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Ann Wright: It’s May in the garden

As spring temperatures heat up and occasional dry winds blow, there are lots of things to do in the garden during May and early June. Importantly, check that irrigation systems are in the most efficient working order, and not over-running the garden boundary. Ensure micro drippers are functioning properly as well. Also, provide some extra water to container plants during these warm, windy days.

Consider sizing-up your planting areas to determine the hottest areas and those that have more shade. As seasons change, the angle and intensity of shade will change – daily, and seasonally. Finding plants that thrive in shady or partial shade areas of the yard means that the gardener has studied the area in terms of sunlight. The dense, totally shaded area under a deck or patio is much different than an area in an open field receiving full sun all day. Likewise, areas under the canopy of shade trees will have different needs as well. Assess the amount of shade early in the season. Some shade trees allow more sun to understory plants early in the season, and as the canopy grows the shade may increase to more full shade. Spindly, non-flowering branches will often result from too much shade.

In general, a full shade area receives less than 2 hours of sunlight during the day. These areas of dense shade may lie under the canopies of evergreens or tightly spaced shrubs where no light is able to penetrate the growing area. It’s a cooling shade, but also a challenge to find things that bloom. Partially shaded areas receive between 2 and 6 hours of light at some point during the day, with shade for the remainder of the day. Woodland areas may have dappled, or filtered shade where sunlight is filtered through branches. By contrast, an area with full sun receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. Keep in mind that the sun’s intensity is also a factor. Full, direct sun at noon on a hot August day will be more intense than morning or evening sun.



In selecting plants for a shaded garden, choose plants with similar light requirements. When making purchases of new plants check the label for references to the light requirements for the plant. Tags may list a single light requirement, such as “full sun” or “partial shade,” but what does it mean when there are a couple of descriptions? For example, if the label indicates, “sun- part shade” what does that plant need? Typically, the first word in the description is the preferred location for the plant, meaning the plant will grow best in full sun but will tolerate some shade.

There are a number of plants that do well in shade, including annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Some are flowering such as blue hydrangea, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Plants for shade can be selected based on foliage color, and texture; some can grow in containers. Some make good cuttings for indoor arrangements.



Speaking of cutting flowers – if a cutting garden is on your radar this growing season, join the Master Gardeners of Nevada County for a new workshop, “Planning a Year-Round (Almost) Cutting Flower Garden” on Saturday, June 4, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Demonstration Garden Pavilion on NID grounds, 1036 W. Main St., Grass Valley. The presentation will include a discussion of the best plants to grow here in Nevada County for cut flowers, almost year-round. You’ll learn about including flowers, bulbs, flowering trees, evergreens and herbs in flower arrangements. Also: We will have some flowering plants for sale that day, including dahlias, which are spectacular cut flowers!

In addition to assessing irrigation systems and garden light, other garden tips for May include:

• Keeping the continued drought in mind, and with consistently dry hot summers, consider what plants you really want to add to the garden. To help conserve water, a most precious resource, think about waiting until fall to add flowering shrubs, water wise plants, or scale back now on vegetable gardens, lawns and other thirsty plants.

• Harden off any transplants ready for planting in vegetable gardens – move them outside gradually over a week to 10 days for longer periods of sunlight. When the soil is warm and nights are consistently above 50, plant heat-loving plants.

• When soil temperatures reach 75, sow seeds of beans, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, pumpkin and squash. A soil thermometer is a very valuable tool and can be purchased at local nurseries.

• Remove spent flowers from roses, rhododendrons, annuals, and perennials. Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as lilac, mock orange and spirea after blooms fade. Remove suckers from rootstocks of roses and fruit trees.

• Remove foliage from spent flowering bulbs only after the foliage is brown-dry. (Energy is stored in the bulb to trigger the plant to push out new growth and blooms – allow them to die off naturally and leave spent foliage to nourish the bulb for next season.)

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

Spring flowers for a cutting garden.
Photo by Patricia Wolfe, Master Gardener
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