What to do in your garden in May

Planting and Shopping

Plant blossoms for butterflies. These drought-tolerant plants bear flowers that will attract butterflies to your garden: Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Gaura lindheimeri, gayfeather (Liatris punctata), blue-flowered germander (Teucrium orientale), globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus), indigo bush (Dalea pulchra), Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii), New Mexico hummingbird mint (Agastache neomexicana), Pitcher's blue sage (Salvia pitcheri),Sedum sieboldii, and sulfur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum).

Set out or start summer color. At lower elevations, plant seedlings of these heat-loving flowers: ageratum, cosmos, globe amaranth, marigold, portulaca, Salvia farinacea, strawflower (Helichrysum), sunflower, vinca (periwinkle), and zinnia. At higher elevations, start seeds of these flowers indoors for transplanting after June 1: cosmos, Iceland poppy, lobelia, nasturtium, painted tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata), pansy, petunia, schizanthus, snapdragon, and sweet William.

Shop for irises. See hundreds of irises in bloom and pick out your favorites at Long's Iris Gardens in Boulder, Colorado (9-5 daily Apr 30-Jun 12; 303/442-2353 for catalog with driving directions). Designated fields are open for digging iris rhizomes on a cash-and-carry basis. Tools and storage bags are provided. Rhizomes are also available by mail order. When choosing irises, extend the bloom season in your garden by choosing kinds that bloom at different times. At Long's, miniature types bloom in early May, intermediates at midmonth, and tall bearded types in late May and in June. Plant irises in full sun; set rhizomes barely below the soil surface.


Choose sensible containers. Before planting summer flowers and vegetables, keep in mind that larger containers retain soil moisture longer than smaller ones. Those made of plastic dry out less rapidly and are much lighter than those of terra-cotta or wood. If you use containers made of those materials, try nesting the container in a plastic liner to conserve moisture. Fill the container with a good planting mix amended with fertilizer, and add a water-absorbing soil polymer such as Hydrosorb.

Guard against wildfire. In fire-prone areas, create a defensible zone around your house by removing dead vegetation and trimming back branches that overhang the roof. Clear dead leaves and pine needles from your roof and rain gutters. Store firewood away from structures. For more safety tips, go to and search for "wildfire," then click on "Wildfire Lessons."

Reduce transplant shock. Shelter newly set-out plants from heat and wind for the first few weeks by covering them with floating row covers or evergreen boughs. To help rootballs retain moisture, spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of lightweight mulch around each plant. To provide a constant water source for small transplants, recycle a 1-gallon plastic milk jug: Poke a hole in one corner with a pin, fill with water, and place the jug where it will drip slowly over the rootball.

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