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Prepare Your Summer Garden in May

May usually brings out the best weather for gardening in Southern California — not too hot or too cold — just right to begin planting vegetables and flowers that will reach their peak in summer, say experts at Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly compost products made from organic material collected from more than 50 California cities including those in Santa Barbara County.

Thin out fruit: By now, many fruit trees are beginning to bear small fruit. Thin the smaller or excess fruit so the stronger fruit will have the nutrients to grow. This is especially important for younger trees.

Maintain an early-morning watering schedule: Water your garden during morning hours. Watering at night can cause fungus to grow in moist areas. By watering in the early morning, your garden will be sufficiently dry by the time the sun warms up your plants and lawn, but moist enough to offset the heat of the day.

Use mulch: Mulch absorbs water, reduces erosion and keeps weeds in check throughout the year and especially during the growing season. Its value dissipates with time, however, so maintain about three inches of fresh mulch around plants and in areas where weeds are a problem.

May is the ideal month for planting almost any flower: Plant warm season annuals in May such as begonia, chrysanthemum, geranium, marigold, petunia and verbena. While annuals come and go, perennials will bring backyard enjoyment for years to come. Perennials to plant now include African daisy, delphinium, fuchsia and lavender.

Naturally reduce pests: Spring attracts bad bugs to the garden. While it may be tempting to buy a pesticide to rid your garden of these bugs, there are plenty of all-natural options. For example, ladybugs can control infestations of aphids (small round bugs that feed in colonies on vegetable gardens, roses and other plants). To control snails, put boards around your garden. The snails will be drawn to their shade to avoid the hot sun. Pick up the board, pluck off the snails and put them in the trash.

Aerate and dethatch warm season lawns: Warm-season lawns need attention during May. Aerate and dethatch these lawns so water can easily penetrate to the roots. Apply a light layer of lawn topping to keep in moisture and reduce water usage.

Plant herbs: If you love to use fresh herbs in your meals, an herb garden is almost mandatory. The cost to purchase an herb plant and keep it watered is much less than buying expensive cut herbs at the grocery store. Herbs to plant now are basil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.

Plant something exotic: Lemons, oranges, peaches and plums are the mainstay of many Southern California backyards. Try something new this year by planting bananas, pineapples, guava, mango and other subtropical fruit. Check with your local nursery to see what will grow best in your climate zone.

Click here for more gardening tips.

— Diane Rumbaugh is a publicist representing Agromin.

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