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Proper Mulching and
Other May Gardening Tips

By Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist

Proper mulching, watching for tent caterpillars, and planting vegetables are
some of the many gardening activities for this month.
How to Spread Bark Mulch

When spreading bark mulch around trees, be sure to remove the old mulch first
and not spread the mulch against the tree trunk. You should only have a 2-inch
thick layer of mulch around the tree so roots can breathe. Mulch piled against the
tree trunk (called “volcano” mulching after its appearance) can lead to crown rot
and eventual death of your tree. Use the old mulch in compost, or spread on
flower and shrub beds.  It is already partially broken down, and as it continues
will add organic matter to soils.

Check for Tent Caterpillars in Fruit Trees

Check apple, cherry, and other fruit trees for nests of tent caterpillars. They will
emerge as the leaves do to feed. Blast low lying nests with water to destroy them
or spray Bt on emerging caterpillars. Bt will harm only the caterpillars and not
other beneficial insects, birds or humans.

Check for Fire Blight

While checking fruit trees, look for signs of fireblight, especially on pears and
apples.  The infected tips of branches will be dark, shriveled, and with leaves
still clinging from last year. They look like someone torched them with fire.   
Prune out infected shoots, then disinfect your pruners with a chlorine bleach
solution (one part bleach to 9 parts water).

Memorial Day Vegetable Garden Planting

It's vegetable planting time in most of the area. In valleys and warm areas plant
tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, squash, and cucumbers the end of the month.  
Many like to plant around Memorial Day. In colder areas you may want to wait
until early June to plant these heat lovers as well as watermelon, okra, and
eggplant. Plant them too early before the air and ground warms up, and they
won’t grow, and may even rot.

Flowers are a bit more forgiving than warm-season vegetables if planted out
early and the spring is cool.  Just have some frost protection ready, just in case.  
A heavier weight “frost blanket” provides a couple degrees more frost protection
than a lighter weight.

Keep Watering Young Seedlings

Young seedlings just sprouting such as lettuce, beets, and carrots need a
consistent supply of water now so they don't dry out and die. Once germination
starts, it can't be stopped, so if the weather turns warm and dry, water these
seeded beds every day.

Keep Tomatoes off the Ground

Tomatoes produce and grow best when staked or caged to keep the plants off the
ground. Place these supports when you put transplants into the ground so you
don't disturb the root systems by installing them later. Caged plants can grow
freely, but use large cages made from concrete-reinforcing wire to support them.  
If using tomato cages or wide wire mesh such as from fencing, make sure to hold
it up with 2 or 3 stakes so the heavy plants wont topple later.

Protect Your Garden from Rabbits, Deer & Groundhogs

Make sure if you have rabbits and deer and groundhogs that your plants are
safe.  If you plant in a discrete area, you can fence it with 2-foot high chicken wire
for low mammals.  Just make sure the wire mesh is either partially buried or
anchored to the ground.  For deer you’ll need taller fencing, perhaps 4 feet for a
small area but up to 8 feet for large areas.  The lower height often works if a
small bed, as they’re afraid of jumping in and getting trapped.  Of course there
are many repellents you can buy or make and spray onto individual shrubs and