Home & Garden

May Day, May Day

Oh, let's leave a basket of flowers today

For the little old lady who lives down our way!

We'll heap it with violets white and blue,

With Jack-in-the-pulpit and wildflowers, too.

We'll make it of paper and line it with ferns

Then hide — we'll watch her surprise when she turns

And opens her door and looks out to see

Who in the world it could possibly be!

_ Virginia Scott Miner, from "Mrs. Sharp's Traditions"

Excuse me while I turn down the wind.

Phew. There we go. Now I can think.

My living room has looked like a May basket this week — my first tomato plant and the first annuals that I bought have been kept inside, out of the nighttime cool and the daytime howling wind.

I have to think about where the plants were when I bought them in order to decide how to transition them into the outdoors and the garden. Were they in the greenhouse? Outside but protected? Outside and unprotected?

When temperatures are still in the 40s at night, I'm not happy about planting tomatoes and annuals, let alone peppers. Vinca, basil, peppers and melons need a little heat to get going. There's nothing sadder than seeing vibrant glossy plants in the nursery turn into dull barely green things in the garden.

But there my plants were, doing the same thing inside my house. As the week wore on, I put some of them into a purple plastic Easter basket to catch the water, carrying them from coffee table to kitchen counter, following the trail of the sun, and discovered a pretty new way to display plants.

Today I'll call it a May basket. Or maybe I'll even plant something. Herb Day, which is today at the Extension Center, always is a gentlemen-start-your-engines kind of day, and it's hard not to plant when the collective masses are doing the same.

The wind this week was a good trial for what the summer may bring. The gales dried out the soil, making watering a necessity even when the temperatures weren't that high. There's nothing worse than this kind of relentless wind when it's 95 degrees out. Some of us even had to go home at lunch to check on the garden. (And maybe take a nap, with all those allergies blowing around.)

On one of these lunchtime watering sessions I noticed a butterfly following the splash of the garden hose. I positioned the stream just right so that it splashed some little droplets onto the butterfly as it roosted, and thought, there can't be too many butterflies that get a personal spa treatment.

If you notice that some of your garden plants are suffering from the cold and the wind, they may need a little fertilizer pick-me-up. Or, if you're in my Crocs and have some pale plants going in, be sure to use a starter fertilizer to boost them.

Starter solutions are often called root stimulators.

"Plants not given a transplant solution often develop a purplish tinge to the leaves caused by a phosphorus deficiency," Ward Upham, horticulturist with K-State Extension & Research, says. "Surprisingly, the soil may have plenty of phosphorus, but plants often have difficulty taking up nutrients in cool soils. The starter solution places soluble nutrients near the roots so the plants get off to a good, strong start."

You can buy a root stimulator or make one, with a fertilizer that contains more phosphorous than nitrogen or potassium, such as 5-10-5, 10-20-10, or 11-15-11, Upham says. Mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of it in a gallon of water, wait several hours, then pour a cup of the solution onto each transplant.

For plants that have been in the ground a while, try side dressing. This time, the fertilizer should contain primarily nitrogen — the first number in the equation — to keep plants growing and productive, Upham says. One example is nitrate of soda, 16-0-0, Upham says. Use at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 feet of row. You can also use lawn fertilizer that has no weed preventers or weed killers in it, but be sure to cut the rate in half, Upham says.

As you plant your vegetable garden, consider adding a row for the hungry. You can donate produce throughout the growing season at one of several garden centers for the Kansas Food Bank. The produce is then given to local soup kitchens and church pantries.

This will be the 11th season for Plant a Row for the Hungry in Wichita. In the first 10 years, area gardeners donated 232,894 pounds of fruits and vegetables to feed people in need. Look for more information in these pages as the garden grows.

Breathe a sigh of relief today. We may have a night or two of 40s left in the forecast, but it is finally May. Let's celebrate. Leave a May Day basket for the little old lady who lives down the way. Then I'll see you at Herb Day.