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:
Forget ‘spring fever’, here in zones 9-10 the month of May is really the beginning of summer. The pests are building their numbers to feast on your vegetable garden and those of us in Florida are experiencing the customary spring dry spell. Despite all of that, it’s a great time to be in the garden because there are still enough cool hours in the morning and evening to get things done, and torrential downpours are less likely to wash away your new plantings. Get all of your hot-season vegetable plantings out of the way now for a leisurely summer spent enjoying the view and harvesting peppers, okra, soybeans and yardlong beans. But before you stick a pitchfork in the garden and call it ‘done’, properly prepare it for the hot months ahead with better soil, better mulch and better pest-prevention.
Your Regional reporter
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.
To see what Steve's doing in his garden. Click Here!
1. Get to Know your Soil.
The key to a happy and healthy garden is the ground beneath your feet, so protect and improve your garden’s greatest asset by gardening organically and meeting its specific needs. To find that out, send a soil sample to your extension office for an analysis. The results will help you choose the best plants or the necessary amendments for your soil. Whatever soil you start out with, enrich and enhance it with plenty of organic matter like composted manure or well-rotted compost made from garden clippings and kitchen scraps. Not only does compost feed the plants – it improves the soil structure for healthier root systems. Earthworms are a built-in improver because they aerate the soil and improve it with their rich castings. Harness their power by vermicomposting with the Worm Factory 360; a composter that allows you to watch the worms do their magic with ordinary kitchen scraps in as little as a few weeks.
2. Grow your Own Mulch.
Yes, you read correctly. Not only is the bagged stuff expensive, it locks up nutrients in the soil as it decomposes - and If the mulch is made of cypress or other wood products, that can take a very long time. One alternative is to create a living mulch by growing plants that shade the soil. Any fast-growing and easily removed annual will work to an extent, but legumes like peas and beans are nitrogen-fixers as well and can actually improve the soil. Plant soybeans for a summer cover crop or living mulch between other plantings to prevent weeds from sprouting, and compost or till back into the soil at the end of the season. In the meantime, you’ll get to enjoy eating edamame from the immature pods. The other way to grow your own mulch is to use plants whose clippings make good mulch. Lemongrass is ideal because they it’s fragrant and regrows quickly once the stalks have been cut.
3. Troubleshoot the Vegetable Garden.
If it seems as if the plants in your garden are dying for no reason, rest assured that there is always a reason hiding right in plain sight. Whether it’s cutworms or blossom end rot, identifying the issue quickly can prevent damage to the other plants in your garden. Identify the symptom first: Are the leaves yellowed or parched, or are do they have obvious bite marks? Then, look for pests that may have caused the damage. Spidermites and thrips are too small to be seen by the naked eye, but you can usually find their droppings by shaking leaves over a white sheet of paper. Big pieces missing from your leaves indicate that something large is eating them up. Look for caterpillars hiding camouflaged either on the stems, leaf undersides, or even on the ground. Sometimes the plant’s conditions are causing the problems, so ensure that they are receiving appropriate sunlight, drainage, moisture, ventilation and fertilizer. Bacterial diseases are identified by sunken, black patches, or even fuzz on the foliage, but they can be prevented by providing ventilation and keeping the leaves dry. Viruses are unfortunately impossible to treat. If the plant has streaked, distorted and yellowed leaves, and lacks overall vigor, destroy the plant and start over. Here are a few articles with more specific advice to help you identify and deal with plant problems.
4. Plant Vines for Instant Gratification.
Love them or loathe them, vines can accomplish a lot. They grow quickly to hide eyesores or provide privacy, and give even the youngest garden a feeling of established greenery. Morning glories, cypress vine and Thunbergia attract pollinators to their colorful blooms by day, and nighttime is brightened by the white and fragrant dinnerplate blossoms of the moonflower. While not necessarily as flashy, edible vines like yardlong beans, indeterminate tomatoes, peas and cucumbers are capable of producing plenty of produce in a very small space. Insert a trellis in a large pot and allow vines to ramble to the top for a quick and portable privacy screen, or cover up that chain link fence with flowering vines for a riot of color.
5. Patrol the Veggie Bed for Pests.
Don’t let your guard down if the spring vegetable garden is going off without a hitch. In the hot, dry days of mid-spring, pests arrive out of thin air to munch on the fruits of your labor. Don’t reach for the pesticides though. You can usually prevent serious damage by handpicking whatever lubber grasshoppers or armyworms you spot, and can even repel insects with a spray of hot pepper wax. It’s barely hot to humans and is easily washed off at harvest. Some pests, such as aphids, mealybugs, spider mites and whiteflies, are too small and prolific to reliably control by hand. Spray infested plants with Earth Tone Insecticidal Soap and wipe away your worries with a paper towel. Cucumber beetles can be seriously bad news for your cucumber crop, so trap them by hanging yellow sticky traps and replacing them every month.