What to do in your garden in May

Planting and Harvesting

Gourds. Among the Southwest's first domesticated plants, gourds are still grown and dried for use as containers, decorations, and musical instruments. Sunset climate zones 1a-3b: Plant 'Santo Domingo Striped Dipper' or 'Tarahumara Warty'. Zones 10, 11: Try 'Hopi Rattle', 'O'odham Dipper', or 'Wild Luffa'. Zones 12, 13: 'Mayo Deer Dance Rattle' or 'Tarahumara Canteen'. All these are available from Native Seeds/SEARCH ( or 866/622-5561). Soak seeds overnight, then plant 1 inch deep in the ground near a fence or trellis that vines can climb.

Herbs for aromatherapy. The foliage of many herbs contains essential oils that aromatherapists prescribe to produce various effects. For example, basil, chamomile, lavender, and marjoram are believed to create a relaxing mood, while clary sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and mint are reputed to lift the spirits. Rosemary and thyme are said to improve concentration and memory. To release the aroma, harvest and crush leaves, then gently simmer them in a pot of water to scent a room, or wrap them in cheesecloth to slip into a pillowcase.

Landscape plants. Consider these native and desert-adapted plants. Trees: Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) and Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis). Shrubs: Desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus quadrifidus wrightii), pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla), sweet acacia (Acacia farnesiana), Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens), and violet silverleaf (L. candidum).

Rabbit-resistant plants. Rabbits will eat just about anything, but they dislike highly aromatic plants like lavender, marigold, mint, rosemary, salvia, and society garlic. Other plants they find unappealing include agave, euphorbia, lantana, Mexican evening primrose, nandina, plumbago, and verbena. It helps to start with plants large enough to survive a little nibbling.

Seasonal color. Sow seeds or set out transplants of these water-thrifty flowers. Zones 1a-3b: Ageratum, coreopsis, and gaillardia. Zones 10-13: Coreopsis, cosmos, blue and scarlet flax, gaillardia, Mexican hat, portulaca, purple coneflower, and zinnia.

Vegetables. All zones: Sow seeds or set out transplants of chiles, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, okra, peppers, summer and winter squash, and tomatillos. Two good regional seed sources are Plants of the Southwest ( or 800/788-7333) and Seeds of Change ( or 888/762-7333).

Vines. Zones 10, 11: Plant Carolina jessamine, Lady Banks' rose, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, and Virginia creeper. Zones 12, 13: Plant any of the above, plus bougainvillea and coral vine.


Check irrigation systems. Repair leaks and replace clogged or broken bubblers, drip emitters, and sprinkler heads.

Control insect pests. Blast aphids and spittlebugs off plants with a strong jet of water from the hose. Control spider mites on evergreens by spraying with insecticidal soap.

Mulch. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of bark chips, compost, or forest mulch around plants to help insulate roots and retain soil moisture.

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