Regional Gardening Guide - Zone 9-10
May 1 to May 31-- Discover what you should be doing right now. Our experts share gardening advice, techniques, news, and ideas to make your garden the best ever.
Here’s what’s happening in your gardening region:
Though it’s technically only spring, it’s time to start planting for summer. Continue nurturing existing warm-season plantings, but plan on replacing them with hot-season vegetables like eggplant, sweet potato, hot peppers, cowpeas and yardlong beans. Gardens will likely need extra water this month, so make sure that you’ve set up drip irrigation in your vegetable beds for dry spells. There’s a lot to do out there this month, so get started early in the morning for a cooler, more enjoyable garden experience.
Your Regional reporter
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.
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1. Learn to Grow Eggplant.
Now is the time to start planting eggplants, and if you haven’t already become acquainted with its tender, meaty texture, it’s about time you taste the homegrown difference. When it comes to growing the perfect eggplant, consistency is the key. Continue watering eggplants thoroughly on hot days, as short periods of dryness will damage the developing fruits. Amend the soil with lots of well-rotted compost before planting and continue to fertilize heavily (according to package instructions) throughout the growing season.
2. Bring Drama to Summer Beds.
Here in the lower latitudes of the United States, the sun sits higher in the sky and bears straight down on our gardens for most of the day, makes them look washed out and forbidding until sunset. Since the intense sun makes it difficult to catch small changes between tones, you’ll have to bring in some contrast. To bring interest to even the most blindingly hot summer scenes, place flowers with saturated colors against plants with nearly black foliage, such as Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’, black elephant ear (Alocasia plumbea nigra) and Dahlia ‘Mystic Spirit’. The dark purple and bronze leaves create shadows within the shadows, visually cooling the garden and drawing attention to shady areas.
3. Learn to Garden in Dry Spells.
Drought can easily sneak up on you this month, especially as the days get hotter and small showers trick us into thinking the garden is getting enough water. It’s crucial that you keep developing vegetables watered nonstop during these hot, drying days, so take preventative steps to keep the soil from drying out. Lay down mulch around your vegetables if you haven’t already, and consider adding a little shade to vegetables that look parched and stressed from getting too much sun. Remember, full sun down here is more extreme than it is up north. Install soaker hoses and drip irrigation in your vegetable beds and set them on a timer so that you never have to worry about forgetting to water them. Lastly, give special attention to new seedlings and transplants, as their limited root systems can’t absorb as much water and quickly dry out on hot, sunny days.
4. Plant a Hummingbird Garden.
Before you replace that tacky plastic hummingbird feeder with a slightly newer model, plant annuals, perennials and vines that produce tons of nectar without the sticky mess. ‘Hot Lips’ salvia is a favorite with the hummers for its shapeshifting blooms that are sometimes white, and other times deep pink. Cuphea flowers are also good choices because in addition to their hummingbird-friendly flower structures, they hail from Central and South America, which is precisely where hummingbirds reside in winter. Cypress vine is a fast-growing vine that will readily climb bushes and poles to cover them with red trumpet-shaped blooms and feathery foliage, but be sure to plant this one in containers as it can be a tad invasive in our warm climate.
5. Plant these Summer Vegetables Now.
Existing plantings of warm-season vegetables will still produce for a while if you keep them watered and fed, but don’t bother planting any more of those tomatoes or squashes until summer is nearly over. Now is really the time to be planting hot season vegetables like sweet potatoes, okra, hot peppers and cowpeas, as they’ll thrive in heat all summer long. Here are some varieties to look for on the Burpee website: A dwarf okra called ‘Baby Bubba’ that’s perfect for small gardens and containers, a thin-walled ‘hot’ pepper called ‘Salsa Delight Hybrid’ that’s milder than other hot peppers and an early-yielding eggplant hybrid called ‘Patio Baby’ that produces prolifically on small plants.