The third week of May is safe for setting out bedding plants, planting most vegetable seeds into the garden and replanting your window boxes, containers and patio pots.
Weed the beds, compost any winter-weary plants that didn’t survive the winter and don’t forget to mow and edge the lawn. One chore not to do this month is to cut back the dying greens of your daffodils, tulips and other spring blooming bulbs. As the foliage fades on spring bulbs, the energy is sent to the bulb for next year’s flowers. If you cut your daffodil foliage while the leaves are green, the bulbs may slip into a depression, figure life is tough and refuse to bloom next spring.
As my tulips and daffodils finish blooming, I know I must leave the greens to mature and yellow. Problem is, I don’t want to look at this dying mess. I remember at one time you wrote about some ideas for dealing with messy bulbs. Can you tell us again? P.K. Tacoma
There must be 50 ways to leave your foliage cover, but the easiest is to just cut all ugly foliage to ground level immediately and then buy fresh new bulbs each fall. Dirt cheap gardeners that want to recycle their tulips and daffodils can carefully dig them from the ground, roots, bulbs, foliage and all and set in a hidden container or well-drained soil out of sight. Let the foliage dry over the summer then replant those same bulbs again in the fall.
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If you’re dirt cheap and lazy as well, just hide the dying greens by adding a leafy perennial or fast- growing annual to the area. I like to grow hosta in front of daffodils, poppies with tulips and use the fast-spreading Storm petunias to cover large beds of bulbs. But remember that tulips return best if they are allowed to dry out during the summer — so if you plant thirsty annuals you risk rotting the tulip bulbs. Boulders also make great barriers. Plant your tulips and daffodils behind an emerging rock, and the flowers will shine at bloom time but the boulder can block the view as the greens yellow and fade.
What tomato varieties do best in our area? My husband wants to plant beefsteak tomatoes and I seem to remember this is not the best for Western Washington. F.G., Kent
You win. Just say no to heat-lovers like the Beefsteak tomato that need long, hot summers in order to ripen. In Western Washington, the quick-to-ripen varieties such as early girl, northern exposure, stupice, Seattle’s best and any tomato that ripens in less than 70 days are more likely to turn red before we see frost. The giant tomatoes take longer to ripen than the small cherry and grape tomatoes such as sweet 100, sun gold, Napa grape and sweet million.
There are plenty of local growers offering many more tomato varieties grown especially for our cool climate. To increase the night temperatures that hasten ripening grow tomatoes near concrete or rocks that will absorb the summer heat and release it at night. Studies prove that using a red plastic mulch around the roots also hasten ripening. Sounds strange but it works. You can buy red tomato plant mulch at garden centers.
I used moss killer on my lawn and now the moss has turned black and the lawn looks terrible. Do I have to remove all this dead moss before I replant the lawn? Anon, E-mail
Yes, removing the dead moss will give your new lawn seed a better chance of taking root. But spreading fresh topsoil on top of the old lawn is one way to skip the raking of dead moss — but you must replace raking dead moss with raking in new topsoil.
Now the bad news. Moss will return to your lawn unless you change the conditions. Improve drainage. Add lime to make the soil less acidic and trim trees to decrease shade. Lawns also need fertilizer at least once a year to outgrow moss. But there is good news. Acceptance of moss as a lawn substitute is picking up green steam and an eco-friendly lawn of mostly moss needs less mowing, feeding and watering to keep it green.
This is a good time to poke bean seeds into the ground. Look for bush beans if you don’t want to worry about staking, and remember that you can add some color to your harvest by planting beans that ripen to purple or yellow and scarlet runner bean plants that bloom with bright orange flowers.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at www.binettigarden.com.
May 22: 9 a.m., Windmill Gardens, Sumner, “How to Eat Your Front Yard.”
May 29: 10 a.m., Molbak’s, Woodinville, ‘How to Eat Your Front Yard” with book signing to follow. Call to register at 253-863-5843