There is no better time to be a gardener than in the month of May. All our hard fought efforts of the winter and spring come to fruition with the appearance of seedlings and exciting trips to garden centres – not withstanding of course, eagerly awaited deliveries from your favourite online nursery!
The garden is awash with colour, the Alliums bobbing in the breeze with their globe like heads and the apple blossom adorns the air when their petals travel on the late spring winds. Walks through the countryside are decorated with new appearing bluebells and cow parsley making it all look a little differently than it did before. Everything feels a bit richer and lush in May. It feels hopeful, like a sign of promising things to come.
While April is the month where the plants wake up and get going, May is the month for gardeners to pull everything together in their outside spaces as an investment for the incoming summer. There really could be jobs to do every day throughout this month but here are a few imperative jobs to help you on your way.
By the middle of May the risk of frost has passed for most of us in the UK and so this brings the task of planting out tender plants. Dahlias can now move to their outside positions, as can tender annuals like cosmos, sun flowers and zinnias, to name a few.
Although there are two major things of importance here. Firstly, they must be protected from slugs and snails as they really are hungry in May! Secondly, any plant which has been started off in a greenhouse, potting shed or windowsill must be hardened off before planting out. Hardening off can start before the risk of frost has passed. It involves bringing them out in the daytime in the natural light and acclimatising them to the outside. You must bring them back in for the night or at the very least cover them in horticultural fleece.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to support your perennials, especially tall or top-heavy flowers like delphiniums and peonies. Flowering plants as beautiful as those deserve to have the support, they need to allow us to enjoy their charm to the fullest. Staking them after they have collapsed never quite looks the same so stake them while the plants are young to ensure that they grow into them, it looks far more natural and a little less restrained.
With all the positives of having the garden bursting into life and growth comes the negative of prolific weeds. It really helps to keep on top of them before they have a chance to take hold and take over the garden. If the ground is dry then a hoe in between rows in the vegetable plot makes it a quick job. We recommend spending half an hour each day pulling weeds out of the flower beds, it is far less daunting than a whole day devoted to weeding.
Most things can be planted out in the vegetable patch after the risk of frost has been and gone. Home grown tomatoes have to be one of our favourite things to enjoy. Whether they are in a big greenhouse or allotment, or you have grown just a handful of cherry tomatoes in a pot or hanging basket, they really are worth the effort. Trust us!
Keep them supported with bamboo canes and ensure they are well-watered, and the tomatoes will reward you with the fruits of your labour right through to September. If you are to grow brassicas or soft fruit this year it is a good idea to cover them with netting so the birds and butterflies don’t eat them before you get the chance. Also consider companion planting with marigolds, nasturtiums, mint or dill. The herb smell masks the brassica smell from the butterflies making them harder to detect. The marigolds and nasturtiums are good ‘sacrificial plants’ meaning that they insects will go for those instead of your potentially prize winning cabbages! If you are really lucky there will be no damage to your sacrificial plants either and you can use them to pretty up your salads (or your cocktails) throughout the summer.
Pruning is not just a job for the winter, early flowering shrubs like viburnum and lilac can be pruned now to tidy them up and reinvigorate. Pruning in May onwards restricts growth and maintains the shape.
Pruning in winter stimulates growth for the next year. So to prune hedges or shrubs and bushes now will help them to keep looking good through to the autumn and allow the flowers to really steal the show.
Although Chelsea Flower Show is fashionably late this year there is still opportunity to do the ‘Chelsea Chop’ in the latter of the month. This means to cut back many herbaceous perennial plants by about a third to prolong their flowering time and to increase the amount of blooms. If this seems too drastic for you then experiment by cutting back half the plant, this will ensure that you will have flowers for the longest possible time. Try is with flowers such as rudbeckia, phlox, asters, Echinacea and helenium.
Lastly, May is the month for bedding plants and hanging baskets, these can really fill in gaps and give that dynamic pop of colour from one summer to the next.
For hanging baskets make sure you have drainage holes for excess water to escape and fill the basket with peat free compost mixed with fertiliser as the nutrients will wash out quickly. Chose a variety of trailing flowers or foliage – for summer baskets, my favourites are fuchsia or bacopa for trailing flowers and for foliage you really cannot beat nepeta variegata. Plant the trailers first at the edge of the basket leaving space for the other plants. Hanging basket plants should be able to cope with limited root space so bear that in mind. Calibrachoa and argyranthemums really draw the eye into a basket while nemesia give a lovely fragrance.
Alternatively, herbs in a hanging basket near the kitchen door will provide not just fresh additions for cooking but a lovely scent as you enter the house.
Above all, enjoy your outside space as the days get longer and the evenings warm up. Spending moments outdoors is something that nourishes the mind and soul, even more so when you have created a garden to love.
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