5. Things to do in May

International Dawn Chorus Day is celebrated annually on 3 May.

 

Kitchen Garden

  • Hand weed & hoe kitchen gardens regularly.
  • Strawberries: Place straw under plants to keep fruit clean; straw mulch also helps discourage slugs and snails.  Feed plants with tomato fertiliser every week or two.
  • Keep an eye out for early aphid and other pest attacks like lily beetles & larvae.
  • Start earthing-up potatoes when foliage shoots reach 9 inches (23 cm) to prevent green tubers and remove any cold-damaged leaves.
  • Remove raspberry suckers encroaching on paths or between rows.
  • Broad Beans: Support with string attached to stakes 4 feet (1.2m) apart.  Put in supports for pea plants & broad beans.
  • Water newly planted trees & shrubs every 4 days (unless there’s prolonged rainfall)
  • Thin vegetable seedlings that were direct-sown in April, including beetroot, spring onions and spinach.
  • Inspect gooseberry bushes regularly for signs of sawfly damage.  Pick off by hand.
  • Herbs: pinch out lemon balm and mint to prevent flowering and encourage bushy growth.  Successional sowings of tender herbs such as basil can be made in May.

 

Indoors

  • Frost-tender French and runner beans can be sown indoors individually into 3 inch pots.  Plant out early next month.
  • Cauliflower, Savoy cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, kale and calvero nero all need a long growing season.  Start seedlings now in small pots and transplant when sturdy with 4 or 5 sets of leaves.

 

Plant-out tender vegetables — after all risk of frost has passed

  • Tomatoes – hold back from planting outdoors too early.  Tomatoes suffer if exposed to temperatures below 12 C.
  • Courgettes – towards the end of May.  Harden off plants under cloches or frames to protect against frosts.
  • Pumpkins – towards the end of May

 

Sow Directly into prepared ground 

  • Succession sow borage from May to July.
  • Succession sow salad crops.
  • Succession sow herbs such as basil, coriander, dill & parsley every 10-14 days
  • Sow carrots, radishes, beetroot, lettuce and spring onions successionally for continuous cropping
  • If weather is favourable in milder regions sow French & runner beans directly into soil in late May.
  • Sow cauliflower, sprouting broccoli and leeks for harvesting next winter.
  • Sow parsnip now in the position they are to crop to give small roots for winter.

 

Harvest

  • Rhubarb.  Harvest up to half the stems of established rhubarb clumps (don’t take more than half the stalks).
  • Chives.
  • Start harvesting asparagus from established plants when spears are 5-7 inches tall (13-18cm), cutting 1 inch (2.5 cm) below soil level.
  • Harvest early crops of radish & salad leaves as they mature (and continue sowing for succession crops).

 

Flower / Ornamental Garden

  • If daffodil flowering was poor, lift and divide bulbs.  Replant larger bulbs in ground improved with organic matter.
  • Continue dead-heading spring flowering bulbs.  Let foliage die down before cutting it down (or lifting).
  • Cut back mildewed pulmonaria leaves for healthy new growth.
  • Prune overgrown camelias as they start to put on fresh growth.  Cut to young sideshoots which will flower next year.
  • Stake, support and tie-in perennials with tall flower stems such as delphinium or plants with heavy, large blooms such as paeonia.  Digitalis also like staking.
  • Prune spring-flowering clematis such as evergreen clematis montana after flowering (to control growth).
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia and Philadelphus (mock orange).
  • Prune hardy perennials (‘chelsea chop’) – sedums, chrysanthemums, etc
  • Look out for lily beetle adults & larvae – early control helps keep populations low.
  • Clip evergreen hedges like the pyrocanthus (but check for nesting birds first)
  • Tie-in wayward sweet pea shoots to supports.

 

Planting

  • Finish planting summer bulbs.
  • Tender summer bedding should be thoroughly hardened off before planting.  A cold frame open during the day and closed at night, is ideal.
  • Plant out tender exotics such as cannas and dahlias (after all risk of frost has passed).  Make sure you apply slug & snail controls to dahlias as they put  on new growth.
  • A sowing of Cosmos in late May will give you blooms from August onwards.
  • Thin direct-sown hardy annuals.
  • Tie-in sweet peas to their supports.

 

Cuttings

  • Detach baby rosettes from succulents such as echeveria and pot into small containers of gritty compost.
  • Take softwood cuttings of hardy and tender perennials like fucschias and verbena.

 

Wild Things

  • May is the start of moth-flight season for many UK species.  Night-scented plants (honeysuckle, jasmine, evening primrose etc) attract moths, which in turn attract bats.
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