Gardening Tips for May in the Texas Coastal Bend

By Kitty Angell
Aransas/San Patricio County Master Gardener

It seems like spring made a quick visit to the Coastal Bend and then summer came with bags packed, planning to stay awhile! To lessen heat stress on plants, replenish mulch in flower and vegetable beds. A thick layer of mulch will deter weeds, keep the soil moist and moderate the soil temperature. If you are using coarse mulch, around six inches is needed. The rule of thumb is that ‘the coarser the material, the deeper the mulch’. You only need around two inches with fine mulch.

Other unwanted guests have shown up early, due to the fact that we’ve had such a mild winter. Spider mites and aphids are especially troublesome at this time. Many pests can be washed off with a blast of water from the hose. Scale can be controlled with horticultural oil- light weight summer oil. Neem oil, which has fungicidal as well as insecticidal properties, can be used on powdery mildew, aphids, mites, whiteflies, beetles and scale. To combat thrips, spray with spinosad. When using spinosad, spray very early or late, when bees are not active. Only use pesticides when you have a problem. Most insects (97%) are either beneficial or cause no damage.
Asclepias Curassavica / Mexican Milkweed

Dr. Doug Welch of Texas A&M University says the number one mistake made by gardeners is over-watering. Practice “tough love” and wait until you can see your footprints on the grass before watering. One inch of water a week is enough. You can also top dress your lawns with ¼ to ½ inch compost to help lessen irrigation.

Frequent mowing and infrequent watering is the key to a healthy lawn. Leave St. Augustine lawns at least 3 inches long (4 inches in the shade). The longer grass blade will promote root growth deeper in the soil. Sharpen the mower blade monthly so that a clean cut of the grass blade is obtained.

Set out summer blooming transplants of annual flowers such as: cosmos, portulaca, angelonia (summer snapdragon), vinca (periwinkle), and cleome. For shady areas use impatiens, coleus, begonias and pentas. Cut off the flowers of the transplants when you plant them so that the energy goes into root development first. Flowers will follow. Pinch back asters, chrysanthemums and poinsettias to encourage branching.

Direct seed zinnia and sunflower this month. You can also try this with morning glory, portulaca, marigold, and cosmos as well. Also, May is a good month to choose daylilies (Hemerocallis) in bloom. Look for varieties that are resistant to daylily rust. Puccinia hemerocallidis is a fungus that was introduced to our country in the year 2000. It is easily diagnosed as the foliage is ugly and has visible red-brown spores of the fungus. Dr. Larry Barnes, a retired plant pathologist with Texas A&M University suggests cutting back the foliage and spraying with Neem oil to control rust. Make sure that the Neem Oil gets down into the crown of the plant. He adds that several applications are necessary and it is important to remove the diseased foliage from the garden and into the trash.

Vegetables to plant include okra, southern peas, sweet potatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, cantaloupe and watermelon. Summer and winter squash and peppers can be planted, but get them in as soon as possible. Side dress tomato plants with a slow release fertilizer. Continue to foliar feed them weekly. When tomato fruit is marble size, apply a light application of nitrogen. Pick tomatoes when the first blush of pink appears. They will ripen indoors and be safe from birds and animals. For plants with unusual foliage, try red-leaf basil such as ‘Red Rubin’ or ‘Purple Ruffles.’

If you are planting a garden to attract butterflies, remember to plant host plants for the larva or caterpillar stage of the butterfly. These caterpillars are voracious eaters and will consume the leaves of the host plant, but most plants recover. Some common host plants for butterflies include milkweed for Monarch and Queen Butterflies; carrot, dill, Queen Anne’s lace and parsley for Black Swallowtail; citrus for Giant Swallowtail; red bay and sassafras for Palamedes Swallowtail; passionflower species for Gulf Fritillary and Julia; and Aristolochia (Dutchman’s Pipe) for Pipevine Swallowtail .

Lastly, it’s time to prune climbing roses as they finish their spring bloom. Remove any dead or weak canes. Train the canes horizontally so that the rose will produce more blooms. Remember to deadhead repeat blooming roses throughout the growing season.

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