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May is grand time to be outside gardening

Posted Tuesday, May 10, 2005 - 10:08 am

By Durant Ashmore

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It's time to consider transplanting plants, trees (11/22/05)
Deciduous shrubs more than "bunch of sticks" (11/15/05)
Autumn leaves are nature's gift for mulching (11/08/05)
Plant colorful winter annuals without delay (11/01/05)
Changing landscape rides in with cold winds (10/25/05)

May is a wonderful time for landscape gardening. The pleasant temperatures make it a joy to be outside. Annuals, perennials, containerized trees and shrubs and sod can all be planted now.

One particular gardening practice to consider this month is to spray for disease and insects. Many of these problems start developing this time of year.

There is a great deal of debate concerning spraying. Organic gardeners abhor the thought of using pesticides and insecticides. Others take the shotgun approach and spray willy-nilly to control any possible problem that may arise. A middle-of-the-road approach may be regarded as integrated pest management. This philosophy carefully analyzes the disease or insect problem and decides if it is a problem that can be lived with or not. If the problem cannot be lived with, then the minimal amount of chemical control is recommended. One of the goals of this column is to help the reader identify potential problems in the landscape. The first step is knowing which problems you need to be aware of. After that it is up to the reader to decide the approach he is most comfortable with.

There are several insects that will become very active this month and next. Boxwood leaf miner is active now. This is best identified by a swelling or puffiness in the leaf. If you tear the leaf open you will see a small orange worm wriggling around inside. If your boxwood appears puny you should check for this problem first. Boxwood leaf miner will destroy a boxwood in a few years if left unchecked.

There is another leaf miner problem which has become very noticeable in only the last few years. This is a leaf miner that is active in American and Savannah hollies. You can literally see the meandering trail this miner leaves as it eats its way through the center of the plant leaf.

If you treat your Savannah hollies be sure to treat the surrounding native American hollies as well. Also, feel free to point out this problem to your neighbors who have these hollies. You will be doing them a favor and reduce host plants that may harbor these miners before they come back to haunt you again. There are some very exclusive neighborhoods in our area which are ravaged by this problem. Systemic insecticides, such as Merit or Ortho, should be effective here.

Very soon lacebugs will be active on azaleas. If you had them last year they will be back. Laceburg damage is identified by a multitude of minute white spots on the leaf where the bug has sucked the chlorophyll out. The backside of the leaf will have small brown or black spots. This is the lacebug feces. Lacebug damage on old growth cannot be helped (those leaves will fall off in autumn) but you can keep the lacebugs off the new growth.

Crape myrtle aphids will be active soon. The problem with these aphids is a fungus that they cause. Aphids excrete a substance euphemistically called honeydew. Honeydew molds and turns black. If your carpe myrtle bark is black at this time of year, you have aphids. If your crape myrtle turns black this summer, you have aphids. The resulting fungus from aphid honeydew is called sooty mold because it looks like soot. There are other sources for sooty mold (pine sap, for instance) but on crape myrtle it is caused by aphids.

What to do about these nasty critters? Many organic gardeners wash insect infested plants with a soap and water solution. There are a number of insecticides on the market to control these pests. Some of these products are systemic. They get inside the plant and kill insects as they start to feed. If you know you had these insects last year you can control them this year by using systemic insecticides.

There are several pruning techniques that can be practiced now. Many spring flowering shrubs have finished blooming and they can be pruned (azaleas, for instance).

Forsythia, quince, mock orange, deutzia and bridalwreath spirea can be pruned now. These plants are referred to as caning plants. Find the oldest and largest canes and cut them off low to the ground. Selectively prune for shape. The younger shoots will flourish.

May is not too late for radical pruning. If your plants are overgrown and out of shape cut them back to one-third to one-half their current height. Within six weeks they will be flushed out with new growth. Do not do this with needle leaf conifers (juniper, arborvitae, etc.) or they will die.

With the pleasant temperatures in May, many gardeners get a great deal of pleasure and inspiration from all their hard work. Enjoy yourself, go to it and get it done. This summer you can kick off your shoes under a shade tree and enjoy all the fruits (literally) of your labor.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

Wednesday, June 23  

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