Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
May, 2008
Regional Report

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This rare, white Japanese forest peony blooms in early May.

Spring's Charms and Chores

Airy, blue flowers float above creamy white-edged, heart-shaped brunnera leaves. Twin white bells dangle from the arching stems and white-margined leaves of variegated Solomon's seal. Delicate, lilac 'Lilafee' fairy wings dance over wavy epimedium leaves. These spring charmers bring the early shade garden to life.

Diva, treasure, and double the pleasure, the Japanese woodland peony (Paeonia japonica) is an elegant find for the shady woodland garden. In May its globes of cupped, white petals surround a cluster of yellow stamens. Come late summer, the awesome seedpods split, revealing metallic-blue seeds nestled in red. Its cousins, the rare (and expensive!) pink Japanese forest peony (Paeonia obovata) and white forest peony (Paeonia obovata var. alba), have similar flowers. Their seedpods hold blue-black fertile seeds surrounded by red infertile seeds.

For anyone dissatisfied with shade and its planting limitations, woodland and Japanese peonies are nature's astonishing redeemers. They flower from May to June and thrive in sun, light shade, and dappled woodland with protection from cold winds. They grow 18 to 24 inches tall and wide, are self-fertile, pollinated by insects, and hermaphroditic (with both male and female parts). Neutral or slightly alkaline, rich, deep soil is ideal -- neither too dry nor waterlogged. Grown in sandy soil, woodland and forest peonies produce more leaves and fewer flowers. They take longer to establish in clay but bloom better. They are hungry feeders, long-lived to some 50 or more years, and not appealing to deer or rabbits. Both are hardy in USDA zones 3 or 4 to 8.

Roses Say Summer's Here
In Philadelphia and environs, seems like a wink since the forsythia bloomed, announcing spring. Daytime temps are high 60s and 70s; nights still have some chill. The roses leafed out too quickly and are budding, to my dismay as I didn't have time to prune them all properly. Now I'm only cutting off dead stems, brown hips, and overly long canes. The shrubs already look so lush and full, I can't bear to clip any more. I'm also spraying new, healthy foliage with Messenger, the harpin protein growth enhancer, before black spot and powdery mildew dare cause any damage.

Mulch, Leaf Mold, and Mushroom Soil
We're doing spring feeding, applying granular, slow-release, mineral fertilizer to roses, perennials, and shrubs. For several new or needy garden beds with less than nutritious soil, I'm adding composted leaf mold to the usual shredded oak bark mulch in a 40/60 or 50/50 mix. The dark compost/mulch mix looks handsome. Squirrels and chipmunks act like it's their playground though, digging and tossing the light mix onto just-swept sidewalks and flagstone patios.

North and west, a landscaper friend is experimenting with a 50/50 combination of mushroom soil and bark mulch that's supposed to inhibit artillery fungus in mulch. A Penn State University study found that 100 percent mushroom soil has enough antagonistic microorganisms to eliminate artillery and other nasty, damaging fungi. A 2005 report showed that combining mushroom soil with wood chips in 10 to 40 percent ratios suppressed artillery fungus. It's worth a try.

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