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We are few weeks behind due to the cold winter and cool spring!
Written by Adam Woolcott.
Your May Gardening Handbook…
This year as we begin the month of May a lot of plants are a few weeks behind due to the cold winter and cool spring but nonetheless the tulips, blossom trees and early spring perennials are looking glorious and the march towards the beauty and majesty of summer is unstoppable.
Now with much longer days, high light levels and noticeable warmth from the sun, every part of our garden will explode into growth as plants strive to grow as much as possible before the summer solstice next month, and this includes plants you don’t want to grow in your garden as well as the ones you truly love!
Never mind writing a blog on what needs doing in the garden in May there’s actually enough to write a book about it, but here are some jobs to keep on top of this month…
Lawn Care – Cut Little but Often
When it comes to your lawn it’s always best to cut little but often, allowing the grass to become very tall and then suddenly cutting it short will shock the grass and lead to it being scorched and discoloured. Now is a great time to feed and weed your grass, personally, I prefer to use a liquid product rather than granules, this works more quickly, doesn’t need watering and leaves no solid chemicals to affect wildlife.
Of- course, there’s no need to remove the weeds from your lawn if you’re happy to see them, in which case just use a feed without a weed-killing constituent. Dandelions, daisies, clover and violets look beautiful when in flower and are fantastic for pollinating insects.
Supporting Perennials and Dealing with Pests
It’s always mind-blowing to see how quickly the perennials are growing now in the beds and borders so before some of them become too tall place plant supports over the top of them so they can grow up and through. Check for weeds and hoe them off or pull them out whilst they’re still small, hoe them off on a sunny day so they frazzle up in the hot sun and don’t regrow. Check for pests such as greenfly and lily beetle, slugs and snails and deal with them sooner rather than later – remember there are many wildlife-friendly ways of dealing with these critters these days.
Carry Out the Chelsea Chop
Later in the month around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show ( 23 – 27 May 2023), you can carry out the Chelsea chop on really tall perennials that often need staking such as Veronicastrum and Helianthus. This involves reducing the height of the plant by about a half, they then regrow flowering a little later than usual but on sturdier stems that don’t need staking.
Carry out the Chelsea chop on really tall perennials that often need staking such as Veronicastrum and Helianthus.
Think about putting up shading for your greenhouse or whitewashing some of the glass to prevent plants from being baked and scorched, ensure automatic vent openers are working, water plants regularly and get tomatoes, cucumbers and melons on the go and again be vigilant for pests and diseases.
Planting and Maintaining Your Vegetable Garden
On the allotment or in the kitchen garden keep earthing up your potatoes as they grow, sow salad crops, runner beans, and peas and plant your onion sets, use chicken manure pellets to feed your vegetables and add organic matter to the soil, hoe off the weeds and check fruit cages for holes and gaps but don’t close doors yet until your fruit bushes have been pollinated.
Sow salad crops, runner beans, and peas and plant your onion sets
Keeping Your Indoor Garden Thriving
If like me you’re also crazy about houseplants then remember their growth cycle is starting again as well, so water more often but make sure the pots can drain well, feed fortnightly, move more heat and sun-sensitive plants back from the windows and look out for pests such as scale insect, red spider and mealy bug. A tell-tale sign sometimes with your houseplants that they are being affected by pests is a sticky, sweet, sugary-like substance on the leaves, this is something called honeydew and is secreted by certain houseplant pests.
Greenhouse to Garden
If you have pots of spring flowering bulbs that have now gone over then either plant them in the garden or keep them watered and fed with something like a seaweed fertiliser until they die down, then keep them somewhere shady and cool until next spring.
If you’re growing your own bedding plants from seed and they’re now three or four inches tall and have enjoyed the charmed life of the greenhouse then you need to think about hardening them off. This involves bringing them outside during the day for a few weeks and then popping them back into a cool greenhouse at night, before eventually leaving them outside permanently. This will acclimatise them to the cooler outside temperatures and higher light levels and prevent them from being shocked!
Deadhead Spring Bulbs
There are various other tasks you can do in May such as to keep deadheading spring bulbs as they finish flowering, leaving the foliage intact until it eventually yellows and withers away, this will allow the bulb to build up enough energy to flower next spring.
Remove any winter-damaged, diseased or rubbing wood from your shrubs whilst it’s still easy to see and be patient with some shrubs that look completely dead such as Ceanothus, Hebes and Fuchsias as they may well regenerate from the base.
Put a thick layer of mulch down between your plants, such as spent compost or very well-rotted manure, this will suppress weeds, feed your plants but most importantly prevent moisture evaporation and cut down on watering.
There certainly is a lot to do in the garden and on the allotment this time of year, but above all the most important thing to do is make time to sit still, look, listen, touch, smell and take it all in!
Adam has over 30 years of experience as a professional gardener and has many accolades, but is probably best known for his four Gold Medals at The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show and his three BBC/RHS People’s Choice Awards at the show (of which he is particularly proud) which he won as one half of Woolcott & Smith.