May is nearly upon us and another bank holiday weekend is looming. The late spring was a bit of a worry but April’s warmer temperatures have made things really explode into growth.
Marvellous May. It’s our favourite month in the garden and plants are growing so quickly that you can almost see them and hear them. Add to that the special fresh ‘May smell’ in the air, a mixture of heady scents from lilacs, wildflowers and grass clippings and you get something truly spectacular. Top of our list of jobs to do this month, apart from building a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, is to go and see a bluebell wood; a real natural wonder of the world. We say this every year but it has to be done. If you are not sure where your nearest one is ask around. Favourites near us are Pyror’s Wood, near Stevenage, Chilham in Kent and Norsey Wood in South Essex.
Other jobs we should be thinking about;
Plant the last of your potatoes if you haven’t already done so and start to earth up when the growth gets to about 15cm. This will stop greening.
- Continue to keep an eye out for pests. Check for the red lily beetles, aphids and slugs and dispose of them. Viburnum beetle can be a pain on Viburnum tinus, V.opulus and V.lantana. As can sawfly on Soloman’s Seal. Nip them in the bud before they spread with a good systemic insecticide.
- With any luck the frost threat is over so start to think about planting out some summer bedding from the end of the month. All the garden centres are awash with fabulous bedding for your pots and hanging baskets. Now is the time to plug any gaps that have appeared in your borders.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecasts. In the unlikely event of late frosts, be prepared to cover your tender plants with a double layer of horticultural fleece. The weather does seem a bit changeable and the forecast (for our part of Hertfordshire at least) for the first part of May is a bit disappointing, cooler temperatures again until the middle of the month; thought it was a bit good to be true.
- Pull up or hoe off weeds. Don’t forget on a cool day when the soil is wet some weeds can re-root once hoed off so either remember to put them straight onto the compost heap or hoe on a sunny dry day so that the weeds desiccate and quickly die.
- You can sow runner beans, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes directly into prepared soil from the end of May.
- Start mowing your lawn weekly now.
- Dead head tulips and daffodils and trim back Pulmonarias and Doronicums to encourage new verdant growth once the flowers have gone over. Don’t be tempted to cut down your daffs just yet. You should wait 6 weeks after flowering to make sure all the goodness goes back into the bulb to ensure a good flower display next year.
- Brussels sprouts can be transplanted from their seed bed into their final positions and spacings at the end of May.
- Continue to keep your pots and hanging baskets well watered to ensure that they don’t dry out.
- Prune out any frost affected shoots of evergreen shrubs.
- Prune back camellias after flowering. They do respond well to quite severe pruning if required.
- Take softwood cutting of deciduous shrubs such as Forsythia, Hydrangea, Fuchsia, Spiraea and Philadelphus. (See propagation section for advice on how to do it).
- Towards the end of the month think about introducing certain houseplants into the garden such as Christmas cacti, potted azaleas and orchids. All will enjoy a summer holiday but take them out gradually and don’t put them into direct sunlight straight away or they will scorch. In fact, the Victorians used to plant up flower beds for the summer using rubber plants, palms and mother-in-laws tongue.
- Support your perennials now so that they don’t flop later on.
- Remember to take time to sit and enjoy your garden. Get a glass of wine or a gin and tonic and really take in the beauty of the plants around you. After all that’s why we do it!
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