May Gardening Tips
Sue Adams of Jardin Paysan tells us why May is a beautiful month in the garden, but it is also a busy one.
The flower garden reaches its late spring peak with irises, roses and peonies in flower and the vegetable garden picks up pace as salads and herbs thrive in the warmth and moisture and summer vegetables can be hardened off and then planted outside. And of course there are still the routine tasks of watering, weeding, deadheading and more to occupy any idle moment.
Here is a summary of some of the things to be getting on with at this time of year:
Tender edibles can go out into the garden now – tomatoes, chillies, basil, aubergines, peppers, courgettes can all be planted outside along with non hardy ornamental plants such as perlagoniums and other summer bedding plus tender annuals such as ipomeas, cobeas, cosmos and zinnias. To be honest we have had some of our frost tender plants outside for a few weeks – tender succulents and citrus trees for example. They have been against a west facing wall, but now I can confidently move them to a more exposed setting. When moving plants from indoors to outdoors you should always harden them off – or gently acclimatise them – to the tougher conditions. I do this in stages over about a week – outside during the day, then outside overnight, but in a protected spot, then finally outside in their destination place.
Seed sowing can continue apace. Sow successions of vegetable seeds so that you have a steady stream of young peas, beans, beetroot, carrots, radishes, salads to pick. Little and often minimises waste and it is surprising how much you can grow as a catch crop between plants which develop more slowly. You can also sow tender annual flowers directly into the ground now. Try opium poppies and Cerinthe major purpurascens along with the more common nigella, cosmos, tagetes and zinneas. They may be a little later in coming into flower, but the seeds germinate surprisingly quickly in the warmer weather.
Herbs come into their own this month with dill, mint, parsley, tarragon, chives growing profusely and threatening to flower and set seed it you are not careful. Pick regularly – and if you can’t then shear off the straggly top growth to slow things down. Similarly with shrubby herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary and sage. In nature they are grazed by wild animals which keeps the plants small and tight with plenty of new growth. Hopefully wild animals are not too much of a problem in your garden, but you need to emulate their actions to a degree by shearing the new growth back if you cannot pick enough of it. This lessens the risk of the plant becoming leggy and promotes young growth.
You can preserve herbs by chopping them up and freezing them in ice cubes which you then keep in bags in the freezer. Borage flowers can also be frozen individually in ice cubes – they look good in a glass of Pimms.
Feed, water and weed…. it is the mantra of the summer months. Try to feed your pot plants with a proprietary liquid feed once a week. Do this after you have watered them as if the soil is very dry there is a risk that the diluted liquid feed will go straight through to the saucer at the bottom and then evaporate. Roses need feeding after the first flush of flowers – a tomato food is ideal as specialist rose foods are expensive. You can also try sprinkling coffee grounds around your roses (and adding them to your compost heap). Coffee grounds are a source of nitrogen which appears to be readily assimilable to plants AND it repels slugs and snails – so they are a win, win, or even a win, win, win as by using them in the garden you are recycling waste.
Dead head in order to keep plants flowering – once they have set seed they consider their work done and will die back (if annuals such as cosmos) or cut back on producing flowers if they are perennials (such as roses) or dahlias. Obviously – if you are growing a plant for fruit then don’t dead head it as you are stopping fruit formation. This includes roses which are grown for their decorative autumn hips.
Cut off the leaves from spring bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus once they have gone brown. The bulbs have now gone dormant and will remain so until next year when they cycle begins again. If they are in a bed rather than naturalised in the grass you may want to mark where they are with a label – something I never get round to doing. If you are planning to plant more in the autumn it is a good idea to decide where they will go now – while there is still visual evidence of where the current bulbs are. I need to do this with a spectacular tulip called El Nino – we had several magnificent clumps of this bulb in our borders this spring and I would like one or two more in 2024, but they need to be carefully positioned so that the splashes of orange draw the eye around the garden in a comfortable and balanced manner.