberries and rhododendrons, which prefer acidic soils between pH 4.5 and 5.

How do you know what your soil pH is? Have the soil tested. You can send soil samples to University Soils Lab or you can bring samples to soil testing clinics set up by local organizations. One such clinic, organized by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association (WMMGA), will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 21, at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough. For information on how to collect your soil samples, go to


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