Monday is Cinco de Mayo, a fiesta celebrating the defeat of a French invasion force by badly outnumbered Mexican soldiers near the town of Puebla in 1862.
For gardeners, Cinco de Mayo’s lesson is clear: Even when we fight against overwhelming odds, facing aphids, cankerworms, slugs and fire ants – not to mention all the weeds – we must never give up hope. ¡Viva!
The answer is not poisonous chemicals, either. At Puebla, the French had far more advanced weapons and technology. The sustainable garden path is inspired by those Mexican patriots: faith, persistence and knowledge of the terrain.
The better we understand the ecology of our yards and community, the more successful we will be. ¡Viva!
A signature Mexican-American holiday, Cinco de Mayo has implications for all Americans, not just gardeners.
If the Mexicans had not sent Emperor Napoleon III packing, he might have thrown French support behind the Confederacy, potentially changing the course of the American Civil War, which had yet to reach its crucial turning points at the time.
For a lasting tribute, patriotic gardeners can plant a Cinco de Mayo rose, from Park Seed, just down the road in Hodges, S.C., a trusted source of seeds and plants in our region for 147 years. This rose is a short-statured Floribunda rose covered with flowers in what is described as “a conflagration of festive colors.”
If an excuse for a gardening break (and a good party) is more your style, there’s the Fanta Cinco de Mayo celebration from noon to 8 p.m. May 4 on U.S. 29 in Concord, across from Charlotte Motor Speedway at the Route 29 Pavilion. The event is free and sponsored by the Latin American Coalition.
In the May garden, there is a lot of work to do. Temperatures will be headed up as the month goes on, so drink lots of water and pace yourself. Also, fair warning: Check yourself after gardening – the ticks are out (maybe starting off with a party is a good idea.)
Overall plan: This month, with the exception of summer vegetables and annual flowers, the focus of gardening moves from planting to maintenance.
May is a good time to get into a rhythm of keeping weeds under control, plants watered and lawns mowed (another reason to shrink that lawn). If you find an incredible buy on a choice shrub, you can still put it in, but you will need to water and care for it religiously over the hot summer.
Food crops: Like the dropping of the checkered flag at the Speedway, you are now free to plant warm-season crops, from green beans to zucchini.
Peppers are a standout in our area for edible landscaping (as well as for guacamole and other Cinco de Mayo dishes). Banana peppers are the easiest for beginners to grow, highly reliable and productive in both mild and hot versions (Don’t mix them up!).
Meanwhile, harvest and care for your cool-season crops planted in March and April, including lettuce, broccoli, root vegetables, greens and peas. A covering of straw or leaf mulch helps keep them happy by keeping soil cool.
Pick the veggies regularly, and be ready to say goodbye when they finish producing or when they are no longer worth eating. Replace them with warm-season veggies or flowers, or buckwheat or another cover crop to feed the soil.
Such old-fashioned flowers as cosmos, cleome, zinnias and even smaller sunflowers can be hard to find, but they are a delightful addition to any garden. One easy option is to sow them directly from seed, available online. “Benary” zinnias do well here, with good mildew resistance.
Lawn care: Lawns of both fescue and Bermuda grass (and its cousins) need regular mowing this month. Keeping lawns taller (especially fescue) helps shade out weeds.
Grasscycling (not bagging clippings, but letting them compost on the lawn) works beautifully for both kinds of grasses, cuts waste and builds soil.
Compost to feed the soil, a garden to feed the body and ¡Viva Cinco de Mayo! too. Sounds like the ideal way to welcome May. ¡Viva!
I hope many readers were able to join Sunday’s inspiring Can You Dig It community garden tour. My article about the tour gave incorrect information about the 8th Street Garden featured on the tour.
The 8th Street Garden is joint project of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and Trinity Episcopal School. St. Peter’s Episcopal, at North Tryon and 7th streets uptown, also hosts a wonderful music program.
In fact, at noon May 5, the church will host a rousing free concert, “Free the Spirit, Feed the Soul,” featuring conductor David Tang, the vocal ensemble VOX and guest artists.