The Sauk County Gardener: Oh Honey, it’s Time to Plant!

Jeannie Manis, Sauk County Master Gardeners Association (SCMGA) President

“I wasn’t going to eat it, I was just going to taste it.” — Winnie The Pooh

Recently I wrote about deterring bunnies and deer from eating your garden plants. This past week, we had a new visitor to our garden and our beehives – a bear. The first night, he just took down all our bird feeders, so we assumed it was a family of naughty raccoons. We brought in the bird feeders the next night and in the morning, we discovered he had tipped over and ripped the hinged roofs right off two of our four bee hives. Luckily, we were able to upright the hives without much drama (except for the three bees that got inside my bee suit and one small sting on my thigh). We moved the hives so they would be closer to the nearby trees so my husband, Scott, could chain the hives to the trees. That evening, as I was moving my plants I was hardening off back into the house, I was sure I heard the bear rustling around in the nearby bushes. You’ve never seen anyone run so fast in rubber garden boots! In the morning, Scott went to check his hives. The bear still got the chains off one hive and damaged it pretty good. Scott wasn’t ready to give up though. We moved all the hives closer to the house and put electric “goat” fencing around our orchard/now apiary. We hung wind chimes and bells and left the yard lights on. Unfortunately, we had to re-queen a couple of the hives as they didn’t handle the trauma well. Luckily, we believe the bear has now moved on. All I can say is that this year’s honey is going to be the most expensive honey we’ve ever had.

With all the work my husband had to do to protect his bee hives, he didn’t get a chance to notice all the pretty bedding plants I picked up this past week. I won’t be able to keep them hidden too long though; the weather hasn’t been cooperating by warming up enough so that I can safely plant them outside. Until I can plant my tender bedding plants, I’ll continue to work on my May garden tasks.

If you stored any geraniums last fall, pot them up in well drained soil and you should see growth in about a week. After the danger of frost has passed, you can take them outside. I started several from small snippets of my plants from last year and they are doing great. I’ll just pop them into my various garden beds. When your chrysanthemums get six inches tall, pinch them back by half and continue to do so until July. This will encourage bushy growth. In the fall, I always plant daffodils in the same hole as my chrysanthemums. In the spring, the daffodils come up and bloom while the mum is just starting to grow. Eventually, the mum’s new spring growth hides the daffodils’ foliage, allowing the daffodils to die back naturally. Bonus – I don’t have to see the dying leaves and fading blooms. You should also pinch any of your other annuals when they reach four to six inches tall to promote growth. When the danger of frost has past, plant your dahlia tubers and then stake them and your delphiniums. Continue to split your perennials as needed if they are not too tall. If you let them get too big, they can get a bit mangled when you split them. I try to split plants in the spring before they’ve grown too much but it hasn’t stopped me from splitting them at less optimal times either. My divided plants just don’t look as pretty that year.

In the vegetable garden, it’s time to start getting those warm weather crops in the ground. You can plant celery, melons, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. You can even plant your tomatoes and peppers but prepared to cover them if we get a cool night or two. Milk jugs with the bottoms cut off work well. I usually wait to plant my tomatoes and peppers until the last weekend of May as it tends to be a bit cooler where we live than in town. Once you’re done planting your seeds, store the extras in a cool, dry location. Keep an eye out for your strawberry blooms; you should expect fruit about 30 days later.

Pune junipers, arborvitae, and yews any time through early summer and pines up to two-thirds of their new growth. Prune your spring-blooming shrubs such as forsythia, viburnum, and lilacs as soon as they are done blooming to avoid cutting off next year’s buds.

Warmer weather brings garden pests and diseases. Wisconsin’s Integrated Pest and Crop Management’s pest monitoring data let’s you know what diseases and insects are showing up in the area so you can take action to protect your garden BEFORE you have damage. Until then, get out in the garden, plant your vegetable and annuals, watch for cold nights, and enjoy your spring visitors – unless it’s a bear.

Remember to contact Extension Sauk County if you have any gardening questions. Please send an email to or call the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250.