May gardening frenzy begins

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

May is such a busy month in the garden you hardly need reminders of what to do. Just walk outside and you’ll be overwhelmed at all that needs to be done in your yard and garden this time of year. At least we are getting fairly consistent rain showers in Southern Oklahoma. The horrible, no good, very bad freezes that caused lots of plant damage are finally (fingers crossed) over, and it hasn’t gone from winter straight to summer, yet. We’re still playing the waiting game to see which plants survived the winter and which ones are just being slow to recover. I lost plants to the freezes this winter that I thought for sure would be safe, and plants I thought would be goners for sure, like May Night Salvia and bronze fennel, made it through the winter and look happy and healthy.

Here are some of the gazillion things we can be doing in our yards in May.

§ Keep weeds under control with hoeing, pulling, and mulching.

Mulch will do at least 80% of the work for you by suppressing weeds, keeping the soil cooler in summer, retaining soil moisture, and breaking down to improve the soil and feed the plants. Don’t use cheap, fake, dyed mulches. Use natural bark mulches for the most benefit to your garden.

§ Plant container-grown trees and shrubs.

§ Prune and feed azaleas immediately after bloom.

§ Keep new tree, shrub, and flower transplants watered well if it doesn’t rain. They don’t have established root systems yet, and wind and lack of rain dry them out quickly.

§ I predict that it is safe to plant all annual bedding plants now.

§ Plant summer bulbs such as cannas, dahlias, elephant ears, caladiums, and gladiolus.

§ Plant container plants to go on porches and patios.

Don’t ever use pesticides of any kind in your yard if you want to have wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and let the birds and beneficial insects take care of the bad guys for you. If you feel you must intervene, use safe cultural practices such as hand picking, a sharp spray with the hose, or insecticidal soap. Make sure they really are the bad guys and not the good guys taking care of the bad guys for you.

If you have good soil and healthy plants, the damage done by insects is hardly ever enough that plants don't recover. If you have a diverse landscape with lots of different plants including trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses, bulbs, and vines, the balance of nature will almost always take care of things for you.

Remember to plant things that grow well in our heat, humidity, and Oklahoma wind. Depend on Oklahoma Native plants and OK Proven plants as the basic plants in your garden. If you want butterflies, you must have native plants. The following herbaceous annual and perennial plants are well-adapted to Oklahoma weather (as much as any plant can be) and will attract butterflies and hummingbirds and help make your yard a haven for wildlife. Most of these plants will also bloom all summer if you keep them deadheaded (cut off the dead blooms before they go to seed).

The top three butterfly attracting plants for Oklahoma are butterfly weed, New England Aster, and purple coneflower. Other butterfly magnets that will grow across many climate zones are Anise Hyssops, Autumn Sage, Barbara’s Buttons, Black-eyed Susans, Blue False Indigo, Gaillardias, Gauras, Goldenrods (no, they don’t cause hay fever-that’s the Ragweed growing near it), Hollyhocks, Joe Pye Weed, Liatris, Maximillian’s Sunflower, Milkweeds (the only plant Monarchs lay their eggs on and the only plant their caterpillars will eat). Monarda, Oregano, Passion Flower Vines (host plant for Gulf Fritillaries), Penstemons, Pentas, (an annual actually called Butterfly Flower), Salvias, Sedums, and Zinnias.

Be sure to have some dill, parsley (Italian Flat Leaf), and fennel for the Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Oklahoma’s state butterfly) to lay eggs on.

Good native butterfly trees and shrubs are oaks, red maples, Kentucky Coffeetrees, bald cypresses, redbuds, deciduous hollies (possumhaws), beautyberries, butterfly bushes, paw paw trees, and chokeberries.

After you plant butterfly-attracting plants, get out and relax and enjoy your beautiful nature sanctuary. Happy Gardening!