my may 2010 garden chores

MAY IS MULTIPLE-CHOICE MONTH: Deadhead the spring bulbs, or edge the beds they’re growing in? Divide that overgrown drift of some perennial, or pot up the annuals for a summertime show ahead? Mow or mulch? Scream or cry? Well, maybe start here, and avoid that last panic-induced pairing:


TUBERS AND SLIPS: Are the white potatoes in the ground? Sweet potatoes can go in this month, too.

CONTINUE SOWING CARROTS, beets, radishes, salad greens, dill. With salad greens, select heat-resistant varieties now for best results as they’ll bump into warmer weather.

DIRECT-SOW BEANS at mid-month and beyond; sow a short row every two weeks, and also sow pole beans for an even later crop. Wait till month’s end, when the weather is settled, to sow summer and winter squash, cucumbers, melons, or start indoors at the first of month and set out at end.

WHEN SHOPPING FOR SEEDLINGS of tomatoes (or really anything), pick stocky young plants about 4 inches high and wide—bigger isn’t better.

HEAT-LOVERS LIKE tomatoes go out after frost danger is past, but many people make a ritual of it on Memorial Day weekend (technically a tad early here). Use these tomato tips and tricks for best results. Eggplants and peppers can go out then, too. Harden off vegetable seedlings before transplanting, bringing them in and out for a few days before setting them free for good.

KEEP ASPARAGUS PICKED to keep it producing; don’t harvest the first year or two in the ground. Need some asparagus recipes? Rhubarb is nicest when tender stems are used, I think, long before they get gigantic. Water garlic during dry spells for biggest bulbs (and did you feed it?).

MULCH VEGETABLES with baled or chopped straw, partially rotted leaves, or other available organic materials. Mulching 101.


DEADHEAD SPRING BULBS as blooms fade, but leave foliage intact to wither and ripen the bulbs naturally. I mow my daffodil drifts around July 4th, for example. Deadhead spring-flowering perennials unless they have showy seedheads, or you want to collect seed later (non-hybrids only).

WITH FLOWER SEEDLINGS in 6-packs, “buy green,” as in don’t buy annuals that are flowering madly in tiny cells. Younger, fresher plants are best. They will catch up.

TENDER BULBS started indoors last month for a headstart (like cannas) can go into the ground after frost danger passes. If you didn’t get dahlias, cannas, caladiums and such going indoors, plant now, inserting support stakes (if needed, as with dahlias) at planting time to avoid piercing bulbs later.

SOAK NASTURTIUM and morning glory seeds overnight, then sow. Zinnias and marigolds and other familiar summery annuals can be direct sown now, or start in cellpacks and set them out after a month to six weeks.

IF TULIPS WERE WEAK-BLOOMING this year, bulbs may be exhausted. Tulips are less perennial than, say, daffodils (though even those can get exhausted or overcrowded, too). If spent, lift tulips and order new now. Order bulbs this month to take advantage of industry discounts (see Sources in right-hand sidebar of every page for bulb vendors).

TAKE ADVANTAGE of any bouts of cooler, moister weather to divide and move perennials. Water in well, and keep an eye out all season to watch that they don’t stress.

ONCE BEDS ARE CLEANED UP, topdress according to label directions with an all-natural organic fertilizer and a layer of finished compost if you didn’t yet. Apply mulch.

WHEN WORKING IN BEDS, be careful not to clean up too roughly; desirable emerging self-sown annuals and biennials (Angelica gigas, larkspur, clary sage, winter aconite, Nicotiana, Verbena bonariensis, perilla and such) can be disturbed unless you pay attention.

PREPARE NEW BEDS by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.

EDGE BEDS to make a clean line and define them. A clean edge makes a real difference, along with an inch and a half or two of good, fine- to medium-textured organic mulch. No baked-potato-sized chips, please, and no orange-dyed mulch.

ARE YOU POTTING UP? Container gardens can provide lots of seasonal color, but don’t just use annuals. Hosta pot? Why not?


HOUSEPLANTS can spend the summer outdoors starting late this month, in a sheltered location with filtered bright light (not direct sun). Pinch back and repot those that need it as you transition them, and begin regular feeding if you didn’t already in earlier spring.


DON’T BAG OR RAKE clippings; let them lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil.

IF LAWN GREENED UP well, no fertilizer is needed; I skip it (and spare myself the extra mowing, while helping the environment). If growth or greening was sluggish, consider applying an all-natural organic fertilizer in fall, when lawn grasses take best advantage of fertilizing to grow strong root systems.


DON’T LET THE HEAP DRY out completely, or it will not “cook.” If it wasn’t turned to aerate earlier this season, do so now to hasten decomposition. Pre-shredding with your mower can also speed things along. Use finished, screened material to topdress beds.


Not sure what to prune when, or how? The pruning FAQ page may have the answers you need. Hint: Right after bloom is usually a good time for spring-flowering shrubs. Another hint: Always removed dead, damaged and diseased wood from trees and shrubs as it appears.


On using this list in your garden: The monthly A Way to Garden chores and based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly. If you are in a colder spot, try last month’s list. Warmer climate? Try a peek at next month’s.

  1. Amy says:

    Spent two full days gardening — almost frantically at times. Have to keep telling myself that it’s only May 2nd. That the unseasonably warm weather is making it seem much later. Did finally take an hour to just sit and smell the lilacs and the clematis. Clematis montana Rubens really does smell like vanilla on a warm day!

  2. Rosella says:

    Spring is disappearing rapidly in northern Virginia this year — azaleas are almost gone, thanks to the rain overnight, but one of the great joys of spring here is in full glory — the fringe trees are blooming, and their scent must be that of Paradise! I don’t know how hardy they are (chionanthus virginiana) but they are one of the most elegant and satisfying small trees, and I am surprised by how few people know them.

  3. Terryk says:

    chionanthus virginiana sounds wonderful. I Googled and it says it is hardy to zone 3. How I wish I had started reseaching and ordering more shrubs/trees earlier in my gardening years!

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