May 2018
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Lemon balm is a staple in my herb garden.

Lemon Balm

My long-lost prescription sunglasses were nearly buried at the base of my lemon balm for over a year. Thank goodness the plant needed trimming and was in a pot instead of the ground or I may have never found them.

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, so it spreads underground almost limitlessly. However, it is taller than mint – more like basil. It gives a gardener more leafy stem to harvest. It needs space to spread in the garden or grow in a container. Winter kills the top, but it comes back from the roots each spring.

Try lemon balm for the wonderful lemon foliage indoors, chopped in fruit salad or to make tea.

You can find lemon balm where Bonnie Plants are sold this spring.


Between Stepping Stones

The spaces around stepping stones can be frustrating when weeds take over the space of planned foliage and flowers. It takes a concentrated effort to establish a planting while fighting weeds.

Smaller-leafed varieties of ajuga are a good option for filling in spaces quickly, especially when accompanied by seasonal use of Hi-Yield Treflan Weed & Grass Stopper to keep weed seeds from germinating among the plants.

Ajuga is vigorous, spreading with above-ground runners that will need to be trimmed back as needed. Check runners creeping over stepping stones where foot traffic doesn’t keep it naturally pruned.


Tomato flavor depends on many things, including sulfur available in the soil.


Sulfur for Tomatoes

According to research at Rutgers University (home of the famous old Rutgers tomato), sulfur is an especially important nutrient for tomatoes because it forms many of the organic compounds that give flavor to the fruit.

Not usually measured in a typical soil test, it is easy to overlook this nutrient. Sandy soil low in organic matter is the most likely to be deficient, but clay soil can also be low in it.

Gardeners can add sulfate to the soil in the form of gypsum (calcium sulfate) that doesn’t affect the soil pH. Gypsum helps improve the structure of heavy clay, too.

Apply 1 pound per 100 square feet of ground.



Hover flies help gardeners by spreading pollen, and their larvae feed on aphids.

Hold on to the Hover Flies

Gardeners have long observed flies, beetles and other insects spreading pollen while visiting flowers.

Recently, a student at Washington State University decided to take a closer look at what percent of pollinating insects were not bees, because it is usually bees that get all the attention. It turns out that one in three of the visitors in the study area visiting cucumbers, sunflowers, tomatoes and buttercups were not bees but mostly hover flies and a few other insects.

Gardeners can encourage hover flies in the garden each year by allowing overwintered parsley, cilantro and cole crops to bloom. Hover flies love the flowers of these crops. Later in the season, they also love dill and fennel blooms.

Hover fly larvae prey on pesky aphids, young scales and thrips; so they serve double duty as pest control, too!


Why Wiegela?

Blooming after azaleas and before hydrangeas, wiegela is a fountain of showy flowers for the garden in May. Big, old-fashioned wiegela has been around for decades, although now there are many modern hybrids varying in height, bloom color and even leaf color.

Look for plants in bloom at your favorite garden center this month. Study plant tags carefully because heights range from 3 to 8 feet tall and wide, depending on the hybrid. Give wiegela the space it needs because pruning will ruin its fountainlike form.

Plant in full sun for best bloom; a little afternoon shade is OK.

It is tolerant of many soil types, but needs good drainage – avoid soggy spots.

To keep it vigorous and full of blooms over the years, remove one-third of the largest, oldest stems at their base every three or four years (right after the plants bloom). Like azaleas, late pruning removes next year’s flower buds.

Once it is established, plants are very tough, drought-tolerant and have few pest problems.

This is a great flowering shrub to add to your landscape. Plant a sweep of them for a big show.


Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.