It’s safe to say that even for the northernmost planting zones, spring is here! May is a busy month in the garden, and it’s also a thrilling one. Morning strolls through the garden reveal new seedlings popping up, flowers unfolding, and some veggies ripening. While it’s tempting to plant everything at the first sign of a warm day, May has a tendency to bring unexpected weather that can damage your garden. Late cold snaps, heavy rains, and strong winds are all still possible, so be prepared to protect your garden from inclement weather.
What Garden Goals Do You Need to Tackle in Your May Garden?
- Prep new beds. Good for you if you’ve already done this, but if not, there’s still time. Utilize the warmth of the sun to solarize new beds and kill grass and weeds naturally. Mark out your bed lines and place layers of cardboard or newspaper on top, then mulch and wait.
- Plan your fall garden. No, of course it’s not too early! Count back from the fall — in order to plant your seedlings then, you need to start seeds sometime during the summer, so this spring is when you’ll want to plan it all out. Trust us, it pays to be organized.
- Get your lawn mower ready. If you haven’t used it already, you will soon! Make sure it’s in good working condition — you don’t want to find out that it’s broken when you have company coming and the grass is so tall you could lose a child in there.
- Ditto on the irrigation system. Early and mid-spring rains are often adequate enough to forego additional watering, but it’s best to make sure whatever system you have installed is working before you actually need it.
- Know your area’s last frost date. Too many gardeners either don’t know this date, or they ignore it — but they do it at their own peril and that of their garden. Plant too early and then get a late-season cold snap? Your veggies, succulents, and flowers are toast.
- Be prepared to protect your garden. Springtime can bring all manner of weather threats to your garden, from late-season frosts to hail, high wind, thunderstorms, tornados, and sudden hot weather. Do your best to protect your garden in those events — frost blankets to cover plants, adequate additional watering for hot spells, and proper tree pruning to remove dead or damaged limbs that could fall during a storm.
Garden Chore Goals
- Get those veggies in the ground! As with any plant, you’ll want to consult with your local garden experts on the timing, but with many warm-season veggies, timing is everything. Plant those tomatoes too early or too late, and you’ll either get damage from a late season frost or it’ll be too hot for the flowers to set. Almost any veggie can be planted in May, from tomatoes and squash to warm season greens, beans, okra, pumpkins, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers.
- Get your warm-weather annuals planted. The garden centers are full of seasonal color — be sure to get your potted and bedding color in now, or you’ll run the risk of not having any plants to choose from once the weather heats up. Petunias, pansies, alyssum, violas, snapdragons, vinca, nasturtiums, marigolds — whatever is in season in your area, plant ‘em now.
- Plant tender bulbs. Whether you started them indoors or bought new bulbs, get your dahlias, cannas, and caladiums in the ground now, using support stakes if necessary. And speaking of bulbs, notice if your tulip bulbs have weak bloom this spring; if so, they may be exhausted. If you think they’ve lived their best life, dig them up and order new ones for planting in the fall. You can likely get a good discount this time of year.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees properly. Wait until after those spring-blooming trees and shrubs are finished flowering, then prune. Pruning before they bloom, well, removes the bloom.
- Herb it up. Most herbs are fairly cold sensitive, so springtime is an ideal time to get them into the ground or in your containers. Basil, oregano, mint, chives, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, and sage can all be planted now (weather and growing zone permitting).
- Make sure you plant for the monarchs. While they drink nectar from a variety of flowers, Monarch butterflies only eat milkweed, so it’s vital to plant a wide range of native nectar plants as well as native milkweed (Asclepias spp.).
- Stay on top of weeding. Those pesky spring weeds seem to pop up everywhere, don’t they? Don’t let it get out of hand or your summer will be spent in hours of backbreaking hand-pulling and hoeing weeds. We can think of many other things we’d rather do in the summer, like lounging in a hammock with a cold beverage and a good book.
- Tend your compost pile. Keep it moist and turn it to incorporate added material. A dry compost pile takes forever to break down, and we want to use that garden gold much sooner than that.
Sow & Plant Indoors While most zones are finished with indoor sowing by the time May rolls around….
- Zone 4 may start seeds of cucumbers, melon, and squash under grow lights. All other zones continue with outdoor planting and sowing.
Sow & Plant Outdoors
- Zone 3 If you’ve sown seeds indoors, begin slowly hardening them off. Get a head start on next season by starting your cold weather crops. Weather permitting, plant potatoes and seeds of warm season crops outside. Got broccoli and cauliflower plants? Protect them from root maggots with 4” x 4” heavy paper collars placed at the base of each plant. Be ready to protect tender plants in the event of a late freeze.
- Zone 4 Sow warm season annual flower seeds like marigolds, zinnias, and bachelor’s buttons. You can plant transplants of tomatoes, summer squash, beans, celery, chard, rutabaga, radish, corn, cucumbers, parsnips, peas, kale, melons, potatoes, and pumpkin.
- Zones 5-6 can direct sow seeds of squash, okra, lettuce, melons, cucumber, and corn. When soil temperatures reach 60 degrees, Zone 4 gardeners can begin planting warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant transplants.
- Zones 7-10 are moving on to heat-tolerant tomatoes like Heat Wave, Juliet, and Sweet 100. Remove all cool-season crops and replace them with eggplant, okra, sweet potatoes, peppers, purslane, basil, Malabar spinach, and black-eyed peas. Zone 7, water all new plants regularly to keep the soil moist. Zone 8, focus on irrigation system and drip lines making sure everything is functioning properly, your annual heatwave is on it’s way.
- Zones 10 & 11 All heat-loving veggies, herbs, and flowers can be planted this month from sweet potatoes, okra, and Southern peas to basil, thyme, lemongrass, sunflowers, vinca, marigolds, and zinnias. Use the sun’s strong rays to your benefit by solarizing empty beds with clear plastic — this easy practice saves time and energy by killing off weed seeds, nematodes, and other pathogens in the soil. Keep new plantings well watered to get them established — remember to water more deeply and less frequently to encourage deep, healthy roots.
- All Zones Bugs are very active in the Spring — stay on top of plant health daily to observe when pests are moving in, and be prepared to treat accordingly to avoid an infestation. The same goes for plant disease issues like mildew — the earlier you catch it, the better.
- Zones 4-6 can harvest spinach, radishes, arugula, asparagus, green onions, greens, garlic, peas, lettuce, and kohlrabi.
- Zones 7-10 can harvest tomatoes, snow and sweet peas, green beans, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and eggplant.