Our gardens go through a complete metamorphosis through the month of May. The before and after pictures are always fun to look at. You really get to see your May garden chores pay off quickly. With the threat of frost behind us, we go into a planting frenzy. All of those seedlings that have been loading down the seed rack start loading up the garden. The landscape becomes lush again and the huge flurry of activity comes with it. Lawns are growing furiously and weeds are popping up everywhere in the garden. The days may be getting longer, but there still never seems to be enough time to keep up.
Prune and fertilize
Prune limbs that did not leaf out
By now, you have probably noticed certain limbs that didn’t leaf out on your trees and shrubs. Cleaning out these dead limbs helps prevent the spread of damaging insects and diseases. Prune them out as you notice them this month.
Prune early flowering shrubs.
After the early spring flowering shrubs have finished blooming, it’s time to start pruning them back. The flowers are typically followed by a burst of new growth. I always aim for pruning our azaleas and camellias before they flush out too much, so their efforts are better utilized. When you are pruning, remove no more than one-third of the branches. This allows them to fill out with new growth over the summer without dealing with too much shock from the pruning.
Fertilize citrus and avocado trees in containers.
We always get our citrus and avocado trees outside as the temperature heat up. With the increase in light and temperatures, they spring to life and need a healthy dose of nutrients. There are many great organic fertilizers formulated for citrus and avocado. I keep it simple by using an organic dry granular fertilizer like Espoma Citrus Tone as directed. Citrus trees, in particular, are heavy feeders when it comes to nitrogen. If you can’t find a citrus specific fertilizer, use something high in nitrogen like a 3-1-1 blend.
Plant and mulch
Plant your summer veggies.
Plant the last of the spring kale along with cabbage and Brussels sprouts first thing this month. Cucumber, Melons, Peppers, Beans, Summer and Winter Squash all get planted during the early part of the month. Okra seedlings are planted mid-May once the soil has really heated up. Towards the end of May, Sweet potato slips that were started in April are planted in the garden. By the end of this month, our gardens are overflowing with delicious goodness.
Plant your summer seeds:
Direct sow corn, beans, squash, and peas in the garden. May garden chores focus our attention back to the beautiful side of the garden. We sow any summer annuals like aster, celosia, cosmos, marigold, morning glory, and sunflower. Through May, we will also continue sowing carrots, lettuce, beets, and radishes. In these later plantings, select heat resistant varieties. Hot weather will be here in the blink of an eye.
Plant annual herbs and flowers.
With all the excitement going on in the vegetable gardens, the flower gardens see just as much action this month. Annual and perennial flowers can both be planted. If you want to get an herb garden started, May is the perfect time. Rosemary, basil, oregano, dill, and all of the standards can be planted now giving them time to establish and flourish through the summer heat.
Give everyone a boost.
Tomatoes in particular always love a good mulching. Spread a few inches of compost and cover with a few inches of straw. It’s also a good time to spread a layer of compost over your perennial flowers, fruits and vegetables before they become overgrow and difficult to work around.
Divide and multiply
Take cuttings of perennial herbs.
Established lavender, rosemary, sage, and other perennial herbs are loving the warm weather. With the warm weather, comes a flush of new growth. This soft new growth is perfect for taking cuttings to multiply. Avoid cutting lavender once it starts to send out flower buds.
Dig and divide iris when they finish blooming.
Once your iris have finished their showy spring, they focus their efforts on growth. Before the summer heat hits, iris can be dug and gently divided. If the amount of iris flowers have decreased, dividing them up can reinvigorate your plants giving you more blooms next year. Replant the extra rhizomes in other areas or share them with friends.
Apply beneficial nematodes
If you spent all of last year battling one devastating pest after another, it may be time to consider apply beneficial nematodes. Beneficial nematodes are microscopic roundworms that occur naturally in soils. Nematodes are a completely natural method of killing off many garden pests without harming the beneficial insects. The majority of beetles, weevils, borers, fleas, ticks, and ants can be kept under control with regular applications.
Let the harvest begin.
By now if you had planted lettuce, kale, collards, or other greens, they may be overflowing. Pick them like crazy before they bolt (though, those flowers are tasty), when the hot weather rolls in. As long as it’s well established, keep your asparagus well picked to ensure it keeps producing. Seasoned rhubarb should be coming in strong by now. Pick it before it gets too large while the stems are still tender and young. Harvesting our first big salads has to be one of my favorite May garden chores.