I ALWAYS SAY THAT MAY IS MULTIPLE-CHOICE MONTH, but in 2012 I’m renaming it Mayhem Month, since that’s what it feels like after the hot-windy-dry-then-frozen April From Hell. It will be mayhem getting the garden ready for open days and workshops and such that begin in less than two weeks (you coming?), but here’s the to-do list I’m using as my guide to get me there:
May Chores Podcast
Listen to the May chores in a podcast, from my weekly WHDD Robin Hood Radio broadcast. You can also get all my podcasts, including the April 30, 2012 one that includes this information, free on iTunes or from the Stitcher app.
I KNOW: There are a lot of choices, whether to 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 (which in this crazy spring like I’ve had here, seems the only choice many days, I’ll admit)? Well, maybe start here, and avoid that last panic-induced pairing:
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. I’m sowing kale and chard, too.
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. This year I’m trying to grow heirloom beans for drying, too. 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. My 20 top seed-starting FAQs.
HEAT-LOVERS LIKE tomatoes and basil 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? (Oh, and my latest: Easy Asparagus-Parmesan Bake.) Another early-bird: 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, I like to “buy green,” as in not worrying if I’m buying annuals that aren’t flowering madly in their tiny cells. Younger, fresher plants are best, and often less stressed. 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 make a list of what you will order fresh, placing markers in the garden to note where to plant what in fall.
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.
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.
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.
TREES AND SHRUBS
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.
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.
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.