Don’t contain yourself when filling plant containers. Have some fun!

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Good morning. Happy May Day. And happy spring to all of you, although I must say it has been slow in coming. But have faith, the flowers will bloom. Daffodils are showing their faces and crocuses are popping up. Unfortuately, I also have daffodils coming up through leaves that haven’t been raked – oh, well.

I hope you all survived the winter nicely and are ready to put your hands in the dirt and your backs to the sun. This growing season, I’ve decided to try to be more timely with advice, rather than say, “Try this next year.” So, let’s get started. …

I have already had about two dozen emails or phone calls concerning beneficial nematodes to combat those Japanese beetles that will arrive in July. Yes, it’s getting to be time to take action.

Beneficial nematodes are natural micro-organisms that burrow into your soil and kill grubs. Japanese beetles come from the grubs waking up today. They will eat on the roots of your plants and grass, and then pupate into beetles later. The nematodes need to be applied to moist soil, either after a rain or after watering the area, and preferably in the evening because they do not do well in full sun. The soil also needs to warm a bit, which makes mid-May just about perfect.

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You put the nematodes — contained in a product called Grub Guard — into water and then disperse them onto the areas that were home to beetles last summer. They say you can spray them, but I simply fill gallon milk jugs and slosh the water about the area. Paris Farmer’s Union stores sometimes carry them or will order them . If not, go to gardeners.com or call 1-800-427-3363. Nematodes are sold in amounts determined by the square-foot area you need to treat, so make a guesstimate before you place an order.

Grub Guard will not harm pets or beneficial insects. It will, however, also kill the June bugs that come from grubs.

For those of you who ended up with what appear to be dirt mounds on your lawns when the snow melted, these are created by moles under the lawn going after grubs. Get rid of the grubs and the moles go away because there is no food.

If I use nematodes for two springs in a row, I have few problems the following two or three years. Gauge your use by the number of beetles that appear in July. Pay close attention and you will have a good idea whether to use nematodes again next spring. Remember, if you live in a neighborhood where the houses are close together, you will still get beetles but at least you won’t get as many. Do NOT put up Japanese beetle traps — you are just issuing an invitation for more to join the party.

Stressed out about diseases?

Moving right along here, we need to talk about rust, scab, mold, leaf blight, black spot and powdery mildew. Isn’t this upbeat? I received lots of emails and calls last year from people wanting to know what to do about these diseases. Many, if not all, are associated with stressed plants.

Stress comes in many forms. Not enough sun. Too much sun. Too much rain. Too many days of cool weather. Not enough food — and on and on. Some plants are much more susceptible like garden phlox, roses and lots of vegetables as well as fruit and ornamental trees.

Most of you know which plants at your house tend to have the problems, so be proactive. If you wait until diseases show themselves, it’s usually too late. You can get spray controllers to treat plants BEFORE there are any signs of disease; and usually this will prevent blight or rust. If you wait, these products will help with control, but generally won’t cure the problem.

One product to consider is Serenade, which is certified organic and available from gardeners.com. You should also be able to pick up a variety of products at area nurseries or stores where garden supplies are sold. What you are looking for are fungicides. I find those containing copper work quite well. Read the bottle label and if it’s not clear, ask.

If you have a pond, standing water near your home in the spring, or rain barrels, don’t forget mosquito rings — in fact, get them by May 15. They will not harm frogs, peepers, fish, etc., but they will kill mosquito larvae. They are available online, at Longfellow’s in Manchester and occasionally at big box stores with large garden departments.

Focusing on fun

Finally, let’s get to the fun part — flowers! I know there are hundreds of you just itching to get your hands on some for your containers and annual beds. Since it has been cool and rainy, I am hoping to catch many of you before you buy out the greenhouses. This year, let’s consider some long-range goals for containers. I am as addicted as anyone else to planting rows and rows of colorful annuals. But this year, if you plan and buy correctly, you can add to your garden for next spring, have lovely plants in your house for the winter and have herbs to cook with — all in the same lovely decorative containers.

Everybody knows that besides geraniums, petunias and snapdragons, containers need fillers. So this year, make some of them miniature coral bells that in the fall can go into the front of your garden to add years of color. They come in every shade of green, burgundy, lime, peach and pink, and look wonderful in containers. Add a ranuncula for spring blossom and color; and when your container runs out of gas in the middle or end of June, the snapdragons will be big enough to cover the hole. You can leave the container out and it will stay green for the season. Come fall, just store the bulb to start in the house early next spring.

If you want your container to have an airy, feathery feel, add some asparagus fern. It is a cinch and in the fall when the container is done, take it out and repot it for a lovely house plant during the winter. Asparagus fern is one of the best home air cleaners of all the plants and requires very little from you other than food once or twice a month and a bit of light.

Rex begonias make great container plants for the shade and make for wonderful houseplants at the end of the season. You can get them with white, pink, lime green and great patterned leaves. Most begonias will overwinter in the house and come back ready to go outside in the spring.

If you don’t have a lot of room and want herbs, plant them in containers with some flowers. Basil is a shiny, deep green filler as is Italian parsley. If you want some texture, add sage. Many types of thyme will shower over the sides of a container, making it both beautiful and useful. Helpful hint: Make sure the thyme you purchase is edible, not ornamental.

So don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit this year when it come to your containers — and have fun. Create a special one for mom for next Sunday.

Until next time, take a day or two with a friend to do some shopping at nurseries and, if you are so inclined, revive an old tradition and make a little nosegay of posies and surprise a friend. After all, it is May Day.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her dog and two cats. She may be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at jodyike@megalink.net.

The bright yellow ranuncula, on the right, will brighten this container until June and the bulb can be stored for next year. The lime green coral bell, on the left, can be planted in the garden. The dark burgundy plant in the front is a sweet potato vine.

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