2007-05-31 / Editorial

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Ooh, my aching back! Saturday and Sunday last weekend were so nice that I planted more than a hundred seedlings, several boxes of dahlia tubers, gladioli corms, many other flowers and squash grown from seed. Now I'm paying for it. This is the time of year when the garden takes up all of every gardener's spare time. There's so much to do now that old man winter has gone and it seems like we've leapt directly into summer.

Weeding is a big chore at this time of year, but mulching can help eliminate a lot of weeding and keep the ground moist for the summer drought, which is sure to come. Use pine bark mulch (available from Dave Ruggieri, Hopedale Trucking, 294-4032 or call his cell, 265-4489) around rhododendrons and other shrubs. Use unsprayed lawn clippings, leaves, compost or coconut husks on your vegetable beds. And use Dave's shredded mulch on flower beds. It'll rot faster than pine bark and is not as acidic.

In the Vegetable Garden

Harvest early peas, asparagus, chives, sorrel and freeze for later use. Plant out tomatoes, peppers, squash, and just about everything else. No point in holding back anymore, just go for it! When planting tomatoes, dig a deep hole and bury them up to the first set of leaves. The buried stem will root and give your tomatoes a great start. Do not bury peppers and squash lower than they are in the pot. Shelter peppers and squash from any strong or cold winds should they occur. Right now the plants will not grow much at the top, but they'll be setting roots and getting ready for a growth spurt when it gets above 55 degrees overnight.

Sow carrots, parsnips, beets, and other root crops directly into the ground. Beets and carrots do not like to be transplanted. Mulch around garlic, leeks, and onions. You may find that it is difficult to get onions to form large bulbs in Rhode Island. That's because they tend to start forming bulbs when they get around fourteen hours of daylight. Here in RI we start to get fourteen hours of daylight right around now, so whatever onions you put in want to grow a bulb without getting large enough. The answer is to either buy onion sets, or start your onions from seed and grow them to pencil thickness before planting out.

In the Flower Garden

As we say every year, deadhead daffodils and tulips, but do not cut the leaves for at least another month. Feed with an all purpose fertilizer to give the bulbs a chance to store energy for next year's flowers. If you haven't already done so, plant dahlia tubers, gladioli corms, Crocosmia, and other flower seedlings. Make sure that flower beds are mulched and weeded regularly to ensure that your flowers do not have to compete with weeds. Feed large clumps of plants, such as hostas, with compost or fertilizer to ensure their long-term viability.

Shrubs and Bushes

If you wish to prune back your rhododendrons, now is the perfect time to do it. By pruning them back right after they have flowered, you give the branches time to form new buds for next year's flowers. Wait for a couple more weeks to give new growth a chance to harden before pruning privet and other hedges.

Soft Fruit

You might want to apply bird netting to keep birds and squirrels from your blueberries, red and black currants, and elderberries. Otherwise a light feeding with fertilizer should do fine for now. Harvest strawberries and rhubarb as soon as they grow large enough.

Fruit Trees

Organic treatment - Spray with fungicide (Bordeaux mixture) as soon as 90 percent of the blossoms have dropped. Two weeks later spray with dormant oil to keep insects under control. Non-organic control - Spray with orchard spray mixture as soon as blossoms have dropped. Spray early in the morning to avoid killing bees. Mulch out to the drip line to allow you to mow around the trees easily and keep the soil moist.


If you haven't done so, fertilize your lawn now to get the grass growing well. Cut it high so that the soil will be sheltered and will crowd out weeds. Spot spray dandelions and other weeds, but if your neighbor has dandelions, you will too.

In The Greenhouse

Time to get everything out of the heated greenhouse and embark on your summer maintenance program. With everything outdoors, clean the greenhouse with a solution of bleach and water and then clean the glass. Leave windows and doors open and repaint as necessary. In a cold greenhouse, move brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc) and other plants into the regular garden. Don't plant brassicas next to onions, they don't like it and don't grow well. Put your melons, tomatoes, and peppers into the greenhouse after the beds have been dug over and topped up with compost and manure.

Indoor Plants

Take your indoor plants outdoors and put them in a shaded location. Do not put them in direct sunlight. They've been in the shade of your home and cannot tolerate direct sunlight yet. You will probably burn the leaves if you put them in direct sunlight. Knock each plant out of its pot and see if it needs repotting. Roots going around the base of the inside of the pot are a good sign that the plant needs repotting. Remember to keep your indoor plants well watered after you've put them out, they'll dry out fast outdoors. If you can't move indoor plants, feed them with a liquid fertilizer to help them cope with spring growth.

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