University City

Time to transition from spring veggies to summer crops

Spring vegetables are at their prime in May. Be sure to pick regularly, and err on the side of impatience with spinach, Asian and American greens, and lettuces: Pluck them before heat makes them bolt or get bitter.

When you harvest cool-season crops, especially leafed veggies, keep them cool. Wash them quickly in the sink and put them straight into the fridge.

If you haven’t done so yet, thin such root crops as carrots, beets and radishes. Spacing at least 4 to 6 inches apart will give you bigger veggies.

No need to cling: Summer crops need space in the garden. Out with the old (into the cooking pot or compost bin) and in with the new.

If you have not done so already, start a spring compost bin for all your finished spring crops and flowers. They are not “trash,” but a source of recycled nutrients for soil.

You can sow green beans, Southern peas (black-eyed, crowder and others), cantaloupe, squash, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, okra, tropical greens and basil; transplant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

In late May or early June, once soils are nice and warm, plant sweet potato starts. If you have the space, you can also sow another round of sweet corn.

May also is time for planting annual flowers like asters, cleome, coreopsis, cosmos, flowering tobacco, globe amaranth, marigold, petunia, sunflower, tithonia (“Mexican sunflower”) and zinnias. Impulse-buy if you must – we all do it – but be careful about sun versus shade lovers. Most impatiens, for example, need shady conditions.

Put down a soil-cooling layer of mulch around vegetables and annual flowers, no deeper than an inch or two. Chopped leaves are fine for this purpose. Some gardeners put a layer of newspaper (another use for the Observer) down first to discourage germinating weed seedlings.

Prune azaleas and other spring-flowering woody shrubs shortly after they have flowered, giving them ample time to recover and generate flowers for next spring.

Feed roses this month with a suitable natural fertilizer, unless you are happy with chemically-dependent roses. This is also a good time to root softwood cuttings of old-fashioned heirloom roses.

Monitor roses and all your plants for pests. With warm weather, watch for vine borers on squash, cucumber beetles, azalea lace bugs, scale and – everywhere, it seems – slugs and aphids.

Speaking of chemical dependency, pest management is a good place to start kicking that expensive habit. Instead, look for less-damaging but effective alternatives to solving and preventing problems.

Take aphids, for instance. Poison sprays, including some labeled “organic,” may do more harm to the aphid’s natural enemies, such as ladybugs, than to the pest itself. Try this: Wash the aphids off the affected plant with a strong jet of water every few days to keep their numbers down until aphid lions move in to feast. Also, do not overdo nitrogen fertilizer, which can stimulate the fleshy and watery growth aphids seem to prefer.

Buying a bag of ladybugs (for sale online and at environmentally minded garden centers) is fun and does no harm, but might not help much: Ladybugs will simply fly away. Instead, plant a bed of flowers, ideally an “insectary mix” that’s designed to provide habitat for beneficial insects. That will help maintain a resident yard guard that can naturally leap, hop and crawl into action to help keep pest numbers in balance.

As the weather heats up, be sure to stay cool, wear a hat and and drink lots of fluids.

Also keep an eye out for poison ivy. If planning to dig it out by hand, be very careful. If using glyphosate (sold under the brand name Roundup), follow the directions exactly.

Be aware that emerging evidence suggests Roundup may not be as harmless as manufacturers would have consumers believe, and, most of all, use common sense. If the wind is blowing, the best choice is to spray another day. Whether or not it has negative effects on the environment or human health, Roundup can be deadly to your favorite rose or your neighbor’s organic vegetables.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Don? Email him at unicity3@gmail.


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With May, the warmth of Charlotte’s summer starts building, with days growing longer and hotter. El Nino conditions are now noted in the Pacific, with a chance for above-average temperature and rainfall in parts of the Southeast, though Charlotte may well see average conditions. Sunrise at the beginning of the month is about 6:30 a.m., with sundown at about 8:10 p.m. (131/2 hours of daylight); by the end of the month, sunrise is about 6:10 a.m. and sundown shortly after 8:30 p.m. (14 hours 20 minutes of daylight). Average high temperature is about 79 F, with the average low about 56 F. Normally, we get about 3.19 inches of total precipitation. The moon is full May 3 and new May 18.