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Spring Gardening: May Garden Checklist Zones 4-5

May brings excitement, warmth, blooms, and planting time for gardeners in Zones 4-5. While last month gave northern gardeners a thrilling glimpse of spring, the May garden exudes all things wonderful.

You can finally start planting outside, adding tender vegetables and annuals to the landscape. The smell of lilacs is wafting in the air, and endless perennials unfold their foliage and fill in vacant garden spots. It’s a magical time of year for those in Zones 4 and 5!

If you aren’t sure what you should be doing in the garden this month, check out our May Garden Checklist for Zones 4-5 for a robust list of to-dos that can easily be turned into ta-das!

Planting Lily Bulbs in Her Garden

May Garden Planning in Zones 4 & 5

When you are a gardener, planning and making adjustments is an ongoing process. Your journal can be your best friend when it comes to creating and maintaining your gardens.

Here are some things to make a note of as May rolls in:

  • Check with your local extension office for a soil test if you haven’t done so already. Ask them any questions and consult with the experts to determine ideal planting times for your county.
  • Garden centers and nurseries are brimming with plants, containers, and everything garden-related. Do you have anything on your May garden wish list? Keep a garden shopping list in your garden journal and jot down any supplies that you still need at the garden center.
  • Walk around and assess what pests are presenting themselves in your yard right now and note any traps or companion planting options that can help you combat them.
  • Ensure that your garden has the flowering plants it needs to lure beneficial pollinators and predatory insects to the garden.
  • Use your sketched-out garden design plans and dream boards to figure out where your newly acquired plants and seedlings will go.
  • If you constructed new raised garden beds over the winter and haven’t set them out yet, now is the time! Fill them with raised bed soil or compost and lots of organic matter.
  • Calculate the amount of soil that you will need to fill up your garden beds. Are your raised beds very deep? Consider layering soil in your raised beds by adding tree rounds and setting them in the bottom of the trough. Layer compost and raised bed soil on top. The organic matter will break down over time and save you money by taking up square footage, so you can use more raised bed soil and compost elsewhere.
  • Decide what you still need to fill gaps in your garden. This is best to do before you head to the store, so you know what you are looking for.

How to Prepare & Maintain the Garden

By the time May rolls around, it is best to have garden beds prepped and ready to go so that you can plan what plants you want to fill the space. Here are some housekeeping items on the May Garden Checklist for Zones 4-5 that will get your gardens in tip-top shape and boost your spring gardens.

  • Remove cold winter protection from outdoor cool-season crops.
  • Identify pests in the garden. Proactively set out sticky traps to catch common insect pests like whiteflies, aphids, leaf miners, and thrips.
  • Pull up early weeds before they establish themselves or use organic weed control methods to eliminate them.
  • If you planned to use a drip irrigation system, ensure that hoses are installed and functioning properly.
  • Divide and transplant perennials that have overtaken their space in the garden beds. It’s a great way to create new garden beds.
  • Assess if your spring bulbs will need dividing. Digging up and division of bulbs should only be done after the foliage has withered and browned.
  • Plant your summer flowering bulbs and dry root plantings.
  • Once the soil warms and tender veggies have been hardened off, cage your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as you plant them in the ground or raised bed.
  • It’s time to assemble your artistic annual planters! Wash out your planters and containers and fill them with premium potting soil before planting.
  • Spread an organic fertilizer around shrubs and perennials. Be sure to use an organic fertilizer to treat the soil and microbial life rather than just the plants.
  • Add compost around fruit trees.
mulching garden conifer bed with pine tree bark mulch

Pruning the May Garden

  • Prune any spring-flowering shrubs after they have finished blooming.
  • Do a hard pruning of overgrown shrubs.
  • Pull out any partially dead shrubs or do a hard prune in an attempt to rejuvenate the plant.
  • Cut back spring ground covers like carpet phlox after they have finished blooming.
  • Check plants regularly for signs of pests and disease. Prune damaged limbs and dead portions of shrubs.

Mulching & Amending the Garden

Mulching and amending can be the difference between a prolific garden and a mediocre one. Just as mulch insulated your garden beds over the winter and early spring, it will keep your plant roots cool as the temperatures begin to heat up. Adding a couple of inches of mulch to your garden beds can also help stomp out reseeding weeds, regulate moisture. It also will help keep your soil from eroding during bouts of heavy rain.

Once your soil test results are in, add compost and any other necessary soil amendments to help build healthier soil.  Support microbial life by using organic fertilizers and mulches like fish fertilizer and organic matter.

Take Care of the Wildlife in Your Yard

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 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.
  • Add a hummingbird feeder!
  • 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.
Mother and Daughter Sowing Green Peas Seeds in Spring Vegetable Garden

Indoor May Garden Planting

Check with your local extension office for your region’s last frost date and consult with them on what to plant and when.

While most zones are finished with indoor sowing by the time May rolls around, in Zones 4 and 5, it’s time to start seeds indoors for:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Okra
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Watermelons
  • Squash
  • Cabbage
  • Kohlrabi
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
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 Spring Garden Planting

May is planting time for those in zones 4-5.  As always, check with your local extension center for the best planting times in your area. Plant your dry root plants in the ground if you haven’t done so already. Once you have amended your garden soil and pulled all weeds, you can start sowing some seeds outdoors.

Sow vegetables such as:

  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Melons
  • Cucumbers
  • Mexican Sour Gherkins

Additionally, toward the middle to end of May, you can begin to harden off tender vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and more.  Place them outdoors gradually in a protected location for at least one week before transplanting them outdoors. Always pay close attention to the forecast, as spring weather can be unpredictable at best, even in May.  Be prepared with row covers or protective plant domes if erratic weather is predicted and protect your garden crops.


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Close up of pink flowers in garden.
Seedling growing in soil with a garden trowel.

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