Spring Gardening: May Garden Checklist Zones 1-3

It’s been a long wait, but the growing season has arrived for eager gardeners in Zones 1-3! The birds are chirping, new growth is popping up, trees have buds, and signs of new life are everywhere! Get started with your May garden!

This month, you’ll be able to do some indoor seed starting, and zone 3 can start some outdoor planting. Some prep and maintenance are also on the to-do list, so you will finally be able to sink your hands into the dirt. Our May Garden Checklist for Zones 1-3 will guide you on your way to a fulfilling and robust gardening season.

Snowdrop flowers blooming in winter

May Garden Planning in Zones 1-3

There are still erratic weather days throughout the month of May where you can keep working on your garden planning in Zones 1-3. Keep your garden journal at the ready, note any successes you’ve had, jot down how much rain you’ve had this month, and check some things off your garden chore list.

  • Visit your local extension center for a soil test of both your gardens and your lawn. Find out if your soil pH needs adjusting based on what you will be growing and identify if your soil has any deficiencies that need to be addressed. It’s a great time to get answers to your questions about planting time, common pests, and any other gardening questions you may have.
  • Attend a Horticulture Show! Keep an eye out in your region for a garden show, and get inspired! Nothing is more stimulating than seeing a whole arena filled with a gardening extravaganza. You may find some new tools, pick up some rare seeds, or learn some new growing techniques. They often have seminars where you can learn from the experts and ask questions you may have.
  • Use your sketched-out garden design plans and dream boards to figure out where your future plants and seedlings will go.
  • Chart seed and plant varieties. Note their planting specifications, days to germination and maturity, and keep notes about what worked well and what was not entirely successful. This chart will help you plan from year to year by knowing when to sow seeds, plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plantings.
  • What pests are you starting to see in the garden now? If pests or diseases were a problem for you last season, it’s a great time to research companion plants and spacing provisions to protect and boost your plants’ productivity. Consider adding some flowers in vegetable garden beds for use as trap crops, pest deterrents, and to draw beneficial pollinators to the garden!
  • As perennials start to spring up in garden beds, decide what you still need to fill unoccupied spaces in your garden beds before heading to the garden center to buy them. Assess what needs to be divided and make a note in your journal.
  • Use your garden planting charts by zone to guide you on what to plant and when, so you will be ready for planting when warmer temperatures roll in.
  • If your raised bed and trellis construction has not been completed yet, now is the time! You can set them in place at this time. Begin filling them with raised bed soil or lots of organic matter and compost.
  • Note that cold, heavy rains and windy conditions are all still possible, so be prepared to protect your garden from frost and inclement weather. Be sure you have row covers and cloches at the ready if needed.
Hands pruning back old branch

Spring Garden Prep & Maintenance

The temperatures are finally rising comfortably, the ground is thawing, and the excitement is building for the growing season! Spring weather is full of unpredictability in Zones 1-3, but signs are everywhere that your gardens are starting to awaken. It’s the ideal time for beginning some prep and maintenance tasks for your May garden.

  • Be aware that the ground is just beginning to soften, and if rain has been prevalent in your area, avoid walking or driving in your garden when the soil is saturated. Compressing the soil with weight will result in soil compaction, leading to many problems in the garden bed.
  • If you planted any nitrogen-fixing vegetable garden cover crops in your garden bed, you can start turning them over in the garden bed before they go to seed.
  • Keep up with the weeding. If you see weeds, pull them up while they are young and discard them before they have a chance to dig in and propagate.
  • If you plan to use a watering system to water your garden or even just your hose. It’s a great time to make sure that they are set up, functioning, and in place this month.
  • You can stomp out weeds in early spring by adding a couple of inches of mulch to your garden beds.
  • Perennial plants can be divided at this time if they have overtaken their space. This is a great time to expand your garden to other areas of your yard, swap with other gardeners, or share with friends and neighbors.
  • Allow flowering spring bulbs to bloom and their foliage to wither entirely before dividing them or cutting back so that their bulbs can fill up with energy for next spring’s blooms.

Mulching & Amending The May Garden

May is prime time to start mulching and amending your garden beds in zones 1-3. Mulching and amending the soil in your garden beds are vital elements to having a successful garden season.

Amending your garden soil will help balance out any depleted nutrients from past seasons and bolster your crops for the upcoming year.  It also builds the soil structure and the beneficial microbial life that resides in the soil.

Mulch diminishes soil erosion, regulates temperature, insulates plant roots, helps retain moisture, and builds the soil.

  • Once your soil test results are in, add well-decomposed compost and any other necessary soil amendments to help build healthier soil.
  • Add an organic fertilizer around shrubs and perennial gardens.
  • Turn your compost pile and add fish fertilizer to the heap to promote healthy microbial life.
  • Add a couple of inches of organic mulch to your garden beds.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs

If April was too cold, you can still do your pruning tasks in early May. Pruning can get confusing at times, especially at this time of year. It can be challenging to discern what to prune and when to prune it. If you have any doubt on whether or not to prune back a perennial dramatically, simply let it be and prune it after it flowers.

Do some more research on your plant variety and gain more insight for the next May garden. This is an excellent question for an expert at your local extension office.

  • Prune away branches that have succumbed to winter damage before the new shoots of spring emerge.
  • Prune grapevines and fruit trees.
  • It’s time to do a hard pruning of dormant woody perennials and dormant ornamental grasses. You can be aggressive about your pruning with these dormant plants and only leave the first bud at the plant’s base. This applies only to plants that produce blooms on new stems.
  • Many perennial shrubs have already formed buds for next season’s blooms. It is not the time to prune these shrubs unless you are only growing them for greenery or hedge; otherwise, you risk cutting away their blooming potential.
  • Some of the flowering shrubs to leave intact include Forsythia, Rhododendron, Azalea, Viburnum, Daphne, Weigela. Prune these flowering beauties only after they have bloomed.
Birds in the snowy winter bird feeder

Take Care of the Wildlife

Don’t forget about the wildlife in your May garden. One of the most enjoyable parts of spring for many gardeners is watching the birds darting around and hearing their sweet songs. Inviting birds to your backyard helps create a wildlife habitat and significantly helps control the insect population, which can protect your plants.

  • Fill up some bird feeders or hang some suet and watch the array of birds that flock to the feast.
  • Do a thorough cleaning of bird feeders and birdbaths.
  • Fill birdbaths with clean water.
  • Add a birdhouse or two to help provide a safe new home for nesting.

Indoor Planting in Zones 1-3

Start some seeds indoors this month!  Cool-season favorites or those with more extended maturation periods can be sown indoors and grown in an indoor greenhouse or under grow lights.

Some of these include:

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
All Natural Raised Bed & Potting Mix

Kellogg Garden Organics

All Natural Raised Bed & Potting Mix

Product not available in AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT. For a comparable product in these states click here.

Outdoor Planting in Zone 3

By late May, some of you can start transplanting outdoors with some protective measures in place.  But others may have to wait a little bit longer.  The important thing is that seedlings are growing, and the excitement is building!

Always check with your local nursery or extension office for ideal planting times in your area, and make a note of those dates in your garden journal for next season.

Those in zone 3 can plant transplants of:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Kale
  • Melons
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes


For those of you in zones 1-3, you are in the dreaming phase of harvest unless you have grown a winter crop indoors under grow lights.  But, your time will come soon enough! All of your planning, prepping, and visualizing will come to fruition shortly. As always, check with your extension office for additional clarity on planting times for your county.

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close up of white flowers growing in snowy garden
close up of seedling growing in garden.

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